Workday vice-president of financial management products Betsy Bland discusses digital transformation with the audience at a company-sponsored conference in Toronto on April 13.

Published: April 17th, 2017

TORONTO – Today’s executives need both a disruption-embracing mindset and a versatile software platform that allows them to harness the latest customer, workplace, and industry data if they want their companies – and more importantly, employees – to reap the benefits of digital transformation, enterprise software maker Workday Inc.’s vice-president of financial management products, Betsy Bland, told the audience during her keynote at the company’s Elevate Toronto event on April 13.

“Digital transformation is truly one of the most important movements happening today,” she said. “It really touches every organization in every corner of the world… and while it can be pretty daunting, it’s also fuelling opportunities… for new, disruptive business models like Uber and AirBNB… opportunities to rethink and reimagine your customer experience… and opportunities to improve your employee experience.”

One company that Bland cited as an exemplar of digital transformation was streaming video giant and Workday customer Netflix Inc., which she noted has reinvented itself twice since being founded in 1997 as a mail-order DVD service: First in 2007 as a streaming platform, and then again in 2013 as an entertainment production company, with such high-profile series as Orange is the New Black, Making a Murderer, Stranger Things, and House of Cards associated with its brand.

“They saw the opportunity to disrupt themselves,” she said. “I think Netflix – and the reason we’re talking about them today – is truly an organization where their business strategy is their digital strategy, and their digital strategy is their business strategy.”

Another successful digital transformer that Bland cited was Missouri-based bakery, café, and fast-casual restaurant chain Panera Bread Co., which has successfully refined its mobile ordering process to the extent that digital sales now represent 25 per cent of their overall sales. The company’s online experience, she noted, has also allowed them to create “one of the best customer loyalty programs in the industry.”

“They saw an opportunity with mobile and digital to re-imagine [the in-store] customer experience,” she said, adding that Netflix and Panera were both prime examples of self-disruptive businesses that saw an opportunity for digital transformation and seized it, despite the cost to their existing models.

“We all need to be well aware of [digital transformation], because… if we don’t disrupt ourselves, we are at risk of being disrupted,” she said.

Choosing a platform: agility, data and insights

When it comes to choosing a digital transformation platform, three characteristics in particular are essential, Bland said: agility; the capacity to produce insightful data; and enough features to increase, then retain, employee engagement.

After all, some of the most pressing challenges faced by many companies today are those created by their reliance on legacy and traditional systems, which often require manual extraction of data that, by the time it is aggregated, is too outdated to be applied to any efforts to improve customer – let alone employee – engagement, she said.

“[Legacy systems] are holding you back. They’re not helping you become the company that can move into the future,” she said. “These systems are not agile – they’re rigid, very difficult to change, and often require a lot of customization.”

“You have to be armed with the information you need to make good decisions, to propel your business in the right direction,” she said. “It’s hard to move forward if your systems don’t move forward with you.”

Too often, she said, these systems’ immobility also leads businesses into problems when change is forced on them.

“Maybe you’re growing, moving into new markets, new geographies. Maybe there’s regulatory change,” Bland said. “Change is going to happen… and so you need a system that can keep pace with that change.”

One company that Bland cited as an excellent example of navigating a legacy platform change was Chicago-based commercial real estate firm and Workday customer Cushman & Wakefield Ltd., which implemented the Workday platform in a bid to update its human resources and financial management practices.

In 2015, halfway through the platform’s deployment, Cushman & Wakefield merged with another Chicago-based commercial real estate firm, Debenham Thouard Zadelhoff (DTZ), more than doubling its workforce. Overnight, the company grew from 17,000 employees to 43,000, and from $2.5 billion USD in revenue to $6 billion USD – and, thanks to the implementation of Workday, has been able to retire 35 general ledger and three HR platforms since then.

Before the implementation, Cushman & Wakefield’s CFO alone had to examine 67 different systems to get a global view of the organization, Bland noted.

“Cushman & Wakefield is a great example of an organization that’s gone through a lot of change and will continue to do so,” she said.

Keeping employees engaged

Another problem with legacy systems is their lack of support for employee engagement, Bland said. Rather than being designed to engage everyone in an organization, they’re designed for a narrow set of users: administrators, IT departments, and few others.

“These systems were built in a different time, for a different purpose, and for a different type of user,” she said.

Today it’s crucial that your company’s enterprise system help the c-suite engage with its most important asset – its people – she said, whether it’s through recruiting, management, or development features, noting that Workday itself has seen considerable success recently with the mobile-friendly training and education features that were added to its platform’s most recent update.

Bland’s example of a company that successfully used Workday to navigate the engagement challenge was Paradise, Nevada-based MGM Resorts International, which renamed itself in 2010 to emphasize its increasingly global presence and decreased focus on gaming. The company also decided it wanted to create a uniform culture for for its 62,000 employees, who are spread across 23 destinations in the U.S. and China – which meant updating its legacy HR system.

Today, she said, every one of those employees are on Workday: In fact, more than 94 per cent logged in within six weeks of its installation, giving managers greater visibility of their talent and vice versa.

One challenge that MGM faced prior to Workday, she noted, was that according to an engagement survey employees didn’t feel they spent enough time with their managers, and managers wanted to spend more time with employees but were too bogged down with administration tasks, which Workday reduced. Since then, MGM employees have logged more than 81,000 feedback messages through the platform.

“It’s not just about brands,” she said. “It’s not just about companies… It’s about your employees, and making sure they’re engaged… It’s about HR and finance… freeing them up so they can be strategic partners focused on value-added activities for the business… And it’s about your executives, so they’re armed with the information they need in a timely way as they’re making strategic decisions within your organizations.”

“Digital transformation is exciting,” she concluded. “It’s energizing. It’s also a little bit daunting and scary. But our customers have embraced this technology… and we hope to see you there as well.”

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