HR Technology Column, Come On! Workday Rising


Workday had many reasons to celebrate at its recent annual user conference, Workday Rising: its wildly successful IPO, its seemingly delighted 350+ customers and its continuing sales momentum. Plus, with three releases a year, Workday is filling the holes in its software faster than customers can fall into any of them.

Monday, November 12, 2012
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Workday executives and employees weren't exactly dancing down the aisles at the company's recent user conference, Workday Rising, in Las Vegas. But you couldn't have blamed them if they had.

The conference opened exactly three weeks to the day after Workday's spectacular initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock, priced at $28, opened trading at $45, climbed to $57 within a week and has since settled in the $40s. Many new millionaires were created at its office in Pleasanton, Calif. As for co-founders Dave Duffield and Aneel Bhusri, they really didn't need the money.

In fact, both have said the primary reason for taking Workday public was the increased credibility it will now have selling to other public companies, which want the comfort of the transparency into a vendor's financial condition offered by SEC-required reporting. But I'm sure the money will be put to good use, too.

At the conference -- in what's beginning to look like his uniform of jeans and a bold blue-and-white checked shirt -- Duffield crowed on stage about Workday having the highest level of customer satisfaction in the industry. And the three most recent independent surveys I've seen back him up.

Being the most honest executive in the industry, Dave also said out loud to the audience the usually unspoken agenda of every software user conference: "You've made the right choice."

The same choice made in August by Hewlett-Packard, now arguably the country's largest technology company, after 20 years of having the largest global PeopleSoft installation in the world. Also, just days before, by DuPont (not yet announced but columnists can happily still gather their own information.) And in a dramatic flourish, the city of Orlando, Fla. (Workday's first city client), signed its contract on stage in front of the 2,500 attendees (Workday's estimate).

I found the statistics Dave gave about prospective customers stunning. Last year, 118 prospects attended Workday Rising (more than 200 attended this year). Now, you can easily make the argument that a company is already pretty interested in buying if it sends executives to a potential vendor's user conference.

Nevertheless, subtract from those 118 the 21 customers that Dave said deferred a decision and the other 39 that remain prospects this year -- both indications of large company buying cycles often going on for years. That leaves 58 prospects. Of those, Workday signed 46, with the balance made up of five dropping out after mutually deciding they were not a good fit and seven deciding to upgrade their current on-premise vendor (in other words, a loss). Still, a pretty stunning win rate.

Meanwhile, Oracle has still not released the names of more than six companies live on Fusion HCM, and rumors of Fusion HCM implementation problems ricocheted around the Workday conference. Dave joked on stage that he had bought a pair of "Fusion-style" loafers from client Zappos and how "it's so much fun walking around on Fusion all day."

Workday made several important announcements: Big Data analytics for HR and Financials plus finally committing to writing its own recruiting application after depending on partners from the very beginning. Both will be charged for separately. For the last three years, Workday not said publicly (and maybe not decided privately) whether it would buy or build recruiting. It still has no learning management system and has not made a similar announcement about that.

Before Rising opened, Workday gathered 25 analysts for a day-long Tech Summit of briefings with executives. There, several analysts were upset (OK, one became a hungry tiger) about Workday announcing its new recruiting application a year-and-a-half before it will be generally available. Complete with functional details that are at best a wish-list at the moment. Every vendor late with recruiting says it will leapfrog all current offerings as Workday has said, and Cornerstone OnDemand is sort of making good on that promise right now.

Bhusri said the reason was just to put a stake in the ground for customers who had been demanding recruiting for years, and the public announcement the next day after the Tech Summit brought cheers and applause from the user audience.

Both Amy Wilson, vice president of HCM product strategy, and Bhusri emphasized that Workday wants to continue working with existing recruiting partners that deliver more than basic applicant-tracking functionality: Jobvite, LinkedIn and CareerBuilder. But the others -- including now Oracle-owned Taleo and Kenexa BrassRing -- will certainly face losing Workday customers.

To my mind, the most important development was not a new product announcement but a new feature in the Workday 18 update due in December. It's called "custom fields" or custom data fields. Competitor SuccessFactors Vice President of Global Product Management Dmitri Krakovsky says his company has been offering custom fields from the very beginning, 12 years ago. And has them, too. If so, Workday has finally filled an important gap in its system functionality.

You know the biggest argument IT makes against SaaS versus on-premise systems: It can't be customized (by writing code) to work exactly as the company works, and users are instead restricted to the configurations (read: choices) offered by the software.

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Workday Technology Product Manager Erin Yang gave a great demonstration at the Tech Summit showing how clients soon won't have to be limited by available choices but can easily create custom fields and how they start to lessen the power of that argument, particularly from big companies that most often make it.

She also showed the power of Workday's "definitional development" over writing code, but I will leave the explanation of that to others.

Her example was an unnamed customer that needed to collect fingerprints from all employees. Obviously not a data field already in the Workday system, except for its yet-to-written or even announced state and federal prison vertical.

She took the Worker Object and made it into a Custom Object, which becomes a custom field with a string of attributes attached to it. Like customers' existing custom business process configurations, custom fields are protected from being over-written by a new software update.

In the first release, customers will be restricted to certain objects that can be customized. Yang was adamant in saying that custom fields are still configurations and not like customization of on-premise systems. But clearly they offer a flexibility that some thought was lacking in a SaaS system.

Over breakfast, I mentioned it to a prospect, a senior IT guy for an iconic 150-year-old American company, and his eyes widened. He was clearly impressed.

Analyst Josh Bersin went further, writing "custom fields are a great innovation and a huge boost for consulting firms and customers to help customize the Workday platform for vertical and other applications." Also read Josh for informed insight on the Big Data announcement.

I really did look for some bad news to report from Workday Rising. How about this year's hotel, the stunningly beautiful Aria, will be too small for next year, and Rising will be going to the Moscone Center in San Francisco, just like Oracle and, which still fill a lot more of it than Workday.

For now.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 16th Annual HR Technology ® Conference & Exposition, returning to Las Vegas, Oct. 7-9, 2013. You can comment on this column at the Conference LinkedIn Group, which does not require prior or future conference attendance to join. He is also host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show ®. He can be reached at


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