Workday SA launch met with contagious enthusiasm

The event was the company's best-attended country launch globally.

On a day when South Africa elected a new president, it turned out the first-ever combined executive summit for CFOs and CHROs was aptly themed. The 'Be The Change' event was also the launch global finance and HR software solutions company Workday and was well-attended by the finance and HR community. With close to 200 attendees, the event was the biggest country launch that Workday has ever had globally.

"We are living in an era where the challenge to operate and help change your organisation every day is no longer the same. 'Business-as-usual is no longer an acceptable approach, " said Workday co-chairman Phil Wilmington, adding that he was proud to announce the company's launch on a day that was so monumental for South Africa.  "This is the most global, mobile and multigenerational workforce in history and, in 2016 alone, $3.5 trillion was announced in mergers and acquisitions. Fifty-two percent of companies on the fortune 500 in 2000 no longer exist today. And the rate of change of the business climate has only accelerated since then. What hasn't kept pace with the rate of change is the type of tool that is delivered to executives, associates and business leaders that allows them to keep up with the pace of the evolution of the world of work."

Speaking in a breakaway session, Phil's overarching message was that Workday was a simple company in its approach to business. It's an organisation that was founded on and remains focussed on employees and creating a work environment that gets them excited and makes them happy because happy employees take better care of customers.

Therefore, instead of thinking about how to adapt to the world of digitization, business leaders had to think about growing their business and let Workday stay on top of issues like people analytics. With already 250 companies interacting with Workday applications already, he said it was very rare that an organisation would to enter a market like South Africa with such an established foundation.

He did not spend much time talking about the calibre of companies that use Workday today - a list which, by the way, includes the likes of Netflix, Amazon and AON - but rather said that most of them only had positive things to say about the platform.

Said Phil: "Today, about an hour ago actually, it was announced that Workday is now placed seventh in the Fortune 100 Best Companies To Work For in the US, so we're very excited about that... When asked if they would do business with us again or recommend Workday to other customers, 98%, last year, said 'we are very satisfied with their relationship with workday and we would recommend it to colleagues and associates."

Clients love it

Chelsea Theologo, HR Specialist at Brambles echoed the sentiment, after having switched to Workday from a competing local platform. In terms of time-saving alone, she said the benefit has been huge, especially from the reporting side of things as the time it took to complete the sustainability section of the company's annual report reduced from a month to just three days. 

Said Chelsea: "It was very easy to use from both an end-user perspective as an employee and then also when I crossed over to the HR admin side. I found it very user-friendly. One of the major differences from the previous system we had been using was that the local platform had manager approvals, which meant things like compensation changes had to start with a manager. Now that happens outside the system and HR puts it into the Workday platform. It has forced us to really change our processes but that is just a business choice that has nothing to do with Workday's functionality. We are now doing salary reviews, annual performance appraisals, all calibrated on Workday.

Jason Davies, Group Head of Leadership, Learning and Talent at Barclays Africa Group, who is also overseeing the company's separation from the UK-based Barclays PLC, said the process of implementing Workday allowed the bank to engage with its existing processes and reflect on what was working and what wasn't 

"People will know how tough it is to get accurate headcount data and how much more challenging it is to get analytics relating to that data," he said. "Workday does away with those kinds of problems completely." 

It's not a silver bullet

David Sohigian, Workday's Cheif Technology Officer, explained the ethos of the company in so far as it translates through the technology, elaborating the 'Power of One', which speaks to Workday's single-source methodology and allows all its customers to the same data source and use the same infrastructure that all Workday's clients has access to. Workday Solution Consultant Sean Masterson then did a practical demonstration of the platform, showing attendees how the platform could be used to do everything from logging leave and approving compensation changes to providing learning and career advice. 

While all in attendance had rave reviews, HR Executive at Dimension Data Middle East and Africa Michaela Voller sat in a panel discussion of existing Workday clients and said that the reception of the platform varies depending on the audience. She said that, for employees, the ability to interact with their own data as opposed to waiting for a transaction to happen or be approved elsewhere had been welcomed because it empowered people to be accountable for themselves on so many levels. For managers, however, while there were many that love the idea of being able to start interacting with the data and analytics, others were of the view that it should all be left to the domain of HR. 

"At the end of the day, you still have to address the issues of who is in charge of the culture, who is in charge of the strategy...and for HR to reinvent itself in relation to working with the platform. At the end of the day, Process informs the things that we do. The things we do create culture and culture eats strategy for breakfast," said Michaela.