HR Technology Column Rising: Higher and Higher!

Who was so clever years ago to name this annual user conference, "Workday Rising"? The meeting last week in San Francisco certainly showed the company rising in every respect, including a new user interface, new applications and a bright future battling vendors 10 to 20 times its size for the hearts and minds of HR executives at companies large and small.

Monday, September 16, 2013
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Workday has betrayed the history and origins of software user conferences.

In the mainframe days, which Workday Co-Founder and Co-CEO Dave Duffield well remembers, they were gripe fests for users who had very little other contact with their vendors (except for sending the yearly maintenance check) and rarely any other channels to communicate their desires for changes in the software.

Since Dave knows all this, it makes this betrayal all the worse. Because he and Co-Founder and Co-CEO Aneel Bhusri, aided by dozens of Workday marketing people and customers, have turned this annual event, Workday Rising, into a love fest, instead of a gripe fest! With so many ways to be in touch with Workday and with each other, including a site called Brainstorm to propose new product ideas that actually get into the product, any customer gripes have already been thoroughly aired before the event.

Instead, Aneel is on stage announcing Workday is throttling back from three releases a year to two (to great applause),then Dave is reading off customer-satisfaction scores of 97 percent and 8.46 out of 10 willing to recommend the product, and analysts hungry for dirt can't find a dissatisfied user. Is this really the enterprise software industry?!?

Of course, they may have been lurking in the customer sessions, which Workday inexplicably did not let analysts attend, just like PeopleSoft didn't in the old days. It made no sense then and it's sad now that SAP/SuccessFactors and Oracle are more open to analysts and press in their user conferences than PeopleSoft and Workday. Somebody, please explain the reason for that to me some time.

Then there were the prospects. Workday limited them to 400 individuals to keep the focus on the 500 signed customers, not all attending, of course. It ended up with 419 prospect employees, representing 190-plus interested companies. [Full disclosure: They all got 16th Annual HR Technology ® Conference & Exposition brochures placed on their seats for reasons too byzantine to detail.]

And talk about stages in a software company's lifecycle. Workday partner Cornerstone OnDemand has just been through it, too. It's certainly a bittersweet milestone when a company has to leave its old charming conference venue -- the Aria hotel in Las Vegas for Workday, an oceanside resort in LA for Cornerstone -- because the user conference has just gotten too big!

Instead they go someplace more corporate: Workday took over one building in San Francisco's Moscone Center for Rising. Cornerstone this year moved to the giant Marriott on San Diego harbor.

Of course, Moscone is the same place where Oracle has been using all of the buildings for Oracle Open World for years, shutting down a street, and filling every hotel room in the city and south to the airport.

Workday brought together 3,500 people counting everybody (customers, prospects, partners, speakers, analysts, employees et al), considerably less than a tenth of Open World, but 1,000 more people than last year! (Compare it to last year's HR Tech Conference with about 6,000 people and perhaps as many as 7,500 this year.)

So what was new? For more, read my major yearly investigation called "Handicapping the HCM Horse Race," researched and written earlier, appearing in the print publication and HREOnline on Oct. 1.

First, Workday introduced a new user interface. I'm a little jaded about new UIs for enterprise software, especially after seeing about eight in the last 10 years from SAP HCM. The big push, of course, is to make them as easy and even fun to use as personal apps. Lots of luck.

A UI can be a little like a new corporate logo. You have no idea what's so special about it unless the designer is at your elbow explaining the deep significance of that particular shade of fuschia, the effect of the curved corners on the boxes or that line symbolizing the connection of the old and new.

Happily, this was not the case with Workday's. While VP Joe Korngiebel never explained why the dozen tiles or icons were so special, it was easy to see how, using HTML5, they automatically reconfigured themselves into three columns, two columns or one column -- depending on the size and resolution of the screen on your device!

Obviously, one vertical column is perfect for a phone and more for larger screens. That was sort of a "Wow" moment after several years of every vendor (including Workday) showing different home page UIs for phones, tablets and laptops/desktops. So Workday is now unified in yet another way.

The big new product announcement was the plan to build Workday Student, which will include a college HCM which Workday already has been selling, and also what's called a "Student Information System." Higher ed has been Dave's favorite industry vertical since he left IBM in 1968 and started writing custom systems for schools like Rutgers in his home state of New Jersey. He will be personally leading the effort.

