Brambles HRIS Implementation Journey

With a REM & BEN career spanning over twenty years, Brambles Group VP, Remuneration and Benefits – Phil Turss, was the perfect person to speak to about their recent choice of global HRIS.  Having started the implementation of Workday into the business in 2013, Phil speaks candidly about all aspects of the process.

Phil, can you give us a little context as to why Brambles decided it was time to implement an HRIS?Phil Turss
Brambles had historically operated as a holding company, with business units operating in a decentralized manner.  The company decided to move towards a one company operating model so this signaled that the timing was right to implement a global HRIS.  In addition, board reporting requirements were becoming far more onerous and these could no longer be managed by disparate spreadsheets of information with static data – we needed immediate dynamic data.

Can you explain why Brambles decided to go with Workday and what was the decision making process behind it?
In March 2012 the Head of IT and HR discussed pursuing a global HR system. We rounded up 20 or so key HR people globally to map out the key priorities for HR, from recruitment to retirement, prioritising the important factors. It became evident that our primary need was for a strong core database globally, providing basic employee data – a strong core Human Capital Management System.

IT worked with HR to look through the data, bench marking etc to find what were the top 4 systems in the world, Workday being one of them.   They all presented to us, we did some testing and shortlisted down to one other plus Workday. From there, we carried out reference site testing in both the US and Europe.

Both systems then conducted final presentations to the selection committee made up of HR and IT. Workday was chosen unanimously because of the strength of the core, and the user friendliness.

Once we’d decided on which system to use, we began contract discussions which were much less complex than those previously completed with SAP. In March 2013 it was kick off – we started looking at building processes to have on the system, key principles were set, the main being “I want the same experience whether I’m in Mexico, London or Atlanta” – no variation of process, look and feel etc. We now have one process for all white collar and one for blue collar, consistent across the world. Background information is obviously slightly different but it’s built into the system, so the approval system is identical.

Can you give a summary and some context around the size of the implementation?
The project started in March 2013 and finished June 2016 which concluded with the core deployment of 14,000 people across 60 countries, including performance management and annual salary review modules. We had no more than 5 full time people working on it at any one time, with another 5-6 people on a part-time basis. We actually put the systems into practice for the first time last year and they worked well from the outset.

Did you need to get any extra resources in place and recruit people to assist with the implementation?
On the last deployment we had a specialist resource come on board for the data management as it’s quite a big exercise to collect it all. There were over 1 million pieces of individual data, so as you can image a lot of cleansing! We found we needed an internal team to do the implementation.  Although Workday provide templates, they’re fairly complex, so we built our own.

Where are you up to in the implementation process and when is it likely to be completed?
We are almost complete.  Next year we’ll be adding on a few small businesses we acquired which will be put on (Japan 20 and Chile 200). Aside from that, we will have a cleanup of things we did in the first implementation because some of the structures we set up need reconfiguring, plus a few ongoing improvements to the system such as adding a recruitment module and electronic onboarding for new employees to improve the efficiency. We did look at bonus processing but the current module isn’t advanced enough for an incentive plan, perhaps more suitable for a Christmas bonus. We’ll leave them on spreadsheets until it’s sophisticated enough.

 What were the key challenges and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge at the start was gathering data as we only had HRIS in the US and a couple of other countries, so it was all done from scratch. In some ways the green field was actually an advantage and it was an upside for everyone as they weren’t losing a system.

One of the essential things was to set out key principles up front and not deviate from them. I know other companies that haven’t had the same success because they’ve varied from them and allowed things to be set up in a different style; whereas we changed our processes to suit the system. The requirement was less about collaboration and more about having one system for our global workforce. It automatically updates twice a year so if you configure too much you won’t be able to configure it accurately and because it lives in the cloud you need it to be precise for all countries.

Were there any cultural challenges?
Generally cultural differences were not an issue.  The only country which springs to mind is China as some of the characters had to be in Chinese on certain jobs and fields, but the system only accepted English. In general, we have kept everything in English, however, we did create Time Off Plans in western and local characters e.g. China – Annual Holiday 年假

We have had a lot of issues with the legal names vs. preferred names due to integrations to other platforms which couldn’t take local characters.  We now ensure that we always have preferred names in western script.

A German headquartered business that we acquired did not use a performance management system, they purely assessed performance based on financial outcomes and management judgment.    It’s a major shift for them but they are now using the Workday performance management module and the annual salary review tool, so that has been a good outcome.

Have any of the other acquisitions under the Brambles umbrella caused any issues?
The key issue with our acquisitions was to ensure the core HCM structures such as the grading/banding structure, which underpins all of our remuneration and incentive structure globally, before implementing the system. There are some policy differences but most of the core is the same. Standardizing policy is our project over the next few years, if there are larger variations it’ll be more interesting. There are costs associated with being part of a bigger business so the 20% will need to meet the 80% majority and not the other way around.

What would you do differently next time?
I would definitely have a larger dedicated full-time team to make the process quicker and more efficient, as opposed to having part-time teams with split responsibility. I honestly think we could’ve finished a year earlier if we’d had that type of structure. The initial costs of labour would have been well below the final costs of a long-term implementation.

What did the relationship look like on a micro level with Workday? How effective was it?
Workday were our implementation partner and their initial teams from the US found it hard to make good progress at a global level.  We found that you must have your own internal experts driving the program, so I set up a HR Systems team to do that. Workday’s people capability in Europe and Latin America was stronger than in the US.

There were also challenges with Workday’s module structure. For example, we wanted to purchase a recruitment module to start in the US only, but the only option was to purchase it for the entire world. We are now looking at recruitment modules from elsewhere to bolt on. On another note the Workday support to fix or resolve any system issues has been very good & responsive.


How do you feel the system has been perceived by the rest of the business?
Very well, anyone who likes using technology would enjoy it. On a a personal level, having the system in place has reduced my workload substantially as I no longer have hundreds of emails coming through; the actions on the system are clear, either approve or send back with questions.

How much did cost play a part in the decision making process?
The costing was almost identical between the shortlisted suppliers so it wasn’t a determining factor in our selection process. It’s one of the only technology projects I’ve seen delivered on time and within budget!

In hindsight would you incorporate any other parts into the team besides HR and IT? E.g. finance?
Definitely not – it is a HR project supported strongly by our IT group’s expertise! The IT group described me as the ideal business partner because I knew what I wanted from the system from the beginning and we worked really well hand in hand. That’s really key. Unless your client has at least an idea, it’s difficult to consult and advise for the right option. I believe you have to own the project and the system and know what you want from it.

What’s next on your bucket list?
The global policy review which I anticipate will take at least 2 years to complete. We have 60+ countries with their own visions who have historically done their own thing. Even simple things like recognising length of service can range from overly generous to non-existent between regions.

On a personal level I am planning on visiting Estonia (where my mother was from) in the European summer, and rounding up the trip by travelling to Italy and Spain!

Congratulations Phil, it sounds like you deserve it!