A flexible foundation for greater R1 success.

Washington State University replaces “big iron” mainframe with flexible cloud foundation to advance research potential.


Delivers a modern experience that attracts top talent

Speeds up administrative insights by 100%

Improves efficiency, agility and planning

Cuts risk and facilitates cost savings

In higher education, scores count – for both students and universities. The most talented faculty and students seek out institutions with the highest rankings, especially those that make the prestigious R1 Carnegie Classification list. Although Washington State University (WSU) was already ranked among the 130 R1 institutions, it wanted its Pullman campus to be in the top 25 so it could increase the opportunities to solve the world’s toughest challenges. But it wouldn’t be easy.

This is the level of insight and responsiveness we need to be a top 25 research university.

Chief Financial Officer

Time to graduate to a new solution.

WSU was already investing hundreds of millions of dollars into research every year. The institution had to dig deep to pinpoint changes that could drive greater efficiencies, attract top talent and eliminate a $30 million budget deficit. The finance department brought up the elephant in the room: a 40-year-old mainframe that supported administrative workflows. “There was too much risk”, says Stacy Pearson, chief financial officer at WSU. “Financial reports were not comprehensive and were run by individual departments. It was hard to attract new administrative hires because they couldn’t see a career path at an institution that used a mainframe. And the one person who knew how to get the cranky system going when it went down was nearing retirement. We needed an R1-level foundation for our university to advance to a modern research strategy, establish and manage a new budget model, and become a leader in agile business processes and planning.”

We would like to be included with the ‘cool crowd!’ People who come in to interview know they can use the tools and workflows they learn here in any industry.

Chief Financial Officer

A modern syllabus for success.

WSU decided to build its administrative foundation on a unified Workday system. Its two-phased deployment started with Workday Financial Management and Workday Human Capital Management (HCM), followed by Workday Payroll, Workday Recruiting and Workday Time and Absence. “It was an ambitious plan – and I should have more grey hairs – but we went live on time and on budget by leaning into Workday and their other university customers for guidance”, says Pearson. “To help everyone embrace this complete revamp of a 40-year-old system, we also launched change management, communication and training plans. So instead of waiting for the expected complaints, we spent a lot of time engaging department stakeholders, faculty and staff to drive the necessary culture changes and immediately resolve any complaints and concerns. While those complaints have certainly happened, we conducted listening sessions and worked to resolve issues and be as responsive as possible.”

The foundational infrastructure that we put in place with our Workday system is what we need to drive our strategic business planning initiatives.

Chief Financial Officer

Real-time, R1-level insights – 100% faster.

Today, rather than using paper-based processes and tedious mainframe applications, WSU staff, faculty and students manage finance and HR tasks using automated workflows in Workday. And instead of waiting 30 days for static reports, staff have on-demand, real-time insights into finances and HR, including budgets and actual costs for the entire WSU system. “This is the level of insight and responsiveness we need to be a top 25 research university”, Pearson says. “The improved data access and efficiency enable our employees to add more value. The insights have also made it possible to create a three-year plan that will take us out of our operational deficit.”

Mobility, attraction and retention.

Staff, faculty and students can now manage their finance, HR and payroll workflows from any location, at any time. This increased mobility has been especially useful during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only has it helped people collaborate across WSU’s 5 campuses, 4 research centres and 40 extension county and tribal offices, but WSU can also better support the needs of departments and its employees. “Let’s face it, even before the pandemic, the workforce was mobile”, says Pearson. “Using digital processes that give people the flexibility to work in different ways is helpful. Other universities and the state of Washington are looking to us for leadership in how we made this possible.”

Adopting modern workflows has eliminated frustration and created a more positive culture where students, faculty and staff are excited about what’s possible. “We would like to be included with the ‘cool crowd!’” says Pearson. “People who come in to interview think it’s great that we use Workday. They know they can use the tools and workflows they learn here in any industry.”

The flexible foundation to focus on what’s next.

To realise the full potential of all their resources, WSU is expanding its use of Workday – and operationalising its change management, communication and training strategies to drive future projects. “We’re not sitting back saying, ‘Wow, high five, everything’s done’,” concludes Pearson. “The foundational infrastructure that we put in place with our Workday system is what we need to drive our strategic business planning initiatives. We can see how to reduce our budget deficit, improve our R1 ranking and increase learning so that WSU can continue to attract and educate the next generation of leaders and problem-solvers.”

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