Workday Begins Replacing ACData, Modernizing College’s Business Processes

The college transitioned from ACData to the digital Workday system for human resources, finance and shared services business processes in early January. Workday is a cloud-based application software that was designed to centralize the storage and organization of Amherst workplace information. The process of moving from the decades-old ACData HR system to the Workday platform has been a monumental, two-year undertaking for the college administration, including the physical transfer of years of pen-and-paper documentation to the digital platform. Workday will completely replace ACData in a second phase called Workday Student, which will begin soon and take two years to complete. 

The transition to Workday is the primary focus of the Business Improvement Group (BIG) Initiative at Amherst, a project which aims to simplify procedures, modernize systems, adopt leading practices and improve data reliability, according to the BIG webpage. BIG was the culmination of frustrations from the campus community encompassing the confusing processes of existing tools like ACData, Chief Information Officer David Hamilton told The Student in July 2019, when the BIG Initiative began. The BIG Steering Committee is co-chaired by Hamilton and Chief Financial & Administrative Officer Kevin Weinman.

For the past two decades, Amherst has used ACData — an extension of Ellucian Colleague, a resource planning and information company — as an administrative and business management system. The system was largely paper-based, seen as outdated and inefficient and contributed to a negative user experience. 

The decision to modernize Amherst’s business procedures and overhaul ACData has been two years in the making, according to Katie Edwards, director of financial systems and projects. “In 2018, we began an in-depth review of our current systems to look for ways to simplify, modernize and make more efficient Amherst’s business procedures,” she said. 

In a July 2019 announcement, the college said that it had partnered with Alchemy, a company that specializes in Workday implementation. The execution of the first-phase began shortly thereafter.

Eighteen months later, the first phase of transitioning the human resources, finance and payroll processes to Workday has been completed, with employees having been onboarded to the new system throughout January.

In a statement to The Student, Edwards said that phase two will be more complex and is expected to take two years. “Phase two will implement Workday Student, which encompasses the academic side of College processes, such as registration and advising,” she said.

Workday presents noteworthy improvements for Amherst students and employees alike. For students, job postings are centralized and available to all students. Also, the cloud-based nature of the Workday system means that information is secure and accessible from all devices, including smart phones, 24/7. A benefit for current student-employees is that all timesheets and approvals are now electronic.

Olivia Luntz ’21, a community advisor (CA) in Seligman dormitory, remarked that “[Workday] is definitely an improvement over the old time sheets for jobs that have weekend hours! Before, timesheets were always due into the controller on the last Friday of the pay period. So, if you were planning to work during the next two days, you would have to guess how many hours you’d work. Later on, you would have to adjust the time sheet if your guess ended up being wrong.”

“Because Workday doesn’t have any physical sheets to drop off and everything can be sent instantly, I think you’re able to update your hours for the pay period up until Sunday night  or maybe even into Monday morning,” Luntz added.

Students have found that Workday is easy to navigate. Sarah Gayer ’21, an employee of the admissions office, started using Workday a few weeks ago. “It is pretty straightforward!” she said. “I was able to figure out how to sign up on my own mostly, and every time I filled out a form I was notified of what other forms I still needed to fill out.

The college held training sessions in January for students, faculty and staff members to become acquainted with the new system. More information about the transition to Workday can be found on the Amherst College website. Other difficulties may be remedied with a visit to the Amherst College Help Desk or by attending either of the daily Zoom workshops for students or staff hosted by the IT department.

Luntz attended one of Workday Open Lab Zooms because the college encouraged her to do so. “I went to one of the trainings — largely because my boss paid me to go — but I honestly could have figured it out by myself if I wasn’t told to go to the training,” she said.

Though the transition has been smooth for the most part, students have reported some problems. Luntz reported that “the only “problem” is that there is no way for employers to directly hire their existing student employees so I’ve had to go through an application process for four jobs I already have.”