How Dimension Data Transformed Global HR Processes

Headquartered in South Africa, Dimension Data uses the power of technology to enable businesses to achieve great things. With more than 30,000 employees across offices in 49 countries, Dimension Data—a part of the NTT Group—helps its global clients reach their goals through the delivery of digital technology infrastructure projects. Operating on such a global scale creates a number of operational and cultural challenges that HR leaders had to solve. Never one to back down from a big challenge, Dimension Data embraced its own transformation head-on.

As Workday’s South Africa office opens in Johannesburg this week, we talked with Marilyn Rose Chaplin, group executive for human resources at Dimension Data, about the company’s need for HR transformation and the journey to get there.

There’s a lot of talk around digital transformation right now. Can you tell us, as a technology provider, how Dimension Data approached that challenge internally?

Marilyn Chaplin - Dimension Data
Marilyn Rose Chaplin

Dimension Data has been around for more than 30 years. As you can imagine, during that time we’ve grown rapidly, both organically and through acquisitions. Not only have we developed into a company with a global presence, but the technology landscape has also changed exponentially, in terms of what it can do to support business objectives. When you look at those two factors, alongside the need to build and sustain a global culture for all our employees, then the need for an HR system capable of supporting that kind of engagement really speaks for itself.

How does growth—organic and through acquisitions—prevent an organisation like Dimension Data from achieving its goals of a global culture and improved employee engagement?

I think you have to look at the number of systems we were using as one of the main barriers. We accrued a global workforce and a lot of disparate systems that didn’t easily talk to one another. If you want your people to be part of a unified culture, yet they’re engaging with multiple HR tools and having different experiences, that’s a very confusing thing.

There’s also a question of being able to trust the data. How confident could our HR or other senior leaders be that they had the right people numbers or that the figures they were reporting were accurate when we were amalgamating data from multiple systems?

The third strand is the job of managing multiple HR systems. It’s a drain on resources and takes the focus away from being strategic and partnering with other areas of the business.

“We needed something agile that would simplify HR processes into a single system, and that would grow with us as new technologies emerge.”
—Marilyn Rose Chaplin, group executive for HR at Dimension Data

Taking the decision to transform HR obviously requires a lot of research. How did your selection process work?

We had a lot of options available to us from a technology perspective. We came from a world of multiple systems—some pieces were Workday competitors, other parts were built on spreadsheets—so the selection process had to be about more than just a technology conversation. Would the provider truly drive innovation for Dimension Data? Would the new tool put our employees’ experience at the very core? How much would the vendor listen to me and consider me a partner rather than a prospect during the sales and deployment cycle?

Those might sound like obvious things, but they aren’t guaranteed from every vendor. From a more technology-focused perspective, we needed something agile that would simplify HR processes into a single system, and that would grow with us as new technologies emerge. Workday met all of these requirements.

In terms of transforming on such a global scale, can you tell us about the deployment and how that has gone?

We went live on July 4th last year, and we worked hard to not only hit the target date but also to be supremely confident in the new system from day one. The implementation of a single solution like Workday is about much more than IT and system considerations. As we moved deeper into the deployment, we discovered that there was a whole range of processes globally that would benefit from standardisation because they were very different from country to country.

To make a project like this successful, you must get the buy-in of managers within these regions. You have to show them how they will benefit from a single, global way of doing business. That’s a real cultural shift.

What kind of benefits has the Workday deployment brought to Dimension Data?

You can start at the most fundamental, but arguably most important element: Our people being paid on time and the right amount. That is a huge global benefit. For me, the adoption levels from both managers and employees have been great. We haven’t had to invest in expensive training because the system is so intuitive. We’ve gained back the days of employee training you would normally have to do with a new global system.

Also, Workday is built for mobile—it’s mobile first. So, you can have a manager who gets out his or her mobile device and is able to access a piece of data that he or she needs there and then. We don’t have to worry about enhancements, because we know Workday takes care of that via the cloud and that we’re always using the latest and greatest version of the software.

We’re seeing use from CEO level right through to executives and other senior managers, because they now have data that they trust at their fingertips. If they want people data, they don’t have to ask HR, and we don’t become a barrier. That is a huge positive for us.

Every project provides valuable lessons and “ah-ha” moments. Is there any advice you would pass on to other HR or business leaders thinking of changing their HR systems?

You need to start with that very clear “why.” And then you need to realize there is much more to it than just the deployment of the system. Workday is not just implementing an HR system; you need to think about your own HR operating model because that itself will evolve and change.

Consider how your HR operation could or should change in parallel with the actual deployment. This will help you build the business case to your board. You need to have that business case and hold yourselves accountable as a team globally, to deliver the value that Workday can offer you.

Finally, don’t rush into building the business case. Once you’ve done that and you’ve made the right decision by choosing Workday, then your deployment and your buy-in and your speed-to-execute will be that much faster because you’ve laid the groundwork. “Go slow to go fast” would be my advice to other HR directors out there.

Watch this video to learn how Dimension Data is now able to access real-time data to enable its clients, managers, and employees to make informed decisions and stay ahead of its competition.