Why Sanofi chose Workday to replace SAP HR

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright December 16, 2015
Global pharma giant Sanofi talks about what it's learned from rolling out Workday to its 110k employees and why it chose Workday to replace SAP HR

Researcher in Sanofi immunology lab, Thailand © Copyright All rights reserved by Sanofi Corporate.
Researcher in Sanofi immunology laboratory, Thailand

Sanofi, one of the world's five largest pharmaceuticals companies, was in the process of planning its first global SAP HR project when, in 2011, SAP acquired SuccessFactors. Faced with the prospect of having to move to the cloud anyway within the decade, the business decided to make the jump there and then, as Denis Sacré, VP HR services and Workday program director, told attendees earlier this month at the Workday Rising EMEA conference in Dublin, Ireland.

Our analysis was, this would be a four-year project and then there would be a two-year cloud migration. We looked if there would be a way to do this in one step.

At the time, Oracle's cloud offering was not seen as a contender, so the choice came down to SuccessFactors or Workday. By the end of 2012, the decision was made in favor of Workday, although Sanofi remains a big user of SAP for other applications. Sacré explained:

The fact that Workday was built from the ground up as core HR at the outset was absolutely decisive and critical in our choice. The navigation through SuccessFactors was sometimes just breaking up, it was not smooth. In Workday it was all integrated and very easy to navigate.

Another aspect of Workday's cloud-native credentials had helped confirm the choice, he added. As part of the evaluation, Sanofi tested each vendor's attitude to customization.

When we asked, if we really wanted it, would you customize if for us? — we wanted a straight no. We wanted to stick to configuration and be a pure cloud tool.

Workday's answer was definitive, whereas SAP's had been less clear-cut, he said.

Putting talent first

Three years later, the roll-out is currently in progress. Rather than a big-bang implementation, Sanofi started in late 2013 with talent management, performance management and an organization overview capability. This was completed in the early part of 2015, reaching over 75,000 mainly white collar workers out of a total workforce of more than 110,000.

At the same time, work began on designing the harmonized global processes that are being rolled out with Workday as the core HR system, replacing SAP HR along with Oracle, PeopleSoft and other systems that were in place at divisional and regional layers.

The first phase of this went live in July in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, with around 9,000 employees, and then to a further 19,000 in North America at the end of September. Next will be the remaining European countries, which will add another 40,000.

Getting talent out first was not the usual order a company would choose, conceded Sacré, but Sanofi had an overwhelming business case for delivering talent as soon as possible.

Most companies would do core HR and then they would expand maybe with talent, compensation and other things. In an ideal world, I think you really want Workday to be [the] master [data source].

We didn't do that, which is why it was quite risky and daring. Because of the criticality of talent management in our business case, we decided to go talent management globally first.

That did complicate matters, requiring a two-way data exchange between Workday and SAP. Workday became the master for organizational data, while SAP remained the master for personal data on each individual. From SAP, a "skinny record" of the 60 or so data fields required for talent management was sent to Workday.

This two-way traffic thing has been one of our biggest challenges since we went live. We make it work, broadly speaking. We still have corrections taking place every week because it doesn't work 100 percent. It works more than 98 percent, but still the 2 percent can create a lot of workload. That's probably because SAP and Workday are so different in their architecture and in the way they handle data.

It will be a real breakthrough when the global roll-out of core HR in Workday has been completed, because it will finally be possible to achieve the simplification of the HR systems landscape that was one of the original objectives. A long history of mergers and acquisitions along with other factors meant that there had been limited consolidation across a landscape of some 500 separate HR application instances.

When we go live in a country with core HR, we become master in Workday for core HR in that country as well. The personnel files are then managed in Workday for that particular country.

That's only when we have done all the different countries that we will be able to really get rid of this intermediate layer that we have got and that will create the simplification that we really aim at creating from an HR ecosystem perspective.

Acceptance and change management

Once the roll-out of talent management had been completed early this year, Sanofi launched an internal campaign to encourage employees to complete their profiles. Many took up the option of importing the content from their LinkedIn profile, to which they would then add details such as career preferences, job aspirations and willingness to relocate. At the same time, managers were asked to rate employees using a 9-box skills and performance matrix, and also could fill out succession plans.

There was a very positive response, said Sacré, in part because managers saw Workday as a tool that could help them achieve some of their goals.

