On January 23rd Workday officially unveiled its Update 21 to the public in various webcasts, the details of the release can be found in the press release here. The new user interface was certainly the highlight of the release - but there was more - and Workday always packages its view on the release highlights on a website that can be found here.

Download report snapshot: Six Things to Watch About Workday

A new user experience

With Update 21 Workday (finally) gets away with its decision to run its user interface on top of Adobe flex - a decision that in hindsight (that is always 20:20) - wasn't the best. It is never easy for enterprise software vendors to change user interfaces - first and foremost for their customer's users that need to learn a new user interface - but it is also a lot of work for the vendor. Even when you build on a declarative architecture as Workday says they do, it means testing and validating all the screens - not to mention the time to design and improve existing screen layouts. There are simply only so few hours and days between releases in the SaaS world - so moving the whole user experience is a huge task that the Workday team deserves kudos for. 

Workday's Joe Korngiebel walks through the new User Interface, from here
And moving to HTML5 as a standard certainly looks like the right decision, too - though I personally still would like to see a transaction heavy, professional user type of design. But that's not only a challenge for Workday - but all vendors moving to HTML5. An indication for these challenges is that Workday - for now - has spared out highly interactive user interface elements like the org chart and the 9 box grid - that still require a flash container. 

Workday also seems to have gotten away with one of the major challenges of the previous user interface, mainly around piling up pop ups over each other. No enterprise application can probably exist without pop ups, but the current Workday user interface implementation of rolling the pop up over the existing user interface canvas is certainly an elegant approach to the usability challenge. Familiarity with consumer applications on smartphones and users mastering these user interface concepts, should certainly help. 
The new Workday start screen - from here

Workday 21 is also the farewell to a marquee Workday user interface control - the wheel - that may have overstayed its welcome - sometimes its amazing how long certain interface elements can hang around. Workday has replaced the wheel with a pure list of icons - a user interface paradigm that scales much better to a dynamically growing enterprise application. 

Moreover, Workday has implemented a new and more powerful search capability - which will certainly benefit line managers and HR professionals. It will require some getting used to though - as it breaks the habits of searching hierarchically through the data model - something not desirable - but users have been trained to do this for decades. It will be very interesting to hear user feedback on this new capability. 
The New Employee Profile - from here

Lastly Workday also showed some improvements to smartphone and tablet user interfaces - not that intrusive and advanced as the browser interfaces - but continued progress. Not surprisingly the user experience between browser and mobile / tablet differ - and Workday said that in 2014 that will be something to harmonize. That harmonization will certainly by important for the upcoming recruiting functionality - that was designed along the mobile first credo - but users will certainly use both the browser and their mobile device. And Workday already opened more of the same challenge with Update 21 - enabling managers to hop back and forth between browser and mobile device during the performance management process. The more seamless and smooth Workday can make the user transition between the platforms - the more a win for their users. 

And some more functionality

Next to the already mentioned device flexibility to operate a performance review - Workday also added reports to allow companies to deal with compliance and legislation - reports for ACA in the US and the addition of the pretty complex French Registre Unique du Personnel (RUP) - these are key additions. Workday needs to keep in mind though, that more will be needed for ACA compliance than reporting, and that remains a challenge for the industry given the dynamic changes around the implementation of the law. 

HCM Functional Richness continuous to trend down

As by now tradition - here is the quick and dirty assessment of the HCM related functional richness in the release - which overall continues to trend down. On the one side understandable - given the need for a user interface refresh - on the other side Workday is still missing key HCM building blocks with recruitment (coming in Update 22), training (addressed through various partnerships), payroll (no additional countries in 2014) and a partnership only strategy for more complex workforce management automation needs. 
Update 15
Update 16
Update 17
Update 18
Update 19
Update 20
Update 21
October 2011
April 2012
August 2012
November 2012
April 2013
September 2013
January 2014
User Experience
- Outlook Integration
- Chatter Integration
HTML5 Support for non IOS devices
- New modules
- Global Support
Workforce Engagement:
Team Profile
Professional Profile
Headcount Planning
Big Data Analytics
New User Interface for browser
Talent Management
- Talent Reviews
- Career Interests
- Cornerstone Integration
Time Tracking
Performance Management Enhancements
Android Native Support & iOS Mobile Enhancements
User Experience - Configurable Grids for Compensation
Performance Management across browser and mobile
- Payroll for Canada
- Payroll Connector
Usability Enhancements
Custom Fields
More custom fields
- Notbooks for iPad
Legislative support - Report for ACA / RUP
Higher Education Functionality
170 Enhancements
207 Features / 80 Brainstorm Items
246 Features / 67 Brainstorm Items
Major HCM building blocks are highlighted in yellow.
As usual we cannot look into what is in the various features of the release, which are trending upwards - and that is a good sign. But then the brainstorm items are slightly down - again - no insight in how functional rich they are.

And no mention of...

The highlight of (the last) Update 20 was BigData Analytics - we shared our views here - and though we understand that one hour is not a lot of time - we'd expected an update and further build out of that functionality / content. Along the same lines the new notebook functionality for the iPad was getting a lot of airtime in Update 20 - no mention in the iPad demo this time. And the other Update 21 highlight was an editable grid control - always a popular feature - no mention in the briefing - we hope it made it to Update 21. 

Again one hour is not a lot of time - but showing consistency (e.g. iPad functionality and new grid control) or progression on new platform capabilities (BigData Analytics) - would be a welcome content direction for future updates.  

The customer perspective

In general SaaS customers are quickly learning that the advantages of rapid functionality delivery also has the downside of a continuous testing and validation work load. Workday has addressed this challenge with a slowed down release cycle - but even in a more slim release from a HCM business automation standpoint like Update 21 - the testing and validation effort for customers is going to be significant. With Update 21 there is additionally the change of user interface involved - which no matter how consumer grade the new user interface is - it will create some bumps on the road to adoption and usage for Workday customers. I would expect challenges with the occasional self service users - and the medium / high frequency user moving quickly to the new user interface. 

It was good to hear, that Workday is working with customers and listening to their findings and needs - it will be very interesting to hear from the trenches and some real live experiences in the coming weeks. Let's hope for the industry, Workday customers and Workday itself that this will be a smooth transition, as UI improvements are key for the overall success of the SaaS market.   


Workday deserves high marks on doing the necessary housekeeping and innovation - in this release the focus was on the user experience. But this ties down significant resources, coupled with the large investments to get Financials fit for BigFin and getting the first release of Recruiting out with Update 22, the consequence being less innovation on the HCM business functionality side.

At the same time HCM automation needs and desires of customers are rising and the competition is not standing still. HCM customers want to have more and more automation from a vendor, delivered as an integrated system that addresses HR Core, Payroll, Talent Management - and to various depths Workforce Management. Globalization forces are hitting enterprises fast these days and global support not only for localization but local compliance including payroll become quickly table stakes. Workday will have to chart its plan to functional completion and more global compliance coverage soon, better sooner than later. 

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