The Dauntless Spirit Driving UWFT's Technical Pillar
October 19, 2021
Gail Rogers brings many years of senior-level success in building strong, cohesive teams to achieve business and IT strategic goals and deliver complex, large-scale technology solutions. She has experience across several industries and technologies including SAP, Oracle, geographic information systems and business intelligence. Gail joined the University of Washington in 2020, first as senior director in UW-IT and then assumed the senior lead position for the Technical Pillar in the UW Finance Transformation (UWFT) program. Under her leadership, the Technical Pillar’s purview includes technology change management, data conversions, gap applications, system remediation and retirements, identity and access management, iintegrations and complex changes in the enterprise data platform and reporting.
When Gail was just three months old, her family moved to Sitka, Alaska. It’s the first and oldest Alaskan city and sits on a series of islands only accessible by plane or boat. For Gail, who loved to play sports — basketball, volleyball, track — it meant competing against teams by air or ferry travel. In fact, she was quite surprised when she got older to learn that most athletic teams in the lower 48 took buses when they competed against one another.
College for Gail was first Arizona State, then Cal-State in Fresno, California, but she missed the green and water she was used to having as part of her daily life back in Alaska. So, it’s no wonder that Gail made a home in the Pacific Northwest. And rain…well, she’s used to that, too. In Sitka, it rains three out of every five days during an average year.
During her college years when Gail was home, she worked with her dad at a pulp mill where she took on various jobs. One of those jobs was being a heavy equipment operator. She also drove a semi-truck and her load was hog fuel (or beauty bark). This is the name for bark when removed from trees. Was she any good? According to Gail, “The bigger the equipment, the easier to drive.” She continues, “I’m somewhat competitive and I was the only female doing the job. One night I beat a guy by hauling 21 loads to his 20." Whew!
So, is hauling loads/working at the mill something that she sometimes misses? She explains: “Yes, because it was a different kind of stress. You do your job and then you go home.” But that work also provided Gail with a core work principle that she’s carried forward throughout her career. “Just have fun! The work at the mill could have been tedious, but we made a lot of fun out of it. We need to have fun at work.”
Gail’s love of technology has driven her career journey and she settled in the Seattle area because of its many technology companies. She’s been able to hone her experience and expertise in systems, human resources/payroll and many other enterprise implementations.
Sitka, known for being a very community-minded town with friendly people, also influenced a key sensibility that Gail brings to her role in the UWFT program. She feels getting to know her team is huge, and she’s implemented opportunities such as team lunches and Friday happy hours. But like many across the University this past year, she acknowledges the challenges to connect when team members are working remotely. Gail says she misses the easy conversations and chit-chat that you can have when working in person. That’s why she really values transparency. “No surprises.” And she also values work scoped appropriately so her team can get things done and see progress. “Otherwise,” she says, “the work gets lost in the magnitude of the program.” Another challenge? Having her 80+-person team feel satisfied, be productive -- which they are -- and to keep them coming back/staying with the program.
But Gail loves that they have been able to come together so cohesively. And this is another reason why she also values creating connections at team meetings, especially because they often aren’t together. She really wants to foster supporting each other and sharing information.
With the team’s upcoming focus on testing, Gail explains, “It’s a lot of work to get done and the first real opportunity for everyone in the program to work toward a common goal.”
The other focus is “limiting technical debt.” By that, she means, “making systems work manageable and sustainable, getting as much remediated before go-live and with minimal impact.” It also means “supporting teams that are losing systems or getting new systems as well as meeting needs with gap applications by offering as much functionality and with as much ease as possible.”
When Gail thinks about what success will mean at the end of the UWFT program, she shares her hopes that go-live will be as smooth as possible and that all the people who worked on the program and desire to stay with the UW will have found a home.
To learn more about Gail, we asked questions about her life, inspiration and thoughts about change.
What is your first instinct when you see changes coming on the horizon? Excitement with a touch of nervousness. Change can be challenging but I approach things logically and have learned that things are generally not as bad as they seem initially and generally work out for the best. It’s all about attitude.
What is the biggest change you’ve ever experienced? The global pandemic has been the most staggering change I’ve experienced. People around the globe have changed how they live and work, some permanently and some temporarily. It’s been polarizing in some ways, and I’m hoping we can get beyond judgment and be supportive of one another again. Working towards a common goal has always been our biggest strength.
