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Global HR management system requires hard push on vendors

An HR leader at Abbott Laboratories said he put Workday through the wringer every day, but did not get bogged down in ensuring all data was clean before going live.

Executives at Abbott Laboratories are sharing some key lessons about managing and implementing a global HR system...

after going live with Workday human capital management (HCM).

On Jan. 1, 2015, Abbott Laboratories began using Workday Inc. for core HCM and advanced compensation, which includes managing annual merit and incentive increases. The company implemented the system last year, including a mobile option, for 73,000 employees in 95 countries around the globe, said Steve Fussell, executive vice president of human resources at Abbott, based in Abbott Park, Ill.

At the Workday Rising 2015 conference, Fussell said the implementation was completed in less than a year and under budget. During a speech, Fussell emphasized that users need to monitor and closely collaborate with vendors to ensure software is implemented successfully for global HR management.

Fussell said it was "a great experience" with Workday and he highly recommends it, but he also said he pushed the software giant hard, putting the company "through the wringer" each day.

"You have to demand that they understand ... it may be their product, but it is your implementation," he said at the Las Vegas event. "You have to do this in such a way that you can find ways to make it fit uniquely with your entire human resource platform."

Going global in one day

Fussell said, for example, he believes Abbott is the only company that went live with Workday mobile in 22 languages on the first day.

Abbott employs 14,000 people in India, and they all need mobile services to talk with the company, he said. Most of those workers don't speak English, so the global HR management system is no help if it is only in English, he said.

In the past, we spent way too much time trying to get everything clean … before we could go live.
Steve Fussellexecutive vice president of human resources, Abbott Laboratories

The work is continuing in global HR management. The company is also currently implementing Workday recruiting and talent management, and planning to go live with those modules in December.

When implementing software, Fussell advised people to avoid spending too much time ensuring that all data is accurate and accessible.

Fussell said employees and contractors became "data auditors overnight," and quickly verified or corrected any data after the global HR system went live.

"Put a process in place to help them get that done. I don't mean be sloppy. We were not sloppy at all," he said. "But in the past, we spent way too much time trying to get everything clean … before we could go live. That's why we never had a global system prior to this."

Implementation needs more than IT department

Also, an implementation cannot be run solely by a company's IT department, he said. For example, he built his own IT and finance support team. He said he wanted to be sure the most skilled people were on the project.

"If that had not been the case, we may still be implementing. That made a huge a difference."

He appointed a director of business HR to work side by side with IT during the project to ensure that the software was closely tied to business processes. Because employee self-service is fundamental to Workday, it is important that the software reflect the way managers and other employees actually perform their tasks, he said.

Abbott also used Accenture as an implementation partner.

Fussell said Abbott changed dramatically in 2013 when it split into two companies by spinning off its research-based pharmaceutical business into AbbVie Inc. Abbott retained diagnostics, medical devices, nutritionals and branded generic drugs.

"The model we had for many things, including the way we took our talent management practices to the organization, had to change," he said. "Our work with Workday was a fundamental part of transforming how we did that."

Abbott also created teams among its 970-member global HR department to ensure that business functions, processes, the mapping of data elements and the documentation of the software architecture were all done in the same way, Fussell said.

The teams also were responsible for verifying data was validated and correct in the global HR management system, and for managing any changes, said Patrick Lalor, divisional vice president of global service centers and HR IT solutions at Abbott.

Workday also tracks contractors

In a phone interview, Lalor also discussed details of the project for global HR management and elaborated on points made by Fussell.

The project included 16 million data points and consolidating core HR functions in 200 disparate systems or functions into one global system, Lalor said. Workday replaced SAP human capital management software in the U.S. and about eight or nine other countries, he said.

Workday HCM also tracks the hiring and termination of 11,000 contractors, including authenticating badges to get in and out of buildings, he said. This monitoring also allows Abbott to get a better handle on the total cost of labor, he said.

During implementation, Lalor said it was critical to make sure that some business processes were changed universally across the globe. The processes needed to be exactly alike, since everyone was to be using the same Workday system, he said.

Around the world, managers, for example, previously used different processes -- even for something as simple as terminating an employee, Lalor said. In some countries, a manager terminated the worker; in others, an HR manager performed the task;  and in different places, it was someone else.

Workday's self-service for employees and managers is robust, allowing them to do things on their own, including via mobile, he said. There were 800,000 transactions on Workday through August, the vast majority from managers.

"We want the managers to own the data and be part of the experience," he said. "It is actually much more efficient for them."

Employees can manage personal changes and updates, such as addresses, preferred names and emergency contacts. Managers can create job openings, handle terminations, transfers and promotions, and move job roles around if there is a reorganization to accommodate changing business needs, he said.

Lalor said he also likes the convenience of mobile access to employee cell phones. He can select an employee in the organization, push an icon and get the phone number right away.

The technology is also continuing to improve, he said. "We learn more every month how to make it better for our users," he said.

Next Steps

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