AAA NCNU: On the Road to Planning Nirvana

We spoke recently with Dustin Cramer, vice president of financial planning and analysis at AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah (NCNU), which provides automotive, insurance, and travel services to more than 5.7 million members. Cramer shared his thoughts on the company’s new approach to budgeting and planning with Workday.

We last caught up with you in 2015. How has the business landscape changed for AAA NCNU, and how has your Workday journey evolved?

Dustin Cramer
Dustin Cramer

Since we last spoke, we’ve merged with two other clubs that cover the territories of Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona to become one of the largest geographic region auto clubs. As part of this, we went through a Workday integration exercise where we moved those clubs from their ERP systems to Workday in just over three months. In addition, we’ve also deployed Workday Planning, which we went live on in May. It was a big undertaking, but from a change management perspective, it was pretty easy since Workday’s user interface is intuitive and users were able to learn the system themselves.

Can you tell us a little bit about your daily responsibilities and where you are focused now?

As head of financial planning and analysis, a big part of my role is to make sure people don’t get overwhelmed by the numbers, and some of that is about converting the numbers into a story that people can make sense of. Accounting tracks the past and shows the history; my role is to show the future and where we think the company is heading.

“We’ve moved away from that spreadsheet world, and with all the data in Workday, we can see things more clearly.”

Can you tell us about your approach to financial and workforce planning at AAA NCNU?

People are 50 percent of our organization’s spend, so having a unified approach to planning that encompasses both traditional finance as well as the workforce implications is important to us. Prior to Workday, we put planning data into a separate system, and then we manually dumped data from Workday into that system to start the process. It was a lot of back and forth effort ensuring the numbers aligned.

Now, with Workday Planning, we have both financial and workforce data in one system, and it’s live. We’ve moved away from that spreadsheet world, and with all the data in Workday, we can see things more clearly. For example, if we push data into our recruiting module, HR can start feeding back on how realistic these planning goals are. The goal is to enable the automated signoff process of roles and positions between HR and other business partners.

“Workday is the one system we use to understand our full activity and reporting for our organization.”

Talk us through AAA NCNU’s journey to transform planning and how that evolved.

We used to spend two weeks and use one full resource to manually manage the automation triggers between Workday Financial Management and our planning tool. It then took another two weeks to review that data which then had to be tested to see if the data had transferred correctly. It was a headache.

We just went through our first planning cycle with Workday, and rather than taking two weeks to complete everything, we were able to literally push a button and have all the reports automatically update in five minutes.

We need to know, in real time, what’s happening today. For example, if a result comes out, we need to know what it is and how it’s happening. Workday is the one system we use to understand our full activity and reporting for our organization.

Can you break down the major differences between how AAA NCNU thought about planning before and after Workday?

I think the major difference is simplicity. To know how much we were going to spend on a specific campaign, we used to have to go to different systems for the complete picture. If we wanted to show what we spent on actuals, that was also held in multiple systems. We were “Frankensteining” reports together.

On some levels, you can’t really compare the old way to the new way. Previously, we were trying to muscle our way through a process.

You’ve embarked on quite a digital transformation journey. Any tips for other organizations looking to start similar initiatives?

Workday Planning is an open sandbox to create any planning process you want. It’s been a nice and sometimes scary endeavor, and has challenged us to simplify our processes rather than just blaming the failures of our old system. It’s important to have a mindset of looking at this as an opportunity to really transform how you think about planning.