During this talent campaign, we had about 80 percent of our people who really took this seriously and went to fill in their profile, which was great to see.

Succession plans — you don't change the culture in a few months' time, of course — but really people, including managers, saw the opportunity that this tool was starting to give them.

There was a lot of momentum in the company around, 'We need to manage Sanofi in a different way' — Sanofi being a lot more open, a lot more transversal, to encourage internal mobility. Managers were able to click the two together, 'Okay, this is the enabler.'

To help deliver the project, a team of two dozen change advocates globally worked with around 400 individuals spread across the enterprise who were the go-to person for questions about Workday. Sacré's team also produced around 500 one-hour WebEx demos. But the biggest advocate for Workday was the tool itself, he said.

We actually very quickly realized that the best way to introduce Workday in a company is to showcase it. Just show Workday. It does the trick in itself, because the tool is very cool.

We got the feedback from some of our managers that it's the first time in their career that they are offered a tool in their enterprise life that is as good as what they use in their private life or in their consumer life. In a way that's not so much a surprise when you think that this is the HR tool of companies like Google, Facebook, eBay, LinkedIn, Twitter. They all use Workday as their HR tool.

We quickly realized that this was going to be the best way to engage people. We did not train employees directly. We left the decision to those 400 in the network to do it when they wanted.

Room for improvement

Sacré did also highlight some areas where Workday leaves room for improvement.

  • While the report functionality is well liked, especially the ability to drill down into specific data and go directly to actions on that data (a "favorite" with managers and HR), it is limited to 10,000 entries. That means Sanofi can't make the dashboard available to its executive committee because some members have more than 10,000 people under them.
  • Another issue for a large, complex organization like Sanofi is a degree of inflexibility in how Workday calibrates organizations that have operating units with different numbers of management layers.
  • Workday prevents you using the performance management process for people who are not employees. While this makes sense in the US where there are issues around co-employment, it's a problem in other parts of the world. For example, to operate in Saudi Arabia, Sanofi has to partner with a company that is a legal entity there. Since those people aren't direct Sanofi employees, Workday excludes them from performance management.
  • The pervasive security is generally very good but it isn't carried through effectively when looking at talent or succession pools.
  • Sanofi had to create a workaround to prevent HR people being able to see their own data.

Other issues that Sanofi encountered during the roll-out had been resolved by Workday. But rather than address them by customization, the vendor had added the functionality to its core product. Sacré praised this community aspect of Workday's approach.

We were not satisfied with some of the look and feel of some of the forms that we found initially very confusing, simply the way that the information, the boxes were organized and the title and so on. We raised our case to Workday. They decided that we had a number of good ideas and of course they've got all the expertise to make this look better, so they did it. They did it for everybody.

That's one of the ideas that Sanofi has contributed, too, in terms of the entire community. There were some other ideas from other companies that we benefited from as well, of course.

Workday is especially keen to learn from European companies, he added, as it builds up its presence there.

This pace of innovation is there with good reactiveness, and particularly, you've got to realize, we are in Europe. Workday is still much bigger in America.

They are very keen to learn what matters to European companies, so they are very keen to listen to us European businesses. We tell them, what's missing in Sweden, in Germany, in Switzerland, in Italy that [Workday] doesn't have today and that is going to be critical to [its] success.

Key takeaways

Wrapping up, Sacré reminded his audience that any Workday implementation is a big undertaking, especially when replacing an existing on-premise HR system.

Be prepared for a big change. If you're coming from ERP, the cloud is different. It forces everybody to accept a similar type of contract, a similar way of operating and so on, so you've got to be prepared for some change.

It's a big technical challenge. Configuring Workday is a lot easier than deploying any ERP tool, but it's still a big project and you've got to be prepared and be equipped to run a big project. Do not underestimate security, reporting and data migration versus the functional domain.

Similarly to any other project in HR and in the ERP world, you really need to have strong governance. You are probably going to use Workday to introduce a few new things. At some point, you've got to find a compromise between speed of deployment versus perfection.

But in the end, he concluded, it had all been worth it.

It is a journey that we are delighted to have started. The sky is literally the limit — given we are in the cloud.


Image credit - Researcher in Sanofi immunology lab, Thailand © Copyright All rights reserved by Sanofi Corporate.

Disclosure - Oracle, SAP and Workday are diginomica premier partners. Denis Sacré was speaking at Workday Rising EMEA in Dublin. Workday funded my travel to attend the event.

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