Workday Podcast: Gladstone’s Journey From ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ to Successful Digital Transformation

With a tangle of siloed systems and inefficient paper-based processes, Gladstone Institutes was looking to modernize its technology to better sustain its mission of overcoming unsolved diseases of the brain, heart, and immune system. We talked with Scott Pegg, Gladstone’s CIO, and Derek Sharp at Avaap, to learn more.

Audio also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

The nonprofit sector has always been a critical part of addressing the world’s biggest problems, from disease and poverty to climate change and homelessness. But for nonprofit leaders, sustaining their organizations’ important missions can be challenging even in the best of times. And outdated legacy systems and manual processes can significantly hamper their plans. 

“What we had in place before Workday was a real Frankenstein’s monster of legacy systems,” says Scott Pegg, chief information officer at Gladstone Institutes, a 600-person research institution whose mission is using science to overcome disease. “They were not linked together in any robust way. There were also a slew of paper processes that were really inefficient. This made things like audits and getting historical data really old school. We’re talking about digging through big file cabinets full of paper.”

Pegg needed to modernize Gladstone’s technology and streamline its business processes, so its scientists could focus on the organization’s core mission. 

“I want to make sure that our scientists maximize the amount of time they spend doing science, and not spend time getting frustrated because they can’t easily get a copy of their W-2 or some other administrative issue,” says Pegg.

In this episode of the Workday Podcast, Pegg and Derek Sharp, vice president of higher ed and nonprofit sales and delivery at Avaap, describe Gladstone’s digital transformation process and how Avaap partnered with them to deploy Workday’s technology. Sharp also talks about his experiences driving change across a nonprofit organization and uniting and leveraging enterprise data to drive decision-making. 

Here are a few highlights of the conversation, edited for clarity. If you enjoyed this episode, you can find our entire podcast catalog here

  • “It's absolutely crucial for us to have our data integrated and in a repository that we can easily report out of, and it’s important at all levels. At the highest level, with our directors and trustees, they clearly need to have accurate financial histories and projections. At the lab level, our primary investigators and grant managers need to have up-to-date information about their funds. Workday has enabled a lot of data-driven decision-making at every level in the organization.” —Scott Pegg

  • “Scientists don’t want to be bothered with administrative work. So we use Workday as much as we can to automate processes that reduce the amount of time they need to spend on these processes. Workday has helped us streamline a lot of the nuts and bolts that are unavoidable.” —Scott Pegg

  • “Nonprofit organizations that decide to go through a digital transformation—and it’s really a business digital transformation—have been on legacy systems for a long time. And they’re usually at a critical point where they need to get off [the legacy systems], so having an on-time, on-budget deployment is important.” —Derek Sharp

To learn more about how Workday helps nonprofits build a sustainable financial future, visit our website.

Michelle Adams O'Regan: Hello, everyone, and welcome to our session this morning. We're going to be talking about making a difference with cloud technology for nonprofits. I'm your host, Adams O'Regan, industry solution marketing lead for a nonprofit here at Workday. And I'm so pleased to be joined by Pegg, chief information officer at the Gladstone Institutes, and Sharp, vice president of higher ed and nonprofit sales and delivery at Avaap, to talk about the ways nonprofits are leveraging technology across their organizations to have a big impact on mission achievement. 

So as we think about the many global challenges that have arisen over the past few years alone, the nonprofit sector stands out as critical to helping solve the world's big problems. From curing disease to halting climate change, and everything in between. But the best way to sustain the mission for positive change is to insure that non-profits can modernize and streamline their business processes, attract and retain diverse talent, maximize resources and optimize costs, and plan strategically with full visibility into all of their data. 

So let's start the conversation about what that looks like and how cloud-based enterprise solutions can help. So welcome, Scott and Derek. Before we really get started in the conversation, could you each tell me a little bit about yourselves, your organization, and your roles at Gladstone and Avaap, respectively. Scott, why don't we start with you?

