Business leaders in finance, human resources, and technology recently joined us in Madrid for our Workday Elevate event. Read highlights of a conversation between Alberto Torres, partner at McKinsey Digital, and Fermin Peleteiro, senior vice president, global field operations at Workday, where Peleteiro discusses how businesses are embracing agility and handling the new hybrid world of work.
Torres: Let’s start with the importance of adaptability, as I know that agility is one of the core areas Workday has been focused on. How do you see that?
Peleteiro: I think having great agility and being able to react and adapt with low response times, it has always been there and always will be a priority. During the COVID pandemic, and especially the first three months, we had to react, and we had to help our customers react. It was inspiring to see how our customers reacted to the challenges. And now, even though we hope the worst of COVID is beyond us, there will always be challenges: supply chain disruptions, stressed labour markets, or macroeconomic policies impacting business. Then there are new competitors trying to do what you do but better and faster—that means we have to find the capacity to adapt.
What are the main attributes of agility across the organisations that are performing well?
Based on the conversations I’ve had with Workday customers and other organisations, I see a number of key areas that are helping to improve agility. One is optimising the cycle of analysis, planning, and execution. This gives business users the ability to make decisions in a more agile way. In order to make an optimal decision, you have to have a holistic view, and this means being able to combine operational business data, financial data, and in many cases, people data—because [people]normally account for 70% of an organisation’s costs.
The other thing, logically, is to continue automating things. Maybe what has changed the most in the last few years is there are more and more automation use cases that are very well tested: detecting duplications in invoices, accounting entries that are incorrect, and detecting payments to incorrect suppliers. These are standard use cases that can be applied quickly and that free up a lot of time for finance teams. Applying agility to everything that involves modification and flexibility of processes is key.
Do you have some examples of organisations that are demonstrating agility?
I think the first few months of the COVID pandemic brought this into focus. Of course, there was terrible suffering and such human tragedy, but seeing the way our customers found ways to succeed was inspiring. Workday always aims to help our customers innovate, but in total honesty, two-thirds of our new features come from our customers—they drive innovation. During the pandemic, I remember that two or three American universities moved very quickly with the [new capability] to register the appropriate security certifications to allow on-site access. Similarly, one university with 20,000 students created a hybrid model to quickly record vaccination data and integrate it with batch systems to allow site access. They did that in four weeks, and that was based on being able to quickly change processes knowing you have the technology to support such changes.
In manufacturing during the pandemic, there were unprecedented peaks and troughs in terms of production activity—from grinding to a complete stop to production moving at a million miles per hour. There are examples of customers who had to create an emergency task force to optimise resourcing and related costs. This requires a very close collaboration between finance, human resources, and other business leaders to really speed up the planning process. They went from having quarterly planning processes to weekly planning processes. In some cases, they had to replan every week. Right now, they’re at the other extreme of having peak demand. All of a sudden, you have to replan, rethink permanent and temporary staffing, and consider different variables to really optimise.
How are Workday and its customers thinking hybrid work and how it impacts business operations?
I think it’s one of the most interesting topics because it impacts almost every organisation. For many workers, they’re not returning to the office, [and some] will actually never have experienced their company’s office because they started as a remote worker. We’ve probably doubled in size since COVID, and many employees have never set foot in a Workday office before.