Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri on competitors, partners and politics

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright November 16, 2016
Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri had some robust comments on competitors, partners and politics at the company's Rising EMEA event in Barcelona, Spain today. Here are five takeaways

Aneel Bhusri and Dave Duffield
Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri had some robust assessments of competitors, partners and politics in a Q&A today with media and analysts at the company's Rising EMEA conference in Barcelona, Spain. Here are five takeaways from his comments.

Who is Workday replacing?

Unsurprisingly, Bhusri said that in Europe, Workday is winning the most deals from former SAP customers. But then he stepped up the competitive rhetoric when he added that some of its wins are coming from failed cloud implementations of SAP and Oracle software.

In Europe it's the same as it is for the US, replacing probably in order, Peoplesoft, SAP, Oracle. There's not much Oracle HR in Europe so we don't see them as much. I'd say our main competitor has been and will be, SAP.

If you look at our large wins in Europe, they're all SAP shops, whether it's Airbus or Rolls-Royce or Unilever, Philips, they're all SAP shops that chose Workday for HR. So they tend to be the competition. From time to time we'll run into a company that's got [a] homegrown [HR system] but that's highly unusual. Usually it's running one of those three packages.

And what I'd say is, actually we're seeing the first wave of failed [SAP SuccessFactors] Employee Central and failed [Oracle] Fusion implementations in Europe. That's not marketing, that's just the reality —  when you get to a certain scale, neither of those companies have been able to get large customers live. So people have gone down that path with a project, failed, and come back to Workday.

CEOs, not CIOs, are the customer

Bhusri said that the decision to buy Workday is often seen as strategic at a CEO level in a way that never happened in the 1990s at his previous company, PeopleSoft.

The more important constituency [than CIOs] are CEOs. Increasingly CEOs have a talent agenda — they typically have two agendas. They have a growth agenda and a talent agenda, and the two are very much tied together.

We find ourselves meeting with CEOs on a quite regular basis. That did not happen at PeopleSoft. It was a rare occurrence that I would meet or Dave would meet with a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. We're now summoned to meet with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, because they're trying to engage their workforce. It's a very different world today.

Workday is watching its SIs closely

There's been a fair bit of M&A activity in the Workday consulting ecosystem recently, with Accenture acquiring DayNine in September and then Wipro buying Appirio a few weeks later. Bhusri didn't disguise Workday's preference for the approach that the boutique cloud integrators have taken and made clear that the vendor has been taking a keen interest in how these acquisitions are playing out.

Candidly, we'd like a healthy group of boutiques. There continue to be a set of individual boutiques.

We have been involved in all the acquisitions and helped structuring the acquisitions to make sure that the DayNines and the Appirios of the world still get to operate with some level of autonomy, because they're effectively great partners that really understand the cloud.

I think the fact the Accentures, the IBMs, the Wipros have bought boutiques says that they can't keep up with the demand by internally growing, so they're getting these boutiques that have a ton of skills but might be short of capital and reach.

Provided the larger firms invest in these acquisitions it will all turn out for the best, he added:

I do think the large firms are thinking about it the right way and if they basically fund those entities I think it'll go very well. Deloitte really got off to such a great start and ahead of everybody by buying Aggressor [in 2012]. I think the other firms have recognized that that was a good way to gain market share quickly in a way that kept customers happy.

Workday's financial planning partners

When asked where the launch of Workday Planning, the vendor's new financial planning application, left erstwhile partners such as UK-based Anaplan, Bhusri pronounced a scathing verdict.

Candidly, [Anaplan] have never been a great partner. We ended up getting into the space because we could not make a partnership with them and others work. They never invested the resources to build a proper integration. It was part of the impetus for us to go and build our own planning product.

I'm not sure I consider them a competitor. We're selling Planning as part of a broader suite. If you're an SAP, an Oracle shop, and Workday's not there, Anaplan is a good fit. But in the Workday environment, I'd prefer not to see Anaplan. If a customer wants it, we'll support it, but we're not really partners any more.

I think one of the things to take away is, I don't think customers want separate planning and transactional environments. They really want it unified. That's what we're finding. The uptake on Planning has been much more rapid than we ever anticipated ... The adoption's very strong for planning.

Anaplan had been one of the "four or five" vendors Workday evaluated when it first looked at getting into planning a year and a half ago, he said, but the end result had been the decision for Workday to build its own solution.

Tech companies can help solve political division

While Workday pushes a message of collaboration and inclusiveness, politics recently has been heading in the opposite direction. I asked Bhusri whether recent election results suggest that we've reached 'peak inclusiveness' and if there's now a risk of retrenchment. Here's his reply:

I think we're actually part of the solution for diversity and inclusion. The simple way to describe what happened in the US is that it was the same thing that happened with Brexit. It was a protest vote.

There's a group of people that have been left behind, and shame on all of us, we left them behind. Manufacturing used to be a — if you look at that Rust Belt that voted for our new President-elect — these were all people that were part of the manufacturing sector. I've been to some of these places. SC Johnson, one of our early customers, is in Racine, Wisconsin. You go to Racine, it's a ghost town. And it's been a ghost town for 20 years.

I think we've got to figure out how to give that group of people hope and skills and empower them to be part of the community. We can't leave them behind, I think that's the clear takeaway and I think the same thing applies to Europe. Systems like Workday are really important for that.

Workday's support for non-profit education and training initiatives is also important, he said.

The other thing that Workday is focused on is bringing people into the workforce through our Foundation. We set up a non-profit foundation when we went public, and the charter of that Foundation is to help people who are struggling to get into the workforce, to [help them] get into the workforce by giving them technology skills — and I think we're going to double down on that effort.

I think we all have to get together and solve this problem. We can't leave that group behind or they're going to continue to be angry and isolated and that's not good for anybody. We're seeing it in Britain, the US, Le Pen in France — it's happening across the globe and we've got to figure out how to solve it. Technology can either be helpful or hurtful. We think what we do can be helpful.

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