Workday’s PaaS – answers to your questions show significant progress

SUMMARY:

Workday’s PaaS is starting to come into view and in this story, we heard answers to our initial 10 questions asked last week. The overall impression is one of a well thought out scheme.

Remember last week when we saw Workday  come out the gate with an intent to offer a PaaS?  The company got its spokespeople on a call very quickly after Altitude.  It turns out this has been in the works for a while and that if I’d been at an earlier analyst meeting then I would have already known that. Doh!

Regardless, Workday provided a thorough and well thought through presentation that talked about what they’re doing, how far they are down the track, what makes this different and how they plan to make the PaaS available to devs. If you’re into ecosystems, networks and community as it relates to the enterprise then this is exciting stuff.

Much of what they told us (others in our team were on the call) is still a work-in-progress so I’m not going to say too much about what is a moving target planned for a reveal in the Fall at Rising. However, Workday graciously answered my 10 questions and those should provide enough clues to whet the appetite.

Be aware. There are gaps. The business model for example is very much an open discussion point at the company, as is the shape of community. What I can say is that on the call, I made the point that getting the model attractive for developers is vital to building a critical mass of those interested in the Workday ecosystem. The same goes for community itself. Right now, and correctly in my view, Workday is carefully nurturing those it trusts in what is best described as a discovery process. Having said that and based upon personal past experience, it would not surprise me to find that Workday offers a much more expansive vision than is possible today.

Dan Beck, who is leading this initiative provided the following answers:

  1. What will be platformed? Finance and/or HR?
      It’s across everything we do, and we’re building up the RESTful API, so across HR, financials, analytics and student. I think this is really going to show the power of our platform and the fact that we have organically built out this application footprint. We can then cleanly expose APIs across the board. So when we think platform, think of it as a cross with this entire application suite again, built out with a set of APIs over time.
  2. Will there be more extensive hooks for existing integrations to solutions like Salesforce and Adaptive?
      More extensive hooks for integration? Absolutely. We believe that what we’re really doing is opening up our platform more extensively.
  3. What about hooks for the emerging machine learning/deep learning subset of applications that numerous dev shops are building?
      We had teams at the hackathon, at Altitude, that called Watson, IBM’s Watson Tone Analyzer. I mentioned Amazon Lex, Google Cloud Vision API. There’s a PHP machine-learning library that one team used. We’re also exposing hooks internally, into our growing body of capabilities. For example, one of the services we offer is a time series forecasting service. Using machine-learning capabilities we have, hacks can get to it as well as, a salesperson can get to it as well as, third-party services.
  4. Will there be a Salesforce style community?
      I think stay tuned on this, it is easy to imagine. We have about 80 partners here on the software side, they were super keen at the hackathon, asking all the right questions.
  5. Will a PaaS allow Workday to open up entirely new markets like those in manufacturing related industries, something the company has avoided?
      I think part of the promise to this is, by industry, by subindustry. Either tailoring things that we already have or creating things that we don’t have and might not do, so it is certainly part of the promise.
  6. Will Workday make it easy for developers to hook into Workday processes?
      We’re going to start with our current ecosystem partners, but you can take it than the whole thing is designed for developers who want to add value to Workday processes.
  7. What does the REST API roadmap look like?
      If you go count up the services across application, across technology, across core services then we’re up to 21 services. We will provide more concrete roadmap details by Workday Rising, but think of it as a robust and expanding set of services today.
  8. What will be the positioning against its main competitors?
      I’d say the number one is openness. Workday conducted a hackathon at their Workday Altitude event. There were 123 participants from customers, partners and Workday developers. We challenged the teams to build compelling applications using the Workday Cloud Platform. We don’t mind, which persistence store you use. We don’t mind which persistance store you use. We’re not going to push a database upon you. We don’t mind, which cloud service provider you use.We saw folks using Google services, Amazon services, lot of different third-party services. We’re agnostic to the tooling. We’re agnostic to the runtime environment, we just want to add some value.
  9. Will Workday go out on a limb and offer Zapier like connectivity?
      I think this kind of connectivity I mentioned, WorkAto is where we are today. But the hooks and the capabilities we’re offering and what people are able to build, really blew us away. I think it will be that lighter weight, easy to get data in and out of Workday and exposing that natural workspace specifically. You saw we referenced Slack as example. (Editor’s note: Slack hits Zapier so you can readily imagine some simple messaging flows for example.)
  10. Does Workday plan on making access free for devs and if so then what does the business model look like?
      I want to say yes one day but right now we’re figuring out the business model. It will be attractive, it has to be.

Going forward, Beck told us that:

We are letting partners provide names for up to five developers per entity, that they want to participate. We have an eight week intensive training program, leading up to the Workday 29 preview.

That all culminates in what could be a very interesting formal launch at Rising.

My take

workdays paasAs a person who has participated in enterprise communities I’ve had the benefit of seeing first hand what is achievable when the community is organized around developer benefit. Salesforce, SAP, Rackspace and Microsoft all have proxies from which Workday can learn. There’s also a growing body of expertise among practitioners about how developers can meet the business in meaningful ways such that development and business need are aligned early and often. These are wells of knowledge from which Workday, albeit a late comer to the platform party by today’s standards, can cherry pick and build something while reflecting their ‘do it different’ style.

One juicy thing I am saving to the end – Workday intends for the PaaS to be an environment where you can bring your own language. Java? Sure. C#? Knock yourself out. Python? Go at it…as examples. Devs of all stripes are going to love that.

I shall be watching this closely.

Image credit - via Workday slide deck

Disclosure - Salesforce, SAP and Workday are all premier partners at time of writing.

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