How the need to become global drove Velux to the cloud

Workday's HCM tool has standardised HR practices and provided new opportunities for data analysis

Velux, having built a solid reputation for quality roof windows and modular skylights, is today a global brand spanning 70 individual sites across 40 different countries. Despite having a workforce of over 10,000 employees, the Danish firm has until recently relied on an HR system that was fragmented, with a collection of local regions acting independently.

This, according to Jacob Kjeldgaard Olsen, director for strategy and change at Velux, was no longer sustainable in an organisation that was becoming increasingly global. The company lacked a coherent set of practices that was uniform across regions.

"Of course like any other business we are becoming more and more global," says Olsen. "But supporting that from an HR perspective also requires a process that is global. We didn't have that ... we had a very fragmented setup."

Olsen, who has been working at Velux for the past 11 years, currently heads a small internal consultancy team that runs various change initiatives throughout the organisation. Part of his responsibilities include identifying ways in which the company can process data more efficiently, particularly given the pressures faced from the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

"It's very hard to support those HR processes without sending data back and forth, and having access to that data," says Olsen. "(The project) is the combination of us becoming more global, and at the same time living up to all these data protection regulations ... this can be very difficult when you have a global organisation with very local processes and systems."

After almost two years of consultation, Workday was identified as a potential solution to these problems, and over the past year Velux has worked closely with the company to modernise its HR service. Last month Velux went live with its Human Capital Management (HCM) system provided by Workday, a single cloud-based HR platform that amalgamates all those disparate local regions together into one body.

"The main reason we chose Workday over competitors was that the UI is so good, and also that it was easy to implement it from an administrative perspective," explains Olsen. "We're not that special in regard to HR, so we really preferred a standard system. We are taking something that is best practice and then configuring within the limits of what that can do, something that is easily good enough for us."

The Workday project was a resounding success, according to Olsen, arriving on time and within budget, and delivering to the scope Velux had anticipated: "For us it has been a tremendously successful, and we have moved further than we could have imagined a year and a half ago," says Olsen. "We now have a tremendous amount of new processes in place, regarding our 'people lifecycle', when people join and when they leave, but also regarding performance, talent, compensation and so on."

"On top of that, we now have our global master data regarding our employees and organisation in place, which we only had a fragmented picture of before."

Olsen believes a part of that success was down to the company's implementation strategy. Given its desire to build a global system, Velux made the unusual decision to roll out Workday's HCM in a single day across every region, instead of the "old school phased approach", which sees a system introduced piecemeal. This meant that HR processes didn't need to be decided in one country first and then adapted later for other regions, according to Olsen.

Adopting these standardised practices proved to be the biggest challenge for Velux, rather than learning the HCM system itself. The fairly simply UI was easily picked up by managers and employees, however adapting ingrained HR routines to a globalised system proved difficult.

"I would say it's not so much the system and functionality that you need to learn," explains Olsen, "its really more the general change management needed once you start to have global processes, and once you have people working and collaborating across borders in new ways."

"HR have to get used to 'now I'm not the only one defining what the process is when someone joins' -- that is now a global process, its an easy process and its working well, but they need to adapt their ways of thinking and working," explains Olsen.

In many ways Velux's approach to overhauling its process is something other organisations can learn from. The transition was underpinned by a clear goal to become a truly global company, and received input and guidance from the entire global HR organisation. This allowed those otherwise disparate groups of people to see prototypes in action months before they went live.

"There were a lot of touch points during and before the project. That's key to what we feel is a success, perhaps even more than the more technical side of the project," explains Olsen. This included the use of 'localisation workshops' in which change management travelled to every HR region in order to help optimise processes so that the training of staff could be done locally.

The introduction of this global system has allowed Velux to take advantage of data that was otherwise impractical to collect. "Now we have a platform that, once we gather more data, can further develop with HR analytics, which is one of the key things that we want to do," explains Olsen. With the new capabilities in place, Velux will now be able to tune the system as they develop, such as the introduction of an absence management platform, which will be worked on over the coming months.

"It's not a surprise for us that there are things we need to do. We wanted to go quickly live with something that is global that covers our important processes. For us its just a platform [to] develop, although that's not saying it doesn't do anything for us now. We see it as a starting point for realising all those business benefits, about empowering the managers with analytics and easy to use processes," says Olsen. "Although we had basic data in the past, this takes it to a whole different level."

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