Watco Companies Finds the Secret to Valuing Team Members Like Its Most Loyal Customers

If how a business treats people is any indication of success, Watco Companies LLC is undoubtedly on the right track. The 35-year-old rail transportation provider has built a reputation for consistent customer satisfaction, while ensuring that every team member in the workforce is safe and treated fairly.

This guiding principle led to an evolution from eight men switching 6.5 miles of rail for one customer to a full-scale operation transporting everything from grains to machinery across 5,000 miles in North America and Western Australia for hundreds of companies. Rachael Peterson, senior vice president of People Services at Watco, believes that the company’s culture and purpose are significant competitive advantages.

“Our team members are the main assets that set us apart from our competition. Every single day, they go out into the field wanting to serve customers better in the safest manner possible,” Peterson shared. “Everything we do has to make their lives easier. Otherwise, we’re failing them, even if our HR administration and payroll jobs are easier.”

The Answer to Easier, Empowering Work in the Field is the Cloud

Although Watco ran an on-premise enterprise human capital management (HCM) solution, accessing information and sending it the right team members was considered a herculean effort in the field. Peterson mentioned, “Our managers used a significant part of their day to complete these tasks and push the information to an HR or payroll team member who manually keyed in the information on the paperwork. We needed to put data in our team members’ and mangers’ hands without delay to empower them to make sound decisions and work in more strategic and meaningful ways.”

The on-premise solution was not well-received by the field teams for one simple reason: they do not use desktop technology regularly because they are working outside repairing railcars and tracks and operating the railway. The workforce needed a simple approach to information submission and gathering.

According to Amy Miori, director of People Services at Watco, cloud-based SAP SuccessFactors solutions was the answer to this dilemma. “The mobile side of SAP SuccessFactors solutions is huge. Almost everyone has a smartphone. Just hearing almost everybody say that they make information access easy has been huge for us. We really can reach everyone, where we couldn’t before.”

Key Learnings Lead to Digital HR Transformation Success

Watco chose an implementation partner to guide the cloud strategy and a managed service provider to handle the day-to-day operation of the cloud platform to enable its HR team to focus on ensuring the entire workforce adopts the cloud HCM solution. With clear guidance, predictable outcomes, faster time to value, and flexible configurations, the company migrated its HCM data to the cloud within 10 months, while strategically maintaining some on-premise capabilities.

Peterson’s team delivered exactly what the field needed in terms of a digital workforce experience by following these critical steps to digital HR transformation:

  • Take care of the data being migrated: Moving data from an on-premise platform to the cloud, even if the two solutions are from the same provider, is not a one-to-one transition. Peterson advised, “There are still a few things that need to be done, including data cleansing.”
  • Customize as little as possible: Peterson noted that the more the solution can be used out of the box, the better. “We chose not to do a ton of customization, which is an advantage,” she said. “For us, SAP SuccessFactors solutions were flexible enough to make that decision.”
  • Consider transitioning team members to new roles: By automating some manual processes and delegating the remainder to a managed service provider, Peterson no longer needed four team members to handle payroll. As a result, she extended new opportunities to people whose former roles were replaced. “Now, they’re fulfilling more-strategic responsibilities, instead of spending 90% of their time rekeying HR data. For example, we transitioned two colleagues into roles that can support team members who are struggling with benefits issues,” she recalled.

By taking this approach to the cloud, Watco is setting the foundation for a highly informed, high-performing team in the field. “We have seen better success with everything now that we are cloud-based,” reflected Miori. “Everything in one system, from recruiting to onboarding to our core HR capabilities. It’s really one whole system.”

Peterson agreed, “When you show folks how much information is at their fingertips with SAP SuccessFactors solutions, you tell them they can do it all on their mobile devices, and you explain how you’re going to make their lives easier, that’s when they get excited.”


Discover how your business can implement SAP SuccessFactors solutions to transition your human capital management capabilities to the cloud based on your unique needs, while protecting your existing investments. Visit the Upgrade2Success resource center to learn more.


Steve Schnoll is global vice president of Strategy at SAP SuccessFactors