H&R Block and Workday: The Power of Partnership

Read highlights from my conversation with H&R Block CIO Alan Lowden, which took place during our virtual Workday Innovation Summit, about the company’s digital transformation experience and how he defines a true partnership.

Every year, industry analysts gather at the Workday Innovation Summit to hear about our company’s latest product innovations and to gain insights from our customers. Due to the pandemic, the event looked a little different this year with it being completely virtual. However, that didn’t slow down my excitement to host a keynote session with our customer, H&R Block. 

I chatted with Alan Lowden, CIO at H&R Block, about their experience partnering with Workday and how they’re enabling business continuity through a global crisis. Excerpts from our conversation are below.

Can you give a little background on H&R Block?

H&R Block has been a trusted company for tax preparation since 1955, and during that time we have prepared more than 800 million tax returns. We have 10,000 retail offices across the U.S., with an office in every congressional district. Especially in some of our small-town locations, our tax pros comprise the fabric of that community and are an important advisor to local small businesses.

In addition to the retail tax office setting we are known for, we have an award-winning, do-it-yourself online tax service, a suite of financial products to help consumers manage their cash, and we serve the small business market with products and services such as bookkeeping and payroll.  We have operations around the world, including our subsidiary Wave Financial, the leading fintech company in Canada.

One thing that sets us apart is through all of our products and services, we believe in the importance of human help. Our 100,000 associates provide a human advantage that gives people the help they deserve, when and how they need it. We recognize the importance of innovative digital solutions, but we believe the best blend is digital capabilities with human expertise and care. That is core to how we do business, whether we prepare your taxes or help your small business with bookkeeping.

Let’s talk about how you and I first met, and how H&R Block came to select Workday applications—I think it's an interesting story.

When I came into the CIO role, the company had just kicked off a project to replace our human capital management (HCM) system with one of your competitors. That implementation was problematic out of the gate. Concurrently, we had been talking to your team about implementing Workday Financial Management. Since the HCM project with your competitor was failing, we decided to pursue both Workday HCM and Financial Management with the goal of implementing both components within 12 months. I was very skeptical about your ability to deliver both HCM and Financials within 12 months when your competitor’s HCM project was planned over 24 months and was over budget and months behind schedule. You kept saying, "You’ve got to trust us."  You challenged us and, ultimately, we put our faith in you.

In the end, HCM and Financials were delivered on time and on budget, and we also added other components in that timeframe to embrace Workday’s full application suite. We love your philosophy around the power of one and the platform works as advertised. We wanted less to manage and that's what Workday was able to deliver.

You first deployed Workday Financial Management and then went live with Workday Human Capital Management and Workday Payroll Management a few months later. How was your experience with our company during the deployment?

As I mentioned earlier, we had a bad experience with our previous HCM vendor, so we were a little hesitant about how it would go at first. Our experience with Workday was fantastic. You did what you said you'd do and brought us a great product, which we expected.  But you also came to the table with a high-quality group of experts in your consulting and delivery teams who knew the product inside and out. Your team embraced a consultative mentality, listened to our unique challenges, and came up with creative solutions to the things that the product didn't handle out-of-the-box.  

To be clear, there were issues with the project along the way as you encounter with any project of significance. The key is how each party responds to issues, which is what separates vendors from partners. Steel gets stronger through fire. In the challenging times, your team acted as true partners by acknowledging problems, adapting, and developing solutions. This served to further strengthen our relationship. 

“The key is how each party responds to issues, which is what separates vendors from partners.”

Alan Lowden CIO H&R Block

Since we established trust early on, we both pushed each other. We pushed you to change your processes and think about things differently, but you also pushed back on us. I remember you came to us and said, “Hey, we don't think some of your testing methodologies are really where they need to be.” Because of that, we had a detailed conversation about our integration testing methodologies and actually changed the Workday methodology for all customers based on your company’s feedback. It was a really nice balance of both teams pushing each other.

Yes, I agree completely. We all worked as one team and pushed each other to get better. The project team had Workday and Block employees, independent contractors, and other third-party companies involved. It was great because when you walked into scrum rooms, you had no idea who worked for each company because we all operated as one team with a common goal.

Let’s switch gears a bit. The pandemic has been challenging for many to deal with. H&R Block is no exception to that, especially considering this happened right in the middle of tax season. What challenges did your company face because of it?

Of course, the speed and scale of this crisis has been very challenging for us, as it has been for everyone. We dealt with some of the same issues as other businesses, like moving to a work-from-home model in days but launching virtual tax products in the middle of our busy season was a challenge that’s a little more unique to us.

At H&R Block, we know that tax refunds are the single largest financial transaction for most of our clients each year. And during this pandemic, we knew refunds were more vital than ever for millions of households. In addition, tax preparation became even more important this year because the federal stimulus payments were based on tax filings. We couldn’t just shut down our business. Instead, it accelerated a challenge for us to serve Americans in more virtual ways, pivoting our business model with our clients’ and associates’ well-being in mind.

Having Workday as part of our ecosystem allowed people to work from home and seamlessly access financials and HCM just as they would when in the office. And, the self-service manager features meant people leaders could still manage the needs of their teams through mobile experiences. We couldn’t have done this using our legacy system. Everything just worked with Workday, giving us one less thing to worry about, so that we could stay focused on our associates’ and clients’ needs.

That’s great to hear. Looking forward, how are you planning for the return to the workplace and re-opening storefronts? How will it look different than what you had in the past, and what steps are you taking to prepare for that?

We began inviting employees back to our corporate headquarters on June 1 aligned with CDC and local government guidance. Throughout the summer we will be inviting a small percentage of our corporate workforce to return to the office if they find it more convenient, but we are still encouraging people to work from home. 

For our retail tax offices that remain open, we are taking a number of steps with everyone’s well-being in mind. Among other safety measures, we are increasing deep cleanings in offices, disinfecting high-touch areas after each appointment, increasing space between tax desks and chairs, and completing wellness checks before each shift. People can also drop off documents physically or virtually and they can work with a tax pro remotely through mobile or PC experiences.

We also have a new concierge pilot underway. In San Diego, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, clients can make an appointment for an H&R Block tax pro to come pick up the tax documents at their home and prepare the tax filing remotely. We will continue to roll out more convenient ways for clients to get help with their tax and small business needs over the coming months. Combining tax expertise, convenience, and care is what we are all about.

It’s amazing how quickly your company adapted and continues to adapt during the pandemic. Thank you for sharing about H&R Block, your unique experiences throughout this pandemic, and the importance of remote work solutions for your organization. We’re proud Workday helped play a role in those business pivots and look forward to partnering with you in the future.

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