Wellesley College modernizes with Workday HR and finance suite

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy November 3, 2017
A focus on change management as central to the transition was the key to success in this extensive Workday implementation.

Ravi Ravishankar
Ravi Ravishanker, CIO Library and Technology Services, Wellesley College

Established in 1870, Wellesley College is a women's liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,350 students and 1,300 staff. Some of its well known alumni include Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar, Desirée Rogers, CEO Johnson Publishing, Ophelia Dahl, health care advocate, Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State and Hillary Clinton, former First Lady and also Secretary of State.

Planning for throw away apps

When Ravi Ravishanker, Chief Information Officer, Library and Technology Services, Wellesley College arrived in 2010, he found an administration system that drew plenty of complaints.

The Banner system in use at the time was old, difficult to change, we had difficulty getting data but it was too soon to change. There weren't that many choices and even then, there was no way I could transition to a new ERP in the time between when I arrived and the expiration of the contract with the supplier in 2012. We extended the contract while we searched and in the meantime built some little web applications to hide Banner from users which they loved.

With that in mind, why not continue using the modified Banner system? It turns out that while users enjoyed the refreshed experience, the system needed a lot of people to babysit the technical landscape.

This whole strategy was about throw away in anticipation of finding something better because I knew it was not sustainable for the long run. We knew that this model was at most 3 to 5 years. One of my arguments for Workday was that I would not need so manny IT stuff and so through attrition, I didn't fill certain of those jobs and using the savings to fund Workday.

In making the decision to go with Workday, Ravishanker was placing a significant bet on a single supplier strategy for everything from HR admin through payroll and finance. I asked whether this might represent a vendor lock-in concern because at the time of making the buy decision, some of the required elements were in the early stages of release. In common with a number of education establishments, Wellesley doesn't have the resources to adopt a best of breed approach which, even when operated as a series of cloud-based solutions, still requires integration among the applications. Workday's single code line was therefore of appeal.

Planning for change

So how did Ravishanker go about planning for the major elements of the Workday project?

As you know in today's world, these projects have a lot less to do with technology and a lot more to do with change management. This college culture means you have to introduce changes in a particular way. So when Workday came in, we didn't have the problem of people being concerned about the old one - which they liked - being taken away. I coupled that with a strategy where new solutions are introduced on the basis of what affects them in the least way but which they will get excited about.

In this context, Ravishanker notes that an HR system is not something that most people use on a daily basis but when an event occurs that impacts them, like the delivery of a paycheck.

People got excited when they saw they could change their own personal information, which they couldn't do before. They can approve time for their subordinates on a mobile phone. These things got people excited and interested in the Workday system so that the transition to finance was a lot easier, which, as you know, has a much broader impact.

Accommodating everyone

Even then, Ravishanker knew that getting everyone on board was not going to be a slam dunk.

It is a fact of life that you have people who are excited for new things, there are people who are going to sit on the fence and then there are those who don't want change. You have to accommodate all of those and we have established a methodology that solves for those situations. An example - faculty gives grants but had no visibility to balances. Workday gives them that information. Expenses. Now they can enter for themselves and get the reimbursement inside two days. It used to take three to six months. These are the kinds of thing that matter to people so when you show them what's possible and how they benefit then suddenly your project goes a lot easier. That's when you get the trust of the organization.

Critically, Ravishanker didn't offload the chnge management element to a third party but kept it in-house, on the theory that he is familiar with an established culture that required a wholly transparent approach for what works and what doesn't.

Operationally, for both HR and finance, the project has proven successful. But what about analytics, a significant Workday value proposition. Once again, Ravishankar was able to demonstrate a 'night and day' transition. The Banner system required a separate data warehouse whereas Workday Analytics are available in real time but without usually requiring an IT person writing a report.

There are plenty of canned reports that provide a starting point for users to explore. We encourage people to self serve through the community and if they then cannot find what they need then we step in.

There is always plenty to do but for the moment, Ravishanker is happy that the strategy worked, in large part because:

Workday has become the vocabulary of the college.

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