Cloud Simplifies HR and Finance

By Tony Kontzer

When the California State Automobile Association (CSAA) decided in 2010 to split into two businesses and move its not-for-profit member services operation to its headquarters in Emeryville, Calif., it presented a huge opportunity to rethink what had become an unwieldy technology setup.

The organization’s human resources and financial management environment had evolved into a morass of more than 6,000 charts of accounts in the financial system alone. What’s more, one of the things that made the software attractive in the first place—namely, its ability to be customized—had become a case of “be careful what you wish for.”

“We complicated it by over-customizing it,” says Siobhan McFeeney, executive vice president and chief financial and administrative officer for CSAA’s member services business. As a result, the separation of member services from CSAA’s profit-generating insurance business led the former “down a path of wanting to be a leaner, more disciplined organization,” she explains.

Because CSAA (also known as AAA of Northern California, Nevada and Utah) had been using for more than three years, the member services leadership decided to include cloud-based vendors in the search for a new platform to run finance and HR. Another reason for this choice was the realization that the cloud would help CSAA simplify its migration path and stay focused on the business at hand.

“There are many companies that have done a phenomenal job of investing in data centers,” McFeeney says, adding that CSAA management felt it might “be a great idea to pay a license fee to use that technology rather than building it ourselves.”

Ultimately, the search led to Workday software-as-a-service offerings for enterprise-scale HR and financial management capabilities. The two offerings are tightly integrated, enabling more real-time visibility into the business.

McFeeney says that the ability to immediately see how a change in the number of employees at any of the nearly 100 CSAA field offices might affect that location’s profit-and-loss statement has taken CSAA’s management capabilities to a new level.

CSAA completed its migration to Workday in four months. It could have been done more quickly if the organization hadn’t spent so much time ensuring that its Workday setup was ideally configured to support its existing business processes.

Apparently, it was time well-spent, as more than a year later, McFeeney says CSAA has reduced the total cost of ownership of its financial and HR systems—including IT support, maintenance and licensing—by 60 percent. And those 6,000 charts of accounts are down to just 80, which she says has greatly simplified administrative tasks, while improving reporting and analysis.

As for the future, McFeeney says she feels comfortable knowing that Workday doesn’t allow customization. “It prevents us from getting back into that [over-customized] mess,” she notes.