How Sun Life Uses Workday Extend and People Experience to Engage Employees

Learn how the financial services company extended the power of Workday to make the employee experience smoother and more productive—especially as it looks ahead to bringing employees back to the office.

Sun Life’s purpose is helping its clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives. The global financial services company’s plethora of solutions include innovative wellness programs and retirement options.

Sun Life also understands that within its own business, employees who feel safe and satisfied drive client and business success, and technology can play a strong role in that goal. 

Enter Teresa Rahn, manager, HR Technology – Innovation, Sun Life. Talking to her, it’s clear she is an “always-on innovation” type of person who is passionate about using and extending the power of Workday. We caught up with Rahn after she shared her knowledge in a webinar on our Workday Community site to ask some follow-up questions. Our exchange has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

In your webinar, you talked about extending the scope of Workday. Can you explain why that matters? And then, how?

At Sun Life, we place the employee in the center of all the work we do in HR. That means delivering solutions which are easy to access. We are currently working toward making Workday the hub of all things HR so that we can reduce friction with employee interactions, and allow employees to find what they need with a minimum of confusion.

Take the ever-evolving work on how to return employees to the office post-pandemic. Having Return to Office functionality and information in one place is key to delivering a great employee experience. It makes it easy to find the answers you need, and helps the organization get a consistent message out quickly—especially important during a pandemic. The result: Engaged employees who feel connected, even though they aren’t physically together.

We are moving towards this hub model by deploying and leveraging:

  • Workday People Experience, which gives us a great starting toolset of cards and tasks to help personalize the employee’s experience.
  • Workday Extend, which allows us to pull additional HR processes into our HR system.
  • Workday Help, which ensures employees don’t have to leave Workday to reach out for HR assistance. Plus, Knowledge Base allows us to move our intranet content into Workday.

From a data perspective, having all this functionality in one system allows for higher quality data. This translates to better insights about our employees to help drive better interactions and higher engagement.

You mention reducing friction for employees, and then talk about better data. Are those two things related?

They are intimately related. Employees won’t use a system that’s difficult to navigate. If we want to gather insights that will drive better decisions, we need to have our employees not only interact with the system, but engage with it.

If we are only able to get a small slice of data because employees are performing tasks elsewhere, then we are missing out on all that information, and may get skewed results. Improving the interaction and functionality of Workday will drive more engagement, which will in turn, drive better insights.

How do you take the small steps that move you toward the bigger strategic priority of digital transformation? What are the driving factors that influence that decision making?

Establish that bigger vision first as it’s really the most important part. Because once you have that you can always measure your tactical short steps against that vision to make sure you’re heading to the right place.

That being said, while the greater vision at Sun Life doesn’t change, the journey might as we learn from the smaller steps. And because each of these steps bring us closer to a place where we can get a clearer picture of the future, we have a constant, iterative feedback loop as we move forward.

Can you provide me with a tangible example of how Workday People Experience has impacted the business? And what are your thoughts toward the future?

When we saw what Workday Help—specifically Knowledge Base—was capable of, it really solidified our ideas about how to move forward with Workday. Sun Life’s existing intranet solution was being retired and replaced with new technology, and we saw this as an opportunity to clean up old information, and create our own HR resource hub within Workday.

We had heard consistently that it was difficult for employees to find the information they needed when they needed it, and we wanted to start driving Workday as our system of engagement. If employees are in Workday more often, we can take advantage of that to provide them with other Workday People Experience services like journeys, custom cards, etc. Our hope is that by providing a more streamlined, consolidated experience, we can better serve employees the content they need and when they need it, reducing the friction in their lives.

Why did you decide to further Workday functionality with Workday Extend versus using a third party solution?

We didn’t really consider any other options. When Workday Extend became available through the Early Adopter program, we joined as soon as we could. There are a number of reasons why this was easier for us.

To start, it meant we didn’t have to usher through a new vendor with our legal, IT security, and architecture groups. We already have a close and trusted relationship with Workday, so it was easy to get answers to any and all technical questions our IT experts had.

It’s worth emphasizing that with the integrated data model we already had in place, any data collected through the new apps we were building would be reportable and mixable with other Workday data—no additional integrations were required to bring data into a new app.

Self-sufficiency was a huge factor for us as well. We wanted to be able to build and maintain our own apps in HR without having to rely on our IT dept. This self-sufficiency can be really helpful for quick turnarounds and rapid development. Our clients and developers live in the same world, so our developers can better understand client requirements.

