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Workday Rising 2022 - a big bet on partners and some interesting tech directions

By Phil Wainewright September 13, 2022

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Product and partner news for the opening of Workday Rising 2022 highlights a big bet on the partner ecosystem and some notable technology choices.

(Workday Rising 2022 keynote - live stream screengrab)

As this year's Workday Rising opens today with a clutch of announcements, the cloud HCM and financials vendor is making a big bet on its partner ecosystem while expanding its technology platform in some interesting directions. My colleague Jon Reed is on site at the show and is speaking to executives, partners and customers to drill down on the details. Here's my first take on the announcements from afar.

An expanding role for machine learning

Workday continues its use of Machine Learning (ML) to automate tasks in finance and operations. Three new capabilities were announced today and will be available within the next 12 months:

  • A new ML Forecaster in Adaptive Planning automatically generates forecasts based on historical or third-party data such as weather data or labor statistics.
  • Contract search automation is coming to Workday Strategic Sourcing. This automatically extracts key metadata and clauses from third-party paper and legacy contracts to find key terms and obligations, or uncover risks.
  • Workday Expenses will be able to automatically detect potential duplicate expenses, speeding the review process.

Other new capabilities include a 60% speed improvement for data import and export to Adaptive Planning, and additional capabilities in Strategic Sourcing to collect data about supplier diversity ratios and analyze sustainability metrics.

Talking of Workday Financials, Workday yesterday formally confirmed that Salesforce is deploying its financial, planning and data analysis products, building on its existing deployment of HCM and associated products including payroll. Combining the full set of products makes it a flagship user of what Workday is calling its Enterprise Management Cloud, bringing together finance, HR, and operational data in a single system. This will be a long-awaited move by Salesforce, which currently runs its financials on software supplied by its arch rival Oracle.

A personalized user experience

Workday is also harnessing ML to help it provide a highly personalized User Experience (UX) through an initiative it calls Workday Empower. For example, ML is used in a manager dashboard to suggest actions to help engage and develop employees. In the future, there are plans for ML to make recommendations based on a user's past actions, such as pre-emptively offering to download a report for viewing at a time that's consistent with previous viewing patterns.

Under an initiative called Workday Engage, a new home page provides a personalized UX across all devices. In the future, users be able to drag-and-drop home page components to dynamically configure their own experience.

Users also have the choice to access many Workday functions without even visiting the app. Under an initiative called Workday Everywhere, employees can perform functions such as request time off or connect to Workday Learning directly from within workspaces such as Microsoft Teams or Slack. Similarly, managers can quickly approve time off requests or team learning enrollments within their own workflows, and in the future there are plans to add other capabilities such as detailed team insights.

Low-code app building with GraphQL under the hood

Having only just published my take on Tierless Architecture and composable IT yesterday, I was particularly interested to see today's news on accessing APIs in Workday Extend. This is the toolkit that allows customers and partners to build their own apps on the Workday platform, and today's announcements include the news that customers on Workday Extend can now navigate and discover Workday APIs using the Workday Graph API. Forgive me geeking out briefly here, but this is based on GraphQL, the open-source API query and manipulation language originally developed at Facebook and now increasingly the preferred format for offering APIs in composable architectures. Workday's choice of GraphQL shows that it's keeping pace with the latest trends in software engineering and is also a significant enterprise endorsement for GraphQL.

For those who aren't developers, Workday is adding more visual app building capabilities to Extend so that users don't have to tangle with code. These include visual and preview modes in App Builder for business developers. Later on, it will be possible to create apps via a drag-and-drop user interface, without having to write any code.

Opening up Skills Cloud

Workday is upgrading its Skills Cloud technology by opening it up to exchange skills data with other systems such as learning systems, labor market data and skills assessments. Machine intelligence is used to automatically normalize the skills defined in these external systems to the Skills Cloud ontology.

I've been following the evolution of Skills Cloud with interest. It classifies a whole range of skills, including specific areas of knowledge, experience of specific types of work, or 'soft skills' such as empathy, creativity or networking. By tracking these skills across the workforce, employers can make smarter decisions about staffing, training and assignments. Employees can get more insight into their own development and find opportunities within the same organization to expand their skill set by finding suitable projects, temporary assignments or gigs, as well as new roles.

By adding bidirectional interchange capabilities with external systems, Workday opens up the potential for organizations to expand the skills they capture in Skills Cloud, make smarter hiring plans, or use it to guide learning choices. The move also expands the influence of Skills Cloud as a reference ontology in what is a still emerging field.

Industry accelerators and a much expanded partner program

Workday revealed today that it's planning for a big expansion in its partner ecosystem, with the goal of doubling partner consulting capacity in the next three years. A new partner program will be introduced early next year, with three tracks focussed on innovation, go-to-market, and service partners. Each track will have multiple tiers with performance and competency indicators, as well as varying incentives and benefits. The launch of an all-new partner portal will enable greater collaboration, and the company plans to increase its investment in partner education, including accelerating certifications and onboarding processes.

