One of the great joys of attending user conferences comes in listening to stellar user stories. Tribune Media's seven month Workday financials implementation is one such. I have included my slightly edited recording of David Giambruno, SVP and CIO, Tribune Media's story at the end of this piece.
The back story to this implementation is interesting. Tribune Media was going through a transformation which included divestiture of well known print titles like the LA Times, Chicago Tribune and Sun Sentinel in favor of a focus on digital properties. That led to a stripping out of previous systems. By the time Giambruno's team were ready, the only thing left was AR. He describes it as a "Two billion dollar restart." That is interesting in its own right. Conventional wisdom is that platform changes only occur under duress.
In that sense, incumbent solutions are often described as 'sticky,' where once implemented they are likely to stay in place for at least 10 years and often much longer. There is another reason those systems are sticky --- once implemented, it is very difficult to change the structures and hierarchies that define things like the general ledger. That's why you end up with account codes running 72 characters that no developer in their right mind wants to touch.
Tribune Media could be described as an 'under duress' situation but I am thinking that if that's the case how is it that the switch to Workday financials only took seven months and that 80 percent of staff are doing their jobs on iPads? The only conclusion I can come to is that the transformation may have its roots in duress but Giambruno saw a clear path to a different and modern way of working that would not be possible using legacy solutions. This is critical at a time when many businesses are asking themselves important questions about who they are and what they want to be in the 21st century. In short --- can any business afford to stay with legacy systems when information needs at the line of business coal face are changing so quickly and where timeliness of information delivery is a competitive advantage?
Another interesting aside is that Giambruno was brought in specifically to run the split and rerun. That requires a skill set that's not usually seen among CIOs.
It doesn't go unnoticed that Tribune Media had already selected Workday HR as a Peoplesoft replacement for its 7,500 strong workforce. The integrated nature of having Workday HR and financials almost makes the decision a no brainer but there is more. According to Giambruno, the CFO wants to operate a near frictionless enterprise where interacting with Tribune Media is like walking up to an ATM. Knowing that you can build from scratch allows for that scenario. How did it go? This quote is telling:
I've deployed every other app out there from every other vendor. I couldn't imagine doing [the same] on any other foundation than this. I'm used to timeframes in years and not months.
Six months later we've got improved decision making based upon our unified data...every quarter everything has gotten faster and better...we're really shifting from stabilization to optimization.
None of this is easy when you have such a large organization but Giambruno says the key to success is not in the technology but in being able to show how the technology makes people's lives easier.
I've sat through many customer stories but this was one of the most compelling I've listened to in a long time. Remember that Workday financials is relatively immature. Remember also that we're not talking about a small or modest sized business when measured in terms of people. Remember also that if you're pivoting a business model then the risks of failure are huge. When viewed in those terms, Tribune Media has done an outstanding job and this is one I'd like to revisit in say, six months, once they've got Workday procurement under their belt.
Disclosure: Workday is a premier partner at time of writing and covered most of my T&E for attendance to Rising 2015.