On stage, Dave describes the SIS as combining all of Workday's current applications (HCM, Finance, Payroll, etc.). Then in an email, he says it will also include recruiting, admissions, enrollment, financial aid, registration, student records, advising, course scheduling, retention, billing and student placement. And lots of planned functionality for faculty, administration and trustees along with social technology for students. Delivery of some functionality will start in 2014 and will largely be completed by the end of 2016.

Dave created an SIS at PeopleSoft, which now, as part of Oracle, commands a market share of 12 percent, principally among larger institutions, according to Inside Higher Ed, a news and analysis website.

It wrote that Workday was entering a market "already saturated with competitors" with all but 5 percent of institutions having a system in place. The two in front of Oracle are Ellucian, the merger of two vendors in 2012, with 40 percent market share. And Campus Management with 24 percent.

But here, just as in HCM, Workday will largely be competing against on-premise systems maybe not meeting modern institutional needs, and, of course, going after former large PeopleSoft clients. Dave's son, Mike Duffield, is GM of the Higher Ed division, and Workday recently recruited VP Product Strategy Liz Dietz, who was involved in the SIS at Information Associates (Dave's company before Integral) and at PeopleSoft.

Analyst Phil Wainewright points out this is significant for being Workday's first industry-specific app, and "where Student leads, others will follow later." Dave mentions insurance and retail among those next on the list. It also speaks to financial analysts concerns about the total market available to Workday.  

If you doubt higher ed is an "industry," just attend Janis McEldowney's breakout at the HR Technology Conference. As head of HR for USC, she deals with 45 business units, 36,000 students, 5,400 faculty, 17,000 staff and three hospitals. I'd call that more like a "city," than an industry, particularly with people filling multiple, complicated roles.

And then there's recruiting, Workday's most eagerly awaited application. Except now with a restated commitment to be generally available with Workday's Release 22 in April 2014, attention is turning toward the last functional gap: learning management. Company executives definitively said for the first time that like recruiting, they would not buy it from another vendor.

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At a special recruiting customer panel held just for analysts, Director of Global Talent Acquisition Jerry McBrayer of Electronic Arts said he was switching to Workday after a year-and-a-half of using SuccessFactors Recruiting Management product, one of the three new big company back-end products.

Other panelists were planning to leave Lumesse and Taleo, now owned by Oracle.

But, to be fair, McBrayer never bought the former jobs2web, which SF calls Recruiting Marketing, instead filling those front-end functional gaps with TMP's TalentBrew and Avature, generally considered the leader for candidate relationship management.

Asked if Workday's April release would provide the functionality to drop those two "edge" applications, McBrayer said he wasn't sure but hoped it would.

In her presentation, VP HCM Product Strategy Amy Wilson explained that Workday's strategy on recruiting was taking ownership of the entire talent pipeline in one product. Namely:

*           Starting at the beginning of recruiting and enabling proactive sourcing through referrals, internal candidates and so-called passive candidates;

*           Supporting dynamic processes that match the way real recruiting business happens, while still supporting compliance; and

*           Providing a complete picture to recruiters, recruiting leaders and business leaders so that they can answer sweeping, yet simple questions about sourcing effectiveness, etc.

By creating the first "Prospect" object -- in addition to the traditional Applicant and Employee objects -- Workday hopes to handle the recruiting process in a newly unified way. Right now, most traditional applicant tracking systems don't handle prospects well. They are built to track applicants against a requisition.  Similarly, CRM systems are able to handle prospects, but don't manage applicants or compliance well. They are often integrated, but rarely unified. We'll see how it turns out in April.

Meanwhile down Market Street, Workday and partner Appirio was briefing analysts on its own new "product," the first portal/social intranet framework built on, the leading Platform as a Service on the market.

Despite some silliness you may have read or heard some months back about Oracle and Salesforce joining forces, Aneel said Salesforce remains a steadfast Workday partner. Jason Averbook of Appirio says the system integrator has taken advantage of this by heavily integrating Workday and Salesforce together, and leveraging the best capabilities from both applications. Its portal will provide a one-stop shop for users.

Salesforce also takes over all of Moscone for its conference. And I suspect next year, Workday will need at least one more building.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is founding co-chair of the 16th Annual HR Technology ® Conference & Exposition, returning to Las Vegas, Oct. 7-9, 2013. Many discounts expire at midnight EDT Sept. 23. See the website for the latest news on the event with Jeopardy-winner IBM Watson. You can comment on this column at the Conference LinkedIn Group, which doesn't 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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