Scott Pegg: Sure. So I'm the chief information officer and also the VP of research infrastructure at the Gladstone Institute. So I cover all the stuff that a regular CIO does, plus things like the physical facilities. Gladstone is about a five or six hundred person research institute. We do basic science. Our mission is science overcoming disease. So my goal is really to kind of be a chief enabler. I want to make sure that our scientists maximize the amount of time they spend doing science, and not spending time getting frustrated because they can't easily get a copy of their W-2 or some other administrative issue.

Adams O'Regan: Fantastic. So Derek, how about yourself?

Derek Sharp: Sure. Yes, I am vice president, responsible for our Workday higher education and nonprofit practice, which means that I'm responsible for our overall operations and deployment for our Workday engagements. I have been involved with Workday since 2016, but been involved in ERP deployments for the lion's share of my career, which is over 30 years. Part of my responsibility is being actually a part of the project as the executive sponsor sitting on their steering committee meetings to make sure that what we call trains run on time, that the resources that we need to have on the projects are there to address critical issues that come up in these type of deployments, and to truly partner with the nonprofit organizations that we work with on Workday deployments.

Adams O'Regan: Great. All right. So Scott, you've mentioned some of the frustrations that can come from not having some of the systems in place. So can you start us off by talking a bit about the challenges you were facing at Gladstone before Workday?

Pegg: Sure. I mean, what we had in place before Workday was a real Frankenstein's monster of legacy systems. So payroll and purchasing, expenses, grants, HR, these were all essentially separate systems. They were not linked together in any robust way. There was also a slew of paper processes that were really pretty inefficient. This made things like audits and getting historical data really old school. I mean, we're talking about digging through big file cabinets full of paper. So it was clearly time for us to modernize and take advantage of cloud-based systems so we could streamline things to better support our mission.

Adams O'Regan: You implemented Workday in January 2020. Is that correct?

Pegg: That was our go-live day, yeah.

Adams O'Regan: Yep, yep. So only a few months before COVID hit. How has having that in place helped you navigate the pandemic? Can you share some of the biggest changes in benefits that you've seen?

Pegg: Oh, sure. The timing was really fortuitous for us. We would have been in real trouble if we hadn't had Workday in place when the city and state forced us to shut down and have people work from home. And by real trouble, I mean things like, we wouldn't have been able to get people paid. We could not have run our payroll remotely before we implemented Workday. I think the biggest benefit for folks at Gladstone was really the ability to access Workday from wherever they were working and have it be kind of a one-stop-shop where they could the information they need to do the task they needed, whether it was getting financial reports, purchasing lab supplies, or even submitting their COVID test results. More than any other application, Workday kept them connected to Gladstone during those really tough first six months of the pandemic.

Pegg: Now COVID hasn't gone away, right? It's hard to say the pandemic's really over. But we're back on site now at Gladstone. The labs are as busy as ever, and we're still seeing a lot of benefits of having Workday in place. Our information is less siloed. All of our paper processes are now electronic. And our scientists really enjoy the self-service that Workday provides. That said, there are still some growing pains with Workday. In a way, we've become victims of our own success, particularly when it comes to integrating Workday with other systems and processes that are external to Gladstone. Our old legacy systems had about five integrations with outside systems. With Workday, we're now at about 85, and we have a steady stream of requests for more. I get a lot of folks coming to me and saying, "Hey, why don't we put this into Workday?" Right? So I have no end of those requests. So while it feels like we've come a long way, I think our journey with Workday is really just at the beginning.

Adams O'Regan: Absolutely. So much potential still to be realized. But it's great to hear about those benefits. You mentioned information being less siloed. The need to become more data-driven in decision-making across the entire org and being able to report on that data is a critical factor for nonprofits. So we'd love to hear more about what it has meant for you at Gladstone to have all your grants, financial, and HR data together in that one system.

Pegg: Yeah. It's absolutely crucial for us to have our data integrated and in a repository that we can easily report out of, and it's important at all levels. At the highest level, with our directors and trustees, they clearly need to have accurate financial histories and projections. And then at the lab level, our primary investigators, our grant managers, they need to have up-to-date information about their funds. And that's everything from the lab expenses to payroll encumbrances in order to just sort of keep the science moving in the lab. It's been really great for our lab managers to be able to track purchases. They can drill down into individual transactions and see, what was the last item we bought from this vendor? So Workday for us has enabled a lot of data-driven decision-making at every level in the organization.

