Private Swiss bank Julius Baer to save $1m a year with cloud HR


Private Swiss bank Julius Baer predicts savings of $1m a year after replacing the IT systems used to manage its global workforce with a cloud-based service.

The bank, which manages assets of over CHF300bn for high net worth individuals, anticipates that moving to the cloud will cut the costs of running its human resources (HR) IT systems by half.

Julius Baer replaced its HR technology in 2016, following the appointment of a new head of HR, says Manuel Hugentobler, head of HR consulting and support.

“There were a lot of complaints from the HR organisation about the existing infrastructure. It was very diverse, very outdated,” he says in an interview with Computer Weekly.

The bank had relied on human capital management (HCM) software from SAP to manage its workforce of 8,500 people across 30 countries.

It had a web portal that allowed employees to access a limited number of HR functions, its own performance management system and SAP-supplied software to manage recruitment for its Swiss headquarters.

Although the technology was able to store HR data, the systems were complex and did not make it easy to analyse and process data, says Hugentobler. “We had blind spots in systems reports and talent management, and we lacked global recruitment support,” he says.

The bank put together a shortlist of 12 potential technology suppliers, before narrowing the list down to six, based on their technical capability and geographical coverage. Four responded to a request for proposals – Workday, SAP SuccessFactors, Oracle Fusion and Rexx Systems.

The business case

Hugentobler and the HR team needed to convince Julius Baer’s board to back a project that required higher software licence fees than its existing technology.

The bank spoke with other companies about using both SAP SuccessFactors and Workday to understand their experiences.

The team were able to compare the costs of moving to SAP SuccessFactors – factoring in running costs, maintenance and the cost of updates – with the equivalent costs of running Workday.

“There were a lot of complaints about the existing infrastructure. It was very diverse, very outdated”

Manuel Hugentobler, Julius Baer

“Based on reference talks, [we discovered] that Workday customers were able to maintain their systems more easily than SAP SuccessFactors customers,” says Hugentobler.

For example, SAP SuccessFactors required four updates a year, whereas Workday only went through two release, making the update cost of Workday significantly cheaper, he says.

Workday won backing from the IT team because the software operated as a single platform, rather than a series of software modules linked together, says Hugentobler.

The team were able to present a case to the board showing that in “10 years we would break even and amortise investments”, he says.

Overcoming project challenges

Julius Baer signed a contract with Workday in November 2016, and began implementing the project a month later.

It chose DayNine – later bought by Accenture – as an implementation partner. DayNine was a boutique company, which fitted well with the bank’s size and culture.

Ten people from Julius Baer and DayNine worked on the project to deploy Workday’s core HCM and recruitment technology across 30 countries.

One of the challenges faced by Julius Baer was that transferring HR data from the bank’s existing systems to WorkDay proved more difficult than expected. It was a difficult time, says Hugentobler.

“We did not know the system for WorkDay, and we had to deliver data. I would have expected more support from the implementation partner, to explain the pitfalls and the problems. I felt isolated,” he says.

The team ended up taking a month out in July 2017 to manually patch up data in the old system and transfer it to the cloud HR service, which Hugentobler admitted was “quite a hassle”.

Bank Julius Baer decided to simplify the problem by choosing to migrate only data from its employees.

WorkDay has strong validation rules to verify the accuracy of data – a big advantage in production, but a “pain” in migration, says Hugentobler. 

“We took a decision not to migrate a lot of history of our users, so our reporting starts from go-live,” he says.

Cloud business benefits

The system went live in September 2017. It now provides every location in which the bank operates with access to the same HR capabilities, whether they employ five people, or thousands. 

“Employers and line managers have full transparency of employee data. They have full control of the recruiting process – they can see how many people have applied for each position,” he says.

The software has also made it easier for the bank to meet its compliance obligations. When an internal or external audit team carries out a review, they can review the audit trail, showing who has approved what HR decision. 

Julius Baer still uses SAP technology for other processes, which will mean some renegotiation on licence fees before the financial savings are fully realised. “Our procurement team will need to renegotiate prices with SAP to fully realise the benefits,” says Hugentobler.

Lessons learned

If he had the chance to run the project again, Hugentobler says he would do a few things differently.

During the project, he structured the work into a functional stream, an integration stream and a data stream. But this meant not everyone had the same level of knowledge and technical understanding about their work.

A better approach, he says, would be to design the work stream around functions, such as recruitment, with each function having experts, integration and data.

“Then you make sure everyone has the same level of knowledge. You have one person in charge who makes sure the same information goes to everyone,” he says.

Meeting the standard

He advises other organisations implementing cloud-based HR services to adapt their HR processes to the software, rather than introduce any form of customisation.

The bank’s policy was to follow Workday’s standard processes in every country, unless there were legal reasons to have local requirements. “We were really able to stick to it,” he says.

Over time, however, Workday plans to open up its software to third party developers, to create apps that could assist businesses in customising the software.

“Opening up the solution for third party apps would give us opportunities to build a solution, [whereas] when we failed to find an appropriate solution we had to accept a workday standard,” he says.

For example, in countries such as Germany, employers are required to issue staff with formal work certificates when they leave the company. These certificates are not currently supported in the Workday software, but could be supported by a third-party app.

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