A New Era at Brown University with Workday

This month marks the beginning of a new era for Brown University that encompasses our people, our processes, and how we use technology to support our community. We just went live on Workday for Education & Government, a cloud-based administrative system for our workforce of more than 11,000 people.

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This month marks the beginning of a new era for Brown University that encompasses our people, our processes, and how we use technology to support our community. We just went live on Workday for Education & Government, a cloud-based administrative system for our workforce of more than 11,000 people.

Phase one of our deployment is now complete, which includes Workday Human Capital Management (HCM) and Payroll, and we have kicked off the start of our Workday Financial Management deployment. When all are in place, we expect Workday to enable us to share information across departments in a way that’s never been possible.

The deployment of Workday HCM and Payroll is a huge step in this direction, and as the project director, I’m very happy with the benefits we’re already experiencing. Managers and employees can now easily access their HR, benefits, absence, and payroll data from a great, consumer-like user interface, and we’ve begun to offer access from Workday’s native applications for the iPad and iPhone (very common fixtures on campus!). After we deployed the Workday solution, we were able to shift HR staffing resources from pure data entry to more strategic roles in data analysis and reporting to support decision making. These staffers are now in roles where they make an institutional impact every day.

How we got from there to here is an interesting story. Brown University, as many know, is an Ivy league institution in Providence, Rhode Island, founded in 1764. Prior to Workday, our “administrative system” was actually a combination of a mainframe system, manual processes, and third-party payroll. We had anticipated for years that we would eventually move to a traditional ERP-type system, but the high cost kept delaying the project. Then we met the folks at Workday.

It didn’t take us long to discover that delaying that huge ERP project was a blessing in disguise. We were able to leap from the old mainframe world, straight over the client-server generation, and into the modern world of cloud computing. Workday’s lower-cost SaaS delivery model played a significant part in our choice of the system over others that used a licensing-and-maintenance model and many resources to manage and maintain it. We also serve as a Workday design partner for certain features specific to higher education.

We knew the transition to Workday would be a big change for us, so from the beginning our Workday Executive Sponsor Group established a set of guiding principles that included transparency to our workforce about the project, and ensuring that their comments and concerns were heard. Another principle was full adoption of Workday’s configuration capabilities, allowing us to do away with software customization and workarounds. Workday has substantial configuration capabilities that allow us to tailor the system to our needs, so there isn’t a need for customization.

There are several more bits of advice I’d like to offer higher education and government organizations evaluating Workday:

  • Do your homework. Moving to the cloud is a very different model—talk to others in your industry who have done it. Also ask and get all relevant documentation about security and other critical topics. Our chief information security officer and university auditor went through Workday’s certification reports with a fine-tooth comb. In reviewing the materials, we asked tough questions of Workday and expected great answers.
  • Do stakeholder analysis and education. What are stakeholders worried about—what are their fears? They might be wondering if they’ll understand this new world of cloud computing, if their data will be safe, or how their jobs might change. We started education with a series of brown bag lunches, and also created an area online where employees can find information on the project. For those unfamiliar with the cloud, we explained it like this: If you order shoes on Zappos or books on Amazon, you’ll be able to use Workday with no problem.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate! Our staff development day, on June 6, was dedicated to Workday. We did a demo before hundreds of staffers, and had tables on specific topics such as compliance. That included information, for example, on Workday’s support for Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which states that all electronic and information technology used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities. We also had a table set up for visually impaired employees to use Workday on mobile devices rendered in a screen reader format, enabling those employees to use Workday through audio commands.

Here we are, less than two months after that day, using Workday HCM and Payroll as our system of record. We look forward to our full rollout of Workday, and benefitting from a fully modern and unified administrative system in the cloud.

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