From Campus to Cloud: How Workday Uses New Technology to Improve the Student Experience
A common theme in higher ed is the need for change. Career demands are changing, so courses must provide the new skills students need. The traditional student is changing, so registrars must provide more flexible scheduling options. And the way we use technology is changing. So schools must adapt to meet their students’ expectations.
According to Liz Dietz, Vice President of Student Strategy and Product Management at Workday, “When our founders set out to create Workday, they understood that business and higher education processes were broken. And the systems that were used to support them were outdated.”
In her role, Liz focuses on Workday Student, what the company calls “a student information system for today’s generation.”
To gain the perspective of “today’s generation,” Workday employs a number of recent college graduates, who have a fresh memory of the technology needs of higher ed. Liz calls them “Generation Workday.”
“We have this nice blend of experienced people like myself and younger people, and they bring a perspective that is so creative, and they have the most inventive ideas,” says Liz. “But they also share the pain that they experienced.”
To learn more about how Workday is bringing higher ed technologies into the digital age, we spoke with Liz Dietz about the company and what it does.
Hannah: This is Hannah Nyren from EdTech Times. Today we are talking about how universities are transforming to the cloud with Liz Dietz, vice president of student strategy and product management at Workday. Hi Liz, how’s it going?
Liz: Hi. Thanks for having me, Hannah.
Hannah: Liz, could you introduce yourself and your role at Workday and what Workday does?
Liz: Well I’m Liz Dietz and I’m the vice president for student product management and strategy. So that means I’m accountable for the vision and the product of Workday Student, all the things that are in Workday Student. And Workday is a leading provider of software as a service applications, and we provide HCM applications, payroll, financial applications, planning and analytics applications, as well as industry applications. And the one I’m accountable for is Workday Student.
Hannah: So what is Workday’s role in cloud transformation? What do you provide beyond just putting it all in one place?
Liz: When our founders set out to create Workday, they understood that business and higher education processes were broken. And the systems that were used to support them were outdated. So to solve these issues they started out with a clean sheet of paper, which allowed them not only to fix these processes but also create a technology foundation that supports the needs of organizations today and in the future. With Workday Student, higher ed organizations are able to create efficiencies, increase accountability and transparency, access real time data, and they’re also connecting students via mobile on a single code line.
Hannah: What are some special considerations that need to be made when working with higher education institutions—as opposed to more traditional businesses or corporations?
Liz: Yeah, that’s a great question. Because unlike corporate audiences—and typically they work for the company using the product—higher education institutions are dealing with multiple audiences and also multiple generations, and you can’t underestimate that. So identifying a technology that resonates with all the stakeholders is really critical. Nowadays institutions are in need of mobile first solutions, because students live on their mobile phones, and an engaging mobile experience is required that allows them to interact and communicate with students in an impactful way. You know, and at the same time, it’s important that these technologies deliver on all the capabilities that are critical for the faculty and the administrators that are focused on doing their jobs.
Liz: You know, pressures are growing in higher education, and they need to ensure that students are successfully moving from education to occupation. You know, there’s a lot of funding based on outcomes. And higher education institutions are looking for new technology systems that can help keep them accountable, keep the students accountable in particular, by providing a real-time view for the staff and the students into their progress. Now one of the things that we provide are dashboards not only for administrators and faculty, but for the students themselves where for the first time they’re able to see in a pictorial graph, in a variety of different ways, how am I doing, you know, how is my GPA doing for my major, am I completing my degree, am I losing ground or am I really going to graduate on time? And keeping that front and center for these students is really critical.
Hannah: Yeah. And I think that’s a really good point, that you are working with multiple generations, and multiple groups of people when you’re implementing this technology.
Liz: Absolutely. Their needs and their points of view are very different. When you just look at faculty for a minute. The long-term, more traditional faculty are now retiring, and the faculty that’s joining their institutions are digital natives themselves. And so they have similar expectations to the students. So there’s still, I think, on a lot of campuses this great divide, but Workday strives to give—whether you’re a student, you’re a younger faculty, a more tenured or experienced faculty, an administrator—we attempt to give you the information you need in a manner that’s just in time and easy for you to use from the point of view of what your particular job is or role is.
