HR Technology Column Puts on the Brass Knuckles

Even private presentations from the Big Three HCM vendors used to be gentlemanly affairs: never naming, let alone bad-mouthing, the competition. That's been changing lately, but now, fougeddaboutit! At its September user conference, Workday beat up the competition for hours in front of the Wall Street analysts. Right after announcing three major new products!

Monday, October 10, 2016
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The Big Three HCM vendors have always briefed industry analysts and influencers in private, and if a public company, briefed financial analysts in public as required by the SEC.  . These sessions, now more often in groups at off-site "Analyst Days," have long been gentlemanly affairs. For decades, the vendors avoided even naming competitors, let alone criticizing them. That was the unspoken rule.

Competition for HCM in the cloud has gotten blisteringly hot because it is the next generation of computing and will help determine the future leaders in enterprise software. Customers acquired now will last at least 10 years, probably more.

So the white gloves have started coming off, certainly in the last five years with all three -- Oracle, SAP SuccessFactors and Workday -- showing the names and logos (under non-disclosure) of customers they have taken away from each other or naming which of the other two they beat to win.

Last month, Workday replaced the white gloves with brass knuckles.

At Rising, its September user conference, Workday gave Wall Street analysts a 150-minute briefing beating up its competitors and specifically correcting what it considers their misrepresentations about their products.

Now that all three have announced special mid-market programs, the competitive list has been extended to include financial software vendor NetSuite (recently purchased by Oracle, which will add its HCM) and Ultimate, long the HCM leader in the mid-market.

Everyone defines mid-market differently, but there is some consensus around it extending from companies with 1,000 employees to those with 10,000. ADP segments market categories very differently and, as a Workday partner, was not included in the presentation.

Nearly the entire top of the Workday executive pyramid was there to pitch the analysts: CEO Aneel Bhusri, Co-Presidents Phil Wilmington and Mark Peek, CFO Robynne Sisco, CTO Stan Swete and two of its three executive vice presidents.

Aneel opened with a charming demo of how he runs the company from his iPad using his own software. Then Stan led the argument that Workday's technology simply makes it better than the competition. A tough sell to some financial analysts, whose main technical expertise is managing spreadsheets the size of a room to get next quarter's earnings-per-share estimate.

Stan pointed out that competitors were now at least saying the same things as Workday and then challenged the truth of their claims in a detailed competitive analysis in seven categories. And he even gave plain-language, but technical, questions to the analysts to challenge the competition on measuring up.

Senior Vice President of Product Marketing & Technology Strategy Dan Beck played the session's "Big Louie" by repeatedly punching competitors in the face.

He started on marketing messages. "There is amazing, consistent slavish plagiarism of what we do," Dan said, referring to two slides he showed from Oracle and SAP S/4 HANA (not SAP SuccessFactors, which was criticized separately).

After Oracle Open World (the huge user conference), Dan said, "We take all of the brag logo slides that Oracle puts up and start taking away logos that are actually Workday HCM customers -- including Adobe, AstraZeneca, Credit Suisse and Unilever."

Having seen those Oracle slides (and questioning some logos myself), it's important to note that every vendor who sells software in smaller pieces than Workday always includes customers of a single module on their "flag page" of logos.

Some years ago, in the space of two months, I saw FedEx on six different vendors' pages! For Oracle, that's often customers of the former Taleo, still the leading international ATS, which now reports 2,000 customers. BMW is on the Oracle flag page because it, too, is a Taleo customer, despite being an SAP shop forever. You do need to probe.

Dan drilled down on the specific technical claims of other vendors, often dismissing them as misrepresentations. Unlike in the second presidential debate, the word "lie" was never used.

Chief Marketing Officer Christine Cefalo innocently explained Workday's motive as, "Some of our competitors tend to stretch the truth, and from time to time, we need to set the record straight."

If you want to see it yourself, register here (scroll down to the quote balloon icon) until the replay is taken down, scheduled for Oct. 27. Stan and Big Louie start at the hour mark.

