Elizabeth Cooke: Can you start by giving us a better understanding of your background and how this led to your current position at Workday?
Leighanne Levensaler: I’ve always operated at the intersection of technology and human resources. Whether it’s been as a organizational development practitioner, an HR strategy consultant or most recently as an analyst covering talent management, I’ve specialized in how technology can improve practices and provide new avenues to work together and further the objectives of the organization – and that’s what we do here at Workday. It’s an opportunity to bring my passion into my career, so it’s a good fit.
I’ve been at Workday for three years, and the company has been in business for seven. Prior to coming to Workday. I was an analyst covering talent management and strategic human capital management practices, which was an area Workday was keenly interested in advancing. My understanding of what could be improved with the first generation of talent management solutions, and how a core HR system should extend into the talent management arena, made us a natural fit.
How has Workday’s strategic vision evolved since that time?
We’ve been growing quickly as an organization, but the strategy the company’s founders set out is still the same today.
The strategy of the company was to replace core administrative systems, go after large enterprises, put customers first and borrow the best ideas from the consumer tech world. We have not waivered; it’s the same now. We have always been about helping companies change the way they run their business from the inside out.
How has technology changed the nature of the work and how are you adapting to these changes?
While technology has been the main driver of productivity and efficiency, it’s also created its own set of challenges. Innovation is accelerating, data is proliferating and devices are now bypassing desktops for some portions of the workforce, particularly in sales and field operations. Content is becoming democratized and everyone’s a curator now, with collaborative capability being introduced into organizations at large.
Despite the changes in worker expectations and the modern workplace, most enterprises still use business applications built decades ago for a different type of worker.
Today’s workforce demands a solution that transcends rigid, desktop-bound legacy applications.
Legacy systems that support HR and financials are separate, disjointed and limited in scope. They don’t share common data models, contexts or security strategies. Access is overly restrictive, interoperability poor or nonexistent, and newer functionality is bolted on rather than integrated into the system. Such platforms are simply not designed to support today’s cross-functional work processes, mobile devices and immense data volumes. Instead of enabling highly collaborative work styles, they inhibit them.
So how do you think you can help reshape and create more collaborative capabilities and work styles?
Companies should implement technology solutions that are agile, allowing for constant change which is the norm in today’s business environment. Solutions should also be focused on the needs of the business user – someone who thinks about their organization’s finances, their team and their own career in a holistic fashion. This requires solutions to be unified so that ideas, documents and key business data can be easily identified, instantly retrieved and effortlessly shared. Solutions should also be inherently collaborative for users to exchange comments and information in context around what they are working on at that moment, without having to continuously alternate between applications and interfaces.
And most importantly, as we’ve learned from the consumer Internet, technology should actually be smart. It should proactively serve up relevant data, connections and recommendations, like what Amazon does when you order a book. Workday really takes these concepts and unites them on one platform with all the critical information, all your analytics and all your people in that collaborative work space. And we do that in a familiar Internet construct with rich intelligence. So that’s how we’re responding to the technology and how we believe it should be adopted in today’s environment.
With the workforce becoming more mobile with the adoption of so many devices, how are you handling the shift to people wanting to access important information 24/7 while still balancing security?
We recognize that people need to stay connected anywhere at any time, and our mission has always been to offer an operationally relevant management solution. We meet the business users in their natural workspace and provide access to the experiences and information that they care about the most. We continue to make significant investments to ensure that the executives, managers and employees can access Workday easily from any mobile device.
From the security perspective we are handling very sensitive business information about compensation, pay slips, dependents, W-4s and financial information related to budgets.
This is an important question as we deal with highly sensitive data across HR and financial management. Workday applies our enterprise-grade security for mobile access, features and functionality. All of our security policies seamlessly and automatically apply to all mobile applications. And there is no storage or caching of any data on the device – it is all secure in Workday’s cloud.
Is this why we’ve seen an increase in IT managers adopting more cloud applications?
Proven success by early cloud adopters combined with tighter budgets and an understanding of how expensive on-premise enterprise applications are to own is what’s driving increased cloud adoption for applications like ours.
