Thursday, 13 June 2013

Calculated fields in Workday

An interesting feature in Workday is the 'calculated fields' functionality.
To quote WD, 'Calculated fields allow users to perform simple arithmetic, date calculations, text manipulation, logical expressions, retrieval of related data, and transformations of their existing data. You can use calculated fields in reporting, business processes, integrations, scheduling recurring processes, and other areas within Workday.'
It's a nifty little feature, as
  • it gives complex power to the users in reporting, via an online interface where you build them.  (As opposed to having to write complex expressions with if/then statements, for those of us from a PeopleSoft world).
  • it allows for 'cleaner' development, as a developer is also using the online point and click functionality to build these items, rather than writing code from scratch.
  • they are convenient, since you only need to build them once and then can reference them in reports, integration, etc.
So as a practical example, if you are interfacing to various systems, let's say 'gender' and one system needs 'M' or 'F', another system needs 'Male' or 'Female', another system needs '1' or '2' and another system needs 'M' or 'W' (male/female in German would be 'männlich' or 'weiblich').  So in each instance, you'd create a calculated field to allow for the M or F or 1 or 2, etc.  Then, if these systems ever changed their coding, it would be a simple online update to change the interface.  It's much nicer than other systems I've seen where hardcoded SQL needs to get updated.
As well, you can do traditional if/then or 'evaluate' expressions.  So if an employee's hire date is more than 10 years ago, put >10 or that sort of thing. 
From a reporting perspective, it allows you to build user friendly reports in an easier manner than I've previously seen in other systems.


Where are they not so convenient?

Like much of WD, the functionality is very flexible.  If you don't have your business processes in order to support this flexibility, you're in for some issues...
In our implementation (being lead by a mainstream consulting partner, but supported by multiple offshore consulting firms), the main parter says that best practice is to implement WD by 'an iterative approach'.  Basically, we keep putting data in, seeing how it looks, then tweaking here and there what we're doing.
When the topic of calculated fields came up, our traditional approach was to try to standardise and lock down the functionality.  (We have 150k + employees and a large part of our business is manufacturing, so we live by documented processes, otherwise it's a free for all mess.)  Our consulting partner directed us that 'best practice' is to not standardize, as that would cause a bottleneck, and instead, each developer should be creating any/all fields needed.  Not quite sure that was the best way, in retrospect.
We have 200+ integrations that are being built (many offshore) as well as local development of reports that are also generating calculated fields.  As there is no clearinghouse or rules, people just make a new calc field rather than hunting for an existing one.  The Data Governance and Controls team is now quickly working to implement standards and structures as the count of calc fields has soared to above 1000.

An example

To put it into a practical perspective, I've been working on some reports recently, to support our HR colleagues who are looking at the data.  I was seeking 'Business Unit Descr' so I searched for 'Business Unit'.  The top field is the WD delivered one (is it descr?  code?  who knows).  The ones after are all our calc fields.  This is not all of them, as others created them as 'bus unit' and all sorts of shorter versions such as 'BU':

You can see where the standards of the Data Governance team are starting to come into effect, such as using 'CF' as a prefix for calc fields or 'INT' when an integration is involved.  If you have only a handful of folks using this functionality or creating reports, it might not be such a big deal.  However, we will ultimately have hundreds of HR folks in the system using (if not creating) reports, so this willy nilly lack of standards will be confusing for them, even if they are only running reports and seeing disparate field names.

Looking online at the Workday Community site, other companies are grappling with these very same issues.  (Sidenote:  I'm a little surprised that WD itself does not issue more guidance).  There is a 'solutions' section in the community where other WD customers can post their top tips and documents, to share with other companies.  The group at Brown University put together some really great documentation, but just to give you an idea of how extensive this calc field naming can get, here is a snippet of their rules:
In addition, another customer (who has been live for a while) has developed a series of reports for more what I'd call the 'structural' aspects of the system--so basically audits to keep things tidy and more efficient.  He also includes calc field review in his list of 30 reports, such as keeping up with the following:

My tip of the day

As you can probably gather from the above, calculated fields can get very messy, quite fast.  Not necessarily WD's fault as it's a side effect of the flexibility of the technology, but you need to have strong business processes in place to control the creation of these things.  So I'd suggest:
  • Define who will create calc fields in the future.  Read up on Community, various customers have defined different ways for this to happen (HR Business users, HRIS, IT, etc.)
  • Develop your guidelines and structure of how these items will be named and categorized.  WD does provide things like 'tags' to help you in classifying them.  Again, the Brown University guidance is a good start.
  • Be prepared to do auditing on calc fields in the future, to be sure that your environment is doing well against your rules.

Training on calculated fields

It's probably worth a mention, calc fields is a 3 day/15 hour online course from WD, to give you an idea of the level of complexity that you can get into with them.  The pre-req is the Report Writer class (2 days/10 hours)

1 comment:

  1. I work with a large WD Partner and still see that there is not a standard in Calc Field use. One of my consulting team members has a great idea for creating a standardized spreadsheet of all usable Calc fields and loading them in upfront on every install. Obviously, as you mention, there may still need to be some customization, but if input is taken from enough clients, I would imagine we could get a pretty good list of standard fields and definitions.