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How SaaS Has Allowed Workday Accountants to Become More Efficient

Jan 14th 2015
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Robynne Sisco has had experience using both legacy on-premise and software-as-a-service (SaaS) financial management systems, and in her view, there is no comparison.

Financial data housed in legacy systems can be extremely difficult to access in a meaningful way, said Sisco, chief accounting officer for Pleasanton, California-based Workday Inc., a provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance and human resources. However, she said, that is not the case with the SaaS financials product that Workday released about seven years ago. According to Sisco, Workday Financial Management has made a huge difference in the way she performs her job, for her team, and in their ability to constantly create more process efficiencies.

“With Workday Financial Management, all this great data we have is incredibly accessible, not just by my team, but by anybody we give security access to,” Sisco told AccountingWEB. “It has allowed my team to be less about transaction processing and more about reporting and analytics.”

Workday Financial Management is a cloud-based application that offers users a full range of finance and accounting capabilities, real-time business insights, and fully auditable process management. More than 100 companies, including Netflix, Life Time Fitness Inc., and Unum Group, are Workday Financial Management customers, and the product is also used internally at Workday.

“We have moved our financials to the cloud,” Sisco said, who added, “I think we’ve been successful at making sure we are the first customer, getting new [Workday Financial Management] features out there, and using our own system to the absolute maximum of its capabilities.”

New features are included in product updates that are released twice a year, the latest of which, Workday 23, unveiled a new tool, Composite Reporting. The tool enables customers to combine various data sources, such as actuals, budgets, statistics, and headcount, and build such financial reports as a balance sheet, income statement, or cash-flow statement in less time than if a legacy system was used.

At Workday, Sisco and her team use Composite Reporting to create financial reports at quarter end, ahead of the company’s earnings release, that executives can review on their iPads and drill down into any of the data they want to see. Before the Composite Reporting tool was released, it took the finance staff three days after the books were closed to put that financial package together.

“It was downloading data in Excel, merging the data that we wanted to see into one place, adding formulas, adding formatting, and then having a whole quality assurance process to make sure there were no errors or formula problems,” she said.

Now with the push of a button, the financial reports are generated and accessed in about five seconds. “This allows my team to get out of the number-crunching Excel exercises and focus on more process efficiencies, analytics, and uptaking new functionality,” Sisco said.

Configuring the SaaS Product Is Quick and Easy
Workday Financial Management has also increased process efficiencies for Sisco and her team because of its “tremendous amount of flexibility,” she said.

“One of the biggest differences that I see with SaaS solutions is the ability to configure the product quickly and easily, instead of it being about your own instance, your own implementation, your own customization,” Sisco added.

In her previous experiences using a legacy system, adding a new set of books to support a legal entity that had been acquired, for example, could take between six and nine months to get up and running.

“It was a full implementation; it was an IT project. I was constantly behind in getting my financial system to reflect the business as it currently was,” Sisco said. “With a SaaS solution, and Workday Financial Management specifically, it’s just a simple configuration to add a new set of books for a new entity. I can do it in a half hour and I’m up and running. Workflow or business process changes take just a few minutes. This flexibility allows us to keep up with business needs and spend more time looking ahead.”

Last year, Workday added three new operating entities overseas in a single month, something that would have taken Sisco a year to complete using a legacy on-premise system.

“That month we set them up, we were up and running with sets of books, we had employees in there, they were doing expense reports, they were recording time off, we were invoicing customers, all of that,” she said. “The shift [from legacy systems to a SaaS solution] has allowed me to actually have a financial system that reflects the business as it is today. I can keep up with all of those changes, whether they be acquisitions, organic growth, or even things like invoicing in a new currency that we haven’t historically invoiced in. Those changes are very easy to make. So instead of spending time doing manual workarounds and trying to catch up, my team can really focus on process efficiencies and constantly getting better, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”

Adding Worktags to Business Reports
Another key feature that Workday Financial Management offers users is worktags. Worktags are keywords assigned to business events, so customers can aggregate, report, and analyze their business information within Workday Financial Management.

For example, an employee fills out a purchase order, which can be assigned any number of tags, such as the name of the person making the purchase and the project it’s for, wrote Workday Vice President Mark Nittler in a blog on the company’s website. A tag could also be a department, customer, product, supplier, or subsidiary, while other types of events include a generated invoice, a submitted expense report, or a payment received.

“Worktags allow me to drill down all the way to the transactional level to get the details I need to understand what’s behind the numbers,” Sisco said. “Some worktags are required for any transaction going through the system because they drive accounting. Then you can have other worktags that are either required or optional, or required for certain types of transactions and not for others. That will allow you to capture data at a transactional level and tag it in a certain way that you can report on it out the other end.”

At Workday, if Sisco wants to add an industry worktag into the system, it only takes her about five minutes.

“I can say these 10 employees are going to live and sell in that industry, and then I can tag them with that worktag,” she said. “Once I tag them, any expense reports or purchase requisitions they do will be tagged, as well.”

Tagging also allows Workday executives to examine data in any way based on how the worktags are set up.

“They can look at things by region, they can look at things by customer, by marketing event, by construction project,” Sisco said. “So they’ve got this ability to access the data that they’ve never had before, and it’s live and in real time.

“If one of our executives comes to me and says that we’re going to set up a new business unit and it’s going to be focused on this industry and we want to start getting a P&L [profit and loss] on that industry, I can do that for them and do that really, really quickly,” she continued. “I can set up a worktag, I can tag employees to that tag, I can add customers to it, and marketing events. Then I can pull any P&L data and report off that industry, and I can do that almost immediately. If you look at some of the older legacy on-premise systems, that was virtually impossible to do.”

While Workday Financial Management has enabled Sisco and her team to realize gains in productivity and efficiency internally, it also has allowed them to become strategic business partners.

“That is because our financial system is so flexible,” she concluded. “The business is looking to us to provide them with valuable insight and information to make business decisions.”


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