We had the opportunity to attend Workday's yearly analyst meeting, now known as Workday Innovation Summit, held from April 22ndtill 24th 2019 at the stunning scenic Cavallo Point, across from San Francisco. The analyst summit was very well attended by analysts and influencers.


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Innovation across the 4 Focus Areas – It is clear that Workday is no longer only about HR and Finance, but that the Planning and Analysis functionalities have become peers. And no surprise as e.g. Adaptive Insights has more customers than Workday HCM and Finance combined. It's good to see the fundamental aspects of business being the leitmotiv of a vendor, starting with Planning, then executing (for Workday primarily in Finance and HR) and being able to analyze performance before re-planning again, based on the latest analytical insights. In each of the four areas Workday is showing solid progress. The most important work though is happening on the platform side with the move to public cloud, where Workday partners with AWS and has almost 10 customers live.   

Workday Innovation Summit Holger Mueller Constellation Research
Bhusri in the Q&A

Workday doubles down on Skills in HCM  – Workday unveiled the Skills Cloud last year at Workday Rising. A multi-year journey that started with the acquisition of Personify 4 years back. You have to give Workday kudos for persistency and bringing this capability to maturity. Now Workday is doubling down on skills, adding a Skills Miner to talent marketplaces and overall talent management functions. Good to see re-use and leverage, that is what customers want as it drives efficiencies. On the other side skills are an area that has not delivered in the enterprises in the past and is even a tad more than boring. If Workday can really get a renaissance for skills going, it will be better for workers and enterprises.

Workday Innovation Summit Holger Mueller Constellation Research
McGann and the Skills Cloud

Good progress on Workday Cloud Platform – Another key area of technology innovation is Workday's Platform as a Service (PaaS), Workday Cloud Platform. Workday is coming relatively late to the PaaS game as a SaaS vendor, but has now realized how critical the capability is. As new technologies allow enterprises to re-write business best practices and disrupt markets, PaaS is the key tool to enable this new and innovative processes. Many new best practices experiments / projects will fail from a business adoption perspective (not the technical one), but it is crucial for SaaS vendors to be part of the experimentation, as when these projects succeed, they form the field for creating new business best practices for productization. And Workday Cloud Platform is making good progress – on track for the key "Build" scenario with Workday 34.
Workday Innovation Summit Holger Mueller Constellation Research
The Workday Cloud Platform Marketecture

Solid belief in AI / ML – Workday, starting with CEO Bhusri from the top, strongly believes in the transformational power of AI / ML. We think that is the right direction, particularly for HR, as most of the HR transactions are … simple and coming from Employee (ESS) and Manager Self Service (MSS). Being able to automate, accelerate and improve them will be happening early and HCM is likely the first area of all enterprise software to see most transactions being suggested, augmented or even made by AI / ML. Workday is taking the traditional approach to AI / ML by using the public cloud for learning, but then transferring the model to separate customer environments. That's a proven process, but usual manual, often executed one client at a time and is slow. But it's a start, actually the common start across enterprises software vendors.   

Workday Innovation Summit Holger Mueller Constellation Research
Chakraborthy and a key innovation area for ML - Self modifying UX


Almost a 'boring' tech summit, when it comes to new products / innovation, with the absence of ''flashy" announcement (one interesting one was under NDA and will be unveiled by Workday later in the year). But it means that Workday is holding the course and delivering value across the products. Good software is like wine, it takes time to mature and become good / great. And I like the persistence of Workday. When things fail or are hard, Workday does not squirrel away to the next hot topic, but doubles down and delivers. That's a rare trait amongst enterprise software vendors. Good to see the progress on the HR side, especially with Workday starting to tackle its last remaining large blank (and with this functional) area – Workforce Management.

On the concern side,  Workday's move to the public cloud is … slow. When asked, Bhusri foresees probably two more hardware refresh cycles in the Workday data centers… translated, that means he sees full public cloud 4-6 years out. Operationally that maybe fine, but from the AI / ML perspective obstructional to implement any deep learning on customer data. Workday is to a certain point lucky, as HR and Finance are somewhat moving slower than e.g. Commerce, IoT etc. I also missed (at least a demo refresh / update) on voice as the new UX, as this is most transformation for the sporadic nature of HCM interactions.  

But overall an impressive event, as Workday is innovating across the board. The foundational DNA and course are in the right direction, now we have to see if Workday is sailing fast enough. Future will tell.

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Find more coverage on the Constellation Research website here and checkout my magazine on Flipboard and my YouTube channel here.