Putting Workday on SAP's radar

I wonder how SAP feels about losing out to SaaS startup Workday for a 200,000-seat deal at contract manufacturer Flextronics. Contrary to reports, it's not the biggest SaaS deal ever, but it should give SAP food for thought.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

Now that SAP's SaaS project Business ByDesign has gone on the back burner, I've been wondering how I'm going to pass the time next week at SAPPHIRE Berlin. One thing I'll be asking the enterprise software giant is how it feels about losing out to SaaS startup Workday for a 200,000-seat deal at contract manufacturer Flextronics. Oracle was also reportedly a bidder for the deal.

Workday's win has caused quite a stir after being billed by InformationWeek as the "Software Industry's Biggest SaaS Deal". It's certainly up there with the largest, although privately-held SaaS HRM vendor Authoria claims to serve 340,000 employees at its largest customer, while employee services SaaS vendor Concur already had 180,000 employees online at a single financial institution more than a year ago (see My SaaS deployment is bigger than yours ...).

SAP can probably retort that the deal is just for Workday's human capital management software rather than the complete spectrum of financials-to-manufacturing-to-people functionality that is SAP's hallmark. Although Workday last year released the first iteration of its financials software, it has just four customers signed up for it, VP of applications strategy Mark Nittler told me in a briefing last Friday, compared to more than forty for the HCM product.

But the size of the deal certainly brings Workday into the same market segment as SAP in terms of company size and should concentrate the minds of SAP management on how to combat the competitive threat from SaaS rivals. There's plenty to mull over, too, because so long as Workday can offer a product that meets a customer's functional needs, SAP will likely find it tough to match the flexibility and off-the-shelf integration described by Flextronics CIO David Smoley in the InformationWeek story:

"What we've seen with object databases, is it gives you an incredible amount of flexibility in how you access and manipulate data, which translates into a much more powerful ability to create interfaces with less technical people, and update and modify as necessary," he said. He likes that Workday will "create and maintain interfaces [with benefits providers or other partners] so that customers don't have to."

A couple of interesting footnotes. One is that Workday on Monday announced that Salesforce.com has gone live on its HCM product. Salesforce has also this month announced it has standardized internally on Google Apps, extending its ambition to switch completely to on-demand products for its own internal use. It's good to see a SaaS industry leader walking the talk.

Now a note from history. This isn't the first time that Flextronics has been an early backer of hosted solutions. In 1999, I remember getting a briefing from Corio, the West coast poster child of the then ASP boom, about a major deal to host a Peoplesoft order entry system that would serve Flextronics' supply chain. The intention was to power a new generation of 'virtual enterprises' that would outsource their electronics manufacturing to Flextronics and their IT to Corio. Let's hope Flextronics' second brush with on-demand proves more fruitful than its first.

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