Workday tools up HR and finance with big data analytics

With the Workday 20 release, the company says finance and HR executives can improve reports by exploiting substantial volumes of data from multiple sources and structures.
Written by Toby Wolpe, Contributor
Workday's big-data features will, for example, let HR draw on external compensation data

Enterprise cloud apps company Workday is adding big-data tools in its next release, allowing firms to mix large volumes of diverse outside data with internal information for HR and financial reporting.

In Workday 20, which becomes generally available this week with 200 new features, HR executives will for example be able to combine external salary surveys and remuneration data with inhouse figures when preparing competitive analyses for the board.

"Simply, we're saying now anything from the outside world can be sucked in and correlated with Workday HR and financial data," Workday Europe CTO Annrai O'Toole said.

"In essence, we're making it easier for people to connect to all these third party-data sources and bring them into the Workday world and then use our inherent reporting capabilities to build meaningful dashboards and analytics," he said.

According to O'Toole, by adding big-data analytics, Workday is creating a unified system that exploits its own in-memory computing technology and avoids the underlying problems created by having to use separate business-intelligence systems.

"As they bring this data in, all the reporting capabilities inside Workday are instantly usable. The unified security model that everything sits in, all our abilities to deliver this onto mobile devices — all that comes with the big-data analytics. They're not stepping outside the Workday world to do this," O'Toole said.

"The problem with an awful lot of BI products in particular is that because you've got to go into a separate technology base, you lose all the security information from the original core system," he said.

"Often you end with a completely separate BI system from your HR and finance systems, with completely different display technologies and completely different security, which is just tons and tons of pain and headaches."

Workday says the big-data capabilities can be delivered on mobile devices such as Apple's iPad

O'Toole said the big-data tools will also enable organisations to analyse information contained in vast volumes of social data.

"There is one use case where essentially what they were doing is pulling in information about where competitors were starting up operations," he said.

"So let's say you were running a call centre in Texas and then some information came out that someone else was going to be setting up a call centre in Texas near where you were. Then that would be an ideal time to go in a look at the salaries and retention of your existing staff, so they don't get snaffled away."

The initial release of Workday Big Data Analytics comes with 10 ready-made templates, covering five HR reports on market compensation comparisons, global payroll costs, headcount, retention and impact, and high-performer analysis. 

Five finance templates include competitive benchmarking, sales performance, regional revenue performance, customer profitability and supplier sentiment analysis.

"Those templates are use cases that we've seen in our customer base and we've populated those, so anybody who buys [Workday Big Data Analytics] gets them. We'll be generating more," O'Toole said.

"[Workday customers] can start from an existing template and maybe it does exactly what they want or they can go on and modify that but it gives them at least a good starting point."

Two further templates will soon be available: Revenue Pulse, which creates a snapshot of the business drawing on internal and external data sources, and Worker Productivity. 

HR and finance professionals will be able to drill down into the data using the new tools

He said because every Workday customer has an underlying common data model, it is possible to build templates that are easy to share among all tenants.

"We worked with about 20 design partners — they're existing customers with an interest in this big-data thing. We brought them into our offices and said, 'OK. What are the use cases today where you're doing some manual stuff, you're pulling data out of Workday into a spreadsheet and you're pulling other information into the spreadsheet? What are those things that, if we automated them, would make your life a lot simpler?'," he said.

Workday has also collaborated with IBM Global Business Services and Deloitte, which have also created two templates.

"More of our systems integrator partners and more people will be able to build templates for use cases, prebuilt reports and dashboards that are generically applicable. So over time you'd expect a pretty big portfolio of templates," O'Toole said.

O'Toole said Workday has designed its big-data tools to be intuitive from two perspectives.

"One is the whole element of the look and feel of this thing — it's point and click," he said.

According to O'Toole, early-adopter customers who attended workshop sessions were getting usable prototypes up and running on the first day, unlike typical BI projects, which have historically been complicated and expensive.

"The second element of this is possibly more important: which is that in traditional BI you need to know the answers before you can ask the questions because traditional BI comes from a very structured star-shaped schema — data cubes and all that sort of stuff," O'Toole said.

"Workday Big Data Analytics is far more discovery-oriented where you're allowing people to look at the types of data that there are and mess around and formulate the queries and do a far more discovery-based approach to building out interesting analytics."

Among the 20 or so reference customers for Workday's big-data tools are US snack food maker McKee Foods and conglomerate Spectrum Brands.

The Workday 20 release also features iPad tool Notebooks, which allows users to swipe through HR profiles and reports, and label and organise Workday information on their Apple tablets. Versions for other devices and operating systems are planned. 

As well as big-data analytics, Workday 20 offers iPad users the Notebooks contextual tool

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