Q&A with Aon and WeWork: The Business Impact of an Agile Financial Management System

We recently hosted a small group of industry analysts and customers at our latest Workday Technology Summit. While there, we had the opportunity to talk to Christopher Klimek, vice president of global finance and HR technology at Aon plc, and Mike Hite, director of finance technology at WeWork, about the business impact of their Workday Financial Management deployments, and why you shouldn’t replicate your current business model in a new financial management system.

Aon is a leading insurance and professional services firm with 70,000-plus colleagues in 120 countries. The company needed a way to quickly gain insight into its financials and make decisions at the speed of global business. Klimek says the precision and speed that Aon couldn’t get from its former systems was creating some big challenges.

WeWork provides the space, services, and community to “help people make a life, not just a living,” says Hite. Their members run the gamut from entrepreneurs, freelancers, and startups to multi-national enterprises. WeWork has 140 physical locations spanning 44 cities in 10 countries. With the company’s rapid growth, and with each new workspace being its own legal entity, Hite says the company needed an agile and powerful financial management system that could act as a single source of truth across regions.

What follows are some highlights from those conversations.

How has Workday Financial Management helped your business?

Klimek: Aon has gone live with our first phase of our Workday Financial Management deployment in six countries in Northern Europe. We’re seeing how Workday easily handles different currency consolidations, full Sarbanes-Oxley review, billing capabilities, and support for our finance centers in Poland and India. We have financial results the minute a transaction is posted. No waiting. This makes a significant impact on our ability to close the books and gives us the insight and confidence we need to make sound decisions.

Hite: It would previously take WeWork three months to go through a full data cycle. Now we have the ability to go through the full cycle of accounting close in a normal period of time, iterate on that data, and leverage data to make clear business decisions in real time. And that’s important because we’re not about stabilizing, we’re about hyper-growth. This allows us to go into new markets faster.

Aon has grown through M&A. How does Workday affect your M&A strategy going forward?

Klimek: We’ve always been acquisitive, and Workday supports our M&A strategy. Now we can be predictable in how we execute M&A and divestitures, and nimbler in the closing days of these deals. Workday allows us to move forward and deal with last-minute changes without having to raise any red flags. We can move colleagues from one company to another, and the security model and workflows move with that person, which is so much more streamlined than what we had in our previous environment.

“Use this as an opportunity to not do a lift and shift. Don’t replicate your current business model in a new financial management system.”
—Mike Hite, director of finance technology at WeWork

What made you decide to deploy Workday?

Klimek: I call it “BW,” Before Workday. On the HR side, the catalyst was the total cost of ownership. We needed to take a look at our HR function because we had to drive down those costs. Workday was heads and shoulders above everything else. We went through an on-time and on-budget 12-month deployment for Workday Human Capital Management, which then gave us the opportunity to look closely at Workday Financial Management. We’re happy we did because Workday has been very willing to fully understand the requirements we have.

WeWork is seeing rapid growth. How is Workday affecting your ability to grow and expand?

Hite: We’re constantly incubating new business lines, so rapid deployment and specific metrics to determine how we’re going to scale are crucial. We have the flexibility of Worktags and have no doubt about data accuracy, so we can iterate the business lines very quickly and determine how best to scale. Each WeWork location is a new legal entity so we can spin up these new legal entities much faster, and Worktags help us measure each entity against specific outcomes—and then decide how to pivot.

We’re excited about Workday Prism Analytics and the ability to consolidate data from different sources. When you’re a startup or hyper-growth company, you may be using a lot of proprietary tools and managing disparate sets of data—incubating 5-10 product lines or entering new countries—so we want to bring that data into the financial system, to allow us to track and assess liabilities. 

This isn’t your first experience with Workday—you’ve been through four Workday deployments now. What’s your biggest learning?

Hite: My advice to everyone I speak with about Workday is to use this as an opportunity to not do a lift and shift. Don’t replicate your current business model in a new financial management system. Workday is so flexible and advanced that you should rethink the way you’re doing business. Leverage the tool to change and enact change. The people that do that—and take advantage of Worktags, the object model, and the flexible Business Process Framework—get tremendous ROI out of the system.

As far as future plans, if we can start using Workday to do the processes that are a heavy lift but don’t necessarily add value to our end user, like inter-company transactions such as supplier invoicing, we can focus our engineers on the client-facing tools. We want to have our engineers dedicating their intelligence and creativity to the aspects of our business that set us apart. It’s better for our customer, and it’s a better use of our people—who are much happier focusing on the customer experience anyway.

From Aon’s perspective, what’s your biggest learning?

Klimek: Your internal teams are the drivers of the success of the deployment. The Workday product works. Because the product works as it’s supposed to, your team is the secret sauce. Your internal team determines if you’re going to get the most out of Workday—if you’re going to be able to transform your business.

To learn how Workday’s “Power of One” technology foundation improves business outcomes, see this interactive infographic for more customer stories and insights.