Hannah: Why do you think it’s important for higher education institutions to be moving to the cloud right now?
Liz: Our customers are investing in cloud based student information systems, because they guarantee a higher quality experience, at the end of the day, at a lower cost. And it’s leading the way for the next generation of student experiences in higher education.
Liz: When you’re a cloud-based system, everyone is current at one time. We’re able to keep our customers current several times a year, as opposed to waiting for years for an update to manage the next browser or the next mobile phone.
Liz: So there’s a lot of advantages to having a system that it is in the cloud, managed by someone else, and they keep you current on that underlying technology.
Liz: In more old school systems, you had to make a huge commitment to trying out a new technology or a new business process. But with Workday, that giant investment isn’t there we keep the institutions up to speed and at pace with innovations and new ways of doing business, and they can quickly adopt them or prototype them or pilot them on their campuses.
Liz: You know I think at the bottom line, a single cloud-based system engages students and staff at a crucial time, and it ensures the speed and accuracy of student financial data all the way from billing to payment.
Hannah: Right and the important thing there is the end result for students and staff. I think that’s what it all boils down to. So tell me—I know many schools are still in the process of cloud transformation and implementing new technologies like Workday. But what schools have successfully implemented your system at least partially, and what have you learned from that? What have they learned from that?
Liz: Since we’ve generally released Workday Student, we have 14 institutions of a wide variety, you know, we’ve worked with 40 institutions to design and build this product and we had institutions from community colleges, small liberal arts colleges, large research institutions, large state institutions.
Liz: And I’ll just use an example related to hiring faculty. So we have one community college that’s a great customer and they’re implementing everything–Workday, payroll, HCM finance, and student end to end. And in their finance implementation, they hire a lot of adjunct faculty. And what they found when they were opening up their business processes and re-examining them is they found that one of the reasons their hiring process wasn’t working as well as they wanted it to was the fact that they had 7 people that had to sign off on hiring an adjunct faculty. So right away when you see these 7 people you know that’s not a very agile process. It doesn’t really go that quickly.
Liz: So the point is, when you start to re-examine the business processes that you have on your campus, and they’ve, for the most part, been in existence for quite a long time, many many years, maybe decades, you’re gonna find a couple things.
Liz: One is, it was a prior administration, a prior president, a prior, you know, academic senate that mandated those processes. Things have actually changed on your campus, but you’re still doing the same things you did before. So that’s one thing. You see a lot of opportunities for sort of streamlining and reinventing your business processes.
Liz: And then the second thing you see is a lot of business processes and the way institutions do things, in particular in the student area, that are driven by the systems you were using. You see you don’t really need to do all the things you used to do and you don’t need to do them in the way you used to do them because you have these new capabilities.
Hannah: So how is your software different from other types of software out there? Just what do you specifically focus on that might differentiate Workday from other types of software for this purpose?
Liz: You know when we started workday student we really–we knew we didn’t want to just re-invent what many of us had done in the past at prior systems. And we, as I said, we worked with 40 diverse institutions. And we just looked at the whole landscape of, what is it that students are doing today? What is it that staff and colleges and universities are doing today?
Liz: We are spending more and more time engaging the students today. Yet the traditional systems don’t really support this sort of CRM-like functionality with this consistent engagement with students.
Liz: We also notice that, you know, staff and faculty and students need information to make fact-based decisions. So Workday brings to the table our technology, our in memory object model with the embedded analytics. We operate like a true internet system, where you can drill down into the source of data, we can provide faculty analytics, we can provide recruiters analytics: what are you doing in terms of recruiting your students? How is your recruiting and admissions pipeline doing? And you can click on a graph and drill down into the students that make up that particular segment of the graph.
Liz: Another great example is an academic planner. You can suggest with templates for that student what they should be taking and where they have electives, you can leave it more free form for them. So it really supports the student in making sure that they’re staying on track.
