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How Little Debbie used predictive analytics to survive snack industry shakeup

Stephanie Overby | March 20, 2014
McKee Foods, maker of Little Debbie snacks, turned to Workday's cloud-based human capital management and payroll software. The switch helped it analyze data for decision-making, save money and better survive a snack industry shakeup.

McKee Foods, best-known for its Little Debbie snacks, might not be the picture of a technology early adopter. The company, which traces it beginnings back 80 years to founder O.D. McKee selling snack cakes out of the back of his car, is on its third generation of family leadership.

But don't let its longevity fool you. Yet the Collegedale, Tenn.-based company was one of the first customers of cloud-based human capital management and payroll software from Workday, making the decision to move from its on-premises system from PeopleSoft more than seven years ago.

Image credit: Alexandr Mitiuc

The company was on the verge of yet another expensive upgrade to its 14-year old PeopleSoft system — a process that was going to cost it two-and-a-half times its most recent upgrade costs and take a year to rollout — when the McKee family said enough was enough. "Everyone was worn out," says Mark Newsome, McKee's senior corporate HR manager.

From Back-Office HR to Workforce Self-Service

Newsome was hardly disappointed. The legacy system was not only costly but cumbersome. No one outside of HR wanted to touch the system, creating paper-based workarounds for everything from W2s changes to job applications to performance reviews. Managers submitted that paperwork to the folks in HR, who then had to key the information into the system. "People only touched it when they had to," explains Newsome. "It stayed — very heavily — a back-office product."

Newsome was eager to implement more employee and manager self-service and free up his team to focus on more strategic work than data entry, and Workday's product seemed the only to fit the bill. Newsome's team, working with IT, spent 10 weeks reviewing the product, the majority of which was devoted to exploring the data security issues.

Once McKee's vice president of IT was convinced that the vendor provided better protection for McKee's data at its facilities than the company could provide behind its own firewall, Newsome was sold on release one and the product roadmap.

The biggest risk beyond security was lack of functionality. Workday had no recruiting or payroll capabilities at the time. Newsome found another provider of recruiting support in the meantime, but payroll was a must-have.

"In the middle of reaching our agreement, they asked us if we'd be willing to be design partners on U.S. payroll," said Newsome. "So we'd not only get to participate in a designing a product that would be useful for other companies, we could make sure we'd get all the pieces we would need."

Still, leaving a stable payroll product for something brand new could put employee's paychecks in danger. That wasn't a risk Newsome was willing to take.


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