Looking Ahead for Professional and Business Services Companies

At our Conversations for a Changing World digital event, senior executives from IBM and Alight Solutions discussed how their organizations have collaborated with Workday to enable agility during the pandemic, and their plans for the future.

When the pandemic upended the old ways of doing business, professional services organizations quickly had to rethink how they worked—and how to work smarter. Some companies have been more successful at making that shift and embracing digital transformation.

During Workday’s Conversations for a Changing World, a digital event, Indy Bains, vice president of industry solution marketing at Workday, sat down for a conversation with two senior executives from IBM and Alight Solutions. They discussed how their organizations have collaborated with Workday to make the nimble pivots they needed during the pandemic—and how they will continue to do so  in the years ahead.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” said Joe Golden, IBM’s vice president of services, citing a famous quote from boxer Mike Tyson.

For many organizations, the pandemic delivered that painful blow. “Those who were ready to adapt and be more agile did better than those who weren’t,” Golden said.

What High Performers Have in Common

This year, the IBM Institute for Business Value’s annual CEO survey—which interviewed 3,000 CEOs from nearly 50 countries and 26 industries—identified about one-fifth of respondents who outperformed their peers in growth over the past three years. The survey asked these outperformers to name their top priorities for the next two years. “Creating agility and flexibility turned out to be the top priority by far,” Golden said.

Rather than getting pummeled by the pandemic, these top performers have stayed light on their feet by embracing digitization. “They had a willingness to invest in modernization,” Golden said. “And those who did it a little faster than others grew during the pandemic, where many others did not.”

“Digital first is our new reality. This isn’t going to change.

Joe Golden Vice President of Services IBM

IBM and Workday have partnered to enable a digital-first work environment, Golden explained. Together, they have helped client organizations rethink their siloed work processes and functions, standardize intelligent workflows and other processes, and align their workforces around the modern reality of a digitally driven hybrid workplace.

“Workday’s cloud-native platform fundamentally is about enabling rapid change,” Golden said.

Workday’s Bains underlined the growing importance of agility, not only for the current times, but for the future. “We’ve certainly seen how our customers have added new service lines and recalibrated their business throughout the past 18 months,” he said. “This isn’t something they were just doing for the last few quarters. It’s part of their operating model going forward.”

Golden agreed that the new digital norm won’t recede once the pandemic (finally) does. IBM’s workplace digitization business has grown by over 33% this year, he said. “Digital first is our new reality. This isn’t going to change.”

Micro and Macro

When Alight Solutions split from Aon Hewitt in 2017, it used a bespoke human resource management system that served its needs at the time, “but it wasn’t nimble and flexible,” Brennan, chief product strategy & services officer at Alight Solutions, said. To achieve that flexibility, Alight’s leaders adopted Workday’s cloud solutions. Brennan has overseen Alight’s transformation initiative as it implements a digital operating model, partnering with Workday to shift its human capital management (HCM) and finance functions to the cloud. That has been especially critical during the pandemic, when Alight completed six mergers and acquisitions, Brennan added.

By deploying Workday Professional Services Automation (PSA), Alight has gained a consolidated look at its people’s time and work. The company now has both a unified macro view and a highly detailed micro view. They can drill all the way down to a single invoice item to understand the what and why behind it. “Seeing all that in one place has been remarkable in terms of understanding what’s going on in our cost structure but also the speed at which we operate and make decisions,” Brennan said.

With Workday’s Adaptive Planning tools, Alight can use real-time data to make more precise forecasting decisions. It can create what-if scenarios based on projected client deals that might or might not happen, determining if the company has the capacity to take on new clients or if adjustments need to be made. Gone are the days of slow and cumbersome spreadsheets. Instead of a periodic and theoretical exercise done at a distance at headquarters, forecasting has become an ongoing process involving the informed input of managers who work directly with customers.

The ability to see what’s happening in real time has been particularly indispensable during the Covid-19 era, Brennan said. “As fast as things are moving and changing—from the slowdowns in the early stages of the pandemic to the pickup in business now—it’s been a game-changer for us in how we think about and run the business.”

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