Ten ways Workday looks like the Apple for enterprise

As Workday's solutions mature they are starting to look like the Apple equivalent for the enterprise. Here's how

Despite having had a preview of some aspects of Workday 17, nothing could have prepared me for what I heard and saw on the analyst call when Workday announced the details of the latest release. As Stan Swete, CTO, orchestrated the call and demo, I started to get the sense the company has been taking lessons from the Stevenotes playbook. Here's how it happened. 

The call was divided into three sections. I always like presentations that run in threes as they have an appealing symmetry that works well in many situations. For example, I often ask people: 'Give me three reasons why....?' Gardeners talk about planting flowers and certain vegetables in groups of three and then there is that English food stand-by: meat and two veg. You get the idea. 

In this case, Workday talked mobile, financials and the new time tracking system. But as the demo proceeded, they added some clever nuance. This was particularly apparent during the mobile part of the presentation. They went from a discussion about HTML, then on to iPhone and then went out on a high with the iPad enhancements. In a low key way, it was almost, but not quite, reminiscent of Steve Jobs famous '...and one more thing' where audiences were seduced into a state of anticipation before Jobs dropped the hammer on a blockbuster announcement. OK, so that might be over reaching but anyone who has endured enterprise product demos for any period of time will understand the elation at seeing something that is genuinely new and refreshing. 

See also

Workday 17 tackles time tracking

Workday 17: more significant enhancements

Is this deliberate or just a happy coincidence? Although I have no direct proof, I believe it is more of the former rather than the latter. I recall a conversation with Workday co-founder Aneel Bhusri about a year ago where he talked of his admiration for Apple. At the time he was ruminating about product design but kept drifting into other aspects of Apple's business. 

But there is much more to Workday's modus operandi than a subtle aping of Stevenotes. Here are some of the other ways in which I see similarities between Workday and Apple. 

  1. As Vinnie Mirchandani notes, Workday keeps doing its own thing, "over and over again." Apple is like that. 
  2. I've attended most Workday presentations, major events, webinars and analyst sessions since mid-2010. They never talk about the competition unless it is as a response to a question. They prefer to talk about what they're doing. Apple is like that. 
  3. Workday partners for added functionality but mostly it prefers to develop its own technology. Apple is like that.
  4. Workday actively controls the news flow. It only speaks when it has something of value to say. That starves the media on some occasions, making them hungry for more. It can be both infuriating yet exhilarating. Apple does that.
  5. When Workday wants to get a point into the market but doesn't want to make a formal announcement then it selectively leaks information to certain media sources. (I'm NOT one by the way!) Apple does that.
  6. Workday can be incredibly secretive. If it doesn't want you to know something, everyone's locked down. For instance: want to know details about the IPO? No chance. Period. Apple is like that. 
  7. In its latest demo, one of the presenters talked about a 'beautiful interface that accountants love.' If it hadn't been true then the remark would be risible. Where appropriate, Apple uses the same forms of language in the correct context.
  8. Workday is attracting an enthusiastic fan base among media and analysts. How that pans out among users in the customer base has yet to be objectively tested. Apple has its own fanboys and girls.
  9. While Workday originally started out as an application run at the desktop, it drew its early design cues from the mobile world. Today, it is much more mobile focused. Design wise, it is very much 'mobile first.' Apple is like that. 
  10. When Workday introduces the latest version of its applications, it is the only version. (That's not quite true but backwards support is limited.) Apple is like that. 

You can argue that by latching onto one thing I am looking for others. That's true but then some of the similarities are striking and sharply contrast with the manner in which I see other enterprise vendors operating.

Of course there are some glaring differences between Apple and Workday the most important of which is that Workday doesn't have a vibrant developer community where Apple counts in the millions, as does Microsoft.

This vignette only addresses one facet of this 1,500 person strong company. There are many other facets. What strikes me most is that whatever lessons they're learning from Apple are being made into their own way of addressing enterprise application topics. This is much more than the consumerisation of IT in the enterprise. It is a whole new way of looking at the user experience and value delivery. 

What's unique is that for the first time, I am seeing an enterprise vendor that sells incredibly complex technology made simple. In turn that technology can easily reach the whole enterprise and not just the few managers usually associated with operating HR, payroll admin and financials. That would be compelling enough but there is an added twist. This is all happening at a total price point the incumbents cannot match. Isn't that what, in essence, Apple did with its device plus apps strategy? 

Disclosure: Workday is a recent product strategy client. This post has nothing to do with any commercial arrangement with the company. 

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