Can you talk a little bit about how technology has really changed the role of the HR, IT and finance professionals?
Corporate support functions such as HR and finance are heavily laden with administrative needs. Technology offers automation, efficiency and self-service for their end users. This enables the professionals in HR, IT and finance to put more focus on the strategic programs and advising of business leaders, which is what they ultimately aspire to do. Modern solutions like Workday provide HR and finance organizations with real-time insights that they need in order to engage in predicting and forecasting activities, so they can be more proactive and responsive to the ever-changing business conditions. So technology has played a dramatic role in their professional lives.
And are you starting to see changes in the way that HR, finance and IT leaders work with each other that’s different from the days when they remained pretty separate in their functions?
With talent being the fuel of economic growth today, it is not surprising that initiatives connecting people and business performance are at the top of every CEO’s agenda. “Talent matters” are now business matters, and have come under more financial scrutiny. HR, finance and IT professionals are working together to ensure that the practices, systems and cost of managing and engaging the workforce are executed as efficiently as possible and directly aligned to the current and future needs of the business.
So how does Workday facilitate this greater interaction and collaboration among those three areas?
We offer a single enterprise cloud, which reduces IT administration costs of maintaining multiple on-premise and cloud applications and provides HR and finance with global, timely and trusted visibility on financial and workforce performance.
Can you provide some examples of ways that businesses are using these applications?
Business users need a tool that can anticipate the information needed to make a decision, conduct a review or execute on a transaction. For example, when making a decision about headcount, managers want at their fingertips information that brings together cost, capacity, capabilities and quality of the workforce. For financial management activities such as the requisitioning process, it’s extraordinarily valuable for business users to have all the information about the project, region or product as they make a request. And they want that all in real time.
Have companies used that to make big business decisions about where to put a plant or other decisions to drive the business forward?
Absolutely. We have customers who have amassed enough data to gain insights and help answer questions like “What are the best regions to staff work based upon a number of cost factors?” or “What is the education level in that market?” That kind of information is very helpful when doing workforce planning and trying to understand where the best place would be for this work to happen.
Companies are also using it to get a handle on cost drivers like overtime, while others are trying to understand their real spend around the contingent labor force. Is it more advantageous to use contingent resources for some projects, or certain initiatives or roles? Or is it better to use the full-time equivalent, and where? So there are lots of ways to take data points and make smarter decisions.
Yes, because it does sound like people can get drowned in all the data that’s being generated, so they need something to make sense of it, correct?
Absolutely, which is why our objective is to provide the tools and access to data to companies, while allowing the finance and HR professionals to work with the business leadership to understand the information experiences and insights that would be helpful in making this decision. We’ve designed our solution to help HR and financial professionals be architects and strategic advisors to the business in a way that they’ve never been able to be.
Leighanne Levensaler is the Vice President of Product Strategy at Workday and sets the strategic direction for Workday applications.
Prior to joining Workday in 2009, Leighanne was principal analyst and director of talent management research at Bersin & Associates. Before that, Leighanne spent more than a decade working with large companies to develop HR strategies and integrated talent development solutions. She led the learning consulting practice at SystemLink Enterprise Solutions, and has held positions at SmartForce, Edutrek International/AIU, and Deloitte Consulting.
Leighanne holds a master’s degree in human resource development from Georgia State University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Clemson University, where she was the sole recipi ent of the school’s Norris Medal, an award for exceptional scholastic achievement and leadership ability. Leighanne is a member of the 2012 Class of Henry Crown Fellows at the Aspen Institute.
Elizabeth Cooke is a member of Argyle Executive Forum’s content team. Argyle Executive Forum is a professional services firm that convenes and connects business leaders from highly targeted business-to-business communities for strategic collaboration and business development. More than 25,000 executives participate in one or several of Argyle Executive Forum’s communities, with more than 200 new members joining every month.
Prior to joining Argyle Executive Forum, Elizabeth worked as a senior search consultant for a boutique executive recruiting firm covering the investment banking and private equity markets. Additionally, she was a senior sales executive at the New York Stock Exchange, calling on C-suite executives and venture capital firms. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder.