Beginning in the early 2000s, Dutch corporate giant Philips decided to divest its consumer appliances division to focus on its healthcare business, making numerous strategic acquisitions along the way. Today, Philips is one of the world leaders in medical technology, employing nearly 70,000 people across the globe.

At Workday Rising EMEA in Barcelona, we sat down with Philips’ HRIS Solutions Architect, Efthymios Zindros, to discuss how digital transformation at the company enabled stakeholders to optimise business processes, manage change, and plan effectively as the company repositioned itself over the course of 15 years. Here are four major takeaways from the conversation:


1. Technology drives transformation of the HR role.

When Philips began their HR transformation in 2007, the company’s HR function was organised around a “local-to-local” model, Zindros said. Their shift to an “Ulrich” model, which emphasises shared services and change management, has positioned HR as a key business planning partner, an optimizer of work processes, and an agent of organisational change.  

What helped drive the evolution over the course of five years was Zindros’ and his team’s ability to add value—through their technology tools—to teams across the business.

“When you look at a large organisation, there are so many pieces that usually don’t talk together. In my architect role, I had the opportunity to investigate many of these,” he said. “We started looking at our own value-add component and we saw the value-add coming from our digital HR tools. That was when, in 2012, we started implementing Workday with the rest of the company’s tech stack.”


2. Your HR tech is a ‘source of truth.’

As Zindros’ team began rolling out new digital tools in 2021 for standardising workforce planning processes worldwide, they were able to test their ideas, assumptions, and hypotheses by leveraging their access to the rich pool of data collected and managed by their human resource management system over the years.

“For us, ‘source of truth’ played a key role in enabling all the reorganisation we had,” Zindros says. “Especially from a workforce perspective, it gave users of the data the ability to make meaningful projections and simulations with the data sets.”

3. Co-ownership of data and planning tools leads to better collaboration.

As the digital transformation of HR gains traction and the tech stack’s value-add becomes more apparent, HR leaders and other stakeholders can track success by measuring joint use by members of the HR and finance teams.

“We have a very good working relationship with finance,” Zindros noted. “Co-ownership of the tools helped a lot. We saw, especially at the analyst and expert levels, that collaboration was getting stronger and stronger.

“The HR people were starting to help with finance use-cases and the finance people were starting to help with HR use-cases. They were working more together because they had one point of reference— that one source of truth.”

4. True innovation requires a return to the basics.

Successful HR leaders don’t have to set out to innovate. Instead, they should focus on continual process improvement, ways to increase agility, and using data to determine the best processes for managing change and driving adoption, Zindros said. Once they have the right processes and tech solution in place, they’re ready to innovate.  

“In universities, we’re taught that ‘people, processes, and systems’ are the three pillars of any large implementation or idea behind innovation,” Zindros said. “It always starts with the people. You need to think of adoption; you need to think of change management; you need to think, ‘What does this mean for the end-user?’ Then you think, ‘How are we going to apply what the end-user needs to a specific process?”

The system, he said,  should be the final piece, and should enable the people and processes. “Sometimes there is so much focus on the system, leaders forget about the people and process parts along the way,” he added.

Christina Johnson: With healthcare and well-being at the forefront of everyone's minds now more than ever, Philips is focused on improving people's lives with meaningful innovation. In fact, the company is on a mission to improve the health and well-being of 2.5 billion people by 2030. I'm Christina Johnson, and on this episode of Workday Podcast, I'm delighted to be joined by Efthy Zindros, Workday Functional Architect at Philips. We're going to be talking about the challenges of working for one of the biggest healthcare companies in the world and how Philips' technology helps it to stay agile, innovative, and people-centric. Efthy, it's great to have you on the show today.

Efthymios Zindros: Thank you!

Christina Johnson: I don't think there'll be anyone listening who won't have heard of Philips. Your company is truly global with people in over 100 countries. But for anyone who isn't aware of the far-reaching areas Philips covers, could you start by giving us a quick overview?

