Travelex takes a bumpy ride to HR transformation in the cloud

Janine Milne Profile picture for user jmilne September 22, 2014
It's been a bumpy ride at times, but Travelex's digital native HR director reckons the move to Workday has been worth the effort.

This has been a bloody bumpy ride and nearly broke us a couple of times.

It's a candidly refreshing comment from Gareth Williams, HR director at currency exchange specialist Travelex,when talking about the transformation of the firm's  global HR operations. Travelex is replacing 26 legacy systems with one cloud-based Workday platform as part of the first wave of a wholesale digital makeover at the foreign exchange firm.

Gareth Williams Travelex 9
Gareth Williams

Two years in, the transformation of HR processes is nearing completion, boasting the kind of return on investment that should bring a warm glow to any CEO: 24% reduction in HR operating costs; recruitment cycle cut from 45 to 11 days and 60% drop in cost per hire expenses.

But as Williams notes, it hasn't been an entirely smooth ride. Although he had previously survived PeopleSoft and Oracle implementations and is a change management specialist, this has been his first encounter with the cloud, and he's found that this requires a whole new rulebook.

The journey may have been hard, but Travelex will now be able to apply the lessons learned from the HR testbed to the rest of the organisation and its ambition to become a cloud-based business. As Williams points out:

When I applied for the role, the CEO appointed me on the basis I transform the HR function. But more important and bigger than the transformation for our HR business is to move to becoming a thin-client business.

Williams had some clear goals for the HR transformation: to jettison myriad legacy HR systems in favour of one global platform, to simplify and standardise business processes and cut HR operating costs. Employees should have a totally digitised experience.


Travelex had the usual mish-mash of legacy HR systems and processes you’d expect of an organisation with a 30-year history and 8,000 employees in 30 countries. These 26 legacy systems, including Ceridian and ADP implementations as well as Excel spreadsheets, were running over 2,000 processes.

Collating material from those different formats was a laborious process and not always worth the effort - Williams found the data was only 70% accurate. It was impossible to have that all-important single version of the truth about its employees.

Implementing Workday has enabled the company to slash those 2,000 processes to just 180, and everything is out of the box, requiring no customisation. Other HR systems feed into the core Workday platform, so the ability to integrate with other cloud applications was a clear motivator for Travelex’s choice of supplier.

Thus far, Travelex is using Workday for starters and leavers, talent and performance management, compensation and benefits. The plan is to add workforce scheduling, time and attendance and payroll modules. Other cloud services, such as PeopleFluent for recruitment, training and Cornerstone learning platform, also link with Workday.

Providing employees with mobile access was a key goal, as Williams explains:

Users are used to tablets, Android or smartphones, so we have to accept that mobile and smartphones are the way workers are going to want to interact. To become an employer of choice we need to give employees the ability to interact with us. If you give them mobile any time, any place and anywhere, it makes us a more compelling employer.

Interestingly, it wasn’t just the digital natives like Williams who jumped at using the mobile capabilities, take up was actually greater among older workers. Adoption has been impressive across the board, says Williams:

Usually you get 46% logging on in first few days, according to Workday, but we had 87% to 93% in first three days.

Shared services

A key plank in the HR transformation was the creation of a shared services environment for HR support. This shared services centre in Mumbai, India, provides first-line support for all HR admin and high-volume recruitment. It is also a central resource for payroll admin, compensation and benefits admin, and data analysis, reporting and mining.

The services team is highly skilled, with MBAs and previous SaaS (software as a service) experience, but the Indian economy enables Travelex to hire these skilled workers far more cost effectively than in the UK.

This shared services approach has made a “game-changing” impact on the recruitment process, according to Williams. Previously, when line managers needed to recruit, they would email HR and it would take two weeks for HR to come back with some candidates.

Now, line managers alert the Indian shared services centre, where data mining recruitment specialists will scan Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites to find likely recruits. They have 24 hours to come back with three candidates and the whole recruitment process has been reduced from 45 days to 11 and costs have fallen from £8.40 to 94p per employee.

In effect, Travelex has brought recruitment back in-house, saving money and improving the quality of the candidates to boot. As Williams says, simply:

We have a 34% turnover of staff, so this is game changing.

Lessons learned

Williams has some valuable advice for other HR heads on how to approach such an ambitious transformation:

Get your requirements right at the start. We got out fingers burnt on this and it means costs go up. But it’s not easy: it’s chicken and egg, you don’t know what you want until you do it.

He emphasises the importance of the people in your team really owning the change – there’s no room for passengers. Having a clear data strategy is also paramount: it’s vital to dig into the detail and establish how you are going to cleanse the data, says Williams adding:

It’s absolutely essential to get a coherent data strategy, otherwise it would be a struggle to get all the out-of-box pieces to work.

Williams is also keen to stress that it takes a hefty amount of emotional resilience to embark on such a transformation: the team need to prepare and accept that things will go wrong with some really big bumps along the way.

With analytics capabilities in place, Travelex is getting X-ray vision into processes such as absence, recruitment and staff productivity. Managers are no longer simply presented with a dashboard, but they can overlay quantitative and qualitative information and develop their own what-if hypotheses. That means that they can make better use of their best performers, explains Wiliams:

You can look at a person’s shift, performance and profitability, absence and so on, but also combine with business analytics to see where the busy times and centres are. We’re just at the beginning of our analytics journey, but what’s important is that cloud-based processes give you the data and insight you can use.

It’s early days, but the bulk of the HR cloud transformation is complete. Williams is now keen to start using social media, gamification and other technologies to more to improve the way it recognises staff or to create leaderboards – whatever it takes to make the employees perform better. As Williams says:

I’m a digital native and I’m up for anything.


Disclosure: at time of writing, Oracle and Workday are premier partners of diginomica. 


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