Workday Rising: the analysts' take

Analysts attending Workday Rising 2012 broadly give the company a thumbs up. There's plenty to note but what strikes me is the nuance that's getting us all fired up.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

On what for many of us was day 2 of Workday Rising 2012 I took the opportunity to video four analysts who follow the company. I did this as a 'talking head' shoot rather than the usual conversation piece. I wanted to get four different perspectives on 'top of mind topics' but within the constraints of (about) one minute per person. That's pretty hard when you have a bunch of chatty folk but I think we pretty much succeeded. I also chose not to appear on camera offering my take. That comes below. 

The four will be familiar faces to regular readers: Frank Scavo, Phil Wainewright, Brian Sommer and David Dobrin. Each brings a unique perspective:

Frank Scavo - sees Workday as moving out of adolescent mode and on to becoming a business that now faces the public glare an IPO affords. He anticipates sharper criticism for a vendor that to date has had an easy ride among commenters and analysts. 

Phil Wainewright - is enthralled by the fact Workday is re-engineering underneath the covers to preplace its MySQL database for Basho Riak in analytics while the business and its customers are in flight. This is impossible for on-premise vendors. 

Brian Sommer - says we can no longer think about modern software in terms of ERP alone. He sees customers who want capabilities that transcend the enterprise as we've known it and which spill into the world of sophisticated analytics and social signals. He hopes to see more from Workday on these topics in the coming months

David Dobrin - is struck by just how much is saved by businesses when they only have to deal with a single version of the software. On the developer side he sees how the Worlday model delivers lots of small changes in rapid succession and much more closer to the time customer want it than is possible in the on-premise world. 

Vinnie Mirchandani's left earlier in the day but his written take is interesting. I recommend his summary of the analyst sessions. His closing sentence captures something of the sense with which I came away:

I am definitely convinced the Workday team is all fired up for the second half. And the bench strength I saw will give them fresh legs and a formidable momentum to carry forward. 

The Workday leadership is unique in that it doesn't favor overt showmanship or vendor bashing but rather it wants to be a fun company with which to partner. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the co-CEO's on stage presentations at the conference opening.

At times self effacing, often corny but with plenty of opportunities to giggle, the co-CEOs project a feeling that customers really do matter. I noticed for instance that Dave Duffield, co-CEO didn't have prepared questions for the customers he brought on stage. I'm not sure he could have handled it as he is one of that rare breed of CEOs who seems incapable of following a teleprompter and who I know from past conversations, hates being out front with a big crowd. Net net, he puts out a human face with which most of us can identify. In doing so, he pulls off the rare trick of evoking a sense of trust that is hard to see in plain sight at other customer events. 

See also:

Workday unveils 'worst-kept secret': a recruiting platform (Nusca)

Workday goes for Big Data, eyes Windows 8 and recruiting (Howlett)

Workday: All about the big deals (Dignan)

Customers front and center

One session worthy of mention was the end of day customer panel. We agreed beforehand that none of the customerswould be identified and that we would not repeat their remarks. What I can say is that readers of any tech media would recognise most, if not all the names. We got candid answers and a sense of realism about the extent to which this group experiences direct and indirect benefit. The nagging question of measuring soft benefits emerged as a talking point by customers willing to acknowledge the sum of what they are getting is greater than they imagined and beyond the first cut of a TCO exercise designed to understand the likely hard cash benefits. 

Workday uses its customers as what it terms 'design partners.' They have a stake in solution development and so get a sense of ownership in which they take pride. Workday is a listening vendor in the true sense of the word. Whether that scales was an interesting talking point. The customer view is that Workday is scaling that approach and developing the internal and partner infrastructure to ensure that as it gets larger, it doesn't lose that intimate sense of partnering with customers. I can attest to something of that because in the on stage presentations, I saw snippets of things that were communicated to the Workday team in both analyst and pre-brief sessions.

One thing definitely worth noting: customers believe Workday has pretty much done the core HR work. They are looking forward to extending the solution in new ways that fundamentally differ from those on offer by the on-premise vendors. They are already pushing Workday on these topics. 

After the customer session, I spoke with one company that is going soup to nuts with what Workday offers and asked about the Big Data Analytics announcement. My respondent is a fellow number cruncher. He got it and said he is excited about the potential. I asked about the potential to drown in answers. He acknowledged that could be a problem but believes his company will overcome those hurdles. Quite how was left hanging in the air but it is a question to which I will return. 

A new reality

As a side note, software and its usage is changing. We as analysts and commenters have to reset the way we think about software and its impact on the enterprise. We need to address two distinct audiences: IT and the business. Each has its own priorities but has to meet somewhere in what I imagine will be a management DMZ. Again, another area for discussion and research. 

In Workday, I see a business that is led by its customers in ways I have not seen from other vendors. Maybe it exists elsewhere and I don't see it the same way. Putting confident customers front and center in unfiltered conversations is the way to go. Put another this way, I'm not changing my prediction that by 2015, we'll be looking at a $1 billion run rate vendor. 

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