The Absolute Latest from Workday

As part of my 17th annual Silicon Valley summer vendor tour, I spent Aug. 2 in briefings with a dozen Workday executives in Pleasanton, Calif. Some of what I learned will be in my annual “horse race” feature (now renamed “steeplechase”) posting just before the HR Technology® Conference & Expo in October. Some of the company’s latest strategy and developments are below.

Workday is building out its four most recently delivered applications– recruiting, learning, analytics and planning–plus adding new features and functions, including voice and benchmarking.

But its eyes–like everyone else’s in HR technology–are now focused on the mid-market, which is hot for both buyers and sellers. Stacey Harris, author of the definitive Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey, said so on her recent episode of Firing Line with Bill Kutik®. And with her finger on the pulse of nearly 1,312 corporate HCM users in her 20th annual survey debuting at HR Tech, who would know better?

- Advertisement -

Like most vendors, Workday has tried various go-to-market strategies with different offerings to the mid-market, which it now defines as from 500 to 3,500 employees. Of course, vendor definitions of that segment have always varied. IBM once said it started with companies having fewer than 56,000 employees. SAP once defined it as companies below $2 billion in revenue. Times change.

For years, Workday let mid-market companies pick and subscribe to individual modules from its big HCM package (an option never offered to larger customers). Now it offers them a pick of various bundles of pre-selected modules, a fixed software fee and a fixed implementation fee, according to Dan Beck, senior vice president of product marketing and technology strategy at Workday.

Beck says the company has also worked hard at reducing the size of contracts and paperwork, which any enterprise software buyer of any size will tell you is a nightmare. Especially with no procurement department lawyer at hand.

Of course, Ultimate has been the king of mid-market HCM for years. Gartner always says so and its win-rate confirms it. So now Workday claims to have replaced Ultimate at more than 100 of its mid-market customers. It also claims to have taken mid-market business away from Oracle, SAP SuccessFactors and ADP. Of course, each of those vendors also claim to have beaten (even sometimes replaced) Workday at customers of various sizes, but they don’t confidentially show bar charts in presentations with takeaway numbers for each competitor.

So what is Workday offering to companies of all sizes?

Because SAP SuccessFactors is also doing it–thus making it officially a “trend”–my personal favorite is new forms of communicating with the HCM, eventually voice. On my Silicon Valley summer vendor tour, I addressed a software company meeting with hundreds of millennial employees and not one knew the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey nor HAL, the evil talking computer. To be fair, it was released 50 years ago, and this new development involving voice won’t be like that. At least not right away.

Senior Director Design and Product Management Josh Lannin explains Workday Talk will initially require users first to log into the system and then–without searching for what they want–type questions to the Workday Assistant. It will use a natural-language interface (the hard part of this whole process) to understand the question–even a simple one about a paycheck can be asked so many different ways–and answer it via text. About 30 customers have signed on to use the new product in beta in Version 29 in September.

Workday Talk will eventually include talking to the system. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant have already demonstrated the voice-recognition problem is solved. Workday also plans to use Talk as a platform (see PaaS below) for customers to integrate their own chatbots and access information external to Workday.

We’ve all used the annoying first generation of less intelligent chatbots whenever calling an airline, bank or utility company. We used to call that interactive voice response when it only understood keypad numbers.

I’m excited about this after living through the 20 years devoted to creating easy-to-use employee self-service. You know the problem: Many employees only go to your HCM a few times a year, and no matter how intuitive your interface and navigation might be, they get confused by the unfamiliar software and make an expensive call to HR or the shared-services center for help.

Maybe that struggle will finally be over! No clicking or tapping to find the right page and right section, just texting and eventually talking. Not sure when the system will talk back!

Separately, Workday Learning was first delivered last September–the last from the Big Three–but already has more than 30 customers live and more than 165 customers sold, according to Senior Vice President of Product Management Barbry McGann. Recruiting, just a year older, has more than 850 customers and will get embedded video (adopted from Learning) in September. All Workday modules are sporting a new user interface.

The ultimate goal for Workday Learning, according to Principal Product Marketing Manager Katy Colletto, is to let employees take control of their careers and to get learning and development people out of the content-creating business and into curating the huge amount of content already out there. Much of it is free, particularly on YouTube, a huge source of “how-to” material.

Along the way, the product already has video (now interactive with users adding comments others can see or skip), social (for ratings and referrals), the necessary administrative functions and, coming soon, packaged content for mobile. Defined learning paths is planned for Version 30 in March 2018, says Barbry.

SaaS has spawned a half-dozen children in the last three years (busy little acronym!), including PaaS (Platform as a Service), which Workday announced in July for customers to build their own applications and extensions, including integrating their own chatbots. There’s also IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and DaaS (Data as a Service).

- Advertisement -

One aspect of DaaS is Workday Benchmarking, a process started by our old friend Jac Fitzenz 40 years ago, and now offered by a half-dozen providers, including his former Saratoga Institute. But Workday is jumping into it with the unique SaaS advantage of not having to survey anyone because it has all its clients’ data–both live and historical–in the cloud.

Also available with Version 29 in September, DaaS is a separate SKU, which normally means customers have to pay for it. I was confused when Vice President of Product Development Denis Gulsen told me it’s “free.” Hey, wait? Of course, customers “pay” for it by allowing their anonymized data to be used for everyone else’s benchmarks! Cornerstone has been getting permission from new clients for nine years and announced its service in June.

I’ve always been leery of benchmarking. What company is exactly like yours? Where’s the competitive advantage of doing what everyone else is doing? But I am taken by the argument it can reveal where your company is weak compared to the competition.

Again, the SaaS advantage is no one is surveyed for their opinion and it works with what we used to call OLAP (On-Line Analytical Processing) of live transactional datasets. Workday is starting with 26 written benchmarks, which Denis expects to double by the March 2018 release.

Twelve companies helped design it, along with Workday. Obviously, the future includes custom benchmarks

The July PaaS announcement of the Workday Cloud Platform means there is now a developer site where customers can use the same technology and platform services Workday uses to build its own applications. And new Workday versions will not over-write these custom applications. Except customers won’t get Workday’s proprietary development tools called XpressO, nor the meta-data that governs many of Workday’s applications.

All PasS offerings, including Workday’s, are designed to overcome (more or less) the SaaS limitations of only “configuring” software versus “customizing” on-premise programs. Others have done the same, making it an industry trend far more important than your computer saying to you, “Good morning, Dave.”

Bill Kutik
HR Technology columnist Bill Kutik, as chairman emeritus, is at the 22nd Annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition® in Las Vegas, Oct. 1-4, 2019. Watch Kim Billeter, the new Americas Lead for EY HR advisory group (PAS), discuss the question: Why is Cloud adoption taking so long? Just six minutes for the current video episode of Firing Line with Bill Kutik®. Bill can be reached at [email protected].