What is the best example of transformation/change you have witnessed or noted in history? Technology has gone through a phenomenal change. I started programming in high school on a TRS-80, using a modem that I had to place the phone receiver into to get the signal. I still have one of my first programs on a cassette tape — it’s just one long screech! Now folks get irritated if Siri can’t instantly find an answer. I consider myself very lucky to have a career in technology.
What excites you about how technology can improve our lives (personally and/or professionally)? We have the ability to make far better decisions when based on actual data. Technology can provide historical data as well as forecasts and models for potential paths forward. Ensuring that data is as accurate as possible is one of the greatest benefits of technology today.
Do you have a tip or two for employees or units facing a system remediation or retirement? When a system is being remediated or retired, it’s usually because the business process is improving and/or new technology is replacing the old. Try to learn as much as you can about the replacement process or system. This will add a new tool to your toolbelt!
Is there a discovery or learning from system design support (SDS) cycle one that is preparing you for future SDS cycles? We learned A LOT from the first cycle of SDS and are applying those lessons to cycle two. We modified the end-to-end (E2E) process walk-throughs to provide more of the right information for systems owners. We’re emphasizing upcoming deliverable dates so units are better prepared. We broke out complicated systems into their own sessions (e.g., EPIC). We’re also planning to add E2E testing information to an upcoming SDS session.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in providing solutions to the University’s needs that may not be supported within the Workday ecosystem and how will it be addressed? The University of Washington has a rich history of enabling units to build their own success through creativity and freedom of choice. When enterprise resource planning (ERP) is implemented, one of the greatest benefits is the use of best practice processes and tools across the entire organization. We’re working to ensure these processes and tools are tailored as much as possible to ensure the University’s success and so they don’t feel like a loss of freedom for our users.
What one or two tips do you have for people facing challenges/change? Strive for progress over perfection. We’re going to make mistakes along the way to our end goal, but if we keep that goal in mind and keep moving forward, we’ll achieve great things.
What’s the biggest benefit you’ve seen come out of a Workday implementation? One benefit of ERP implementations is support for better decision-making within the organization. Manual, inaccurate processes are replaced with more modern, cohesive ways of doing things.
What are your passions? My family, my dogs (members of my family!) and sports of any kind — playing or watching.
(Gail is a Husky at heart and shares her home with Loki and Bella)
What do you consider the most overrated or underrated virtue? Transparency is too often underrated -– it feels like an art to achieve the right balance of sharing, but it helps build critical relationship components such as trust and honesty, as well as camaraderie. I appreciate transparency in all levels of an organization.
Which living person do you most admire and why? We have a family friend who just turned 93 years old. She was born in 1928 before the financial collapse in 1929. She has lived through the Great Depression, World War, political strife, disease outbreaks, technological innovations, loss of loved ones and births of great-grandchildren. Simply put, she has seen and lived a full life from a perspective many of us cannot imagine. What I admire is she greets every day with a smile and every person is a friend! That’s a lesson for us all on being positive and thankful for what we have.
Who is your greatest hero/role model/or inspiration? My father without a doubt. He grew up in a time when hard work was expected and appreciated. While providing for his family, he had the dedication to continually improve his skillsets leading to multiple career shifts and obtaining success in his chosen fields. He also had a world class sense of humor. Growing up, I always knew that dad could fix anything!
What do you most value in your friends or colleagues? Honesty, openness, transparency, kindness and a sense of humor!
Name a talent you wish you had? Storytelling — I admire writers that can develop a plot and characters that are engaging and well-developed.
Do you have a most treasured possession or a cherished collection? Not one that stands out, but I like items that can conjure up meaningful memories, usually related to family and friends. You pick up an item and it brings back thoughts of some good times. The trick is to not have so many of them that it clutters your mind and space!
Who is your favorite writer or fiction hero? During my long commutes, I joined Audible and have read almost all of David Baldacci’s suspense and legal thriller novels.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? That’s a great question and tough to narrow down. I’ve always been amazed by people who have tried and been successful in making people’s lives better or maybe a little easier. Gandhi is very close to the top of that list.
What is your personal motto? Be the change you wish to see in the world. This has always resonated with me because when life is challenging or things seem bad in the world, I’m reminded that I can make a positive difference through my attitude and actions.
What song or lyric best captures you or your feelings about the UWFT program? “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” (from “Finding Nemo”)
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