Pharmaceuticals company turns to cloud HR technology

Astra Zeneca CIO Dave Smoley turns lessons learned from an earlier cloud HR implementation to use at the pharmaceuticals giant

Pharmaceuticals company, Astra Zeneca, plans to roll out Workday’s cloud HR technology to 66,000 employees in 2015.

The company – which operates in 100 countries – claims that moving to the cloud will help it to lower the cost of running its HR systems.

The project will also allow Astra Zeneca to benefit from continuous innovation offered by software as a service, said CIO Dave Smoley.

Risky decision

The project is the second major Workday implementation for Smoley, who joined the $24bn drug company in April 2013.

In his previous role as CIO of electronic component manufacturer Flextronics, he was responsible for replacing 80 different HR systems with Workday’s cloud service – something he considered a risky decision at the time.

Six years on, Workday’s technology has matured, and it is now seen as a credible alternative to the traditional HR technology offered by SAP and Oracle.

“When we picked Workday we were customer 20. It was viewed by CIOs, CEOs and CFOs as a toy – not legitimate technology, not a legitimate company,” he said, speaking at an industry conference.

Workday - no longer a toy

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But now Workday has built up a track record of successful implementations. “It is giving the legacy guys a run for their money,” he said.

Astra Zeneca’s implementation of Workday should be more straightforward than Flextronics, Smoley said, as the pharmaceuticals company had already centralised its global HR systems on to one SAP platform.

But it has struggled to give its employees the ability to access and update their own HR records.

“The tool set did not work and there were issues with the data,” he said, speaking at Workday’s customer conference in Europe.

This time he is applying the lessons he learned from Flextronics to Astra Zeneca.

Burning boats 

“The one lesson we learned that was really important was the power of conviction, and the power of being really clear what the mission is,” he said.

When Flextronics embarked on the move to cloud HR, the company’s CEO rallied the workforce to support the project.

“He said - guys, we are burning the boats. There is no going back, its Workday or nothing. From that moment everyone knew they had to make the project a success,” said Smoley.

Pandora's box

The second lesson is that the project doesn’t end once a company has deployed cloud, he told HR and IT specialists at the conference.

“Many people at Flextronics thought that, once we get Workday implemented, we are done. But the reality is you open Pandora’s box,” he said.

The technology makes HR data much more visible and a lot of it will inevitably need cleaning and updating.

HR processes will also need to be changed and updated, in what Smoley calls a process of continuous improvement.

Then there is the need to manage Workdays regular technology updates.

“You have to have staff anticipate the next release coming up and give input to Workday,” he said. “And you have to be prepared to test it and decide when you are going to turn it on.”

Astra Zeneca looked at other HR technologies before choosing Workday, but Workday had the advantage of being designed from scratch as a cloud service, said Smoley.

“Workday was built from a blank sheet of paper, so it had a coherence that translates to seamless navigation for the user,” he said.

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