Workday week - social ninjas

Workday put on its first analyst tech conference this week, assembling some of the best and brightest. It was a revalation for a company that so far has been below many people's radar.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Workday put on a one day intensive analyst deep dive this week. There is no way I can discuss the depth or breadth of what they offered in a single story. This post discusses topics you would not necessarily expect from yours truly but which I believe are essential to the 21st century enterprise software industry.

For those that don't know, Workday was founded by Dave Duffield, the driving force/founder behind PeopleSoft and Aneel Bhusri one of the smartest guys I've ever met, an early LinkedIn investor and PeopleSoft alumnus.

PeopleSoft always had a 'feel good' feel that I expected to see replicated at Workday. By that I mean it was always hard to dislike the company or its people - they played hard but played nice and built a great business that Craig Conway and Oracle in succession managed to wreck while clinging on to legacy maintenance revenue.

My enduring memories of both Duffield and Bhusri is that despite tough questions, they were always demure, patient and willing to answer. Yesterday was no exception as Bhusri became the target for a quick fire and relentless stream of tough questions that stretched his 30 minutes pitch into close on two hours. He didn't miss a beat even though his session derailed the schedule.

Prior to attendance, we asked whether the event could be Tweeted and were told 'yes' subject to any NDA topics. During the nine plus hour marathon that saw us forgo a formal lunch break, Workday never called NDA time out. Instead they pounded us with facts, figures and a vision that were eminently sensible if at times misguided. I'll say right off the bat that their proposed technology PR schtick that's aimed at challenging SAP and its in-memory database pitch is a waste of time and resource. Workday has a much better user oriented story.

Workday achieved in one day what almost every other software vendor has missed. They managed to get a bunch of hard boiled, grey haired, well seasoned and otherwise grumpy analysts into a room for a full day's interaction and come out the other side feeling it was a day well worth spent. They elicited comments from Gartner colleagues: almost unknown in current public interactions. Heck- even my good pal Vinnie came away impressed. His point of view: "Man, they've got something that really can disrupt enterprise players."

Yes, group composition matters and whether by accident or design, they brought together at least a dozen of my independent colleagues out of a total 20-something group that was always guaranteed to set an interactive and valuable tone. SAP is the only other company that gets that close to 'open and real time analysis.' If you care about enterprise software then I'd venture to say this is where the future action lays and not necessarily in the canned reports that come out the other side.

In the years I have been part of that circus, I've never seen such high quality material coming out that both educated and entertained its participants via the Tweetstream. I credit Workday for its openness in that regard. Some see it as a social experiment. I see it as a pathway that SAP has trodden and from which Workday benefitted. If you want to see the replay, then check this. If you want to see a view from the cheap seats, then check Naomi Bloom's email client blast. She said:

Workday held a briefing yesterday for twenty of #EntSW's toughest and most knowledgeable analysts.  They had much more to say about their technology and business strategy, about their underlying architecture and object model, and about what's cooking in the Lab than they've revealed thus far to this type of audience.

That pretty much captures it.

I expected to come away feeling good because Duffield and Bhusri recreated the PeopleSoft ethos. That didn't happen. I came away contented because they were open and honest while presenting the kinds of inovation that have been sorely lacking in the enterprise apps space. It ain't perfect but it is well formed.

Next post will talk to the meat and potatoes.

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