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Luxury hotel chain Four Seasons has rolled out Workday’s cloud human capital management (HCM) platform to its 42,000 employees, replacing a variety of locally software to gain a “single source of record” across its business.

The Canadian firm owns 85 hotels in 41 countries in various geographic regions, including 16 in Europe.  

In order to provide better insight into its disparate workforce and improve its talent management, Four Seasons deployed a number of Workday HCM modules – including talent and performance, compensation, recruitment, benefit and expenses.

According to Four Seasons’ vice-president of employer branding and insights, Michael Peterman, the public cloud software was chosen over traditional on-premise enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors both for the cost benefits and the ability to scale globally.

“We have small population sizes in each individual country, so for us to implement a large ERP system with servers at each of our hotels would not have been very cost effective,” he told ComputerworldUK.

“The cloud based solution was very enticing to us in terms of having a very lean IT resource and having to cost share with each of those hotels.”

He added that the cloud tool offered greater flexibility for the business: “As we start to add new hotels, having a cloud based system allows us to just turn it on and give access to employees in the new hotels to start managing their resource right out of the gate. We wouldn't get that with a traditional ERP system.”

Four Seasons: Replacing variety of local software

In the past, Four Seasons relied on a “mixed bag” of software platforms procured on a regional basis. This involved using 50 different HR systems locally, as well as relying on manual spreadsheet processes to gather data – which could be both inefficient and inaccurate.

“We didn’t have a [single] system, it was a variety of systems,” Peterman said. “When hotels opened the GM [general manager] would go out and buy a payroll system and a fax machine. It was very disjointed in terms of how our systems operated.

“It was very much a challenge of rolling data up corporately to have any standards associated with data quality, and to be able to get meaningful reporting from our hotels at all.”

However, since deploying the Workday HCM platform Four Seasons has been able to gain a clearer view of activity within its operations. Staff turnover is one example where analysis of HR data has benefitted the business.

“We hadn't been a very analytic driven company for a long period of time before we implemented Workday,” he said.

“Previously it would take us three months to just gather a staff turnover number. We always looked at it and it was a pretty low turnover.

“Then as we started to drill down into Workday we started top realise that our 90-day and one-year turnover was quite a bit higher than what we had thought our average was - it was astonishingly high.

“By looking at Workday and being able to drill down into some of the reasons why people were leaving, with access to that real time information, we were able to flex some of our programmes to lower that voluntary turnover. And of course with that turnover comes an extreme cost. So the pay back for having the system was really beneficial.”

Four Seasons: Data migration project

Speed of deployment of the cloud software was key to Four Seasons. But while the project was carried in less than a year, there were certain hurdles in replacing its legacy HR estate.

“The biggest challenge was that the data was in far worse shape than we thought,” said Peterman.

“Having so many disparate systems and no true data standards, the migration of the data was quite challenging.”

With the roll out of employee and manager self service, there was also a requirement to provide training to staff.

“We had to up-skill them in terms of understanding newer technologies. So the change management piece was fairly big, particularly since we have a very decentralised workforce and varying levels of computer skills,” he said.

“That was a big challenge for us. But it wouldn’t have been unique to Workday, it would have been a challenge with any system we would have implemented.”

Four Seasons: Cloud strategy

The Workday rollout is part of a wider ‘cloud-first’ strategy in place at the hotel chain which is also being driven by CIO Marco Trecroce.

Although Trecroce had not arrived when the Workday project kicked off, the business had already been open to moving to the cloud.

“The cloud was still very new [when Workday was first implemented],” said Peterman. “It was somewhat of an easier sell [to the wider business] because nobody had formed an opinion of it yet.

“At that time we didn't have a CIO, but when our new CIO started as we were starting to sign the contract, he supported the cloud very heavily. This put everybody at ease that the cloud was the right way to go.”

Going forward, the company plans to continue to move its on-premise applications into the public cloud, where relevant, with one example being the Four Seasons career website.

“Most of our systems are starting to move to the cloud - our email servers just moved to the cloud in the last year or two,” he said.

“Then we have a variety of other systems that, as we purchase them, we always look at cloud first.”

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