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UW Finance Transformation

Building a future together

November 18, 2020

A modernization like the one we're undergoing with UW Finance Transformation (UWFT) is a lot like a large-scale renovation of a classic house -- the house has good bones, a very solid and well-designed structure built with all the best tools and materials that were around at the time of construction. You appreciate the thoughtful and artisanal design of the stained-glass windows and coved ceilings, and have lovingly patched the plaster whenever it needed a little freshening up. You’ve grown to adore this old house, and while it could hold up for many more years, the water and electricity bills are far higher than they need to be and the house is not as energy-efficient as others in the neighborhood.  

So, you proceed with the renovation knowing that along the way, you’re going to discover the original main floor framing needs shoring up to support the new dormers upstairs, or that you have to re-side the whole building when you only planned to patch it. It’s these surprises, oftentimes adding immeasurable benefits or significant increases to the overall costs, that makes or breaks the project.

UWFT has many parallels with this story. With the information available, we identified the work necessary to modernize our financial systems, processes and policies. We spent two years talking with stakeholders, identifying requirements and developing a timeline for getting the work done. We put together a scope, schedule and budget based on what we understood as of the end of last year, knowing that we’d continue to learn a lot over the course of 2020. Much of what we’ve learned since focuses in part on how to build Workday®, but mostly centers on how Workday can exist within the rest of the technology environment at the University of Washington.

Now we find ourselves at an important moment in time – we need to ask some important questions that have the potential to influence the entirety of the program: Does our understanding about this integrated path forward allow us to fully proceed with the current plan and timeline, or do we need to reconsider how and when we go about this transformation?

This kind of analysis is not simply a best practice, but is very normal in a program of this size and complexity (900+ systems!). Based on lessons learned from similar projects, including here at the UW, there’s no better time than now to bring things to the fore and examine, shift, tweak and realign as needed to ensure we’re thorough. Exploring this now, rather than months before or after go-live, will help affirm integrations are in place, units and users are prepared and objectives are met.

You may be wondering, does this mean we won’t go-live in July 2022? Will certain work that was in scope fall out of scope? Is it going to cost more? Those are the questions we’re currently evaluating. In keeping with our program values, we’re committed to sharing the current status of this work and coming back to share decisions once this examination is complete. One thing we can say is that this University remains committed to moving this modernization forward. It’s not a question of if, but a question of validating that the current plan still makes sense considering all of the new information we’ve uncovered in 2020.

That validation is the work UW subject matter experts are dedicated to right now. While this small group does this important confirmation, many can continue forward with other work. Functional and administrative leads are participating in confirmation sessions to validate what the University community has decided about the business process design and our understanding of the impacts of these changes on units and individuals. Engineers are starting to populate Workday with UW-specific data, and collaboratively identifying which systems can be retired and which need to be retained. Faculty members are working with administrative leaders to help carve the path forward for how and where finance tasks will take place in the future state. Change management experts continue to put into place the building blocks necessary to help ensure individual unit readiness ahead of go-live. Back-end structures are being established to help lay a strong foundation for the full Workday build-out. And so much more.

Within all of this, those of us closest to the work continue to filter everything through the lens of responsible stewardship of finite University resources. Our guiding principles, which were established in partnership with leaders across the institution who designated the program as a core institutional priority, are at the core. We seek:

  • Standardized and simplified processes to ensure enterprise-wide productivity gains
  • A consolidated and integrated computing infrastructure that eliminates redundancy
  • Financial and management reports that result from a trusted system of record
  • Defined stage gates to mitigate risk and show clear decision criteria
  • Through reciprocal change management and communication, ensure all units are operational at launch

The UWFT program team is made up of a diverse mix of staff; from former students to UW “lifers” to new hires who previously worked for other universities, government or corporate organizations. This healthy balance of local knowledge and outside experience enable us to see ourselves as the facilitators, not the deciders, of how this University’s finance transformation will unfold. Similar to the key players in a home renovation, we are the engineers and the builders, but the rest of the University is in charge of the blueprint. Together we will build a strong, resilient financial infrastructure worthy of this world-class institution.


Editor’s note: If you have questions or need clarity about our UWFT work, please reach out to Ed at or For more detailed updates on recent tactical accomplishments, sign up for the UWFT newsletter. Read the latest issue here (UW login req'd).

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