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UW Finance Transformation

A URL view (and a little Trekkie wisdom)

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UW Finance Transformation

October 11, 2022

In the UW Finance Transformation (UWFT) program, there’s an integral level of facilitators working on behalf of all employees across the enterprise who engage in financial activities. These are the people who — in addition to performing their “day job” — become the eyes and ears a unit can depend on to provide information and insight into navigating finance transformation, plus capture all knowledge to be ready for the future state. Part of the Change Champion Network structure, Unit Readiness Leads (URL) are the first tier, and serve as the key point of contact for UWFT’s organizational change management (OCM) activities.

Every URL is an individual and how they use their unique powers can vary. Curious, we checked in with URL Santhi (pronounced “shahn-thee”) Perumal, Assistant Dean for Finance and Administration for the College of Education (COE), to better understand her URL life. Very quickly, we learned Santhi had grabbed onto a vision of the UW’s finance future early on. Possibly because of her proactive nature — or perhaps her love of being a “Trekkie” (fan of the science fiction TV series, “Star Trek”) — Santhi was eager to share how she’s boldly seeking out finance changes and going where UW finance procedures have not gone before.

Here, Santhi shares what drives her about UWFT and how she works, including her collaboration with COE’s UWFT Change Agent Chris Kemp.

UWFT: What made you decide to become a URL, Santhi (SP), and Chris (CK), what made you want to be a Change Agent?

SP: Given my role at the College of Education, it was natural that I represent the College as the URL. When there was talk of hubs [before the Shared Environment approach was adopted for our operating model design], I wanted the College to be its own Shared Environment not only because of our size and complexity but also because we were already operating partially as a shared environment, not just in finance but also in other areas, like HR and IT. With that desire in mind, together with members of my team, even though we didn’t know the outcome then of the current decision, we moved towards this Shared Environment approach by working whenever opportunities presented for consolidation within and across our college. Knowing that financial transformation is going to change how we do things, we worked on streamlining and standardizing processes, policies, and our internal systems, in anticipation of UWFT.

CK: When I was hired, I knew part of my role as Associate Director for Planning and Analysis was looking forward to UWFT and working closely with Santhi on duties that ultimately would be part of the Change Agent role.

UWFT: So, what is it about UWFT that has you excited for the future?

SP: Currently, there is so much duplication and side systems. Many of us use spreadsheets to provide financial information, etc. In the future state, we’ll be able to do meaningful reporting with less repetition and chance for mistakes. I look forward to using Workday, as it has the potential to make our processes easier. I’m glad budget numbers are going away; using worktags will give us greater flexibility in accounting and, most of all, I’m looking forward to the ability to do accrual accounting. I think that has me most excited.

CK: What excites me is the chance this gives us all to improve processes. I’m very glad Ariba is going away. It’ll be great to have a new system in place with the goal of making our work much simpler and easier.
 

UWFT: How have you approached the changes that are to come?

SP: As soon as I heard that we were going to have changes and what UWFT wanted to do, I set out to institute changes in my unit, with the help of my team. As a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fan, one of my favorite lines from Captain Jean-Luc Picard is, Things are only impossible until they're not!” This is pretty much how I view challenges and help my team members to embrace that philosophy as well.  

We need to challenge our teams to grow and change so they can adapt to any situation, because as Captain James T. Kirk said: “There's no such thing as the unknown — only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood." This is what UWFT is. I’m okay with the unknown, we plan for what we know and adapt as needed, something like the ‘Borg’ (more about that later). In attending various UWFT meetings in the initial stages and listening to others who have been in the University much longer, I started to look at areas we could start our own change management. For example, knowing the Shared Environments will be instituting a ticketing system through UW Connect, we put a ticketing system in place a year-and-a-half ago to get our college ready for the changes that are ahead of us. Now everyone within the College uses that ticketing system for all things finance.

UWFT: So, how do you keep communication current with your unit? Do you have mini town halls or some other method?

SP: Using [Microsoft] Teams, we have a weekly processors meeting with our team so we can discuss upcoming process and policy changes. We discuss with our team where the challenges are and how we can make things simpler for our “clients” and for them. We hold a weekly meeting with an internal team jokingly called, “the influencers” (and it has stuck!) to discuss what UWFT is doing, how we need to adapt and train the team and what process improvements are needed. Starting this fall, we will be using our bi-weekly “Dean Finance Team Meeting,” to talk about each end-to-end process area and discuss what changes we need to make to our processes etc., to meet the demands of UWFT.

