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Plan for Success: Strategies for Implementing Cloud ERP in State and Local Government

Up against burning platforms, many governmental organisations are contemplating their next technology move. Cloud-based solutions, which are known for their agility, scalability and user-friendliness, can potentially assist them in modernising their organisations. Leading cloud platforms such as Workday are increasingly being recognised in the public sector for their ability to inform decisions, enhance customer service and improve productivity among business users. But, moving to the cloud isn’t just another software upgrade or implementation. Cloud deployments are different. The cloud by nature means configuration rather than customisation. As such, business processes need to be streamlined and standardised. While this often leads to efficiency gains and productivity improvements, it also means significant organisational change.

Based on our experience implementing Workday for dozens of public sector clients, we have found that understanding the transformational quality of the cloud—and what it means to security, development and change management—is key to a successful implementation. To that end, we’ve developed some starter strategies for implementing cloud ERP systems within state and local government entities.

While every organisation is different, these strategies provide a good preparatory baseline for almost everyone. Although we’ve never seen a client do all of these things, tick the following boxes represents the ideal situation—a consultant’s “dream” if you will—for implementing Workday effectively:

  • Create ownership and accountability. Cloud deployments need strong ownership—someone who is responsible for the application from a business standpoint with appropriate stakeholder involvement from IT and change management. This business-focused owner should understand the vision, the level of change that is involved and be a part of the day-to-day transformation. Without such a person, the implementation will be like a rudderless ship. One of the great features of a cloud solution is the constant ability to innovate and optimise. That can only happen effectively when somebody takes accountability from the very beginning and continues to make choices about the innovations the organisation wants to adopt well beyond go live.
  • Instil clear decision-making authority and processes. There is often a perception that cloud implementations can be done faster. Whether or not that is true depends on an organisation’s ability to make decisions and stick to them. While it might seem obvious, establishing clear decision-making authority is particularly important within government organisations, which are often accustomed to lengthy consensus-building cycles. While there is nothing wrong with gathering input and making sure everyone is comfortable with the proposed changes, such consensus-building needs to be regimented with clear deadlines or else the organisation risks incurring costly delays or even worse, failing to realise the intended benefits.
  • Operate with one feet in today and one in tomorrow. With cloud applications, governmental organisations, perhaps for the first time, can look both at what they need to improve now as well as what they would like to improve in the future. Cloud deployments usher in the concept of rapid prototyping and continual process improvement. This stands in stark contrast to on-premises implementations where users often have only one shot to make decisions. Cloud deployments generally require a shift from a waterfall approach to an Agile methodology. In other words, it’s about iterative prototyping, rather than trying to get everything right the first time.
  • Involve the right stakeholders for design input. A top-heavy design process is a common mistake. Key product and process owners obviously need to be part of the design process but so do the people who actually do the work. It’s also important to balance current subject matter experts with subject matter change agents. While functional knowledge of the current system and processes is important, you also need people who can envision future-state improvements. Ultimately, whoever is invited to participate in the design process has to be empowered by leadership so their decisions are respected and not unravelled at the eleventh hour by a colleague or superior who missed the meeting. In short, a successful cloud-based design process involves true collaboration, with the right mix of stakeholders chosen and empowered from project inception.
  • Consider impacts on your larger technology ecosystem. Cloud-based applications send and receive information from a lot of different places. Consequently, they touch many other solutions within the organisation as well as many outside parties from a technical perspective. Thinking through the impacts upon the extended technology ecosystem is critical to avoiding delays and preserving important internal and external relationships. While many organisations can “talk a good game” about legacy system remediation, shadow-system analysis and compatibility with partner organisations, they often do not understand how to resolve the impacts, nor do they grasp how long it can take. Some partners may have fixed change-management schedules. Or, some systems may not be compatible with the Software as a Service (SaaS) architecture. For example, cloud-based applications have pre-defined components, such as supplier invoices. Unlike on-premises systems, you haven't got the ability to insert fields, change layouts or add objects. Grasping and communicating these parameters is critical to keeping your deployment on track.
  • Operate with a fail-fast, fail-forward mentality. Many public sector organisations get stuck in the pursuit of perfection. The prevailing sentiment is that the solution has to be flawless before it can be released. This idea runs counter to one of the core tenets of the cloud: continuous improvement. Cloud solutions are implemented in an iterative fashion where failure is simply part of an agile learning process. Simply put: it’s okay if it’s not quite right because the project team will try it again and keep offering improvements. This fail-fast, fail-forward mentality is possible because SaaS solutions rely on configuration, not coding. It might take a day to reconfigure something in a cloud application compared to a month or more to recode something in an on-premises system. That’s why go live is really just the beginning. On day one, your organisation might have a workable solution but even more value comes from optimising it going forward.
  • Make change management a part of things from the start. Change management is often viewed as something you do at the end of the project. This couldn’t be further from the truth. From the very beginning, various groups, such as the project management office (PMO), tech team, business-users, functional experts and partner agencies—all need to participate and learn, with everyone adopting a fail-fast, fail-forward mentality. In a cloud implementation journey, everybody needs to get on the bus—from day one.

Moving to the cloud can give your organisation the power to adapt, but it involves a whole lot more than flicking a switch.

Implementing a cloud-based platform like Workday is different from deploying an on-premises ERP system

How is it different?

In two major respects:

  1. It is business-led, involving the active participation of those who will use the system; and
  2. It entails significant organisational change, so change management, issue resolution, governance and project management need to be considered upfront.

While a business-led SaaS deployment may be different than what you’re accustomed to, the differences are not insurmountable, with a little forethought, open-mindedness and guidance from an experienced implementation partner with a track record of success.