Adams O'Regan: Wow, that's fantastic to hear. And Gladstone has such an incredible mission as an organization, to overcome unsolved diseases through transformative research. We'd love to hear more about how Workday supports you in achieving that, and perhaps some of your future plans, if you can share those.

Pegg: Sure. I mean, people are dying right now of the diseases that Gladstone is working to overcome. So we feel a sense of urgency to try to make sure that the science is moving as fast as possible. So as administrators, our goal is to enable the science as much as we can, right, to get the scientists what they need, and just minimize the amount of effort they have to spend on all the non-science aspects of being at a research organization. Workday really helps us do that in a number of ways. Just having an easy-to-navigate, one-stop, self-service system like Workday for scientists to handle things like time off or pay stubs, it goes a long way in making their days more efficient. They don't have to go to anybody else to get the information. It's just smooth for them whenever they need it, right? Scientists don't want to be bothered with administrative work. So we use Workday as much as we can to automate processes that reduce the amount of time they need to spend on these processes. Workday has helped us streamline a lot of the nuts and bolts that are unavoidable, right, like grants compliance and audits. You have to do these things, but Workday has made them a lot more efficient for us and has a really good system for letting in auditors.

Pegg: In terms of future plans, Gladstone itself is growing, and we expect Workday'll help us enable that growth. As we move to add more scientists and lab facilities, we're looking at some of the more advance financial planning and projection tools that Workday provides. We're also expecting that Workday will effectively grow with us, that it'll take the feedback that we provide to improve the Workday software itself, especially around things like grant management tools. We're heavily grant-funded. We have a growing complexity around how these grants get managed, so it's really important for us to be able to provide that feedback to Workday and then incorporate that into the product itself.

Adams O'Regan: Yeah. And that grant funding aspect is really applicable across the nonprofit sector and is so important. And that feedback loop that helps us do that better for our customers is really vital, so I'm so happy to hear that you guys will be partnering with us in that. So I want to shift gears slightly. One thing we often hear from our nonprofit customers who are making that shift that you've made, from legacy systems to a cloud-based ERP, is concern. Because they're used to hard projects in non-cloud-based systems, they're concerned that they have to have everything set before they even start. But Scott, as you mentioned, with Workday, it's a continuing evolution. There's open-ended opportunity to improve operations and business processes in a multitude of ways over time, which is so important as the world keeps changing and nonprofits need to meet new challenges, as Gladstone is doing. And in that digital transformation to the cloud, partners like Avaap can really be key to the success of that process. So Derek, can you talk a bit to us about how partners like Avaap do help nonprofit organizations like Gladstone and why that support is so important?

Sharp: Yeah, sure, Michelle. So nonprofit organizations that decide to go through a digital transformation-- and it's really a business digital transformation, and I'll talk more about that. But they have been on the legacy systems for a long period of time, and they're usually at a critical point where they need to get off, so having an on-time, on-budget deployment is important. Specifically for Gladstone is that we, Avaap, had experience with Banner and also Kuali on grant funding and grant management, so there was clear alignment there. And the partner's experience with nonprofit organizations and deployment and really being able to focus on those greater efficiencies and cost reductions and return on investment are important. And that's having a greater understanding of the types of business processes that they need, the fact that they have grant and fund accounting needs and temporary workers. And so having that type of understanding is really important.

Sharp: Now you mentioned about how Workday and cloud-based deployments are really different, specifically from those deployments from the 1990s and the 2000s where the system integrater was responsible for almost all the work, and it was a more technology-led project. Workday's methodology and Avaap's adoption of our methodology to extend Workday methodology is really and truly a business transformation focused on getting the client's business owners to take responsibility of the business process and the ultimate configurations. And this requires that the clients, and in this case, Gladstone, to get involved at a different level on the deployment, where they're involved in the unit testing, the end-to-end testing, and also the configuration and deployment activities at a different level than they would on those old legacy system deployments. And so it is a true partnership that needs to take place in order for these deployments to be successful, and also the knowledge transfer to take place. So ultimately, in this case, Gladstone can take over responsibility and do those additional rolling adoption type of projects that Scott was talking about.

Adams O'Regan: Yeah, absolutely. So I'd love to hear Scott's perspective, since Avaap was your partner and the relationship has continued post-go-live. Scott, can you talk a bit about the importance of that to your progress, as Gladstone continues to evolve with Workday?

Pegg: Oh, Avaap was really critical to our success with Workday. I mean, we proposed an extremely aggressive timetable for going live with Workday. And to Avaap's credit, they did exactly what they should have done, which was to start by sort of talking us through what the challenges would be inherent in such a short timeline, but also commit to partnering with us to simply make it happen. And it was during that really hectic 12 months of implementation and getting to an on-time launch that I think we built a lot of trust going both ways. So Gladstone really views Avaap as a trusted partner in our continuing Workday journey. And it's been really useful to be able to reach out to the same folks at Avaap who did our original hands-on implementation whenever we have questions or issues or new challenges with Workday.

Adams O'Regan: Absolutely. And I think for nonprofits-- that trust and that relationship is important to all industries, but particularly in some cases with nonprofits where they may be fewer internal resources, there may be more needs, and having that implementation partner in your corner that can really partner and work with you is really critical to making the project successful. So speaking of success, any success stories that either of you would like to share? What would be the thing that you're most proud of, most excited about, or that has had the greatest impact of going to Workday? So I'll ask that question of Scott first.

Pegg: Yeah. I mean, there's lots of little success stories in there. But to me, having sort of been going top down from my view, one of the biggest successes was just the overall project management of this. Avaap partnered us with a really stellar engagement manager who worked from us from the very beginning until after go-live. And this was a young guy, and I can still remember the look on his face when we told him we wanted to go live in January of 2020. I mean, he seemed genuinely concerned that we were not living the same reality that he was. But he very skillfully worked with us to determine the limits of what we could do in that time frame, what it would take to go live on schedule, and then he kept us on track through the entire process. And I can only imagine just how badly we'd have shot ourselves in the foot without that kind of guidance.

Adams O'Regan: Wow, that's amazing. That's really impressive. Derek, how about you, when you think about this project?

Sharp: I don't know if I could-- I don't know if I could top that, Michelle. We should probably drop the mic there. But one of the things that I would say is the-- a lot of system integrators talk about partnerships, right? Yeah, you've got a partner. But I think we're different because we believe in the purpose of Gladstone. So purpose-based nonprofits are really important to us. And so we are invested, and I think the partnership for us-- specifically for Avaap, because system integration with Workday is a confidence-based business. So having the confidence of Scott and of Gladstone is really important with us because that confidence means that we can reference them for other work. It's truly based on the success of the project, where we-- it was [inaudible] that was the EM that was a part of the deployment that we wanted, and wanted to make sure they would be able to go live well with the timing because of getting off of those legacy systems. And so I think the success story is really the true partnership, and also the fact that we were able to use our resources and their experience on nonprofits, which is something that's a part of our DNA from the inception of Avaap that we were able to bring to the project, which I truly thought made a difference. So that's the only thing that I would add.

Adams O'Regan: That's fantastic. So looking towards the future, looking forward and looking back, what would you say to other nonprofit organizations or research institutions looking to embark on this kind of digital transformation to the cloud journey? Any advice, lessons learned, things you would do differently, things that you feel really strongly were important? Scott, how about you?

Pegg: Yeah. I guess I have a couple of recommendations here. So one is, take the extra time with the stakeholders in your organization to really get alignment early on on, what are the must-have things that the system needs to do versus a nice-to-have, and then sort of plot that implementation out on a timeline. This is where an experienced implementation partner like Avaap can be a big help, right, because they're going to be able to walk you through a lot of that. I think my biggest recommendation, though, and this really goes for all ERP systems, so Workday or whatever else you're using, is that you need to be willing to modify your business processes to fit the system. There are no systems on the market, and there never will be, that do everything exactly the way you want it to. You have to be able to put aside those expectations and be willing to change the business processes to flow in the way that the system is designed to best handle them. Otherwise, you are going to be endlessly frustrated and feel like you are constantly fighting the system, and this is also something that an experienced partner like Avaap that has a really solid understanding of the system's underlying design principles can help you with.