Alongside of these changes, Workday aims to add new routes to market with its partners and will launch co-selling programs so that customers can select end-to-end offerings. It has also eliminated fees for the Workday Extend partner program to encourage partners to develop solutions on the platform.

The first examples of this co-selling initiative were launched yesterday in the form of four Industry Accelerators, targeted at banking, healthcare, insurance, and technology companies, and delivered in partnership with consulting partners Accenture, Deloitte, KPMG, and PwC. They aim to help customers adopt Workday solutions with lower risk and faster time to value as they move off older platforms. Examples of industry specific capabilities delivered in these solutions include:

  • In banking and capital markets, the combination of Workday Financial Management and Workday Accounting Center with partner solutions delivers finance-reconciled data with regulatory reporting capabilities to help streamline customer operations.
  • In healthcare, talent agility is helped by, for example, the ability to quickly deploy proven solutions to automate the validation of clinician credentials to get new nurses on the floor faster.
  • For insurance companies, customers can address new long duration targeted improvement (LDTI) requirements with a purpose-built solution that ties to Workday Financial Management.
  • In technology, the combination of Workday Financial Management, Workday Revenue Management, and third-party configure-quote-price (CPQ) solutions, will enable customers to enhance billing methodologies, revenue recognition, and automated collections.

Employee experience and the risk of burnout

To encourage adoption of its employee experience offering, Workday Peakon yesterday published a new report based on anonymized data collected from 1.5 million employees worldwide. The report identifies hot spots for employee burnout risk and includes some intriguing stats.

Since last year, there's been a surge in burnout risk in companies operating in transportation and government, with those in healthcare and nonprofit industries also showing more signs of burnout. Interestingly, though, manufacturing companies have seen a steep drop since last year, with professional and financial services also improving slightly, while industries such as consumer goods, energy and technology have shown no change.

By geography, UK-headquartered companies showed the highest levels of burnout risk overall, rising 4% since last year to 41%. As a side note from a UK resident who's lived through the events of the past year, I'm not convinced that employers are solely responsible for these stress levels, but anything they can do to mitigate the impact of external factors will I'm sure be appreciated. Meanwhile, Norway has a much lower level at 20%, but this has almost doubled since last year. That rise put it ahead of the US, which remains unchanged at 17%. The steepest fall was in Australia, where there was a 19% drop in companies with higher burnout risk, down to 22%. German companies also saw a noticeable drop of 15%, down to 26%. France and the Netherlands both saw single-digit drops, but still have relatively high levels of burnout risk, at 39% and 33% respectively.

Workday's advice to employers to mitigate burnout risk, of course, is to use intelligent listening, as part of a program of:

  • Cultivating a more compassionate culture by building transparency around the issue of wellbeing and strengthening workplace policies to support it.

  • Enabling people leaders to solve problems by encouraging open dialogues on workload, workplace fulfillment, and the impact of their contributions.

  • Giving employees a shared sense of purpose by clearly articulating the organization's strategy and how new ideas speak to that vision.

My take

Workday has always maintained a firm grip on its partner ecosystem, but we've often wondered at diginomica whether this has held back the company's growth potential. This background is what makes today's partner announcements so significant. It feels like a big change in the vendor's go-to-market and no doubt will have been exhaustively wargamed and meticulously planned by company strategists.

How this plays out over the next two years will be interesting to watch but certainly these levels of investment in the ecosystem feel like a long-overdue move that should be welcomed. The adoption of co-selling is a particularly bold move, since this kind of partnership has often been a source of considerable ructions in the experience of other vendors, as Workday will be well aware. There's plenty of scope for the multiple parties involved — vendor, partner and customer — to start playing the blame game if things start to go awry. It will be interesting to drill into how Workday plans to manage these risks as it rolls out these partner solutions.

One of the factors making this move more or less inevitable now is the arrival of Workday Extend, which has now come of age as a platform for building new solutions on top of the Workday platform, many of which are being contributed by partners. There's some comfort however in seeing how much Workday has used very up-to-date composable technologies, such as GraphQL, in its toolkit. I'd like the opportunity to drill further into this, but my first impressions are that Workday has done a great job of refactoring an established platform according to the emerging demands of what I call Tierless Architecture as IT becomes more composable. Its Workday Everywhere integrations into the likes of Teams and Slack are another facet of this evolution.

Finally, I was gratified to see Workday talking about frictionless finance and frictionless user experiences today. As I've long argued, the overall goal is Frictionless Enterprise, and there are a lot of moving parts required to make that happen. Workday seems to have a significant number of those parts in place, and that's something that serves its customers well.

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