Workday Rising 2015: solid progress on financials, much more to come

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett September 29, 2015
Workday planning is in the early stages of development. What we saw is promising but there is a lot of work to get done between now and eventual release.

Workday Rising 2015 had the feel of a company talking about a transition rather than talking up blockbuster announcements. In this report, I am concentrating upon the financials side of things plus some words about the technology piece of the puzzle and a general commentary around where Workday goes next. Others will go into great detail about the HR side and I leave them to it.

Above, you'll find Holger Mueller's Storify of the keynote. It is a curated set of Tweets from a variety of sources that give you a flavor of the event content and tone. I am necessarily cherry picking.

There isn't much to add as it relates to inventory, procurement and the numerous 'tick box' items I talked about in the Workday 25 update. Much of what I am interested in centers around the score carding and planning systems that Workday is telegraphing. Let's be clear --- Workday Planning is not here and will not be available until this time next year. In that time a LOT of things can change.

packaged scorecard

During the keynote, Aneel Bhusri, CEO said that he runs the business from a dashboard of key performance indicators displayed on his iPad. He can see behind the indicators to get a better understanding of what the numbers are telling him. So far, so good and, because everything is derived from a unified database, users can be sure that the numbers are up to date insofar as entries have been made.

On planning, the situation is different. What we saw is a very early version of what Workday plans to deliver. While I initially dismissed it as a spreadsheet, a better way to think about Workday Planning is as a spreadsheet metaphor used to describe an application that takes it's data from the underlying Workday database and uses it out into what Workday currently call Worksheets.

The view a particular individual gets depends upon their security status. An example might be a group of sales people who have allocated territories, You'd expect them to be able to see into their respective territories while a manager would see a whole picture. Formulae for calculation purposes are normally preset but it will be possible to manipulate for what-if scenarios.

On what we saw, Workday Planning has the ability to provide contextually relevant text to accompany the sheets. This is exciting because from where I am sitting, there could be competitive and useful functionality if Workday is able to turn that text into actionable insights. What do I mean?

A combination of machine learning and natural language processing should make it possible for the system to interpret the system so that it is easy for line of business people to understand what's going on. A text explanation is often far easier for LoBs to decipher the numbers and so provide clues on the pieces of the planning puzzle that matter to them. I raised this with the team but it would appear that is not on the roadmap.

Also in talking to Stan Swete who has the job of overseeing how this plays out from a technology standpoint, it seems that none of Workday's customers are asking for 'big data' to be included in these formats. Betsy Bland, who manages all product strategy and management for Workday financials said much the same thing, emphasizing that Workday is working towards what customers are telling them is important.

I have no doubt that is true but I am increasingly seeing customers who are attempting to solve 'known unknown' and 'unknown unknown' problems at the line of business level. Those problems are taking precedence over the kind of planning that Workday envisages.


I believe that if Workday goes back to customers and approaches requirements from that alternative perspective, rather than the more CFO-centric view, then they would have a much better solution than the one they are working at the moment which focuses on the needs of the C-level person with a leaning towards the finance function.

Swete agreed but considers those of us who are thinking this way are likely three steps ahead of where Workday is at right now. It's a fair point given all the moving parts Workday is hefting in development.

This brings into question what Workday will deliver and how that impacts current partner relationships. I know for example that Workday shares 30 common customers with Adaptive Insights. Tidemark counts a similar number.

There are several open questions which were not discussed in any detail but which are important. Real-time data is useful but planners will need to have snapshots available to them. I am told that the first cut will aim at monthly figures. It's not clear how flexible the planning structures will be in the context of for example, a proposed re-organization. Workday claims this is relatively easy to achieve but we need to see this in action to be convinced.

My take

Workday's planning ambitions are...ambitious. As I said to executives, I don't know of a single instance where the vendor of transactional systems has successfully carried off the development of such a solution. Workday is convinced it has the right technology tools and I have no reason to doubt what they say but it will be a tall order to deliver what they are claiming in the timeframe Workday has set for itself.