Workday Rising Vienna 2018 - a retrospective focus on diversity and analytics

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett November 18, 2018
Summary:
Workday is on a rocketship by enterprise software standards. What's next?

workday rising vienna 2018
Having seen Workday Rising's Las Vegas keynote in a virtual sense and heard feedback from colleagues, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from Rising Vienna. But if there's one thing I've learned over the years of following this company, it's their capacity to subtly market in the right spots. Workday Rising Vienna 2018 was no different and, if anything, was the best I've seen from the firm.

Workday doesn't play the diversity card. It doesn't have to. It has the people that put reality into that topic. Part way through the opening keynote I was struck by the fact Workday fields a deep pool of incredibly talented women. Starting with the opening act - Escala, an all-women string quartet that makes a welcome break from the passé drumming outfits that seem to be de rigeur at tech events. Super smart.

We soon got to hear from a parade of women leaders (see image above.) Each brings their character and humanity to the stage that's often missing from corporate events. Who for instance can forget Betsy Bland, VP corporate strategy explaining AI in the following terms: "Is it a chihuaha or muffin?"

Workday Rising 2018
Betsy Bland on AI

Behind the scenes, I scored a valuable conversation with Christine Cefalo, CMO. Oh yeah, some men tipped up on stage and in sessions. Like good wine, the pressos we saw at Las Vegas had improved and matured for Vienna.

Workday knows that my main interest is in financials having been part of advisory conversations stretching back to 2006 and a background in accounting. It was no surprise, therefore, to find myself in sessions with Pete Schlampp, VP Analytics and Bhaskar Himatsingka, Chief Product Officer, Adaptive Insights. Both of those conversations helped me better understand the Workday trajectory as it relates to business insights that can lead to action. We will have to wait another year before Workday has fleshed out its augmented analytics product offering and bedded Adaptive into the Workday codeline but the early demos are promising.

A genuine surprise for me was a session I had with a large German Mittelstand business of 180 years standing that is transitioning to Workday for HR. Who would have thought that likely in SAP land? More revealing is the extent to which this company is dedicating resource to process change based on lessons learned from past ERP implementations. And finally, quality time spent with CEO Aneel Bhusri and the C-Suite team revealed nuggets you don't get from the keynote.

Let's dig into the details as it relates to analytics - my topic of interest.

Workday analytics

Workday's progress towards a coherent analytics strategy/platform/product has been tortuous. Back in the day, Workday miscalculated the architectural constraints that make essential features like time series analysis difficult nay virtually impossible on their underlying architecture. They fixed that problem by re-platforming but that only got them to first base reporting.

The question about build or buy always loomed large and I recall numerous conversations with the company about the direction it should take. I was always of the belief that analytics is a specialist discipline that is beyond the wit of transactional system builders. While it took time, Workday concurred with that thinking buying Prism, Stories and Adaptive Insights in short order. The question is whether this combination makes sense.

We know that Adaptive is a strong play in the FPA space and Workday is unequivocal - its own development in the same space is gone. Those developers have transitioned to Adaptive. That, in turn, means Workday can crank the development engine dramatically by near doubling down on the engineering effort for FPA. It also means that buyers have a more comfortable route to FPA.

augmented analytics
Pete Schlampp - augmented analytics

Meeting with Pete Schlampp, with whom I recently spoke about Stories, in the context of augmented analytics, I was interested to know where this effort is at and where it goes. At the time of acquisition, Schlampp said this:

Stories.bi specializes in augmented analytics, a powerful approach that leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies to automate analysis and deliver insights into what’s happening in a business. Stories.bi takes this a step further by identifying topline trends, issues, or opportunities in the organization, and then delivers personalized insights to a business user in a conversational, headline form such as “Actual shipments were $283,000 behind plan last quarter, 62% of which originate in Singapore.” From there, a user can go deeper to easily understand the drivers behind the headline—such as how this compares to previous quarters or the reasons for the change—and understand which actions they should take next.

One thing that stood out immediately was the pace of change. The keynote demo was way more sophisticated than what we saw in the analyst briefings just a few weeks prior with clear attention paid to mobile first delivery. But there has to be more than a slick interface.

I am concerned for example at the identification of individuals as part of a problem without context as to why that individual might bear responsibility for a specific issue. The answers to that question remain open as part of a wider discussion about AI as an aid to business decision making. In that context, I'd like Workday to be clearer about AI ethics. Workday is very much alive to this issue.

My take

Workday Rising Vienna 2018 was a great show. Customers I met continue to sing the company's praises and that's all to the good. As CEO Aneel Bhusri said: "Happy employees means happy customers." The big question is what comes next.

As a system of record, Workday is making most of the right moves. As a system of decision making, it is at risk of falling short. The progress it has made in the last year in acquiring smart tech that backfills the analytic space is laudable and with clear opportunity to provide great insights into business drivers. The problem is its avowed space - i.e. 'back office,' There are plenty of opportunities of taking legacy vendors out of the game but it's not enough.

Workday's close partnership with Salesforce puts it firmly in the glittering cloud firmament but it needs to do much more. Workday has to double down on vertical market functionality. Colleagues have been critical of Workday's relatively weak positioning here although we know they are strong in HE and a variety of service industries.

Workday needs to showcase more F50 equivalents in Europe. We know for example that Deutsche Bank is an ongoing but as yet not referencable customer. Making that implementation a success would represent a massive fillip to the company's global ambitions . There are a few nuggets out there among the German Mittelstadt SAP turf land. Workday needs more.

My lingering question, which I did not put out to Workday execs - where is the next process innovation?