Add Boston public broadcasting powerhouse WGBH to the growing list of companies that are discovering the benefits of cloud computing.
Like many organizations, WGBH, which produces 30 percent of PBS's prime-time television content, has long relied on traditional ERP, HR, and financial systems that require users to log onto a VPN to access clumsy interfaces. Also, like many organizations, WGBH has never been able to get broad adoption of these systems from the employee ranks, instead relying on a small number of gatekeepers to generate reports and give management data it could use.
Then, about four years ago, CFO Vinay Mehra said enough is enough.
"I needed to deal with the adoption issue," Mehra said during a phone interview. "My people are creative people who want to deal with systems that are intuitive."
He wanted systems that would be used by the bulk of WGBH's 1,200 employees, most of whom were increasingly working away from their desks and wanted to access their applications of choice via mobile devices. He was convinced that by spurring wider adoption of systems and applications, WGBH would drive significant additional value from the data it's increasingly collecting.
Rather than do something drastic, Mehra opted to test a few software-as-a-service applications for specific, user-facing processes like expense reporting and timesheet management. As he suspected, the convenient access and ease of use of tools like Concur and Replicon spurred a healthy increase in adoption over WGBH's legacy alternatives.
That said, WGBH tried other SaaS apps that didn't work out so well. In those cases, said Mehra, "I was unable to drive adoption because the user interface [stunk]."
Those first experiences with SaaS solidified Mehra's sense that convenient access and usability were the key attributes of a cloud-based app that would actually take hold within an organization. Mehra said he was struck by the fact that so many software vendors seem to think that only half of that -- making existing applications more convenient and accessible -- is enough. He said that ERP vendors are especially guilty of taking their old code bases and making them cloud-friendly, an approach that's devoid of innovation.
"They forget that the experience is the most important thing," said Mehra.
Having zeroed in on what he believed would make a cloud-based system a good investment, and with the success of the earlier Concur and Replicon implementations, Mehra set out a couple of years later to up the ante by finding a cloud-based platform that would serve broader enterprise needs. Eventually, he settled on Workday's entire suite of business management SaaS applications, which WGBH started deploying earlier this year.
The new environment will be rolled out to no fewer than 800 employees by Jan. 1, Mehra said, and once live, it will replace Concur and Replicon and a number of legacy systems to become the center of employees' daily work experience. Mehra said he's looking forward to seeing how the widespread adoption of Workday affects the business.
"What I don't know is, when I do put the power of data in the hands of the employees, what is the bottom line impact I will see?" he asked. "Will I see more financial efficiency? Will they ask more questions? Will they do more data analysis?"
Regardless of what happens, such bold moves are increasingly necessary for media companies like WGBH, which in the past had to worry only about TV and DVDs. Today, WGBH distributes its content through a much wider array of channels, from web sites and social networks to streaming services and mobile applications.
"Most innovative media companies are flexing with the changes in content consumption," said Mehra. "Most of us are reinventing ourselves."
Isn't that what cloud computing, at its essence, is all about?