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Workday Rising 2013 - an initial take

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy September 10, 2013
Summary:
Workday's keynote at its Rising conference was an interesting mixture of new 'stuff' and a comforting of the assembled crowd. As always, we ended up with more questions than answers.

Unlike past years, Workday Rising's analyst tech summit is taking place after the main customer event. That inevitably means the drive by high level keynote material leaves inquiring minds feeling a little bereft of detail. Nonetheless, there was enough in the keynote to drive different opinions about Workday.

In a world where many of us are used to attending user conferences larded with sex and sizzle served in polished form, Workday stands apart. It prefers to deliver a less polished and more homespun set of messages to its audience. Vinnie Mirchandani,  with whom I shot the above video, says it is more 'comfort food' for the audience shaded by complexity inside customer deployments. On his personal blog he says:

There were plenty of reminders of the complex world we live in. Mike McNamara, CEO of Flextronics, talked about his 30 country, $20+ global operation. George Tenet, former CIA director, now a Workday customer discussed the geopolitics of a reprisal on  Syria. Rebecca Sutton, CFO of City of Orlando, a complex and innovative government entity, described her project (and media challenges of pioneering a cloud solution). The SVP of Global HR Systems  at Thomson Reuters with 60,000 global employees, Sue Laskey-Myers being recognized as a Visionary Customer.

In comparison, the keynote also highlighted “Excel Integration”, “200 million journal lines a year”,“Payslips”. They sound so simplistic and tactical when the world has moved to innovation in the form of Mars Rovers, autonomous cars and health bracelets.

It hit me when Aneel Bhusri got one of the biggest cheers when he said Workday was reducing number of annual updates from 3 to 2.

Customers want the world to slow down. And they want plenty of “comfort food”.

Be that as it may, when Bhusri got to the point of discussing release cycles, he added that he'd prefer to move to four. As we stand, I rather suspect that the reduction to two has been forced upon the company as it also coincides with the release of a radical new user experience and interface.

Experience tells us that however good a job any vendor does of refreshing the UI, customers will still experience shock. Having said that, the first glimpses of the new UI are very promising. It looks for example, like Workday has managed to pull off a smart trick by having contextual search that learns what any potential user is most interested in understanding and presenting that at the top of searches.

Analysts on the Tweetstream liked the fact Workday is incorporating some 40 percent of 'brainstorm' requests from customers into the latest iteration (Workday 21.) I take a different position. Up until recently the number of features coming from customer requests was in the range 30-37 percent. My sense is we are now seeing a solution that has reached a point of maturity where any major functional holes have been filled.

That was demonstrated in one slide where Workday compared itself with its major competition. In those circumstances, it should come as no surprise then that customer driven improvements figure largely in new releases.

Student - a new and potentially pervasive app

WDAY student
Workday Student Suggested Schedules

The one area I was most excited to see was the move to higher education as a distinct vertical market for which Workday has created a separate development team. Dubbed 'Student' the solution is not due for rollout until 2014-15 but the brief glimpses we got today are very promising. Once again, Workday has taken a mobile first approach and that shows in the slides they presented to us. This from co-founder Dave Duffield's blog explaining the rationale behind this development:

Why might Workday customers outside of education find all this interesting? The answer lies in the employment cycle that begins with recruiting. We think with some innovative thinking and technology support, that cycle can be expanded to start earlier in future employees’ careers—that is, while they’re on campus. If colleges and businesses can align to match jobs and skills with grads, and if systems can be built to better connect industry and education, then we can more effectively create and fill jobs. And we all know the larger implications of a well-seeded job market.

The more I think about this aspect, the more sense it makes and especially for Workday. If as predicted, the next generation of employees and managers are going to expect easy to use, mobile driven applications, then introducing them to Workday apps during their college years is one heck of a way to seed the knowledge economy for much more than higher education.

The one area of surprise was Bhusri's assertion that finance and HR are natural bedfellows. I will dig into this more tomorrow but I find it hard to believe. The disciplines are worlds apart and I know from experience that HR has deep suspicion when it comes to analyzing performance.

Updated for reference to Dave Duffield's post and image of Workday Student Suggested Schedules,

Featured image via Vinnie Mirchandani

Disclosure: Workday is a premier partner and covered most of my travel expenses for visiting the conference

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