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Emerging Technology (Enhancing, Engaging, Connecting)

Human Resource Systems

I distinctly remember my summer 2013 conversation with the designated HEd subject-area expert at one of the major international technology consultancies. In that conversation, I had asked about the status of administrative systems in higher education, particularly whether there had been or were expected to be any truly significant developments. This was important because my institution, Stevens Institute of Technology, needed to upgrade our technology and our aging administrative systems. The analyst’s answer confirmed what I already knew, but her phrasing was particularly memorable: “The one thing common to all schools using one of the existing administrative systems is this — they all want off.”

I also asked the analyst about the specific point of my research at that time, human resource systems. In particular I asked about Workday, as a result of extensive research my team and I had done. In answer to that question, she noted the “buzz” and very positive comments she had heard, which matched my own findings. We contacted Workday for a meeting.

Careful Consideration

Since that time, and after considerable due diligence, Stevens has engaged Workday for a new human resource system (known specifically as Human Capital Management, or HCM). In our first meeting Workday also revealed under non-disclosure that they were launching development for a new student information system (SIS). After even greater due diligence and consideration, Stevens chose to become one of the nine schools that now comprise the Workday Student Design Partner Program, a collaborative effort with the goal of developing the best and most forward-looking SIS available. Other schools in this program include Broward College, Yale University, Tallahassee Community College and Southern New Hampshire University, among others. This is an extraordinary program that to date has gone well. The first components of the system are now already in testing by participant institutions, and the program is on schedule to produce a robust and comprehensive SIS built on leading-edge technology.

In September 2013, industry analyst Gartner, Inc. published an analysis stating that Workday’s new cloud-based SIS would “transform the student system and administrative ERP market in higher education.” So what is it about Workday and the current environment for administrative systems that would garner the kind of excitement, support, and reviews the company’s products are receiving? In my view, it is likely a combination of two factors. First, higher education administrative systems, like so many other forms of technology (except more so), represent technology that is stale, to put it kindly. Built and layered on older technologies and having received little substantive reengineering or functional improvements over many years, these systems are now functionally challenged and remain on platforms well past their currency. In many cases, customers couldn’t get off their current systems because there was nothing better. Even open-source products, with a dedicated following of loyalists, are built on older technology and are functionally mediocre. The second reason is simply that Workday is just that good.

Serving a Need

So why a SIS? Dave Duffield, co-founder and co-CEO at Workday, Inc., concedes he was beset by pleadings from a college president to do for HEd what Workday had done for HR — fill the vacuum for administrative systems with excellent products using the innovation and leading-edge technology reflected in Workday HR. Duffield has said that while he certainly wasn’t looking for another development opportunity, he did recognize the gap. The Workday Student Design Partner Program was born. Many institutions are also turning to Workday for its strong Financials and Grants Management system as well.

Workday is quickly becoming a major player in HEd. Workday systems are truly and natively cloud-based, not merely “hosted.” They are engineered for web and mobile first, not as add-ons. The system is built on a single instance, meaning all customers use the same high-quality codebase. Workday systems are built to be highly configurable, but not customizable. Some will see this as a fatal flaw; I believe it is an excellent way to cut through HEd’s “Lake Woebegone” mentality in which all institutions view themselves as “special” and “unique” and “must do things the way we’ve always done them.”

Workday’s technology, functionality and ease-of-use are superb, but I have also found their organization to be comprised of very knowledgeable and dedicated professionals who are committed to customer success. Workday systems are also extremely cost-effective and can be deployed quickly and efficiently.

My sense is that Gartner is quite correct in its assessment. The future of administrative systems is indeed here. And its name is Workday.

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Technology and CIO at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He can be reached at 201/216-5491 or david.dodd@stevens.edu.

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