Workday Rising 2017 - it's all about data, the platform and GDPR

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy October 9, 2017
Strategic differentiation and benchmarking data under GDPR arrangements were top of mind in this Workday Rising preview.

workday benchmarking
A simple Workday benchmarking graphic

Right about now, Dave Duffield, co-founder Workday and Aneel Bhusri CEO will be applying the final spit and polish to their much anticipated two-hander executive keynote at Workday Rising. I can't be at the U.S. event in person this year (I'll be at heir Barcelona event) but along with others, I took a product/event pre-briefing from Dan Beck, SVP Platform Technology and will have access to the live action.

From what I heard, there are not too many surprises in store. Workday is now a maturing vendor that has to work hard at demonstrating innovation as its products become mainstream. This year, the company wants to showcase its data as a service offering, how it is doubling down on analytics and where the previously announced cloud platform is taking the company and its customers.

Strategic Differentiation

I'll talk about the details in a later story but for now I want to focus upon two elements, one strategic, the other tactical.

First is the strategic issue of differentiation. When Dan opened with data analytics and the platform I didn't experience a sense of excitement. As I said to Beck at the time, every one of Workday's direct or indirect competitors and partners is talking about these topics. SAP has had a platform for years - not necessarily a cloud platform but a platform upon which many thousands of applications have been built. Data as a Service is not especially new. Salesforce had that years ago, although Workday positions this differently. Analytics that include third party data? Yup, we're seeing that more and more.

Beck made the point that:

At the very highest level, the competition does have this from a single core. you know our core capabilities are all based around a single architecture. The data models are different and they haven't innovated anything different in the cloud. As an example, if you want to go from Oracle's transactional cloud system to Oracle's BI cloud then you have to replicate as it's read only and totally separate. So while we may sound like we're saying the same things, the way we approach it is materially different. The benefits are going to be a more holistic user experience, faster cycle times, see and act upon plans in the moment. The cloud platform is a longer term play of course.

Tactical Data and GDPR

On to Data as a Service which I see as tactical, albeit somewhat more important. Workday is positioning this as a benchmarking service and as Beck correctly pointed out, no-one else who competes in this space has benchmarking capability. I had to smile because while the enterprise has been slow to pick up on the value of benchmarking data, cloud segments in the SMB market has been doing this for years. Last week I saw how Xero is ramping its efforts as the tools and technology, that also include machine learning elements, get increasingly proficient and performant. At the time I said:

Xero makes much of the data it collects and the fact it has proven valuable to wider economic interests such as the New Zealand and Australian governments. I have long argued that the data solutions like Xero collect is far more valuable than the applications they run. In that context, Xero is offering benchmarking data from which professional accountants can run their own analysis templates. But in order to do that, Xero had to map the 10 million account codes in its single ledger representing all customers back to the few hundred it uses as standard.

We'll get more detail as Rising unfolds but as Beck talked about international customers, I raised the specter of GDPR. In an emailed response, Workday's legal team came back with:

We offer customers the tools they need to be compliant. These tools include multiple levels of opting into the service including metric level opt in, opt-out, statistical thresholding for privacy protection, and our de-identification and aggregation process for calculating metrics, in addition to leveraging Workday security framework for how this data is then reported in Workday.

Related to European GDPR, we are continuously reviewing guidance on de-identification, pseudonymization, and anonymization especially in light of upcoming regulations. Workday will only make aggregate benchmarks available to customers once a substantial number of customers and a substantial quantity of data have been aggregated. The data surfaced to customers through Benchmarks will not identify any specific individual’s identity.

This will be very good news for Workday customers who traditionally have established European outposts from a U.S. base. As Workday expands its footprint in Europe with more large international companies, GDPR will take on increasing significance. So to see the company cover this off in an elegant fashion is welcome.

My take

It's too early to prognosticate beyond what I have already discovered. Expect more as the event, which has attracted a record 8,000 attendees, unfolds and the detailed sessions add color. In the meantime, sit back, relax and soak up the Dave & Aneel show. It's always fun.

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