Successfully implementing HR and finance systems in the public sector

By on 08/04/2024 | Updated on 08/04/2024
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By Lesley Moore, Director, Field Services, Workday

Implementing new HR and finance systems in the public sector can be daunting.

Traditionally, these kinds of programmes have been riddled with challenges, including extensive customisation, long testing phases, poor reliability and difficulty applying software updates. Not only did that mean public sector bodies weren’t getting a good return on their most valuable resources – their people and their money – but it acted as a disincentive to change. Why – the argument went – expose yourself to the risks of a new system, when there’s little reward?

Though this attitude understandably lingers, the technology, thankfully, has evolved. Today, cloud-based SaaS (software as a service) HR and finance systems are replacing the on-premise and legacy systems of old. In place of cumbersome interfaces and time-consuming testing, these systems offer powerful features that can be adopted with ease.

Intuitiveness, however, is just one part of the picture. Reliability, safety, security and cost of ownership are other considerations that must be taken into account. Here, too, SaaS solutions can offer new benefits. If we’re to empower finance and HR teams with better technology, challenge the perception of these system’s potential and offer public sector bodies a more productive future, it’s worth examining how the landscape has changed.

Every cloud is unique 

The days of on-premise systems are increasingly behind us. Like the private sector, the public sector is aware that the benefits of cloud computing – from lower maintenance costs to more current and innovative software – cannot be ignored.

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Nevertheless, not all cloud-based options are created equal. After decades of using on-premise solutions, there can be a temptation to simply lift and shift those legacy platforms to the cloud – sometimes more on behalf of the companies providing them than their customers. There’s a misconception that this approach minimises business impact and commercial risks like costs or testing phases. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’re going to upgrade your system, this approach offers many of the disadvantages of a more fundamental upgrade and few of the benefits, exposing organisations to ongoing inefficiencies and poor return on investment, and perpetuates vendor lock-in.

Cloud-native enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems like Workday are the other side of the coin and offer benefits that go beyond a mere change of computing infrastructure. These solutions offer an ‘adopt, not adapt’ approach – meaning features are pre-built and can be configured rather than customised to meet individual departments’ needs. Where a legacy cloud system might require months worth of coding and testing to adapt a new feature to a specific organisation, with a cloud-native system the same result can be achieved in less than a day – often in just a few minutes. 

Likewise, security and feature updates are automatic in cloud-native systems, and accessing new features is simplified. With these solutions, customers are no longer paying to act as their supplier’s software testing team. Instead, they get the intended product from day one. This is why it’s crucial that buyers looking into cloud transformation evaluate the market – and don’t simply opt for a cloud-port of a legacy system that carries over inefficiencies that should be left behind.

Reaping the rewards of SaaS implementation

Perhaps even more important than the logistical benefits, like streamlined maintenance, fewer integrations and shortened testing periods, are the results a SaaS implementation can offer to the end users in finance and HR departments.

One of the biggest boons to these teams is the ability to undertake sophisticated analytics on their growing datasets. To date, the public sector has often struggled to extract value from data. With reams of it trapped in legacy systems, IT teams are left struggling to service ad- hoc requests to put it to use. Cloud-native systems can keep that data secure and eliminate disparity in the data, while their embedded analytics functions deliver real-time practical insights based on a single source of truth. Whether used for financial forecasting, identifying skill gaps or undertaking annual audits, these capabilities bring concrete benefits in terms of HR and finance productivity.

With a platform like Workday Prism Analytics, which can combine external data with core HR and finance data, IT teams remain in control of security, while teams can self-serve without any coding or requiring additional software licenses. This is a win-win: IT teams can focus on priorities like security, while policy and operational leaders can easily assess and share valuable insights.

Alongside putting data to work, cloud-native platforms are also more easily integrated with other third-party systems, without requiring extra layers of complex software to be built. Connectivity with external applications and resources is simpler to create and able to evolve over time. This also helps to raise the bar when it comes to HR and finance productivity. Those teams become more autonomous, data-driven and engaged because they can easily find and act on the information they need, whenever they need it. With SaaS, HR and finance teams, as well as the organisations they support, have the autonomy to adjust systems to their changing needs and become self-sufficient without having to call on a Systems Integrator for every new request. This doesn’t mean, however, that help isn’t available when needed. Cloud-native providers like Workday, and its partners, can provide ongoing support and guidance to ensure organisations are maximising the return on their investment and operating with confidence.

The silver lining: future-proofing for AI

With the age of AI well underway, cloud-native SaaS systems additionally offer a future-proof solution for the public sector. These platforms can roll-out new AI features as they become available, with minimal disruption to teams. With Workday, organisations that are still evaluating where AI capabilities fit within their workflows have the ability to opt-in to these services when they are ready. As public bodies navigate the changing world of work, Workday enhances employee experiences across HR and finance, using AI and ML to help elevate human capabilities and to help augment human decision making; not to replace it.

Beyond limited AI functions, the drawbacks of legacy systems or their cloud-washed descendents – long and costly implementation, lengthy update periods and limited features – can no longer be ignored.

For leaders looking to upgrade their HR and finance systems, the process no longer has to be a painful one. There’s an opportunity to break the cycle of risky programmes, high costs and poor return on investment for outdated technology, and instead embrace a future of work that’s more productive, simpler and cost effective for the public sector and its employees.

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