University of Washington's Workday woes leave research grants in limbo

$340M finance upgrade still working out the kinks

Hundreds of research grants are stuck in processing limbo as the University of Washington continues to grapple with its $340 million implementation of Workday software.

The US West Coast institution, a top recipient of federal funding, has spent more than five years shifting 850 legacy tech to a centralized cloud-based SaaS finance and HR system.

The finance side of the project – officially UW Finance Transformation – ran into problems last summer when a backlog of unpaid supplier invoices hit $90 million. By the end of last month, the team had cut the figure to $43 million, but grant payment troubles continue.

According to the Seattle Times, processing delays have affected hundreds of grants due to problems with the Workday system. Problems with ongoing funding persist too.

In a statement to The Register, a university spokesperson said: "While the necessary migration to Workday from our old legacy systems has been challenging, the update is currently on budget and on track, and we expect our grant and vendor backlogs to be back to normal levels by July after a significant amount of time and hard work put in by people across the university.

"We have made significant progress with our workstreams, but there is still work to do. It is not uncommon for a technology shift of this size to introduce complex issues. Nevertheless, these are operational implementation issues and not related to the overall Workday contract performance metrics and Workday's standing as a key university partner and stakeholder."

A Workday spokesperson said the company was committed to supporting the University of Washington's project. "A significant transition like this requires numerous change management and process considerations to help support success."

A management consultancy report seen by the Seattle Times found the project – which began in 2018 – had struggled with a lack of IT skills and pandemic lockdowns.

But the report from Bluecrane also said the switchover plan contained ill-defined priorities, and critical decisions were delayed while management placed too much emphasis on "experts" and "salespeople."

It's not the first time a Workday implementation has experienced problems at a university. In 2021, The Register reported that teaching assistants (TAs) at Canada's McGill University spent Christmas waiting to be paid as the institution struggled with a new Workday HR and payroll system.

At the time, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill said that more than 460 TAs were not paid within the first 30 days of starting work, while more than 180 TAs were not paid within the first 60 days.

By January, the university said it had resolved all known instances that affected new hires at the start of the Fall semester and is rapidly solving any new cases as they arise.

Workday said it was an industry leader in higher education with more than 400 institutions using its software. ®

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