Workday 17: more significant enhancements

As both SAP and Oracle struggle to find a cloud strategy, Workday plows its own furrow. New time tracking, mobile UI refresh and expanded financials lead the way in Workday 17
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor
ignore everybody

As both Oracle and SAP writhe around trying to find a cloud strategy that works for both customers and investors, Workday plows its own furrow, doing the one thing the others are not: ignoring everybody. Others talk about innovation at every opportunity. Workday just gets on with it. Sure, they listen to advice (disclosure: Workday is a recent product strategy client) and take constructive criticism (see below re: spend management) but when push comes to shove, they set their own agenda. It's a refreshing change from the me-too, slow follow through I see elsewhere. Here's how. 

Workday 17 is just hitting the streets. There is no upgrade process - new functionality is just 'there' and customers can choose to use it now or wait to switch on. But not too long because past versions are not supported. Why? There is no past, only the present. 

Gorgeous mobile UI/UX

What's to like? The mobile UI/UX is beautiful. Workday is the only enterprise vendor that has taken the notion of consumer grade experience and refined it for enterprise use. The work started in Workday 15-16 is only getting better with emphasis now on the iPad but with iPhone tweaks aplenty.

Workday iPad Homepage

The homepage has been radically simpliified (see image above) with swipe gestures as the main navigation method. There is no artsy attempt at redefining iconography. For instance, if you've used Google then you know what the location icon looks like. Far simpler than static icons littering the palette. The inclusion of social features is specific to the task at hand and so remains wholly relevant to the user. 

Workday iPad Timeline

How does Workday achieve this? Before getting to work on the mobile interface, its mobile developers had never seen an enterprise application. Can you imagine how the job application interview goes? The average developer age? 25. 

Beefed up financials

On to more substantial topics. While many sins can be masked with a great UX, that won't wash in enterprise land. Last year for example, Workday started pushing its financial application out into the wider world. Customer conversations suggested that while many liked what they saw, reporting was woefully inadequate. I reckoned it barely scratched the surface and was not taking advantage of the real time capabilities coming out of Workday's in-memory compute grid. The problem arose out of limitations inherent in the database architecture. I spent a good amount of time discussing the topic with Stan Swete, CTO. He quietly assured me that Workday could solve the problems 'within a year.'

During a preview arranged for me at Workday's HQ in Pleasanton earlier in the month, I was blown away. As the screens popped up with LOB results perfectly sequenced I had to look twice to make sure I really was seeing the progress made since last fall. OK, so it's not perfect and Workday needs to think carefully about its next steps in budgeting, forecasting and planning. But for both operational and statutory purposes, I'm guessing they're about 70% there. That will be good enough for many of Workday's customers who would otherwise be faced with integrating to a third party tool like Hyperion, BusinessObjects or Cognos. 

As a side note, we discussed whether it is worth developing for IFRS. This is a tricky topic in the US because while the SEC and PCAOB talk regularly about this topic, my view is that it is unlikely that conformity to IFRS will become mandatory any time soon. It is however refreshing to hear a vendor talking about building for compliance (which carries no premium) when others try avoid the topic until it is absolutely necessary. 

Spend management also gets a refresh that includes P-card integration - the first is Amex. This is really a response to last year's slap delivered by Robert Scoble who, at the time, compared Workday unfavorably to Expensify. The new version is not quite in Expensify's consumer grade experience territory but it is much slicker than it was. 

Product enhancements

There are well over 100 updates in this release including 58 items that came directly from customer ideas.

The big product news is that Workday has introduced a "new time and attendance application designed to reduce labor costs, minimize organizational risks associated with work rules and labor laws, and increase worker productivity." Simple to use and fully integrated to all Workday functions it includes real time calculations that benefit pre-payroll management. It is sold as a separate module. 

Workday has solidified its education/government vertical offerings. On government for instance, they now have:

  • Commitment accounting
  • Budgetary control 
  • Effort certification
  • Multi-dimensional budget structures
  • New Worktags
    • Fund
    • Project
    • Business unit 
    • Grant
    • Object class
    • Project plan task

More generally, basic dispute resolution within credit control has been inlcuded. By basic I mean that the user can customise cash collection processes to signify how cash is collected. Collaboration gets a boost with tweraks for specific needs. Examples include:

  • Ability to apply notes on supplier/customer invoice
  • Comment stream on projects
  • Idea management - manager focused
  • Organizational goals
  • Embedded intelligence - purchase order collaboration
  • Support for attachments - assets (e.g. - maintenance agreements related to fixed assets but there is no current integration to third party asset management solutions)

I could go on but you get the idea.

As always, Workday continues to push the boundaries of performance, reckoning that its income statement test bed of 20 million rows which took 40 minutes to run in Workday 12 now takes 3 seconds.  

This is not simple book-keeping but evidence that Workday is rapidly evolving into a world class enterprise ready financials solution. This is supported by the fact that Workday is now seeing more financials only deals come its way. The numbers are small and it is fair to say that Workday does much better when the customer is already an HR/HCM customer or where there is a desire to replace both HR and accounting systems of record at the same time. 

The wrap

Is it winning? The company estimates that it's win rate in qualified deals is running at about 30%. This is on par with what SAP estimates in its HANA related deals. The comparison is not coincidental. SAP is working furiously to get its Business Suite running on HANA. The company claims it will have many of the basics in place by the end of the year. We will see. However, given that HANA is also a stand alone appliance with software as a non-discountable line item, it is hard to see how SAP will be able to competitively price HANA-ised enteprise solutions.

Also, it is worth noting that until recently, HANA has been largely confined to captive SAP customers with the emphasis of running it to enhance Business Warehouse performance. Workday can side step that topic with what it has already achieved and enhancements going forward without requiring its customers to pony up more cash. 

In the meantime, Oracle will continue to push Fusion apps and especially HR in the cloud. But this is because implementing Fusion on-premise is believed to be too difficult for even Oracle's best partners. Workday doesn't have these issues. Deloitte continues to ramp its Workday practice while IBM is not hanging about either, having added 250 heads to its Workday practice in less than a year. 

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