Explore the cloud: A guide to SaaS financial management applications
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Last fall's release of Workday 18 featured significant enhancements to the software vendor's financial management offering, and some experts said Workday Financials could start to gain ground against enterprise software from Oracle, SAP and NetSuite. But from the customer point of view, is the product truly ready to cater to the financial needs of large, global companies?
Julie Bradley, CFO of TripAdvisor LLC, a travel website based in Newton, Mass., with approximately 1,600 employees, thinks so. The multinational company implemented both human capital management (HCM) software and Workday Financials from the vendor in 2012. Although there was a hiccup with the financial system's global capabilities, Bradley said the process was smooth overall.
There wasn't a long list of customers that looked just like TripAdvisor … that I could reference check, and that did make me a little nervous.
CFO, TripAdvisor LLC
Even with a gap in functionality, Bradley said TripAdvisor was able to deploy Workday Financials on the predetermined go-live date, thanks in part to the vendor's prompt attention to the problem. "We were prepared that if things didn't work right we could extend our cutover date from April 1 to July 1, but we were more than ready," she said.
Treasury gap in Workday global capabilities does not derail deployment
TripAdvisor was formerly part of Expedia, which largely took care of back-office functions such as finance and HR, Bradley explained. After the decision was made to spin off from Expedia in early 2011, TripAdvisor executives began to evaluate vendors in preparation for migrating off Expedia's Oracle PeopleSoft system.
"We knew there were things about PeopleSoft we didn't like: [It was] a really hard application, it was slow, it wasn't intuitive. At TripAdvisor we like to innovate very quickly, and we don't quite understand when things don't work at our speed," Bradley said. "So we knew we needed to search for a solution that was more akin to our culture."
Culture was a large part of why TripAdvisor's decision team, composed of the company's vice president of finance and controller, with a lesser degree of input from the CEO and Expedia, ultimately chose Workday over Oracle, SAP and NetSuite. "We thought that Workday's culture and DNA was very similar to TripAdvisor in terms of rapid development, ease of use and dedication to customer satisfaction," Bradley said. She added that the organization's executives regarded the ability to deploy HR and financial management software from a single vendor as an advantage.
Although the decision was made before Bradley joined TripAdvisor in October 2011, Bradley did say she was slightly thrown by the fact that the vendor could not offer a reference customer that closely resembled her organization. "The one hesitation was that they didn't have clients globally that were our size," she said. "There wasn't a long list of customers that looked just like TripAdvisor out there that I could reference check, and that did make me a little nervous."
And during the implementation of the financials system, it became evident that certain global capabilities, specifically regarding treasury, were not up to par. "The ability to process multicurrency was a gap that we identified," Bradley said.
However, the problem was addressed promptly. "You'd think that would be a showstopper," she said. "But the Workday executive team stepped in, recognized that they had a gap in their functionality, and we worked together to get it into the next patch."
A manual workaround was in place for the missing multicurrency functions when the system was initially deployed, but they were added into the product in the next release. In terms of training, Bradley said most users rapidly became accustomed to the new system.
Looking ahead, she said she'd be interested in expanding TripAdvisor's use of Workday to include the recruitment product the vendor has announced will be available by 2014. She explained that while the company currently uses both Taleo and Salesforce.com in its recruitment process, she thinks the desired functions that TripAdvisor today tries to "sew together" will be unified in Workday's recruitment offering. The organization has also purchased Workday procurement software but has not yet implemented it.
Rather than specific functions in Workday Financials or HCM, Bradley's wish list contains a product request for the vendor.
"One thing we would like to see Workday have on their development list is forecasting, budgeting and planning," she said. "That's something that we would be really interested in. We use [Oracle] Hyperion Essbase today, but it's a little old school."
Cloud ERP systems need to ramp up localization capabilities for wider adoption
During an earnings call earlier this month, Workday executives said Financials currently has 50 customers, 18 of which are live on the product. Paul Hamerman, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass., characterized this adoption as somewhat slower than expected and said SaaS financial systems still needs to flesh out their so-called global localization capabilities to meet country-specific financial requirements.
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"As far as whether [Workday Financials] is suited to be a global platform, I think it's getting there," Hamerman said. "There are still some functions and features they need to add to it to get it up to the level where they can get more growth with it, but I think what they've got is good, and there's definitely demand in the market for this type of solution."
Hamerman added that Workday needs to gain confidence to sell Financials as an independent product rather than as a companion to its HCM offering. "[Financials] has some unique features based on in-memory capabilities around how it renders financial information very quickly," he said. "That can be appealing because so many of the financial systems on the market are batch."
As for lessons learned from the Workday deployment, Bradley advised her peers to do their due diligence before implementation to identify potential stumbling blocks sooner.
"I would emphasize not skimping on the up-front fact collecting about what you need today and how you're going to grow. On the treasury side, it had a happy ending, but I think we could've caught that earlier," she said. "For companies that have not yet selected their ERP system, I would encourage them to think about what they need from a culture perspective. Emphasis on rapid development is a very important factor."
Emma Snider is the associate site editor for SearchFinancialApplications.com. Follow her on Twitter: @emmajs24.