Workday adds collaboration tools, buddies up with Microsoft

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright September 27, 2016
Workday Rising saw the release of long-awaited products today but also some surprise steps into the collaboration and productivity realm

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Cloud HCM and financials vendor Workday delivered three long-awaited new products at its annual Rising conference today, at the same time as embedding collaborative spreadsheet, messaging and video tools in its platform. But a surprise alliance with Microsoft earned the biggest round of spontaneous applause, when CEO Aneel Bhusri revealed an integration that will allow Workday users to book time off directly from their Outlook calendar.

The unexpected partnership with Microsoft will connect Workday's HR and finance products into Office 365, automatically updating workflow, organizational changes and employee information. Workday becomes this week's second addition to Microsoft's list of BFFs, after yesterday's announcement that Adobe's Marketing Cloud is now the preferred accompaniment to Dynamics 365 and will host on Azure.

Bhusri highlighted two further forms of integration in addition to the crowd-pleasing Outlook integration:

  • The ability to automate workflow across Microsoft Flow and Workday’s dynamic business process framework. For example, a manager can set up an automated workflow for a new hire in Workday, which adds them to specific groups on messaging and chat services, and introduces them to the group with an automated welcome message.
  • Integration from Workday to Office 365 Groups that automatically carries across organizational changes from Workday into Office 365. For example, as soon as an employee moves to another team within Workday, the groups they belong to in Office 365 automatically update across email, calendars, and shared documents.

In a recorded video, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella emphasized the use of machine intelligence to interpret Workday's organizational data within Office 365, using the Microsoft Graph API and its collaboration analytics tools. Workday's Bhusri promised further benefits from the collaboration, in addition to the announced features, which will roll out across two forthcoming releases, Workday 28 and 29.

We're really excited about our collaboration with Microsoft. Stay tuned for more to come.

Workday Planning arrives

While the Microsoft partnership was the icing on the cake of today's announcements, the rich cream at the center was the much-trailed Workday Planning. First announced more than a year ago, the collaborative budgeting, planning and forecasting tool is now in production as part of Workday release 27.

Planning brings together live transactional data into a cloud-based, collaborative worksheet environment that allows participants to prepare budgets and forecasts and then publish the output into Workday's dashboards and reports, from where users can drill down into the underlying data and spreadsheets. The important differentiator from traditional FP&A solutions is that Planning works with live data that can be refreshed at any time, all shared within a single, cloud-accessible spreadsheet rather than many different standalone versions.

Workday Learning, first announced a year ago, also becomes available today. This brings a consumer-like user interface and easy upload and sharing of video to corporate learning. It encourages collaborative sharing of content and tailors suggested content to an individual's role and goals as recorded in the Workday system.

Workday Student, which was first mooted three years ago at Rising 2013, also becomes generally available today. This is a mobile-first, end-to-end student information system for higher education institutions.

Workday also demonstrated new data analytics functionality that will be added to its platform after the recent acquisition of big data specialist Platfora. Coming to the Workday platform next year, the technology will make it possible for any Workday user to prepare management reporting and analytics that combines non-native data with Workday data, for example bringing together data from marketing automation, CRM systems, cost of goods and server logs. All of this will be available to any Workday user to combine into reporting and analytics within the system, subject to their access rights.

New platform functionality

In addition to bread-and-butter functional enhancements to the core finance and HCM products, several of the new product announcements were notable for bringing new functionality that is available throughout the Workday product suite. The collaborative Worksheet functionality in Planning is now a core component of every Workday app. The Messenger sidebar that allows Worksheet users to collaborate is also now available across all applications, bringing a chat channel to Workday for the first time (it will also be gaining an AI agent that will respond to ad hoc help questions).

The video tool in Workday Learning is likewise embedded throughout the platform, so that, for example, a business can add a video into the expenses application to explain the company's expenses policy. The process of recording and uploading a video has been made as seamless as possible, with access rights and approval workflow built in. A new video content creation tool to help create more professional output is in the pipeline for Workday 28.

In a 'one more thing' moment at the very end of the keynote, senior vice president of user experience Joe Korngiebel revealed a new 'data as a service' initiative. Workday customers will be able to opt in to have their data included in best practice benchmarking. This will enable them to see how their data compares to their peers. As Korngiebel explained, the free service will offer operational effectiveness metrics:

We are now at over 19 million workers. We can do a lot collectively with all that data.

Now you have peer data that you can benchmark against and we can take organizational effectiveness to the next level.

Please opt in, we're excited about this platform and about offering it for free.

My take

Although some of it has been a long time coming, there was still a lot to digest in today's keynote. Workday was keen to emphasize the integrated platform aspect of its message — heavily contrasted against the cobbled-together 'frankensaurus' approach of its client-server competitors.

This was not merely a launch of a set of discrete products, but the addition of a new set of distinctive and powerful functions to the Workday platform. The launch of the data benchmarking option is a seminal event. But it is the step up in collaborative capabilities — not only across spreadsheets, messaging and video but also bridging with its new integration partnership into Office 365 — that is the defining theme of this year's Rising.

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