Following the success of its cloud-based HCM suite, Workday is applying its trim architecture and compelling user experience to the management of financial assets. Some of the earliest adopters of Workday Financials have been, to no surprise, banking organizations and the like. Such businesses increasingly rely on outstanding human capital in order to generate the greatest return from their financial capital, and are attracted to enterprise solutions that put the business user experience first.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Stephen Francis, VP of Finance and CIO at W.J. Bradley Mortgage Capital (W.J. Bradley) to learn more about the organization, and why Workday Financials was the best solution for the firm in sustaining business growth.
W.J. Bradley was established in 2002, and has quickly grown in size and reputation to become ranked among the top independent mortgage lenders in the U.S. With a 2013 volume of more than USD 5.2 billion, W.J. Bradley’s strength resides in its retail mortgage origination business, which ranks among the top originators based on total volume.
Founded by CEO William J. Bradley, the company is headquartered in Denver with centralized operations located in Salt Lake City. Currently licensed in 40 states, W.J. Bradley operates with more than 1,200 employees across nearly 100 retail branch locations. The company’s mission is to operate with the intent to be the most well-run independent mortgage firm in the country.
We began our discussion with wanting to understand the things that make W.J. Bradley unique, and quickly moved to the topic of culture. Throughout the organization, a spirit of entrepreneurship is prevalent, and conscious growth is the firm’s main objective.
One of the striking things about W.J. Bradley is how you have really tried to preserve this spirit of entrepreneurship within your organization’s culture. Tell us a little about how you’ve done that?
You could say it is core to who we are as a firm. Our founder, Mr. Bradley, is and always has been an entrepreneur. As he looks for opportunities to grow the business, he looks in particular for a similar kind of character as he seeks to bring in the best and brightest leaders to help steer the company forward.
This is so important because we rely on the performance, dedication and expertise of key staff to run our corporate and operations functions, as well as our branch locations. We can be sure we are executing according to our tried and true business principles without having to monitor every process of each transaction at the branch level.
As we have grown, we have needed to learn how to scale, which in practical terms means always striking the right balance between corporate systems and processes, and offering flexibility to the branches to maintain their systems and processes.
What business challenges were you facing when you looked to Workday and Appirio?
Our biggest challenge was a lack of integration, which led directly to a lack of a single source of data and the potential for inaccuracies. At the time, we were using a suite of disparate reporting and data management tools, and relied heavily on manual data entry and management both for HCM and Financials. By not having integration, we didn’t have a very solid or consistent method for keeping track of branch performance or maintaining process control. Branch financial statements, as an example, were managed through disparate roll-up processes. We found expense reimbursements and accounts payable to be particularly problematic as we were growing.
Since the corporate office provides accounting services for the branches, it was very important to have an online tool that we could distribute to all employees while maintaining data security.
A number of decisions that drive day-to-day business in the branches are based on large amounts of data from across the whole company. So the ability to have full confidence in reporting accuracy was a huge consideration.
What was the solution?
We were looking for web-enabled SaaS architecture that also had an intuitive end-user experience. We had no prior experience with Workday. While we considered only one other vendor, we favored Workday’s technology, in particular its system architecture and the fact that it could both run on mobile and support HTML5.
We actually found Appirio through Workday. After looking at three different consulting firms, we found Appirio to be the natural choice because of its smaller size, and the breadth of skillset to cover both financials and HCM, including all the HCM modules.
We did consider rolling out separate solutions but IT owners encouraged an integrated solution, which we are glad we implemented. Ultimately, we decided to install HCM, Benefits, Performance Management, Time Tracking, Financials, Expense Reimbursement, Cash, Supplier and Accounts Payable, Fixed Assets, and Procurement.
Now, all 1,200 employees have access to the same system, one that includes user role-based security to limit access to specifically relevant information.
How are Workday HCM and Financials working together to benefit your organization?
Speaking again to our entrepreneurial culture, we have seen a dramatically increased ability to control workflow down to the employee level. Similarly, self-service capabilities have greatly increased, and uptake among the various business units has been better than expected. Manual data exchange has been significantly reduced, and we have improved process compliance.
How does that translate into business benefits?
One of the most positive gains in operating efficiency has occurred around our expense reporting. We used to fill out spreadsheets with no tracking. With Workday, it is easy to take pictures of receipts, upload them, and track payments online. Complementing that is a self-service capability to review and update employee info and receive data and financial statements.
The biggest overall benefit is that we are able to keep data much more current. This is major, since monthly financial statements, as well as daily cash reporting, include data that are critical to business operations, as well as decisions that managers and originators have to make every day.
Mortgage banking is a tough business these days. How does Appirio/Workday help you remain competitive?
I’d say the biggest takeaway is that Workday and Appirio provided the ability to scale and contract very rapidly and cost-effectively, by managing processes and technology rather than strictly with human capital and manual interfaces.
What is it like working with Appirio? How is the experience different from other partners?
Appirio was a very good cultural fit for us because of its flexibility and ability to change course, as well as the rich resource skillset that our business was able to tap into.
Overall I would say that Appirio is among the top consulting firms that I have worked with during my career in terms of sticking to budget, being flexible and responsive to changing project needs, and delivering on expectations.
What advice do you have for others looking to implement Workday Financials?
What impressed us most was how Workday seemed committed to growing the product simultaneously with its customers–you could say it responded well to the agility of our organization, and that appealed to us. The experience was more like working with a mobile app developer than an enterprise software vendor.
One of the areas that we found ourselves giving a lot of attention to was Worktags, which provided a level of flexibility that was initially overwhelming to us, and could likely be overwhelming to most businesses.
Workday’s hosting and validation rules give a tremendous amount of flexibility with the amount of data that can be entered at time of journal entry, compared with the amount of coding that the user could have to go through. I think there will likely be some growing pains before a company can realize the benefits of the Worktags, so my advice is to start off by keeping it simple. And like I said, Workday is very responsive to customer feedback so don’t hesitate to reach out to them. You will always be glad you did.