Adams O'Regan: Yeah. That business process issue is one we hear frequently from nonprofit customers as well, that trying to fit your existing business processes into the system is not the path to success, and that really thinking critically about the ways that things can be improved is really key. So thank you for that. Derek, any advice or lessons learned from any of your nonprofit or research institution deployments? Advice that you would give to other folks thinking about embarking on a Workday or an ERP project?

Sharp: I'm going to piggyback on what Scott said in terms of stakeholder engagement. Change, and particularly around technology and business processes, is often daunting to an organization, and we often say that organizational change starts where there's a rumor about moving off the legacy system to a cloud-based solution. And so organizational change management really becomes critical. And it's across the board from communications, to training, to stakeholder engagement. So making sure that there is a change management structure in place as early in the process of going through this digital transformation is really, really critical. I've been in business long enough to know that earlier, in the 1990s and early 2000s, that sometimes that the training and organizational change management budget was cut at the end the projects when there was overruns, and there was always a surprise when those projects weren't successful. So organizational change management, having it truly integrated throughout the project is really critical for the success of the project, because it's about the people and not so much about the technology. And not to say the technology isn't important. It is. But the people adopting the technology and adopting Workday is really critical to the project success.

Adams O'Regan: Such an important point. And actually, I want to push on that, if I could. This is a little bit of a bonus question. But what you just said about people is really resonant, that people are the key to the success with any technology, and that managing change within the organization is key to that. So Scott, I just would love to hear-- you mentioned some impact on people at Gladstone earlier, but how do you feel about that statement?

Pegg: Oh, I think Derek's absolutely right. I think one of the keys to success in doing a Workday implementation is getting people into the system early, right? Let them see what it looks like. Let them get the look and feel of it. Let them get comfortable with it so that they sort of understand what it is you're proposing to do, right? Even just give them a sandbox and let them play around in something they can't break. It goes a long way, right, because once they're comfortable, it's easier to have that discussion of, "Okay. We have these business processes that are now going to be done in the system. Here's what it's going to look like. Here are ways we can do it." And they're over the hump already of just trying to figure out where the menus are, and, "What do I click on?" And you have a much more engaged situation where you can go through that process discussion and not have people sort of freaked out about the next technology piece.

Adams O'Regan: Yeah, absolutely. So finally, looking ahead, this is kind of a big picture question, but where do you see the nonprofit sector overall, or in the research institution space, going over the next few years? What trends are you most excited about? What challenges do you foresee? Interested in your thoughts about the future, if you want to get out your crystal balls.

Pegg: Oh, man. In the research space, I mean, biomedical research is entering this really, really exciting phase. We have all these rapid advances in computation, robotics, imaging, DNA sequencing, and they're all coming together now in ways that push basic science forward incredibly fast. And within the next 10 to 20 years, we're going to have a far better understanding and potentially cures to diseases that impact a lot of people, and nonprofit institutions are really at the center of the basic science that drives this, institutions like Gladstone which have the ability to be a bit more nimble than a larger university and to take on more of the high-risk cutting edge experiments. Gladstone has a really important role to play in advancing this science and leading a way to cures.

Adams O'Regan: Yeah, that's amazing for the future, and we all look forward to that. Derek, how about you? Big picture? With your exposure and interest in the nonprofit sector, what do you see as future trends and challenges that you think customers are going to be facing?

Sharp: I think the consolidation, and sometimes in the marketplace, although we're saying expansion, to be honest with you, with nonprofits, I think it's also the use of products Workday Extend to go beyond just the HCM pay and financial deployments where-- Scott was talking about those external systems, so being able to take on additional functionality and integrate with those external systems, especially in research. I think that's really, truly the opportunity within Workday, which is, of course, the vertical in the world that Avaap lives in.

Adams O'Regan: Fantastic. Well, thank you both, Scott and Derek, for sharing your experience and your insights with our audience today. So many great takeaways on the way of partnership for digital transformation can have such a phenomenal impact on an organization and, frankly, on the world. We are truly honored to partner with our nonprofit customers who are doing world-changing work every day. And to all of you, have a great work day.

Pegg: Thank you.

Sharp: Thanks, Michelle.

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