Workday's Adaptive Insights implementation - Robynne Sisco CFO in the hot seat

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy November 14, 2018
Workday's CFO, Robynne Sisco talks about the company's own Adaptive Insights implementation and her aspirations for a future state Workday intelligence platform.

workday Robynne Sisco
Robynne Sisco, CFO Workday

It is rare that I get the chance to sit with a CFO in the same room as the CEO let alone the rest of a company's A-team. So when Workday offered to put Robynne Sisco, CFO and co-president, Aneel Bhusri, CEO, along with Tom Bogan, CEO of the recently acquired Adaptive Insights and Chano Fernandez, co-president in the same room as myself and a Gartner analyst, I knew we'd be in for a good time.

When I first saw the Adaptive acquisition, I wondered if Workday had slipped up. Workday has aspirations to meet the needs of the Fortune 10 whereas I always had Adaptive pegged to the mid-range customer and to fairly traditional finance only planning scenarios. It turns out I was dead wrong.

The last couple of years, Bogan concentrated on scaling and I later learned that Adaptive can handle quintillion sized data cubes with live planning systems at places like the 450-ish strong P.F. Chang chain of restaurants. Today, Adaptive is confident that it can manage the needs of F500 firms and it is only a matter of time before it can handle the planning needs of the Walmarts of the world. But what does this mean for firms like Workday which is eyeing revenue of around $2.8 billion for FY2019.

For the answer to that, we need turn to Robynne Sisco who has publicly said that their Adaptive go live took about 10 weeks. That's impressive. But what about outcomes?

That time to go live was an amazing accomplishment and shows the time to value. We're doing forecasting on it right now and we absolutely trust those forecasts. We've ticked off our budgeting cycle for next year and we're doing that completely in Adaptive.

A good start then. There is a phase two to the project where Workday implements cashflow forecasting and the firm is undertaking its 'Office connect' so that board slides are done directly from Adaptive. But again, that's not enough. The fact that finance might like a solution doesn't necessarily mean the business as a whole will come on board.

We do push out to the operational managers and they get to make real-time decisions. That's going well.

The long-term goal for Workday analytics is for Adaptive, Prism, which allows for a blending of Workday and non-Workday data to provide additional analytics and Stories, which provides augmented analytics to become one system that provides a single interface into Workday, This is not going to happen overnight and, according to the company, the intention is to have this capability available to select customers this time next year with GA about six months later. For the moment, Ms Sisco says:

We have a product profitability dashboard that pulls data from external systems and we use Prism for that. Not quite live yet. We know what servers customers are on, we know what each server costs, we have ticketing information so we can get down to an operating profit by SKU, by customer.

This changes the kind of conversation that CFOs can have with operational heads. In Workday's case, Ms Sisco says they can track products as they mature. For the future, Ms Sisco is looking forward to continuous iteration but that will require the kind of hard slog integration back to the core and across the different BI systems.

My take

I'm always impressed to hear confident CFOs talk a good game in front of their C-suite peers. It means they have a shot at getting alongside their operational peers in meaningful ways and without the 'us and them' mentality getting in the way. It also means that Workday can make solid and believable pitches.

Workday has ambitious plans for its BI portfolio of solutions. For example, the firm has done a series of POCs to test how well its ML algorythms perform in error and anomaly detection for predictive capabilities. In this context, Workday is being smart. It's not trying to boil any AI oceans but ensuring that its ML related outcomes resonate with the kinds of question that customers raise. In that context, it is helping - augmenting if you will - the kinds of exception style information shared between finance and operations so that those groups get comfortable with trusting what are essentially black boxes of information.

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