Workday vs NetSuite - really?

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan May 30, 2013
According to the New York Times, Workday and NetSuite are carrying on the fine Silicon Valley tradition of feuding. Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri is amused by developments so far.

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Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri

You may have spotted a rather nice little article in the New York Times the other day picking up on the most recent technology industry feud in the making - between NetSuite and Workday.

Of course there's nothing new in the idea of a feud in Silicon Valley. Remember Informix spending a fortune on a stunt bill board on Highway 101 outside Oracle's headquarters just to put up silly posters of 'dinosaurs crossing'?

The famous Informix poster outside the Oracle headquarters

Happy memories for the former Informix staffers who didn't go to jail to console themselves with when the company collapsed in on itself, no doubt.

An awful lot of feuds involve Oracle. I've long nurtured a pet theory that many firms fates are closely linked to the attitude their founders have towards Oracle and most particularly towards Larry Ellison.

For some, the animosity towards what is often their alma mater seems to take over with destructive effect. See Tom Siebel and Siebel Systems as a case in point.

With others, there is antagonism matched by respect at a personal level. See and Marc Benioff as an example of two companies on collision course, but two individuals who, while openly mocking of one another in public as part of the general marketplace rough and tumble of it all, retain respect for one another in private.

After all, Benioff did learn at the master's knee when it comes to sales and marketing and the Art of War.

But NetSuite and Workday? Really? Will the fighting never end?

Turf wars?

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NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson

Actually the New York Times article shouldn't really come as too much of a surprise. At NetSuite's recent SuiteWorld conference in San Jose, I was slightly taken aback when Workday was added to the pantheon of 'those we mock' alongside the more traditional targets, such as Sage, Microsoft and SAP.

This is in large part down to Workday's plans to expand into the financials space that is NetSuite's happy hunting ground. NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson told diginomica:

"That other company called Workday are supposedly going to add financials to their HCM. They will build a financial product I'm sure, but that's not ERP. Financials are things like general ledger and accounts receivable. They're already said they won't do manufacturing. They'll do what PeopleSoft did. It took us 15 years to build what we have in financials."

Nelson also maintained that it's Workday that doesn't want to work with NetSuite on some projects such as the recent announcement of an integration template from Informatica between the two firms. He said:

"Workday doesn't want to partner with us. They tried to kill the Informatica deal."

For his part, Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri in London this week gives the impression of being slightly baffled by the situation:

"If we're competing with NetSuite in an account then one of us is in the wrong place. I have a lot of respect for NetSuite."

All this might be a case of no such thing as bad PR. Bhusri chuckles:

"We're best known for HR, so if we are supposedly competing with them in the finance space then they are just giving us more credibility there."

Workday's own relationship with Oracle has become increasingly competitive, partly perhaps due to the founders (Bhusri and Dave Duffield) previous history at PeopleSoft, acquired in a high profile and notably antagonistic takeover bid by Oracle in 2004.

But increasingly it's also because Workday's Cloud offering is going head to head with Oracle's installed PeopleSoft base - many of whom are in need of anupgrade - as well as its next generation Fusion HCM applications.

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All roads lead back to Larry?

Ellison has claimed that Oracle is beating Workday to customer wins:

We're at the stage where we're winning the majority of deals and competes against Workday. To give you examples, we're beating them in North America, and we're almost shutting them out in Europe.

It's a boast that Bhusri of course rejects, citing the likes of electronics giant Philips as a major customer in Europe.

Bhusri argues that it's SAP that's the prime competitor in the region:

"In Europe it's mostly about competing with SAP. We just don't see Oracle. SAP has a story to tell. I don't think that SAP and SuccessFactors together is a perfect story, but it is a decent enough one.

"SAP's strategy has been to try to stall while they build out SuccessFactors Employee Central as a full system of record.

"In the US, it's PeopleSoft 9.2 that Oracle pushes as the alternative to us. I think that's indicative of them wanting to keep people on that platform. That's fine. If it's a like-for-like, feature-for-feature, Oracle-vs-Workday, then we're going to win."

He adds:

"All of our data points say Oracle Fusion is really struggling."

PeopleSoft has never worked in an online ASP delivery model, suggests Bhusri. The answer for SaaS HCM was to follow the model pioneered for the sales force automation space by

That does raise the question of how long it might be before Workday and find themselves on a collision course with the latter pushing its offering?

Bhusri reckons it's not on the cards:

" is performance management. More than that, its performance management for sales people. Marc [Benioff] and I are very good friends and our companies partnership is just getting stronger all the time. We share the same set of competitors. We tend to sell a lot together."

Indeed, Philips is one of the more recently cited wins in Europe for as well as Workday.

Euro push

For its part, Workday is ramping up in Europe. Bhusri is now committed to delivering Workday Payroll for UK and Workday Payroll for France in 2015 and 2016 respectively, target delivery dates he describes as "conservative".

France is now firmly in the corporate sights - with a major "surprising" French customer set to go live imminently - and while the firm isn't ready to park its tanks on the arch-enemy SAP's lawn just yet, it's clearly a real prospect in the mid-term. ("At some point we will.")

As for that New York Times NetSuite vs Workday piece, Bhusri is particularly amused by an SAP PR quote in the article that alleges that Oracle is pulling the NetSuite strings.

"They're channeling Oracle. They always bash SAP in presentations but they never bash Oracle. But Larry [Ellison] owns a majority share.

"Personally I think it's only a matter of time before Oracle buys NetSuite."

And once again, it all comes back to Oracle.

Disclosure: At the time of writing,, SAP and Workday are all premier partners of diginomica.

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