Workday Podcast: People First: Workday’s Role in Financial Transformation at Cushman & Wakefield

The head of finance systems at Cushman & Wakefield shares Workday’s role in the company’s transformation journey, and why people are at the center.

Audio also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Systems. Predictive analytics. Processes. Big data. While these all play a role in financial transformation, Alejandro Barcena, vice president and head of finance systems at Cushman & Wakefield, would argue that people play a central role in a successful transformation project. In this episode, he talks about the company’s transformation journey and the key role Workday plays in it all. 

Here are a few highlights from Barcena, edited for clarity. You can find our entire podcast catalog here

  • “If I had to summarize our transformation journey, I would say that it’s more around people. It’s about being creative to better serve others.”

  • “Workday Extend is agile. It’s innovative. It has significantly improved our user experience because the data that we are able to generate now is much more accurate. It’s allowing us to differentiate from our competitors and develop capabilities that are unique in the market. It’s been a game-changer at Cushman & Wakefield.”

  • “It took us days before and an incredible amount of human effort to resolve incidents, make adjustments, collect the data, and generate invoices. That was impacting our close. That process that took us hours, days​​—we run it now in minutes. The quality of our data has improved incredibly. We’ve gained a lot of efficiencies in terms of generating outcomes. A single data source with development capacity within the same platform has been a perfect fit.”

Jeremiah Barba: Let’s do some word association. When I say “financial transformation,” what comes to mind? Big data? Complex systems? Predictive analytics? Processes? Whatever you answered, I would venture a guess that “people” may not be the first item on your list. So what my guest has to say today could be a little bit surprising. He’s at the center of financial transformation at one of the world’s biggest real estate services firms. I’m your host, Jeremiah Barba, and I’m so glad to be joined by Alejandro Barcena, vice president and head of finance systems at Cushman & Wakefield. Alejandro, thanks so much for joining me today.

Alejandro Barcena: Thank you, Jeremiah. Thanks for having me today.

Barba: Absolutely. So before we jump in, could you share a little bit about yourself, your background, and your work with Cushman & Wakefield?

Barcena: Yeah, sure. Absolutely. I'm from Spain. Now based out of Washington DC. I'm married. I got two kids. I love reading, cooking, and spending time out there with the kids. And of course, I love soccer. I'm a big Real Madrid fan. I've practically been my entire career in the professional services industry, working with different technologies in multiple industries, running financial transformation programs. And of course, Workday has been part of it. Actually, before joining Cushman & Wakefield, I had the opportunity to work at VMB, the Workday partner, where I ramp up and led the Workday finances practice for eight years. We did great things, and they continue thriving. I joined Cushman & Wakefield a year ago as global head of finance systems with the main purpose of exploring and redesigning the, the future of Cushman finance applications landscape, where among other technologies, Workday is a key partner. For the people who don't know, Cushman & Wakefield, we are a large, real estate services firm, running operations all over the world. We got multiple service lines with property management. We do valuations. We do listing, private development. So we are around 50,000 workers, employees. We generate 10 billion in revenues. We got global presence in around 60 countries and 400 offices. I'm super happy to be there with them, and it's an extremely innovative company, a fantastic organization. And I'm really happy to be here contributing with the rest of my colleagues.

Barba: So you've been in the Workday ecosystem for a while, which is great, both at a partner and now, as a customer. So let's talk about financial transformation. As you have been going through that, what have you found to be the most valuable parts of that process?

Barcena: So at Cushman & Wakefield, we've been able to realign the finance function, defining roles. That's been eliminating barriers between our function and our service lines, our front and our back. That definitely is improving collaboration, and it's as well fostering a culture of continuously trying to do things a bit better. Another thing that I found out as part of these finance transformation journeys is the opportunity to revisit the data models. Having platforms where you can unify your data model, and you can use it as the driver for your business process definition. It's always resulting in gaining efficiencies. So it's eliminating barriers, and it's enhancing speed and agility. And this is not just about a technology. This is also about people and talent. Finance transformation programs are also contributing to unveil talent in the organizations, and it's also developing new capabilities for the people.

So there is a huge evolving demand nowadays with the new technologies where we got things like predictive analytics, business partnering, strategic thinking. As part of this program, there has been a huge shift in people's mindset. At Cushman, our finance transformation journey has also created a context of being agile and rapidly accommodate to changes. So we've been through a couple of big mergers and acquisitions. We went public as well a few years ago. So this is about flexibility and agility. And above all, opportunities for improving processes, including new technologies. Automation's all over the place. In the case of Workday, we've found a lot, so we could talk about a lot of them. But I would focus on mainly cash application and banking reconciliation. But there's been a huge game change in our finance transformation program. One thing that we've found was extremely disruptive was the capacity to build our own solutions within the platform. So having unified data, HR, finance with the power of building your own application, like Extend, it's been, it's been fantastic. So I would highlight all these, the most valuable things that we found at Cushman & Wakefield.

Barba: That's great. And you provided a perfect segue into what we're going to talk about next, which is Workday Extend. So what part has Workday Extend played in helping you to be more flexible in supporting the business?

