HR Innovation: An Inside Look at How Sony Brought Five Companies Together on Workday

On April 2, five Sony companies all turned on a single instance of Workday Human Capital Management, allowing us the benefits of a modern HR system to support our collective workforces. We’ve learned a lot through the process, and this blog is an opportunity to share some of those things with other business leaders.

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On April 2, five Sony companies all turned on a single instance of Workday Human Capital Management, allowing us the benefits of a modern HR system to support our collective workforces. We’ve learned a lot through the process, and this blog is an opportunity to share some of those things with other business leaders.

Perhaps the most important takeaway I can share is that there is no reason for organizations to be stifled by inflexible systems incapable of supporting and driving their businesses forward. There are better options available that reduce costs and unnecessary work, improve business responsiveness, and bring modern, relevant technologies and experiences to our workforces.

As senior VP of human resources at Sony Electronics, Inc., based in San Diego, I oversee a team that recognized the limitations of our previous HR system and knew we had to make a change. Sony Electronics sits in a family of subsidiary companies that operate independently under our parent company, Sony Corp. of Tokyo, all of which are using various applications individually selected over the years for their respective businesses.

Not long ago, Sony Electronics began looking to replace a very customized and costly HR software system that did not allow us to rapidly change business processes to meet our needs. If we needed to quickly add a newly acquired company or implement a process to meet changing business conditions, it would take three-to-six months to develop the code and deploy the new process. By the time the new process was teed up, the business was shifting in a new direction. It also was difficult to quickly change processes to adjust to new laws and regulations because of the overly customized platform. And talent management wasn’t built into the system, making it hard for us to innovate in that area.

We were intrigued by Workday’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model built around configurability and updates, which removes the need for software customization and maintenance. We knew some of our other sister companies were using onsite HR software and struggling with the same issues of inflexible, heavily customized systems. During the Workday selection process, we brought in several of them to take a look: Sony Corporation of America, Sony DADC US, Sony Music Holdings, and Sony Network Entertainment International. To our delight, all four decided to join us to share a tenant of Workday that encompasses a total of approximately 8,500 employees.

The Workday deployment allows the five Sony companies to use common business practices while still allowing each one to configure Workday to meet the needs of their respective businesses. It also supports employee career discovery and mobility. For example, it’s not unusual for employees to find new opportunities at a sister Sony company, and in the past, those choosing new positions would go through a termination, separation, and hiring process, creating more work for HR departments and employees. Sharing the Workday SaaS solution allows HR partners and managers to collaborate more closely, so they can execute transfers across business entities, and employees don’t experience a disruption in services, including provisioning of email, system access, and HR services. Transferring employees don’t need to learn a new HR system, allowing them to be more productive on day one.

Workday also provides us with a common platform for reporting headcount to Sony Corp., improving the efficiency of that process. We are now in discussions with sister entities to determine how we can leverage the Workday platform in the talent space. Stay tuned…there’s more to come in this area.

The Workday deployment has confirmed for us that the traditional HR software model was costing us time and money, and limited our ability to focus on the HR actions and initiatives that bring true value to our business. I recommend business leaders consider these questions: How customized does your software need to be, and are those customizations really adding long-term value to the organization?

It is our experience that Workday’s configuration model is a superior option. Workday updates its system for all customers every four months—adding new technology innovations, support for new laws and regulations, and enhancements to the user experience—and customers can choose and configure new features and functions at their own pace. Workday has allowed us to continue providing true self-service to those who have come to love and expect this, while allowing other Sony entities to experience their first self-service opportunity for HR services.

The deployment process had a terrific impact on our relationship with IT, too. Our partners in IT were incredibly impressed and supportive throughout the deployment. Now that we’re live on Workday, IT is able to channel more of their energies to the parts of our business that directly drive revenues—they’re spending less time as technical consultants, and more time as business consultants. At the same time, our HRIS organization found it fairly easy to be directly involved in the development of integrations of Workday with other systems, without having to rely entirely on outside consultants to handle that work.

Our relationship with Workday has been great from the start. I was impressed that co-CEO and co-Founder Dave Duffield came to Southern California to meet with us, and my impression is that Dave and the rest of Workday really care about the relationship. It’s been one focused on proactive engagement, and not just marketing and selling. This positive experience has continued as a member of the Workday community, allowing us to share information and enhancement ideas with other customers and Workday product managers.

While April 2 was an important day, the Workday HCM roll-out was essentially a non-event. I’m grateful to Workday, their partner Aggressor (now part of Deloitte Consulting), and the rest of the Workday community for their help in leading up to that day. And I’m proud of our team and how quickly it lined up to roll out Workday HCM across five separate but interdependent organizations in about six months.

For customer news about Workday HCM, see “Companies Across Several Industries Join the Workday Cloud,” (July 12, 2012), and “Workday Continues European Growth as More Enterprises Join the Workday Cloud,” (May 10, 2012).

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