Workday today announced big data analytics at this year's technology summit for analysts and influencers. Some colleagues were less than impressed while others (including myself) believe this is an important step in a direction that holds significant potential. Disclosure: Prior to the announcement, I was part of a small group invited to offer comment about the solution as it relates to financials. This was done on a consulting basis.
Development of the application came out of a request by AIG, a large insurance company to build analytic capability that helps them understand profitability by employee. Workday assembled data from its own HR systems, along with finance data plus masses of external claims data. This got them into Hadoop and MapReduce as a way of processing raw data. Workday already has an in-memory column store database so it was able to take advantage of that architecture to deliver extraordinary performance.
The analytics solution is still under development with shipment to early customers expected in time for Workday 19, the next release due to ship in the Spring of 2013. General availability is expected to be after Q2 FY2013.
When it comes out, the company says the solution will incorporate data streams from sources such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn along with publicly available sources that cover topics like salary indicators.
Workday gave customer conference attendees a fly by taster of what it has achieved so far. My sense was that the potential and value was lost on many of the audience. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, what Workday is doing is a monumental engineering achievement. On the other hand, Workday has kept to its mantra of keeping things really simple to understand for end users.
While I like what Workday has achieved to date, the company will need many partners with deep understanding of vertical markets. While the company counts some 1,350 registered consultants. it is doubtful that will be enough in the medium term. Workday says that it is keen on aggressively partnering but I do wonder the extent to which it is truly committed. Right now, the company says it has no intention of becoming a PaaS player in the way that Salesforce.com . However, it is opening up parts of its solution through REST APIs. It's a start.
During the analyst briefing, the company showed a number of new UI enhancements. One surprise was the inclusion of a UI developed for Windows 8 mobile devices. Slick and clean, Workday said this is a labs concept project at the moment. It is waiting to see if there is sufficient demand before going into development. It also showed other UIs for iPhone and iPad as well as HTML5. Some colleagues believe this is an unsustainable development effort. I don't see things that way. Joe Korngiebel, Workday's director of mobile apps explained that developing for individual device modalities is necessary because, for example, different devices use different swipe gestures. That does matter in my opinion because users will want to feel that the mobile application reflects what they're used to using on the devices with which they are familiar.
Workday does not usually pre-announce solutions but it made an exception this time around. The company announced recruiting to loud applause from customers. Some colleagues were grumpy that the company was talking about a solution that is only just going into development and will take at least a year to bring to market. Again, I disagree. Workday is relentless in its focus to delivering what customers want.
The company said it made the announcement so far ahead of release to convince customers to "turn off their other systems," co-CEO Aneel Bhusri said. He also admitted that the platform was the company's "worst-kept secret" and wouldn't be a "me-too product."
It's a bit more nuanced than that. Applicant tracking software (ATS) is refreshed every few years yet it is rarely integrated successfully to other parts of the HR/HCM environment. Workday said that it want to re-imagine this function, leading to a solution that takes advantage of Workday's unified approach to HCM. In talking to customers I got the distinct impression they are relieved that Workday has made a commitment and are prepared to wait in the knowledge they would likely be replacing anyway. There is a knock on effect. Workday's announcement could easily lead to the freezing of deals which might otherwise have gone to Taleo.