Barcena: Well, let me give you some context first. So we are a real estate services firm. It's, extremely complex business, specifically when you are operating in different geographies and mainly in large corporations, where the business itself is so diversified like in our case. So, we do a lot of things. We clean floors. We design and execute projects. We manage properties. We also provide advisory services. So it's always around buildings and space, but the service is so different. We’ve got situations where the client’s demands are unique. And even within the same service line, we find that the same service within the service line provided to different customers is different. So we needed to find certain flexibility, especially in certain business processes like the order-to-cash. We felt like we needed some more power. So having a development platform like Extend within our financial systems, it's been a huge game changer because it has introduced an innovative component where we feel now that the only limitation that we are finding is our own creativeness. And this is amazing. Extend is agile. it's innovative. It has significantly improved our user experience, because the data that we are able to generate now is much more accurate. And also processes. So we've gained a lot of efficiencies because of Extend. This is allowing us to differentiate us from our competitors and is allowing us to develop capabilities which are unique in the market. And also, we are able to scale. So we are building solutions that we can replicate in other service lines, and it's been a game-changer at Cushman & Wakefield.

Barba: That's wonderful. We love to hear those type of stories, especially to see the, the real-world impact that it's having. So let's talk a little bit about the app that you've built within Extend and especially about the value that it brings in terms of productivity and efficiency.

Barcena: We manage millions of square feet. We’ve got thousands of customers, thousands of employees. We run thousands of projects. All these generates a huge amount of data, and, and that is the baseline of our billing process. So given this context, being accurate when billing was becoming extremely cumbersome for us. So we leverage Extend, and we created the labor reimbursement process. So basically, what we did at high level is transforming our payroll outcomes into financial billable transactions. Sounds easy, but it's complex. And that is the source of our customer invoicing. So it took us days before and an incredible amount of human effort to resolve incidents, make adjustments, collect the data, being accurate, and generate invoices. And that was impacting our close. So that process that took us hours, days, we run it now in minutes. That's incredible. The quality of our data has improved incredibly. We've gained a lot of efficiencies in terms of generating outcomes. So a single data source with development capacity within the same platform has been a perfect fit.

Barba: That's great. I always think about when I hear these stories, the people's lives who have improved and changed in this, right? You mentioned so many human hours, so many manual processes that you've been able to change.

Barcena: In the end, it's about impacting people. So at Cushman one of our mantras, which is making an impact, when you generate outcomes, which in the end result, based on what you are talking about, people satisfaction is amazing.

Barba: So let's talk about your technology road map. What are you most excited about in the road map for Cushman & Wakefield?

Barcena: I'm glad that you are asking that question. So we went live with Workday, which is our main finance platform by 2015. The solution is stable. It's solid. We operate without disruptions. But we don't have all our financial data in yet. So part of the road map is unifying the platform, all our companies in one single platform, Workday. And this is not just including our operations and transaction, but also our planning and reporting activities. There's a lot of work to do there.

And we are exploring new functionalities. We are exploring new technologies. So we are looking very close to Prism. So we can see a lot of potential there. So we've been evolving. We've been bringing on new people. We've been bringing new customers. That means that volumes have increased. So we also see opportunities to improve and streamline our processes. So it's not just about what I was talking about bringing new entities, but also, keep unifying and simplifying our financial data model, So outlining, landscape of systems where ideally, there is a single and global framework processes is our last goal. We want to scale what we did. So we want to start leveraging and taking advantage of all the investment that we've been doing. And of course, new technologies, AI, ML, and we are very excited about all this.

Barba: That's great. And you mentioned new technologies. So unless you've been living under a rock, you're aware that there are so many advancements in AI and ML happening recently at a rapid pace. What opportunities do you see in the future for Cushman & Wakefield to use this potentially game-changing tech?

Barcena: Well, I, no, I haven't been living under a rock.

Barba: Right, right.

Barcena: But I have to be honest and recognize that, this is becoming a bit overwhelming, to be honest. So everyone, somehow, is becoming an expert in AI lately. And to me, this is not just about functionalities. Everyone is talking about these, with ChatGPT, OpenAI, all the things out there. So I think we have to embrace these technologies. This is the future, and it's making big steps every day. And there are practically no limits. So there is already out there a huge opportunity for everyone, and especially in our industry where historically, we've been incredibly innovative. So if you ask me about, specific opportunities, think about the data that we have, buildings, properties, historical trends, rates, maintenance of buildings, marketing. I do see potential in automations, exploring buyer preferences, online behaviors. The future is endless. But to me, the key is going to be, how we are going to be able to transform all the data that we have into a meaningful business opportunity to add more value to our customers and to impact the life of our people.

Barba: So as we wrap up here, I always like to give folks a chance to share some advice. You've shared a lot of great insights here today. But if you could share one piece of advice for others that are in your role or similar roles as they guide financial transformation projects, what would that be?

Barcena: Finance transformation or transformation programs are not a piece of work. It's a continuous learning process. Another thing that I would highlight is that this is not something prescriptive. So there are obviously things that need to be part of it. But everyone could have their own way. One more thing that I would say is it's not just about technology. I would dare to say that this is more around people. And obviously processes, optimization, data, but if I had to summarize what our transformation journey is, it's about being creative to better serve others. So we've been talking about how we impact people and how we satisfy people with results and with this type of programs, and again, I mean, making an impact, I love this Cushman mantra again, we've had the opportunity to reshape the finance function. And especially in large organization like Cushman & Wakefield, one of the things that I'm finding most valuable is how we impact the environment and the amount of good things that we can do as part of a transformation program and impact our people. And that's incredibly satisfactory. So jump up there, no fears. Don’t be afraid about making mistakes. And I'm sure that you will thrive.

Barba: Sounds like good advice. So glad to have you on the podcast today. Thank you so much for joining us.

Barcena: Thank you, Jeremiah. Thank you for the opportunity.

Barba: We've been talking about financial transformation with Alejandro Barcena from Cushman and Wakefield. If you enjoyed what you heard today, be sure to follow us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. And remember, you can find our entire catalog at I'm your host, Jeremiah Barba, and I hope you have a great work day.

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