4 Lessons We’ve Learned From Successful Government Cloud Projects

Government IT projects can be complex, time-consuming, and resource intensive. In the first post in our series, Public Sector Perspective, Workday’s Rowan Miranda evaluates some of our digital transformation projects and identifies practices that set them up for success. Here’s what we’ve learned about organizational considerations when migrating to the cloud.

Government entities need services to be online, intuitive, and reliable for their constituents and their workforces. The same is true for back-office systems that keep operations efficient, executives and managers informed, and public employees productive. 

Public sector IT projects are executed in decentralized environments and under tight funding constraints. And when it comes to government technology transformation, it’s hard to drive change from the top because authority often rests within separate branches. Government projects are challenged even more by periodic elections that can replace elected officials and administrators, impacting priorities, budgets, and decision-making across agencies and departments.

Given these factors, and the uptick we at Workday have seen in the demand for cloud-based services and systems, we evaluated multiple projects and customer feedback to identify practices that can help governments succeed with their cloud migrations. 

Align on Purpose: Why Change?

This question is arguably the most important when considering a move to a cloud-based enterprise system. There needs to be a clear business case for a cloud investment, and it must be communicated widely. The case for change also serves as the foundation for guiding principles (e.g., the government will utilize software functionality to modernize business processes rather than recreating legacy processes in the new cloud application). These guiding principles help the project team and steering committee with decisions throughout the journey and can help measure project success. 

Establishing a Partnership With IT

The case for “why change?” should be developed by the business lines in partnership with IT. With cloud-based projects, government entities have an opportunity to position the IT organization as a partner rather than the sole owner of the effort. In cloud projects, most of our customers either lead with the business side—such as the CFO, CHRO, or chief administration officer (CAO)—or it is an equal partnership with IT.

What Does Success Look Like?

“Being more efficient” is too broad of a key performance indicator (KPI). The best metrics define success in a granular way. As examples, KPIs could be: reduce maverick spend by 50%, improve time to hire by at least 20%, or reduce time to financial period close by 30%.

The KPIs may not be IT-specific objectives, but business outcomes sought by different organizational stakeholders. It’s helpful to define these success targets as early in the deployment as possible, as these metrics can guide decision-making during the system design phase. If the planned budget decreases for some reason, predefined success metrics help prioritize outcomes for the initial deployment, while lower priority outcomes can be pushed out for future system optimization efforts.

Having an outside perspective and analysis can help. Prior to starting deployment, Workday’s value management team works with governments to baseline current performance in administrative areas such as finance, HR, payroll, or procurement. After go live and system stabilization, that team returns to measure performance in these same areas, allowing us to quantify the magnitude of improvement.

Being proactive about change management helps ensure the project stays on track, stakeholders stay aligned and informed, and departments remain engaged and supportive.

Align on Governance and Staff Resources

It is important to align the leadership involved in the deployment. Ideally, the project’s sponsor will gain executive buy-in and alignment with goals early in the process. And it’s important to ensure there’s alignment across all key stakeholders. 

In my experience, even when a request for proposal explicitly outlines goals for the project, executives often have different views of what constitutes project success. Getting alignment means engaging executives and key stakeholders across departments throughout the entire deployment. This ongoing dialogue keeps leadership informed on status, gets their viewpoint on any key decisions that require their input, and allows the project team to take into account changing expectations.  

Consider short- and long-term implications. For example, evaluate how an upcoming change in your organization’s elected leadership impacts or poses a risk to your project. Is it better to pause some aspects of the project until new leaders are in place? 

Another important step in deployments is putting the right people on the core project team and empowering them with authority to make decisions. This includes identifying, securing, and making available project managers and functional experts. It’s also important that key staff are available to serve on the project team by backfilling their positions or freeing them up from current responsibilities prior to project kickoff.

Staff with knowledge of legacy systems are a critical resource for the project team. They can champion change and be instrumental in the project’s success. Knowledge of the legacy system informs the team on current system pain points, shadow systems, interface requirements, and potential data conversion issues.

In my experience, even when a request for proposal explicitly outlines goals for the project, executives often have different views of what constitutes project success.

Prepare for Change Management and Training

With any technology deployment, the right change management strategy must be in place to facilitate a smooth transition to the new system

It’s imperative to have a steering committee or another project leadership group that meets regularly to drive effective change management. A steering committee that rarely meets is a sure way to put the project at risk.

Being proactive about change management helps ensure the project stays on track, stakeholders stay aligned and informed, and departments remain engaged and supportive. Project managers should be prepared to utilize an iterative or agile approach often used in cloud deployments. There is also likely to be a responsibility shift as non-IT departments play a larger role in the success of a cloud solution than in traditional IT-managed solutions.

Training needs to be considered in the early stages of the project. We’ve found that while Workday’s user experience is intuitive and doesn’t usually require much training, there’s always the need for users to familiarize themselves with new business processes configured during the deployment.

Engagement and communication with labor unions during the deployment fosters trust and can help mitigate problems that can arise later. Key considerations in union discussions include user impact, changes to job responsibilities, and desired future collective bargaining agreement changes that can promote operational efficiency and effectiveness. 

Prioritize Opportunities for Data

One of the biggest benefits of moving to the cloud comes from access to data that can provide insights and help drive better decisions. Effective data management can be complex and overwhelming in today’s environment where ample data is aggregated across many systems and connected devices. 

Many governments have legacy systems with few knowledgeable internal experts who understand the technical landscape. This can lead to data quality concerns, which means data extraction, cleansing, and transformation are required.

It’s critical to dedicate resources to the data cleansing effort as early as possible, whether internally or through a third-party company that specializes in data conversion.

Although government IT projects can be complex and time-consuming, we believe that if the proper steps are taken throughout the deployment, leaders can mitigate risk and achieve the desired transformational outcomes. When a modern cloud system is deployed thoughtfully with extensive change management effort, there are ample quantitative and qualitative benefits that more than justify the modernization investment.

Workday and our systems integration partners are here to help governments reap the benefits of digital transformation. Learn more about how Workday can help governments become digitally resilient.

This blog post has been updated from the original version that was published on September 30, 2021.

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