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What's old is new again as Workday aims to break down silos

At its user conference, Workday showcased tech and customer stories on bringing down the walls between HR, IT and finance. It's not a new story, but it may be newly relevant.

Workday may reject the label of "ERP," but at this week's Workday Rising in Orlando, the company highlighted HR alongside the offices of finance and IT both in product news and on stage, emphasizing the importance of cross collaboration.

Breaking down silos is a core principle of ERP, and vendors such as SAP, Oracle and even Workday have been selling on it for years. Workday, however, made the case at Rising that its integrated platform, which has its beginnings in HR software, can help organizations keep worker-related issues central to this goal.

The vendor held up customers who described how technology has helped break down silos, how the silos are deteriorating as a reflection of the current job market, and how bridging departmental functions can infuse the concept of employee experience across an organization beyond HR.

This message of cross-departmental collaboration is more urgent today thanks to the digital transformation not of businesses but of whole industries and during the Great Resignation, said Josh Bersin, industry analyst and CEO of research and advisory firm The Josh Bersin Co.

"Companies are more worried about losing people," he said. "They're increasing pay, dealing with inflation, too, and they're looking for ways to make the employee experience better, which means that the amount of money and the financial implications of HR are higher."

Products help break down silos

One of the biggest product developments out of Workday Rising was App Builder, a low-code, no-code UI to quickly build apps on the Workday Extend platform without developers.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, said App Builder signals a change in Workday's strategy from building everything to acknowledging that it can't.

"Now partners that can build things are welcome to build things -- a tacit admission that Workday cannot build all the automation that customer want," he said. "That is not a surprise and is a common strategy in ERP to open the platform and go to market up for partners."

Workday also unveiled new artificial intelligence and machine learning functionality for finance as tangible examples of products to break down silos.

A customer panel at Workday Rising with, from left, Alan Murray, Fortune Media; Bobbie Byrne, Advocate Aurora Health; Lisa Chang, Coca-Cola Co.; and Michael Conway, Brown & Brown Insurance
Nowhere was Workday's message of bringing together departmental functions clearer than during its customer keynote panel, featuring, from left, Alan Murray, panel moderator and CEO of Fortune Media; Bobbie Byrne, CIO at Advocate Aurora Health; Lisa Chang, global chief people officer at The Coca-Cola Co.; and Michael Conway, chief accounting officer and corporate controller at Brown & Brown Insurance.

The finance department at Team Car Care, which operates more than 500 Jiffy Lube stores across the U.S., is an early adopter of ML Forecaster, a tool now part of Workday's Adaptive Planning. They use the tool to combine internal data with external weather data to predict a store's staffing level requirements.

"What our store managers see is an output that says, 'It looks like my forecast is saying that sales will be down 10% next week or next Tuesday, and so I need to change my staffing,'" said Matt Castonguay, senior vice president of finance, analytics and supply chain at Team Car Care.

Castonguay, who also oversees IT, said Workday's financial planning system, Adaptive Planning, as well as its ability to bring HR and finance onto one platform became the selling point for Team Car Care when it sought to replace a 20-year-old Microsoft installment for its financials a couple of years ago. The team nixed ADP Vantage HCM as well.

"We've got 4,000 people out in the field running these stores, and we listen to them," he said. "A lot of the feedback was that they wanted to move to a single platform."

Customers break down silos

The pursuit to break down silos was apparent in more than product news. It was a theme that ran throughout Workday Rising sessions, several of which highlighted how departmental roles are bleeding into one another.

In the most prominent display -- a customer keynote that featured leaders from IT, HR and finance -- Dr. Bobbie Byrne, CIO at Advocate Aurora Health, said her top priorities now include traditional HR tasks, such as recruiting and retaining good talent.

All of our issues are HR issues. They're all about talent.
Dr. Bobbie ByrneCIO, Advocate Aurora Health

"All of our issues are HR issues," she said during the panel discussion. "They're all about talent."

Later, in an interview with TechTarget Editorial, Byrne said as technology has evolved, she has begun to seek out a different skill set -- one that combines technical expertise with interpersonal skills for building relationships with the business.

Finding and nurturing that talent is difficult in the best of times but is further complicated by the talent war; the criticality of technology to healthcare organizations; and the demand from patients to provide a personalized, slick user experience, according to Byrne.

"I spend a ton of time on what people would consider traditional HR things, but I now just think that's the way my job is," she said.

The Asia-Pacific (APAC) unit at Air Liquide, a supplier of industrial gas based in Paris, recently rolled out a new HR operating model that required cross collaboration among HR, finance, IT and the lines of business.

"The steering of the whole transformation was a partnership with people in these other domains, so everybody has a say in it," said Yee-Lin Chong, head of digital solutions at Center of Excellence at Air Liquide's APAC unit, during the conference.

For example, designing the end-to-end process for employee lifecycle started in silos before determining that employee experience touches on every domain. In the end, every project implementation, design consideration and negotiation came down to one question.

"Are we doing this for the benefit of the employee experience?" she said.

Why focus on breaking down silos now?

There are traditional and compelling reasons to break down technology silos -- namely that an integrated system means working with fewer vendors, thereby providing customers with fewer security weaknesses, fewer legal risks and simpler data management requirements, Bersin said.

But, he added, there are new pressures to remove the walls between departments, especially between HR and finance.

"The cost of human capital -- the expenses that are associated with people -- are a higher and higher percentage of a company's value," he said. "To have an HR system that has no financial planning in it is not the way you want to go into the future because you're going to be asking a lot more questions about your human capital investments over time."

Not only that, but the digital transformation of whole industries means companies also need financial and HR systems flexible enough to help plan and strategize for new, more experimental business models and revenue streams, Bersin said.

He pointed to automobile manufacturers as an example. Ford recently spun out an electric car unit that required investing less in its internal combustion engine car business to support this new venture. A financial model could plan how many engineers to move and forecast the costs, benefits and ROI.

"We don't really have good systems like that, and these kinds of decisions are being made all the time," he said.

Workday may be heading in that direction, capitalizing on what Bersin sees as a lack of functionality in the market.

"Companies don't financially model their human capital operations very well, and that's usually the No. 1 expense they have," he said.

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