5 Lessons Learned from Moving a Campus Information System to Workday

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Colleges and universities are always looking to make the most of their often limited resources. One way to do that is to commit to constant learning and adjusting based on data and other information at your fingertips.

In the case of a technology deployment, such as a move to Workday (especially when it’s a conversion from another system), there can be many lessons to learn along the way as your school undergoes a significant transition.

We recently spoke with Michael Cato and Beth Hayes, from Vassar College, and Mara Hancock and Michelle Ziegmann, from the California College of the Arts, to learn about their moves to Workday and what lessons other organizations can learn from their experiences.

1. A move to Workday is an opportunity to revisit processes and rules, and the implications for decision making across the campus. Let best practices lead the way.

When Vassar was looking to move from Banner, the big aha moment for Deputy CIO Beth Hayes was that their current system was more focused on transactions, whereas Workday is more focused on workflow and business processes. Information moves from one person to the next, and doesn’t have to be re-entered to perform many functions; it all worked together in a continuum. That opened up a world of possibility for how the university could function, and how current ways of operating could be improved.

“We made the choice early on to start with the default best practice business processes,” Beth explains. “We understood that Workday’s been doing this for many customers. So those who came before us figured out that there is a best practice business process for hiring. There is a best practice business process for payroll. There is a best practice business process for a job change, or a benefit change, and so on. And they have a whole catalog and library of those business processes.” Following those best practices allowed Vassar to feel more encouraged that using this new system would be an easy adjustment, and that the school was moving in the right direction.

Mara Hancock, CCA’s Chief Information Officer, says converting from Colleague allowed her team to reprioritize. “As we started, I took a look at my staff, and we really tried to refocus our efforts on the areas of value that are closer to the business, the core business of the university,” she says. “With Colleague, it took a lot of patching and managing to do everything. I’d rather have those people spending time making sure the business processes and all that are meeting the needs of our end users.”

2. Pace yourself. Know what the school can handle, and learn along the way.

When Michelle Ziegmann, CCA’s Project Management Office Director, put together her roadmap for the Workday deployment, she knew the school had to start with the HR and payroll functions because they were the most in need of change. The project kicked off in 2014, with HCM and Payroll going live in January 2015, with Financial Management in July 2016, and Student Recruiting and Admissions a month after that.

The benefits of deploying Workday in stages like that gave people time to get used to the new tool before their entire system changed. It also let the project team build on their successes and learn lessons along the way that made later stages easier than the earlier ones.

For example, “we learned where we should have involved people sooner,” Michelle says. “Big projects have a very intentional decision making process, and all those who are going to be impacted by it should be involved. And maybe it’s not their decision to make, but for them to have the opportunity to be part of that discussion, just went a long way.”

3. The role of IT professionals should be to enable the use of technology resources to increase campus efficiency and support the student experience.

As technology has changed, organizations of all kinds have learned that innovation doesn’t have to come from technology or the IT department. If you give people the tools they want to use, they will innovate using them. But if you restrict people and how easily they can get tasks done, that will hinder innovation and forward momentum. So the role of IT has evolved to be more strategic: It’s up to them to provide tools that further the goals of the university, not to focus on maintenance.

“These are business projects,” explains Michael Cato, Vassar’s Chief Information Officer. “We said very early on that my role and my organization’s role is in supporting making this happen. Yes, we would lead support on it, but these are business projects, and they need to be led by those respective of these areas. It was really important for me and others to understand what the institutional goals were that we were trying to pursue through this effort. We were moving toward a cloud-first campus, so that better positioned us to make decisions than I think it would have if we didn’t set that expectation.”

4. Don’t overlook the importance of change management.

For years, your institution has been using one system (or many systems) and people are used to how it works, even if it isn’t up to snuff. Now there’s going to be a new system deployed and there will be an adjustment. Communication is key.

But that’s not all. There will also need to be some teamwork to get the new system up and running on campus. Understanding how moving to this new ERP is going to change the way your organization functions is critical, as is thinking about what resources you need to make that happen.

“If there’s one area that I don’t think we spent enough on, it’s change management. We didn’t invest in it enough early on,” Michael admits. “Change management is not just buy-in, it’s understanding what it will take to actually make this implementation happen for your institution. And there were a number of offices that were leaner than we thought. So we were making offers to add capacity, or back fill, and so forth. And we really would’ve benefited from knowing some of that early on.”

5. Ongoing inter-department communication and governance after go-live will ensure continued success.

During the Workday deployment at CCA, a decision was made to have an Administrative Managers Users Group (AMUG), composed of representatives from across the campus (including academic areas). The group’s goal would be to improve communication around IT issues and other administrative areas — but not focus specifically on Workday. AMUG now meets regularly.

After the deployment of several Workday modules, a more focused working group was started: “We call it the Workday Operations Advisory Group. It consists of nine or 10 key leaders of the different parts of the organization that utilize Workday, as well as representatives from operations,” explains Mara. “It’s an opportunity for us to talk about resourcing, and communicate about priorities and efforts.”

As your school makes its move to Workday, learn from the experiences of other schools that have come before, and adjust your plans accordingly.

Solutions and Delivery Leader, Education, IBM Workday Consulting Services

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