Liz: So that’s an advantage, not only are we helping the student plan, but the advisors and the faculty and the students can see, am I on track to graduate? Another advantage of that, a huge advantage is that the institution can look into the data that’s in this planner and anticipate, what are the courses we need to get these students graduated?
Liz: We really sort of deconstructed the higher ed experience end to end, and put it back together in a more relevant way.
Hannah: Yeah, when you describe it like that, I can really see how that could, you know, make things more efficient and make the student experience better. I remember, I was a student less than 10 years ago, and we didn’t have anything close to that.
Liz: Well you’re really raising a great point. And that’s the beauty of having all these young millennials, brilliant graduates, we call them generation Workday. You know we have this nice blend of experienced people like myself and younger people, and they bring a perspective that is so creative, and they have the most inventive ideas. But they also share the pain that they experienced and how unwieldy and their experiences didn’t make sense to them.
Liz: Why are we doing these things? Why don’t our student systems act like the systems we have on our mobile phones or the systems we download from the app store? Why can’t we swipe courses right or swipe them left? You know what is this old behemoth thing we’re having to deal with? And many of them went and built their own systems to compensate for the lack of their own student systems, or they got really, really good at making excel spreadsheets to track their progress.
Hannah: Wow. That takes a long time.
Liz: Yeah. So you know we just have a great advantage at Workday. We have incredible technology to leverage, with embedded analytics. And we have the luxury of starting in, you know, this millennial building a product and not having to bring forward thousands and thousands of customers and different versions of code line. We can leave that behind and just start fresh. So I never underestimate the advantages that my team has in building our product.
Hannah: So how do you think this technology will change in the future? Where do you see room for growth, and room for improvement in your technology, as well as other technologies out there today that serve this purpose?
Liz: The thing that we have to acknowledge right off the bat is that one thing we can count on is that our industry is changing. There are so many pressures on higher education, questioning the value, the cost, the length of time.
Liz: And we have to recognize that we have to be nimble and we need to have a platform that can change and evolve to address the needs of higher education as the industry changes.
Liz: One of the things that’s really important and is emerging more and more, is just, what is the future of work? So…and when I say that, I mean what is it that higher education needs to provide to prepare students for the future of work? And what is the technology that we need to have to help our customers prepare students to go into the workforce.
Liz: The traditional student that was probably like you or I, go straight from high school to college and then you finish your bachelor’s degree, or whatever it is you did. And then you go into the workforce. That is really becoming the minority.
Liz: So to be able to support our non-traditional students, the students coming back to get re-credentialed, learn new things. We have to be able to support a couple of things. We need to be nimble in our time frames that we offer courses. It’s not enough perhaps just to offer semester or quarter-based courses. You need to be able to offer maybe shorter courses, shorter duration, flexible start and end times.
Liz: And in the curriculum, you also need to be able to offer stackable or more modular courses, so that you can mix and match them together like legos to turn into mini-credentials. So that students along the way can pull these together, and actually show what they’re capable of doing.
Liz: But more importantly, to show employers what skills students have, you need to have a way to associate those outcomes and competencies with the activities that are associated with the course–whether it’s a medical rotation or it’s a practical, or it’s an internship, or it’s an on the ground project. You need to have a way that you can associate all of those outcomes and competencies with the courses. So that you could, if the institution chose, provide this extended transcript that’s becoming very much talked about in higher education today. And where we’re going is to have all of that information of the students’ academics, their experiences and activities, and all of their artifacts available in a portfolio that the student can share with employers.
Hannah: Great. Great. Well, thanks for speaking with us today Liz.
Liz: Thanks Hannah. It was great to meet with you today.
Listen to the full series, Transforming Higher Ed with Cloud Technology.
This episode is brought to you by Huron.
Huron is a global professional services firm with an extensive history in higher education. For nearly two decades, Huron has provided consulting services for over 500 educational institutions, including all 100 of the top research universities in the United States.
This year at EDUCAUSE, you can learn more about what Huron does by attending the panel, Reshaping the Future: A Guide for Preparing Your Cloud Migration, or by visiting booth 1552. And of course, you can always visit huronconsultinggroup.com.