How Brown University and City Year prioritized UX when deploying Workday enterprise software

Brown University and City Year CIOs discuss the importance of user buy-in for successful software implementation.
Written by Amy Talbott, Contributor

Almost every job these days involves using some sort of enterprise software. Even workers in lower-tech fields like retail or restaurants might use it to do things like clock in and out. In a recent survey by Tech Pro Research, enterprise software users showed that they definitely do have opinions about the programs they use, and that they want a say in the matter: 44 percent of respondents said the user experience of their company's enterprise software is somewhat or significantly worse than that of consumer software; 73 percent of those who weren't consulted in their company's software adoption process said it was missing features they would have liked to see.

When Brown University began looking for an upgrade from homegrown, legacy HR and financial management software in 2012, making sure users were on board with the process was top priority. VP and CIO Ravi Pendse said he and his team did this first by simply asking users what they wanted. "If people are involved and they're providing input and their input is being taken into account, people have a sense of ownership and when they have a sense of ownership, the likelihood of a project being successful significantly increases."

See: UX battle: Enterprise software vs. consumer software(Tech Pro Research)

For City Year, a nonprofit that places young adults in inner-city schools for a year of service, user experience ended up taking priority over cost when new HR and finance software was being considered. The choice came down to two companies, and CIO Welles Hatch said he decided to go with Workday because users liked it better than the competitor. "'It [the software] doesn't feel like software'," said Hatch -- "I remember our CFO saying that."

Using enterprise software to improve daily tasks

When making feature requests, users at both organizations wanted an easier way to report expenses and get reimbursement. "Just a simple business activity like that is so fraught with error and poor judgement and lack of clarity," said Hatch. Some employees at City Year were so eager for a better solution that they actually downloaded Workday's mobile app before it was rolled out at their company.

Users at Brown made requests for more analytics capability. "Directors and department chairs wanted better access to information," said Pendse. "Say you were a chair of a department and you need information. You had to request it and the right officer would run some kind of report for you and send the report over to you. People were saying 'Well, why can't I just click a button and the information just shows up?'"

At City Year, adopting the right enterprise software made a big difference in HR processes. "We hadn't taken the time to develop a consistent approach to hiring, so it was fragmented and differentiated across 28 offices," said Hatch. Getting all employees on the same software helped standardize things.

Advice to CIOs implementing enterprise software changes

"I would advise folks in today's world to really look at cloud-based offerings," said Pendse. At Brown, software-as-a-service has the perk of flexibility . When researchers had complaints about a grant module in Workday not working as well as they wanted, the IT staff was able to work with the company and get extra features the researchers needed.

The flexibility of a cloud solution was essential for City Year too. With employees in 300 schools around the country, Hatch said, "we knew that we were going to be able to have to deliver any solutions to support the work by browser and move away from needing to support appliances in any way, shape or form. We needed something that was going to enable us to not care what you used to get to the tools and to make the tool so readily available, subject to credentials, that there were very few barriers between you and where you were and what you had to work with."

Pendse pointed out that any time you implement change in an organization, there will be pushback from people who like things the way they are. For people who had doubts about Brown's new HR and financial software, Pendse's team did something simple: set up a test lab.

"We brought them into our test environment and we showed them what was possible," he said. "We let them play -- and as they played, they really liked it."

Hatch advised taking time to choose the right partner company when implementing new software: "I think that if there's one thing I learned, it's that tool selection is maybe 50 percent of the task. "The other 50 percent is finding the right partner to implement with." Pendse also emphasized the importance of personal connections between project managers and outside organizations.

"This may sound like common sense," he said, "but people often forget these things and these are the ones that lead to projects either failing or going over budget and finishing much later than everyone anticipated."

One final recommendation from Pendse: be sure to allow for ongoing training with cloud enterprise software. "The product is going to continue to evolve. It's not a legacy product that you build and remains stationary." Training, he said, could be as simple as a three minute how-to video.

Also see
The state of enterprise software: 5 lessons
#CXOTALK: Workday CEO explains his top priorities
New Relic CEO: User experience and business outcomes

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