Finance and the Tech Foundation: Making Sense of Enterprise Tech Concepts, Part 2

In a blog posted yesterday, I introduced five technology concepts that Workday was built upon and explained the first two—the cloud delivery model and data security—and why this matters to finance. In this blog, I will look at the other three—a unified architecture, transactions and analytics in one place, and built-in workflow.

My hope is that by understanding some core concepts of how a finance system works, finance leaders can make the right decisions about what technology is required to support their needs, now and in the future. As promised last time, I won’t get too techie and will focus on what is most important for finance.

A Unified Architecture

One of the biggest challenges finance teams commonly face is working across multiple systems for accounting, reporting, and planning. We call these system silos. Each system has its own processes, its own security, and its own version of “the data,” which are almost never complete or in sync with one another. This leads to significant time spent on data reconciliation and management, and is a huge barrier to partnering with the business.

That’s why we built Workday so that the systems that support the most important information that businesses need—financial, workforce, and planning—live and work together in a single, unified place. These systems seamlessly work together, leveraging business processes that easily span across them using a single, shared set of data. Now finance professionals have one source of truth, sparing them from having to look for information spread across different offline spreadsheets, servers, and databases. We’ll be looking more closely in subsequent blogs at why this is a challenge for finance teams, and how unifying applications on a single architecture benefits activities such as planning, supporting the business with insights, and financial consolidation and close.

All of the data is stored in-memory, which means that finance can transact, analyze, and report on data without ever leaving the system.

Transactions and Analytics in One Place

Simplistically speaking, finance teams need to process transactions, perform analysis, and support planning. Historically this has been challenging as legacy systems don’t perform transactions and analysis in the same place, and business logic is hard-coded (that is, programmed) into the systems.

The reasons for this are lengthy, but in a nutshell, supporting transaction processing and performing reporting and analytics require a different structure to the data. The historical approach to this has been to maintain multiple copies of the data, where one copy supports transactions, and the other copy supports analysis. This approach has impacted the speed at which finance can get to data and insight because so many copies of the data have to be maintained, often resulting in delayed insights based on stale data.

Workday approached this problem with the idea to perform transactions and analysis in one place. Data, and the logic surrounding that data (for example, each expense report has a worker, all workers have an organization, etc.), live in the same place, so all your reports and analytics use real-time, transactional data. With this model, there’s fundamentally no difference between report and transactional data—there’s just data and real-time insight into the business. All of the data is stored in-memory, which means that finance can transact, analyze, and report on data in the same place, without ever leaving the system.

Built-in Workflow

One of the big challenges when moving into new markets or when regulations shift is making modifications to core business processes, or what many call workflows. These kinds of processes have huge benefits for finance—they allow for strong controls and security, they ensure that things happen in an orderly fashion, and they provide an audit trail. But traditional ERP systems didn’t include configurable business process frameworks as a core part of the system, or didn’t design them for flexibility. In these systems, changes to existing business processes or adding new workflows often require IT support, with finance waiting for the change to take effect.

We designed Workday applications to operate the way business works—in the context of organizations and its people. While there have been workflows that involve machines and assembly lines, the challenges being discussed by executives around growth, operational excellence, and global expansion are most likely focused on people. Whether it’s being able to adapt to different hiring processes in one country versus another or address differences in tax declarations during the close process, employees are central to those activities.

That’s why we built workflow into Workday’s foundation—a dedicated business process framework—where all business activity is modeled and governed, making it easy to create and modify processes and the routing to roles as change happens. Not only does this promote business agility, it creates a foundation of tighter control and security.

Looking Ahead

So with this solid foundation, what is actually possible? In my next blog in this series, I’ll look at the financial close and consolidation process, and how Workday’s foundation fundamentally changes this historically complex and time-consuming process to one that serves reporting requirements and creates more value for the organization.

(Read the first post in this series, “Finance and the Tech Foundation: Making Sense of Enterprise Tech Concepts, Part 1,” and the third post, “Finance and the Tech Foundation: Real-time Consolidation and a Shorter Financial Close.”)