Meet Our IRP Sponsors: Andrew Szeri

People and Places | Strategy 5: Systems Renewal
Theme: Collaboration

Professor Andrew Szeri is the Provost and Vice-President Academic for UBC Vancouver, providing leadership for the university’s academic strategy, budgetary and planning processes. The role also includes overseeing UBC’s academic programs and support functions, faculty affairs, enrolment, sustainability and information technology. As an Executive Sponsor for the IRP, Prof. Szeri took time to share his excitement for what the IRP represents for the future of UBC’s students, faculty and staff.

What is your role at UBC and your connection with the IRP?

I’m the Provost and Vice-President, Academic, which is the Chief Academic Officer of the university. I oversee academic strategy at UBC and work with our faculties, schools and other units that help enable the academic function of the university, such as the libraries, registration and enrolment, international relations and information technology. The IRP will transform UBC to better support our academic activity, and because I hold responsibility for the stewardship of all academic activity on campus, I’m one of the executive sponsors on the project.

What is your vision for UBC and how does that involve the IRP?

We have a responsibility to deliver on a world-class educational mandate, year after year. A large amount of work and behind-the-scenes support is involved to ensure the university runs well. For example: we have to hire and compensate faculty and staff, admit students and process graduation paperwork. And all of these need robust core HR, finance and student systems—which are all tied into the IRP. My vision is that we are well supported by our campus systems. They should be stable, modern, capable of evolving and providing us with up-to-date tools and techniques to make our work that much more effective and impactful.

What excites you about the changes being implemented through the IRP?

I’m very excited about the integrated nature of IRP. We’ve been on antiquated, separate systems for such a long time that we’re used to transferring data manually from one system to another. Or worse yet, using spreadsheets to bring data together and doing the work in another system and then transferring data and information back. It’s been very clunky, inefficient and error-prone. Workday will be much more modern, stable, integrated and streamlined. I think all of this is very exciting, because it’s really going to enable the work of the university in a way we haven’t seen before.

What do you see as some of the challenges with this transformation?

One thing that isn’t always recognized right away is that our core HR, finance and student systems actually connect and exchange information with a lot of other systems on campus. So, if we replace these core systems we have to replace all the linkages to our other systems. It’s similar to a website where somebody takes down a page and when you click a link that leads to that page, you get an error message. That area of work to ensure systems can still transfer and exchange data and information with Workday is called the Application Ecosystem Program. Right now there’s a lot of work going on there, as well configuring and testing Workday to ensure it runs properly for UBC. So the challenge is the sheer amount of work and collaboration needed to bring all the moving parts across the university together at the right time.

What have you been hearing when it comes to this change?

There’s been a lot of excitement and anticipation from the community to learn more about training and to getstarted. We’re excited to get the community trained and using Workday—which will happen in time for go-live. We don’t want to train people too early, or else we’ll have to retrain them later on. It’s similar to learning how to drive at age 14 and then waiting to use those skills until you’re 16. That would definitely be a problem!

Beyond training, what else do you think faculty, staff and the UBC community needs to feel supported with this change?

We’ve been working hard on the sustainment plans and how the university will be supported after Workday Finance and HR go live. We’ll ensure that the community is not only supported with Workday, but we’ll also use your feedback and questions to help guide us in fine tuning training materials and spot any bugs or issues in the implementation. It’s important to note that Workday has regular updates every six months, even after go-live, where it’s being improved and updated.

I think it’s also important at this stage to convey realistic expectations regarding when we go live. There may be some trying days where you think you know how to do something on the new system, but it’s different from the way you used to do it. It’s going to be somewhat frustrating. That’s natural. This happens with every big implementation, and I’ve been involved with a few. You have to be patient – especially with your co-workers. Spend the time to ease into the new system; get up to speed, take what training you can and read the online resources in order to overcome those small difficulties in that initial period. 

What do you think success looks like when it comes to implementing Workday? What is your vision of success?

I’ll tell you what it’s not. I don’t think success will be throwing the switch and suddenly people are using Workday like nothing happened and our day-to-day is a continuation of the work before. People aren’t going to look at each other and say, “Well, what was all the fuss about?” My vision of success is that a few months after go-live, people will start saying to one another, “You know, this system is pretty powerful. I figured out how to do this thing! Did you know this?” People will start recognizing the power of the system and appreciate its robustness and stability – and a warm appreciation will grow over time. That’s my vision of success, not instant gratification.

How do you think people should work collaboratively to make sure things are successful in that manner?

I’ve emphasized already the importance of patience. I think it’ll be good if people can allocate more time than they normally would to accomplish certain tasks in Workday. Allowing themselves extra time to reread or watch training materials and go a bit slower because it’s not second nature to them yet.

I think that particularly in the case of my faculty colleagues – who work with staff on various activities like hiring a postdoc or putting together a research proposal – faculty should take care to provide as much advance notice for requests. We want to support our colleagues and ensure we’re not adding unnecessary stress when requests are made with very little run time before a deadline.

I really think it’s about being mindful of the extra burden that will be on all of us to learn the system, even as we’re using it. With that in mind, I think we can all be a little conscientious when making requests or planning one’s own schedule to account for the learning curve that comes with Workday.

Any last words or comments?

There are a lot of people who are dedicating so much time, energy and effort into transforming our institution through Workday. Some of these people work in the IRP. Some are people in administrative units, departments, schools and faculties who are supporting IRP in addition to their regular roles at UBC. Everyone is working so hard and they’re doing such a great job. It’s an enormous undertaking, but we’re making good progress. When I think about all of those people and the hard work they’re doing, I’m filled with a deep sense of gratitude.