I like “bottom-up managing,” not managing from the top down. I see my job as removing obstacles and helping to make my team’s work easier. I read somewhere once that, In the workplace, trust makes things run at higher speed and lower cost.” I trust my team members as well as hold them accountable, because I firmly believe that when trust is present, people align around the purpose of their team, embrace goals and objectives, willingly collaborate, and are empowered to do their best work. When trust is absent, work becomes more difficult and takes longer to execute. This is something I have observed within my team and in various UWFT meetings. I have reiterated to the UWFT teams since the beginning of the program to come from a place of trust and I continue to do so. UW leadership should trust the administrators who do the actual work, just as I trust my team and hold them accountable for their work. At the end of the day, I believe we need to have the ability to empathize and understand the people we work with, both within our college and outside our college.

UWFT: How do you keep your colleagues encouraged as the program progresses?

SP: In my short time here, I have met colleagues, who bring to the table not only their skills, but also their experiences, and personalities. These are an amazing group of intelligent and resilient people that have been able to work within our disparate systems and keep the UW running. I think one thing that might help is to not think of the transformation as an old system vs. a new system, but just that we will be using a different financial system to do our work. Mainly, I try to ease people’s minds and worries and remind them that there are many smart people working on this program and our job — to the best of our ability — is to adapt. [She laughs.] Again, in reference to “Star Trek,” sometimes I think of our team and our Shared Environment work like the ‘Borg Collective’ from “Star Trek.” Chris has joked that they’re like the ultimate Shared Environment. However, instead of being the merciless aliens co-opting technology and knowledge to take over the universe to achieve perfection, we’re taking the technology and using it to perfect the way we work with financial matters at the University.

UWFT: Tell us more about how you work with UWFT?

SP: I attend OCM’s monthly URL meetings and if I have questions, I reach out to my OCM change manager or I contact the change management lead. And, of course, I take advantage of events like the recent UWFT Roadshow where I can learn and ask questions to clarify changes being shared. I also reach out to some of my colleagues in other units to learn how they’re managing their work and check my perceptions or concerns with them to see if we have shared concerns, and also to exchange ideas. I’ve found the OCM team the most helpful especially when I’m trying to keep track of all the myriad of tasks ahead of us.  [UWFT Change Readiness Manager] Jason Kalivas and his team have been wonderful partners and very helpful. Shout out to them!

CK: Santhi is very forward-thinking and a great advocate for UWFT. She’s known for getting into the nitty-gritty details so she knows exactly how a process will work and affect her colleagues. For example, we’ve both worked on the foundation data model (FDM) for the college and all the new worktags — digging into what that means for the work we do, and the opportunity this gives us to improve our analysis and reporting.

Much of my day is focused on UWFT…I’m part of the Customer Support User Task Group, and I’ll be involved with Santhi in the Workday® Adaptive Planning Release 1, Wave 2 process. I’ll be involved with all the training and “train-the-trainer,” too. It’s all very exciting but can be overwhelming as we work in the current system while planning for the future.

UWFT: What advice to you have for your colleagues?

SP: I believe in the notion that people have the ability within them to change, shift and adapt. My group of colleagues have definitely done that in their time here at the UW. To me, innovation is about solving difficult problems. We always advise people when tasked with finding innovative solutions to new challenges, to “think outside the box”— but what if I say to you, that there is no box! The box is a limiting concept, so set that box on fire completely if you want creative results, and lead on and prosper, friends.

With less than a year to go before go-live, Santhi is keenly aware there’s still plenty to get done for her unit. So far, tapping into her unit’s needs, influenced by her optimism, perseverance, and proactive thinking — because there is no box and things are only impossible until they're not — serves her team well as they boldly go toward the changes needed for go-live and beyond. As Santhi’s favorite Vulcan would say, “Change is the essential process of all existence.”

Editor’s Note: You can connect with your unit readiness lead or your change agent and learn more about the Change Champion network on the Change Network. For any questions about the UWFT program, reach out to your unit’s change manager or send an email to uwftask@uw.edu.
 

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