Enough about the one-sided debate. The company detailed three new products (in one quarter!) made generally available with the release of Workday 27 in September.

The biggest was the first part of Workday Planning (announced last year), which Aneel called the "defining app" for CFOs -- combining planning, budgeting and forecasting in one application. He claimed that had never been done before, and it is the first combination of Workday HCM and Workday Finance functionality and also allows the use of outside data.

Previously, Workday had relied on partners such as Anaplan and Tidemark for planning. Aneel said he hopes Workday Planning will be powerful enough to replace Oracle Hyperion.

The live Planning demo showed a collaboration between two people changing what Workday calls a "worksheet" (others a "spreadsheet") so it is now populated with live transactional data from its system. Not data moved into a data warehouse for analysis, where it becomes static.

The two people simultaneously made changes, while communicating via a social network. This followed a funny video with individuals arguing about which of the many versions of an important spreadsheet was the latest, which Aneel said would no longer be an issue with Planning.

The worksheet technology was acquired with Gridcraft. In order to import and visualize non-Workday data into Planning, the company acquired Platfora, which will become Workday’s underlying analytical engine, as well, over the next 12 to 18 months.

Aneel suggested that Workday might re-label its product suite: "Business Management Applications."

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In HCM, the first piece of Workday Learning (what other vendors call LMS and also announced just last year) was delivered in September.

All the Big Three have been re-inventing learning for years, and each is at a various stage of maturity. One industry analyst noted anonymously:

"Workday's initial release offers compelling video and mobile capabilities with light features for prescribing content to employee groups [technologies acquired by buying Zaption and Medicore]. It does not yet offer comprehensive enterprise LMS functionality. Gaps include structured learning to support enterprise compliance, virtual classrooms, instructor tools and e-commerce.

"Workday is minimally two-to-three years away from competing against the mature LMS products of either SAP SuccessFactors or Oracle HCM Cloud," the analyst concluded.

Former Medicore executive and now Workday Director James Cross pointed out how truly complex a cloud infrastructure needs to be for video. The system needs to accept videos in various formats and resolutions, and play them back to various devices with different bandwidths and resolutions. Like a miniature YouTube.

Oracle is now busy backfilling some of the compliance elements in its LMS. SAP SuccessFactors is adding the e-commerce functionality that always made the LMS stand apart by allowing companies to sell training to their dealerships, franchises and other partners. SAP added it by buying a company called hybris with an open-channel marketing and selling product.

Aneel said Workday Learning already had 19 customers for the initial September release, and Planning had more than 50.

Other HCM products include campaign functionality, available now with Learning. Instead of giant mail merges, this functionality enables easier communications with groups. Campaign will also become part of Workday Recruiting this fall, as part of Candidate Relationship Management. And video may move to Recruiting, as well.

Finally in HCM, Workday Surveys was announced: pulse, engagement and otherwise. The object of maybe 30 new start-ups in the last two years and available next year.

The third big announcement was the general availability of Workday Student, which has as many moving parts as an end-to-end HCM system. A favorite of co-founder Dave Duffield's, various modules have previously been released, but now the suite is functionally complete -- at least for now.

Let's end appropriately on another competitive note. Aneel showed a "win" slide both to the Rising audience and to the financial analysts. It reports Workday has replaced 395 Oracle systems, 130 SAP, 90 Ultimate and NetSuite, and 280 payroll providers. For more complete numbers see my yearly feature. 

That’s nearly half of the newly announced number of 1,350 signed Workday HCM customers, which tops the charts. But everybody’s numbers are changing every day.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chair emeritus of the 20th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Expo, returning to Las Vegas, Oct. 10-13, 2017. Watch top HCM influencer Jason Averbook on the 22nd episode of his broadcast-quality video series, Firing Line with Bill Kutik®, for his advice on how HR should stop putting icing on the “moldy cake” of HCM systems.


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