In 2014, Aberdeen Asset Management (AAM) was one of Europe's largest asset managers, with more than $385 billion under management. These enormous assets required the support of 2,800 employees across 27 countries, but the legacy ADP HR.NET management system that they relied on was no longer fit for purpose and set to lose vendor support.
As part of the procurement process for a new HR system, AAM took the unusual step of conducting a staff survey to find out what employees needed.
"I think every single person said it was clunky," Nigel Rogers, global head of HR systems at AAM tells Computerworld UK. "The user experience and user interface was the really important thing."
Rogers found a user-friendly replacement in the cloud-based Workday, which is now the company’s single HR system-of record across its global operations.
"It's much more 21st century. It’s a consumer-grade application. It's intuitive. People have at most 15 minutes training in Workday and once you know how to do one process, you can do any process, because it's exactly the same.
"It's very straightforward and usually there's more than one way you can find things. Different people will use Workday in slightly different ways but get the same results out of it because of what they're used to and how they're used to operating it."
Here's why AAM opted for Workday and how it scaled the system to add another 6,000 employees overnight after its 2017 merger with Standard Life.
Rogers picked Workday after extensive market research. The other leading HR systems at the time were SAP SuccessFactors and Oracle Fusion. Rogers first sought the advice of his fellow HR professionals in the HRS Centre of Excellence, part of the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) advisory firm.
"Most of them were running SAP for their back office in one way or another and we talked about SuccessFactors," says Rogers.
"I found out that hardly anybody was using the full suite of SuccessFactors. A lot of people were using Employee Central and they were quite lukewarm about it. But there was one lady in the room that was using Workday and she raved about it. She couldn't stop talking about how good it was. Another lady said she loved Workday too but she couldn't use it because she had SAP in the back office. Those very early informal references helped influence our decision."
Rogers then approached Oracle, SAP and Workday to hear what they could offer. He set them a test to check the flexibility of their reporting.
"We asked representatives from each company on the spur of the moment to do some reporting. They had no idea what we were going to throw at them. Workday were able to do reports that the more relational database-reliant systems couldn't do and that really impressed us. We saw this enormous strength and depth of the reporting functionality."
In March 2016, AAM went live with Workday. The company now uses the Human Capital Management (HCM), Absence Management, Benefits, Time Tracking, Performance Management, Advanced Compensation and Payroll Connector modules.
"The original implementation was fantastic," says Rogers. "It was live on time, on budget and with the right scope. Kind of a perfect project. One global big bang across 27 countries."
An extensive communication and training programme across department and locations helped ease the transition, meaning initial uptake was rapid.
Although Workday was immediately working as expected, Rogers’ team were still initially inundated with questions from staff about the system.
"In that first three months after you go live there are loads and loads of queries … this kind of hyper care period just after you go live is really difficult just because of the volumes of queries and it's all people asking the same questions," he says.
He advises other companies considering a new HR system to avoid the traditional large RFB process of writing down requirements for twelve months and then asking vendors how they can fulfil them.
"It's just a completely out of date way of doing things. Especially with a drily standard thing like an HR system. So concentrate on what's different to you and get the vendors to show you that. Then don't underestimate the amount of work needed to move the data from one system to the other."
Benefits of Workday
Rogers believes the key benefits of Workday are its usability, reporting and security.
The product provides easy access to information for both employees and managers, who have gained increased ability to focus on more strategic initiatives.
"The access to information is much more straightforward in Workday, so rather than us having to write reports in whole, we've got hundreds of standard reports in Workday that managers can run for themselves," says Rogers.
The whole HR department can use Workday as well as department heads, managers and their staff, all of whom need their own privacy settings.
Workday enables this by giving individual members of staff access to different data sets and functionalities. Two employees can run the same report and receive separate results based on what they’re permitted to view.
"Workday's security is very flexible," says Rogers. "There are standard roles and then we can configure those to our particular purposes. They enable not just what data you can look at but which processes you can run, so we can say that for example we need to allow or not allow a manager to start a pay review for somebody."
Challenges of the merger
Workday advertises itself as a system that can scale alongside company growth. This claim was put to the test in August 2017, when Aberdeen Asset Management merged with Standard Life to become Standard Life Aberdeen.
Overnight, the business had become a FTSE 100 member and one of the world's largest investment companies. A mammoth operation was required to harmonise the IT systems and give access to Workday to 6,000 permanent employees at Standard Life as well as a range of contingent workers that support them.
Shortly after the merger, the company added the recruitment module to the Workday deployment.
"With this second implementation of rolling it out to Standard Life we've had quite a few challenges," Rogers admits.
In February 2018, Standard Life Insurance was sold, removing 3,000 employees from Standard Life's total of 6,000. This development was a surprise to the IT department and caused issues with the Workday deployment.
"That was a massive deal. Workday said that for two months before this move and for three months after they couldn't help us with transferring the rest of the population to Workday, so that put a bit of a spanner in the works in terms of the Workday project.
"Then we've got this harmonisation of terms and conditions. I'm making sure that everyone's on the same benefits in the UK, everyone’s got the same holidays and those kind of things, and we decided after this first delay that it would make sense to do that at the same day as the Workday project, so we'd get everyone onto the same benefits before we go into Workday.
"Otherwise we'd have done it once and three months later we'd have had to change it all, so that has also put back our original timescale. Now it's going to be Q3 next year before we go live,” he said.
Hopes for Workday’s new roadmap
Workday now has ambitions to grown into a fully-fledged ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. The company has added financial applications to its original HR product and recently introduced enhanced planning capabilities through the acquisition of Adaptive Insights.
Rogers had bought a license for Workday Planning before the acquisition was announced and may now wait until Adaptive Insights fully integrates with Workday before deploying. He does hope that the expanded product offering doesn’t lead the company to lose sight of what first made it a success.
"I would rather Workday concentrated on getting the standard HR functionality that we use into the best possible state, rathet than going off to do something else," he says.
“Even Workday Finance was something I hadn't anticipated when we bought the product. In terms of ERP, I know Workday are talking about the large datasets and perhaps replacing business intelligence software.
"Maybe that's appropriate for their huge customers but for the vast majority of Workday's customers are medium and small end it's not something that I think will ever be very important for us."