Monday December 16, 2019

Transforming digitally, inside and out

10th November, 2019
Jonathan Hyland, chief technology officer of Workhuman and chair of Technology Ireland

Founded 20 years ago, Workhuman is what would now be called a ‘cloud native’ enterprise; it’s just that the term didn’t exist when the company started.

“We’ve always been based in the cloud, before there was such a term,” said Jonathan Hyland, chief technology officer of Workhuman and chair of Technology Ireland.

“We were an ASP [application service provider], when that was the terminology used, rather than SaaS [software-as-a-service],” he said.

Workhuman’s mission is to enable its clients to fuel their company culture with positivity through employee recognition.

Founded as Globoforce, the company’s clients include Intuit, GE and Procter & Gamble.

“We are the provider of culture transforming capability to Fortune 500 organisations. We have four-and-a-half million users across the globe in every vertical, fintech to pharma to technology,” he said.

“You might get a notification on your mobile device to tell you that you’ve received an award. You will be taken into the system, seamlessly logged in through your organisation’s SSO [single sign-on], where you might receive a video message thanking you for going above and beyond,” said Hyland.

“Recognition is a human experience. Where typically HR [human resources] software is very flat, very dull and boring and technical, we operate at the other end of that spectrum. Whether you’re giving or receiving the award we’re delivering an emotive experience to the user, and we place a lot of emphasis on the human UX approach to product design which we have pioneered,” he said.

This is all delivered seamlessly online, without the need for managing release versions of the software.

“From day one we’ve operated a single version of our software. There are no customers running two versions behind. Even though some SaaS providers do, we’ve never believed in that model. All our customers are using the latest version available.”

Changing inside

Four years ago, Workhuman took the decision to move all of its internal processes and development to the cloud. The question then is: is such a transformation easier for a business that is already delivering all of its services online?

Hyland said that any advantage is more cultural than technical. “The challenges involved in making the shift are still the same. It is an ongoing process, a continuous evolution, [so] undoubtedly the familiarity with cloud technologies and living and breathing that every day is a benefit, as it is [already] part of everyone’s vernacular.”

The transformation, which began in earnest three years ago after a short pilot scheme, was still a job of work, though.

“We had to align our whole engineering organisation around this push. Frankly, you’ve got to go all in on it. We did a very quick proof of concept and we rolled it out across the board with 13 delivery teams, and we’ve been operating under it for three years now,” he said.

“The ultimate destination for us is a full micro-services model where we have releases on demand.”

The results have been very positive, with the shift in development resulting in not only a streamlined delivery process, but one that is more productive and, crucially, less error prone.

Workhuman now deploys multiple incremental updates each week, whereas three years ago, it deployed six a year. “This year, we’ll do 300 releases,” said Hyland.

“It has involved a huge rethinking of our operations, not just how we deliver our code. There is education required internally: when you come from a place geared up for a number of large releases a year, there is a big focus on delivery dates, almost a maniacal focus on the dates. So when you move to a model where you’re rolling out all the time, it becomes about what is the right thing to deliver, rather than when to deliver,” he said.

“We’ve also found that with rolling our code out on a daily basis you’ve got fewer lines of code going out, so there are inherently fewer mistakes.”

Hyland said he would recommend the move to cloud for the agility it brings, but that the potential difficulties should not be underestimated.

“We’re a number of years working at this and we were already familiar with it. It’s an enormous challenge for organisations to go through and it depends where you are in your evolutionary cycle, but it has been hugely rewarding for us.

“I definitely think there is benefit for everyone to embrace the cloud. For sure it’s not going anywhere, it’s only becoming more and more standard practice.”

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