We also loved the idea that the apps we built would have a familiarity about them. Employees have a lot going on, and don’t always want to learn a new system. So, by leveraging the same Workday look and feel, it helps them interact with a new app as if it were a new feature of Workday, rather than needing to start from scratch.

What is the benefit of using Workday People Experience and Workday Extend together?

Workday Extend allows us to create new apps for employees within our current Workday environment. This is already a great thing. But then, supporting those new apps with People Experience takes it from an “app” to an “experience.” People Experience allows us to support and reinforce ease-of-use for that new app in a number of ways. For example, we can create a Journey that shows up on an employee’s Workday homepage so that they can get the context they need before even seeing the new app. With People Experience, we can also support that new app with Knowledge Base articles, videos, or even options to create a help ticket if necessary.

“Workday Extend allows us to create new apps for employees within our current Workday environment.”

Teresa Rahn Manager, HR Technology – Innovation Sun Life

So, you’re building a true system of engagement in a very concrete way?

Yes, exactly. Look, if you want an employee to engage with the system, it better be engaging. You need to think of the places an employee has the opportunity to “fail” at the task you’ve given them, and provide them with the support they need, ideally before they even know they need it.

From an employee experience perspective, you have to think about and use all the tools in the Workday toolbelt: Extend, People Experience, announcements, guided tours, dashboards, reporting, Worksheets, etc. Think long and hard about what you need to get out of the app—and that includes what you’re hoping to see from end users—before you decide what has to go in.

How did you approach developing your first app, and then subsequent apps, using Workday Extend?

When we started developing with Workday Extend, the first thing we built was an app to further automate our Education Assistance Request form. The form had recently been moved from a form-fill PDF into Workday using the Workday request framework. The request framework provided some great advantages, but there were still some areas where we needed to add our unique spin.

That first app took eight weeks to build. But more importantly than the short time it took, we were able to begin growing our toolbox of capabilities. This meant that our second app, supporting a global CEO-sponsored recognition program, took only six weeks. That’s a 25% decrease in time, purely due to leveraging our toolbox and what we’d learned about using Workday Extend.

Our next app, the first for our new developer, took only two weeks! We then moved into a flurry of Return to Office (RTO) apps, and also built our Team Appreciation app. In these cases, new features were built and were automatically added to the toolbox. We even created a “Shopping Cart” for Team Appreciation using that toolbox. This app took about two-to-three weeks to build in parallel to RTO work.

Workday Extend allows Sun Life to accelerate development.

Now, I want to emphasize that our RTO apps and work (other than the survey) have not been put into use yet. Employees in North America, the UK, and Europe are working from home until at least September 2021. Nevertheless, the functionality is ready to go.

As far as what we’ve learned as we’ve developed more apps, it’s important to understand that yes, our development times get shorter as we learn and understand the product. But the main time-saver is our ability to build, maintain, then leverage the toolbox of capabilities that we can pull out and deploy with new apps. This means that very few apps are “net-new,” and the value we get out of any one piece of code is multiplied by the number of times that we use it. That ability to compound the value of our work means we can attack new apps faster and with less risk because it's on the Workday platform.

How big was the team that learned Workday Extend and built the apps? And who did the work?

Initially we hired one developer. He and I worked very closely together as a team to build new Workday Extend apps. When we purchased Workday Extend, I really thought that my job would be to write a set of requirements, hand it over to my developer, and then he would hand me back an app and say it's ready for testing. But what we very quickly found out was that it works so much better if your developer, business analyst, and Workday configuration person work hand-in-hand, as that can really help drive everyone’s progress forward.

So, for quite some time we had one developer and one configuration analyst. We've since added one more developer and one more configuration analyst.

Has Workday Extend allowed you to replace other larger or more complex IT systems or applications?

Generally, it was less about moving complicated IT solutions into Workday and more about consolidating information from form-fills and spreadsheets into the Workday system. Having said that, we did have a case with our CEO Awards in a legacy IT system the year before we started using Workday Extend. Due to some challenges we found, we moved it to Workday. So in that case, we did replace a larger IT system.

And finally, how does this help you work better towards a common goal with your IT counterparts?

Our IT group is very supportive of the advances we’ve made with Workday Extend. It was much easier for them to review and understand the architecture and security model since it was the same as Workday. They also appreciate that we can get more out of Workday, while not actually requiring much additional support from them—so they can focus on what they do best: Innovating to create value for the business.

For Workday customers who need help in extending the power of Workday, contact your account team. Or, contact our Workday Extend certified services partners directly: Accenture, Alight, BNB, Collaborative Solutions, Deloitte, IBM, Intecrowd, Kainos, KPMG, PwC UK, and PwC US.

More Reading