Efthymios Zindros:  Yes, of course. Great to be here. Thank you very much for the invite. So a bit about Philips. We were quite a large electronics organisation in the past. Many of you maybe know Philips because of its TVs or consumer products. And in the last 10 years, we've been through a large transformation where parts of the business were divested. And today, we are focusing mainly on healthcare equipment and healthcare solutions. And indeed, as you mentioned, we operate in a number of countries.

Christina Johnson: Okay, fantastic. So as we talk about Philips' global reach, what does that mean for your role as a HR architect? Could you kind of set out the type of challenges you face and how Philips has gone about tackling them?

Efthymios Zindros: Absolutely. So we started our HR transformation before going to technology. Let me speak a bit about HR. Back in 2007, so it was a long transformation starting with our operating model changing, moving from local to local towards more of a Ulrich model. We implemented our shared service centres and also payroll and then slowly started looking at the value-add component. And we saw that value-add coming from Workday, and that is when we started, in 2012 approximately, implementing Workday together with the rest of the technology stack. So since then, in my role as an architect, I was focusing mainly on making sure two things. First was trying to create that bridge between the IT worlds and the HR worlds, translating functional into technical and vice versa, and at the same time, trying to understand also the business needs and how things could work for the end user from an end-to-end perspective because HR is one piece of the puzzle, but if you look at large organisations such as Philips, there are so many other pieces, which usually they do not talk to each other so well. So in my architect role, yeah, I had the opportunity to investigate many of those.

Christina Johnson: Okay, fantastic. Now, I know one of your organisation's key focus areas is innovation. And as we know, for innovation to take place, agility is really vital, right? So how is technology helping Philips become more agile and plan on the go with your real-time data?

Efthymios Zindros: That was indeed quite a shift in mindset after we implemented Workday. And we implement, of course, Workday, I think, over the course of more than seven years, Adaptive being one of the last implementations that we had. And I think, to answer in the right way this question, one really important element is the source of truth, and do you have a source of truth? For us, the source of truth played a key role in enabling all the reorganisations that we mentioned. It played a key role in driving data-driven decision-making. And it also enabled our leaders to be able to know what they're talking about, especially from a workforce perspective. We saw that, with the evolution of Workday, there was a very clear drive towards always being on the same line of code, always being on the latest technological innovation, and that wasn't the responsibility of the customer anymore. So from our perspective, we benefited a lot because of that because we could actually start adopting all those components that were already out there with each release. And that created a lot of agility in not only deploying the latest technologies when we wanted to do that, but also adjusting our technology stack whenever we had an urgent business need, like when we had to run a large investment or when we had to acquire a new company.

Christina Johnson: Okay, great. So I know, at Philips, you have 70,000 employees with sales and services in more than 100 countries. So could you tell me a little bit about how you approach standardising processes to support all of those different regions?

Efthymios Zindros: I will go back again in the past and then start covering how we transitioned and how we transformed into what we are today as an organisation. The very positive part was that, during our HR transformation, we had a very solid business process foundation. So we started with a simple global standard approach, having one business process framework for all our global processes, which could be applied in our shared service centres and later in our GBS. Things are changing, and of course, in each country, there are different requirements, different regulations, different localisations needed. In many cases, the technology that we have not been able to cover for those requirements. So overall, we are following and we continue following practically this approach of having global simple standard processes unless, in some cases, they are legally required, or in some other cases where we see that there is a very clear business need for having that deviation from the global standard. That, in many cases, it's working. Of course, there will always be exceptions, and there will always be challenges in that space. But we see that, generally, more standardisation is usually driving higher adoption, better understanding, and easier applicability and maintenance in the organisation.

