UW Information Technology

New human resources/payroll system modernizes how the UW does business

The Integrated Service Center helps employees navigate Workday.

When Linda Rose Nelson and Heidi Tilghman first heard the UW was engaging in the largest administrative transformation in its history — affecting more than 45,000 employees at all three campuses, medical centers and multiple facilities across the globe — they knew the College of Arts & Sciences had to get ready for a tsunami of change.

Linda Rose Nelson
Director of Finance & Administration, College of Arts & Sciences

The HR/Payroll Modernization Program would have a profound impact on the day-to-day business of the college, where “everyone had a different way of dealing with information and nothing was standardized,” said Nelson, the college’s director of finance and administration.

But that was also true of the University, where, Nelson said, practically “everyone was going around the barn in their own way.”

As Nelson and Tilghman, manager of shared resources at the college, grasped the enormity of adapting to a new HR/Payroll system known as Workday, they saw an opportunity to benefit not just their college but the entire University.

“Everyone knew we needed to change the way we operated the business side of the University,” Tilghman said. “Workday challenged us to go from a siloed University to a more standardized University.”

Workday challenged us to go from a siloed University to a more standardized University.
Heidi Tilghman

As the UW embarked on replacing a decentralized 35-year-old legacy payroll system with Workday, a modern cloud-based system that integrates human resources, benefits, and payroll functions, Nelson and Tilghman, along with other administrative leaders from business units and departments across the University, became indispensable advisers for the UW’s implementation of Workday.

Once fully stabilized, Workday is expected to improve consistency across UW units in all three campuses, strengthen the UW’s regulatory compliance, and deliver better data and business intelligence for decision making.

The UW has a big stake in the success of Workday, the first step in a larger strategy to modernize the University’s administrative infrastructure in the coming years.

A new system for a growing University

Workday went live at the UW on June 27, 2017, capping a multi-year, multi-million dollar effort to replace a system that had become increasingly difficult to maintain and use.

The UW was a vastly different and smaller university when the legacy system was first launched in 1982. Since then, the UW has added two new campuses in Bothell and Tacoma, seen its research skyrocket and experienced an exponential rise in demand for medical services. It has more than doubled its workforce, to about 45,000 faculty and staff.

The legacy system lacked essential tools and functionality to help meet the needs of this growing university. It couldn’t provide the consistent information necessary to manage complex business operations. And because it was built without basic enterprise-wide human resources capabilities, it could not properly support the UW’s large and diverse workforce. These limitations affected staff at every level of the institution.

The UW needed a modern system that could handle its increasingly complex business operations, and ultimately chose to go with Workday.

But the implementation of Workday also demanded a fundamental shift in how departments approach HR and payroll tasks. Nelson and Tilghman had their work cut out for them at the College of Arts & Sciences.

There were plenty of reasons to celebrate when Workday went live in June. Now, the Integrated Service Center continues to ease the transition.

To ease the transition, the two led weekly meetings for staff for a full year prior to the go-live date, and they’re continuing these workshops today. They’ve relied on every possible tool, including props and metaphors, to help dozens of administrators understand the magnitude of the change.

“It is like we were all used to a horse and buggy,” Nelson said. “We knew everything about horses, how to take care of them, how to feed them, how to maintain and fix the buggies. And suddenly, with very little time, we have asked them to run a nuclear-powered submarine. This is a big change!”

Suddenly, we have asked them to run a nuclear-powered submarine. This is a big change!
Linda Nelson

Their weekly meetings are a safe place for administrators to share their thoughts and frustrations about how Workday is affecting them, learn from one another and learn Workday processes. Input gleaned from these meetings flows back to software engineers who continue to enhance Workday to meet the University’s complex operations.

“Faculty employment is very different from the corporate world, and workflows are very unique, often from college to college,” Nelson said. “We all have different needs.”

Stabilization of Workday is key to success

Even as champions of change, Nelson and Tilghman will be the first to admit moving to Workday has been challenging for administrators and employees. To make the change easier, a third person, Ivy Mason, was brought on board to ensure the academic HR components for the college were in place for a successful transition to Workday.

“For most people, the switch was uneventful. But for those folks who experienced problems with Workday, it was pretty traumatic,” Nelson said. “We still have a few people whose records have not been made whole in the new system.”

Nelson and Tilghman are thinking of the transition as at least a year-long process, and plan to keep their weekly meetings with staff through 2018.

“The break-in period has been intense. There’s a steep learning curve but I’m feeling more confident that if and when issues arise, we can work out a solution faster,” Tilghman said. “Things are settling down and we are gaining confidence in the system.”

Things are settling down and we are gaining confidence in the system.
Heidi Tilghman

Heidi Tilghman
Manager, A&S Shared Services Center

Making that process easier is the partnership they have established with the Integrated Service Center (ISC), operated by UW Information Technology (UW-IT).

The ISC has become an important resource for helping employees navigate Workday, and the service center’s leadership remains focused on collaborating with business units and departments. Because the ISC guides employees on how to use Workday, and communicates directly with University leaders when any problem comes up, it is considered a key player to the success of the implementation of Workday at the University.

Shortly after Workday went live, the ISC created “SWAT” teams to tackle the highest-priority issues, deployed mobile support units to conduct deep dives into specific areas of need and worked with partners to optimize systems and processes.

“They have been hearing from us whenever an issue comes up,” Nelson said. “Workday went live in the summer, but we essentially had a second go-live date in September, when fall classes started. And we have several more ‘firsts’ coming up, including tax season.”

Nancy Jagger, the ISC’s executive director, acknowledges that the massive transition brought about by Workday has not been easy, but the University is adapting well through this period of stabilization, and through a series of “first-time” events in Workday, such as Open Enrollment in November.

“Each first-time event can bring some level of challenge or frustration as unexpected problems become visible, and we work our way together through learning a new way of doing a once-familiar activity,” Jagger said.

“By working closely with our partners from across campus, critical partners such as department leaders like Heidi and Linda, academic personnel and UW HR, we are actively collaborating to develop resources and guidance to help support faculty, staff and students with these ‘first-time’ events in Workday,” Jagger said.

We are actively collaborating to develop resources and guidance to help support faculty, staff and students with “first-time” events in Workday. — Nancy Jagger

Nelson appreciates this level of attention to detail and understands the importance of working together to stabilize the system.

“We are all working towards a common goal,” Nelson said. “And that goal is to build a foundation befitting a modern-day University.

“Sure there have been hiccups along the way,” she added. “But ultimately, I think we are going to be able to run a more efficient institution with Workday.”

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The Integrated Service Center was created to help UW staff navigate Workday as part of the HR/Payroll Modernization Program.