HR Transformation Fit for a King at Cambridge University Press

As the oldest media business in the world—founded by King Henry VIII in 1534—you might not instantly associate Cambridge University Press with the idea of digital HR transformation. But with more than 2,700 employees colleagues across 50 offices in 40 countries, the organisation knew it was time to replace dated human resources processes and systems with modern approaches and technologies—a massive shift to digital accomplished within five months.

HR Transformation Fit for a King at Cambridge University Press

Cathy Armor, director for people at Cambridge University Press, shares her thoughts and tips on moving to a single, unified HR system with Workday.

When was the moment the business realised it was time to change the way you approached HR?

Cathy Armor - Cambridge University Press
Cathy Armor

As a global publisher with operations around the world, it’s essential we have complete insight into our talented workforce. The key word here is “visibility,” and that’s what we lacked. There was no global HR system; each country had its own records and other mini-systems that held information locally. We lacked visibility into our costs, and it was difficult to even get a definitive number of colleagues.

“It’s not just about money; it’s about what could people be doing if they weren’t piecing together data from lots of spreadsheets.”

Any decisions requiring HR data were difficult and time-consuming, and there were far too many manual processes given that other parts of our business were increasingly becoming digital. We also needed to refocus on information security, ensuring that all HR data was kept safely and that we were meeting industry standards. It just wasn’t an effective way for an organisation like ours to operate, and we started exploring ways we could transform our HR processes.

What was your business case for deploying a single HR system worldwide?

Ultimately, our business case for change was about business outcomes and scalability for the future. The level of inefficiency and cost that comes from having to support different tools for different regions is staggering. It’s not just about money though; it’s about what could people be doing if they weren’t piecing together data from lots of spreadsheets.

When you start being able to paint a picture of a world where you can quickly and easily pull reports on your workforce, and more importantly, be confident that the data is accurate, that has quite an impact at the leadership level. As we grew as a business we wanted the system to be able to grow with us, and that’s what led us to Workday.

Can you tell us a bit more about the decision-making process and the main factors in your selection of Workday?

It might sound a little cliché, but the Workday customer community was a big factor in the process. Workday has a large customer base, but has a very open and transparent community that is extremely vocal about what the product can do.

In terms of the actual product, the user experience and interface are so intuitive, making it very accessible, which extends to the self-service capability for both colleagues and managers, and simplifies HR processes and removes a lot of the first-line queries HR used to receive. Workday is also developed for mobile, not as an afterthought but as a seamless experience regardless of whether you’re on a tablet or a mobile handset.

The big win for us was the speed of deployment, with a deployment cycle of just five months. We were also drawn to the idea of a total SaaS solution, with the entire infrastructure managed, so we could just focus on what we do best and not worry about the technology.

How do you approach a deployment of that scale, in terms of engaging the right stakeholders and making sure everything runs to plan?

One of the best things we did was to build a cross-functional project team with IT, HR, legal, payroll, and project management. You have to have those stakeholders at the table and ensure you have the buy-in from those who will be driving the project forward.

“We have confidence that the data we have on our people can now be used internally to inform decision-making.”

We were coming from a fresh start in many respects, with no previous HR system, so we made the choice to go live in all countries with limited data. HR was very hands-on in the early stages of deployments in our larger countries, as we wanted to show that we were in it together and that the business was fully committed to deploying Workday globally.

Can you tell us about some of the main benefits you have seen from the Workday deployment?

At a very basic level, we now know that we employ more than 2,700 people, and we know where they are and what they cost. That is very simple, but hugely important. That is the foundation for us, and we have confidence that the data we have on our people can now be used internally to inform decision-making.

We’re also more engaged with our colleagues in other parts of the world, as Workday makes them more visible, provides profile pictures, and gives us a human connection that we perhaps didn’t have before. We now have one single system for performance management and goal setting, which standardises the way we operate and removes a huge logistical headache from that entire process.

Any pearls of wisdom to share with other organisations thinking of transforming HR?

I’d say get the right project team in place before you do anything, because those stakeholders are going to be instrumental in defining how successful the project is going to be. Just as important is working on the integrity of your data before you put it into Workday. If you spend the time cleansing data in advance, it will make life a lot easier further down the line. We spent two years following the deployment cleaning data.

In terms of Workday’s features, it’s like a box of chocolates. There’s a lot to choose from, so I’d say prioritise the things that will benefit you most. On a similar track, keep the training simple and bite-sized. Workday is an intuitive system; give people the basics and then set them free to learn.

Finally, communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more. Workday is a tool that can transform the way you think about HR, but people need to understand the reasons why and the cultural change behind it.