Efthymios Zindros: On the other hand, we see that, in parts of the organisation that have more of a startup mentality, that is a bit more difficult to enable. But nevertheless, we are working with those parts of the organisation to enable their different ways of working in case they need to be more agile or have more speed or deviate from that global standard. So it is kind of a two-step approach, but in most cases, I think, with the current technology stack that we are using, we have that capability to enable it. And we've seen that also with divestments where we had two companies in the same technology stack operating for a long period of time together. And we've seen it also with many other examples, such as reorganisations, acquisitions, and other scenarios where we had to have differentiation.

Christina Johnson: Okay, great. Thank you for covering that. So moving on, planning is obviously a hugely important part of your global business, right? So how has Workday helped provide a much more streamlined and standardised process?

Efthymios Zindros: Yeah, so we started our pilot, I think, 2021. We saw that there is a significant opportunity in our ability to plan for our workforce and our wage bill in general. Because that process, while being a global process, it was not necessarily standardised. So we saw the opportunity of using a tool to become the source of truth of that process and later also of the data and the trust in that data also to become the source of truth for that data. We are big proponents also of manager self-service. So we enabled planning for the managers while we know that, in many organisations, it is done by the controllers or by HR. And we saw really great feedback from all the stakeholders involved, be it finance, be it HR, be it the managers that were on the ground. So overall, I would say our pilot was really successful for a few reasons. Technology was one of them, but also those fundamental reasons such as source of truth, trust in your data, and the ability to have all those different versions and to keep changing on the fly and not having to do that offline in 1,000 documents and trying to consolidate it afterwards with each version. So it gave quite a lot of power, and actually, it gave the ability to the analysts, to the users of that data to make meaningful projections, make meaningful simulations with those data sets.

Christina Johnson: Okay, brilliant. And I assume a strong collaborative working relationship between HR and finance is essential. So could you talk a little bit about how this relationship has evolved in your organisation in recent years?

Efthymios Zindros: Absolutely. And we had a very good working relationship. And generally, I think the tool and the co-ownership of the tool helped a lot. And we saw that, especially on the analyst level, on the expert level, the collaboration was getting stronger and stronger. The understanding of definitions of data architecture, of overall architecture was getting stronger and stronger. So we started seeing that the HR folks were starting to help the finance business use cases, the finance folks were starting to help the HR use cases, and generally, they started working more together because they had that one point of reference and that one source of truth. So we see that, of course, improving and also decreasing in some cases where the tool usage is lower. And of course, for us, we can only refer to the pilot which worked very well and evolved within our organisation. And we are targeting a global deployment to use this workforce and cost-planning process, I would say, and tool in the following years. And we believe, or I believe - I cannot speak for the entire organisation - that that will be a great enabler, not only for HR and finance, but also for GBS, so for the maintenance part of that entire process and way of working.

Christina Johnson: Okay, brilliant. Thank you so much. So it's time to draw things to a close, so we'll finish with one final question. If there's any organisations out there who want to devote more time and energy to innovation, but they're struggling to do so because processes and systems are holding them back, what advice would you give them?

Efthymios Zindros: In university, we were taught of this concept: people, processes, and systems that were kind of the three pillars of any change and implementation, any idea, any innovation. And that kind of stuck with me, I think, through all these years. My personal advice would be always to follow that sequence. It always starts with the people. You need to think of adoption. You need to think of change management. You need to think of what does it mean for the end user. Then focusing on the process, on how you can apply what the end user needs towards a specific process. And the system really comes last from that perspective. It is a great enabler because a good system can actually enable the other two components, and the bad system will never be able to do that. But at the end of the day, those two first components are key. And that is what many individuals or many organisations are forgetting sometimes - and I've done it as well; I think everyone has done it - that there is so much focus on the system and forgetting the people and the processes part along the way. [music]

Christina Johnson: Efthy, thank you so much for joining me today. It's been great to chat to you and learn more about the amazing journey you're on. That's all we've got time for, but if you enjoyed the show, you can subscribe at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and SoundCloud. You can also read more on the Workday blog. Thank you for listening, and have a great workday.

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