A CIO’s Perspective: How the Cloud Drives City Year’s Nationwide Growth

For organizations experiencing fast growth, having the right technology strategy is crucial for success. Welles Hatch, CIO of City Year, knew this when he began a technology transformation that would support the organization’s aggressive expansion plans nationwide.

WCH Headshot-CY
Welles Hatch

City Year partners with public schools in 27 urban, high-poverty communities across the United States. Diverse teams of City Year AmeriCorps members serve full time in these schools providing high-impact student, classroom, and school-wide support to help students stay in school and on track to graduate from high school, ready for college and career success. Last year, City Year operated with $129 million in revenues from public and private sources, serving in 292 schools, with plans to expand to 850 schools by 2023.

We asked Welles to tell us more about City Year’s technology story, how his team works to support the organization, and the advice he’d give himself as a young professional.

Why did City Year decide to move its administrative environment to the cloud?

When I joined six years ago, I was asked to help scale operations to support our growth. Business processes had become time consuming and frustrating for people and a barrier to serving more students. We replaced our entire administrative environment, moving from 40 disparate on-premise systems to four enterprise applications in the cloud, including Workday Human Capital Management and Workday Financial Management.

City Year has grown an average of 15 percent annually in the past five years, expanding into new geographies and supporting more schools. We now have clarity around processes such as approval chains and what is handled at headquarters versus regional offices. Moving to the cloud has also given team members greater flexibility, enabling them to securely access content and submit expenses and time sheets from their mobile phones.

In the past, we had differing organizational structures at each location across the national network and various assets at each location due to so many disparate systems. The lack of consistency made consolidating and analyzing data difficult and time consuming. We now have a single version of the facts across the data and are just starting to realize the power in that and how it simplifies analysis.

My team and I position ourselves as professional enablers. We collaborate closely with the business to anticipate issues—in particular around growth—and offer ways that technology can help solve business problems.

How does Workday Financial Management support your growth plans?

As a geographically distributed organization, we needed a financial system that could give us insight into all operations. Our executive directors can now see real-time financial results for their geographies without having to depend on the finance department. They are able to make decisions more quickly with accurate data on costs and resources, and can focus more of their time on service excellence, recruiting and development, fundraising, and relationship building with schools, the community, and the private sector.

Workday has also made it possible to use natural language for business transactions through the use of Worktags. There is no jargon or need to reference “account number 5330”—spend categories have actual names, and that’s reflected in the reports. It simplifies and demystifies accounting and finance for the whole organization.

As CIO, how do you and your team work with the rest of the organization?

At City Year, my team and I position ourselves as professional enablers. We collaborate closely with the business to anticipate issues—in particular around growth—and offer ways that technology can help solve business problems.

We identify patterns and trends in the organization, such as a business requirement for data analysis surfacing in one area that might also be relevant to others, and develop an enterprise-wide solution to the problem. I work to ensure my team provides the highest level of service, and I evangelize that the way we work is more important than the tools we use.

What do you look for in IT talent?   

I look for people with a business background; those who have spent time on the operational side of the business. Many members of my team are business systems managers, and those roles consist of 50 percent the ability to listen and interpret business requirements, and 50 percent domain expertise.

While technical skills are helpful, I want people who can adapt to changing circumstances, are problem solvers, have business analysis skills, and can develop the proclivity for working with systems. For example, we had a contractor on the learning development team who was creating training for our employees on how to use Workday. She was so curious and interested in Workday that we brought her on to our team, and she has been doing an amazing job.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice as a young professional, what would it be?

My advice would be to develop an attitude of ownership around problems and solutions early on in your career. Go into conversations expecting to contribute to the solution—that’s when people notice and want you in meetings.