As one of the largest providers of human capital management (HCM) solutions in the world, ADP is basing its digital transformation on working smarter and faster, and eliminating steps for its more than 810,000 clients. Vipul Nagrath, who has been CIO at ADP since 2015, discusses how he is changing the culture of IT to bring intelligent automation to the $14 billion global technology company.
Martha Heller: What does “digital” mean to ADP?
Vipul Nagrath: We’ve defined four pillars to drive our digital initiatives:
- Eliminate work
- Work smarter
- Work faster
- Enable growth
A major enabler behind all of these pillars is “intelligent automation,” which means stepping back to look at processes and why you have them, and using technology to change those processes. Robotic process automation (RPA) might be a key part of a digital strategy, but it’s not a digital strategy on its own. RPA is just using a robot to do the same process as a human, serving as today’s version of macros, which have been around for decades. When you look at your processes holistically, that’s how you get a true digital transformation.
What is an example of intelligent automation at ADP?
Let’s take one of our pillars: eliminating work. In our RUN Powered by ADP® small business payroll solution, we are eliminating manual processes and providing more self-service capabilities for our clients. We have given our small business clients the ability to come onto our website, select an offering, enroll themselves, and get set up to run their first payroll, all in a matter of minutes.
In the past, we performed a number of manual steps on behalf of the client to set them up to run payroll. With intelligent automation, we looked at the process to see if we could eliminate enough steps to let the client manage that process themselves and make it easy. We are always aiming for a “single click.”
What are you doing architecturally to drive this kind of innovation?
We are modernizing the technology environment, which is not an easy journey, and one that that never really ends. At ADP, we are a little ahead of the game, because we’ve been a SaaS provider for many years. We’ve also been in a private cloud for a long time, but of course, our approach to cloud has changed over time. We’ve moved from physical machines to virtual machines, and now we are moving from our private cloud to the public cloud, where we are putting our strategic new products.
What advice do you have for CIOs who are moving to the public cloud?
My advice is to understand that increased reliability and resilience do not automatically come out of the cloud. You actually have to program for the public cloud and build your software so that it’s resilient and has failover at every level, just as you do when you are running your own data centers. Even if you have a microservices or container-based architecture, you have to architect for resiliency to achieve better failover. Simply moving to microservices is not enough; you still have to do work.
You should also clearly understand your reasons for going to the cloud, and be extremely thoughtful and surgical about your approach. You hear these big claims that the cloud is cheaper, but that is not always the case. The cloud has provided a number of services for developers to use really easily. That’s a beautiful thing, but you have to understand what data you are putting out there and how you are going to secure it. You have to think of what the happy path and bad path in the cloud might look like. Often, people don’t spend enough time looking at the bad path, and they are caught by surprise when they don’t get the efficiencies or performance they expected. You have to consider your course of action in the event that you do not get the availability or reliability you expected.
Finally, understand that it can be a pretty heavy lift to rearchitect for the cloud. You will likely be on a cloud journey forever, because after today’s containers and Kubernetes, there will be something new for you to consider. The first step is getting to the cloud. The second step is maturing and evolving as more services are created.
What organizational changes have you made to drive innovation at ADP?
There is a shared commitment across the different areas of ADP’s business to drive digital initiatives that align to the four pillars. As everyone works toward digital transformation, our newly appointed Chief Transformation Officer tracks all of that innovation and clears impediments along the way. While different teams may operate a little differently for their constituents, they are all working to solve for similar challenges, which is why we’ve created horizontal centers of excellence that cut across every department. For example, we have a chatbot center of excellence, as teams start making greater and greater use of that functionality.
The horizontal group, which is an IT team, ensures that chatbot technology is in place and available to everyone. Once we start thinking through what topics the chatbot will focus on, the business takes ownership. It’s a true partnership.
How are you ensuring that your IT teams have the business acumen to drive this level of transformation?
Three years ago, we recognized that our technologists needed to be even closer to their business partners, so we created IT groups called “recipe teams” and agile development teams that are tightly aligned to a department or function. For example, we have a “small business services recipe team” and a “customer service recipe team” that work with the leadership and the associates in those respective areas of the business.
How are you using artificial intelligence for automation?
One example is our Pay Equity Explorer. Using machine learning and AI, we can identify pay equity differences among employees in our client companies. A client might employ two employees who have the same level and work experience, but there is a 28 percent difference in what they earn. Providing that high-value information directly to customers is a direct result of our investments in technology.
What advice do you have for CIOs who are leading major transformation?
ADP has been in business for 70 years, and I’ve been here for four. In driving for change, I would not have been successful if I dismissed old processes before I understood how they evolved. You have to understand your company’s history before you can create change. But once you have a strong appreciation of the past, you have to decide not to live there, and chart a clear path forward.
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