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Learning With Workday I

On October 24, 2016, in HRExaminer, by John Sumser

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Why does Workday’s new learning functionality matter? Without demanding it as a default, the new Workday release makes it possible to reimagine every bit of workflow as a learning experience. Recruiting is Learning, Onboarding is Learning, etc.

The week before the grand old HR Tech Conference, I went to the exact same hotel in Chicago  to Workday Rising. Rising is Workday’s user conference. I’d been to Oracle Open World in San Francisco in mid September. That’s a lot of HR Tech in just a few weeks.

Of all the things I saw in the month, Workday’s new Learning functionality grabbed my attention most fully. The learning toolkit is the most complete expression of Workday’s approach to architecture. It takes full advantage of the company’s commitment to maintaining a platform built from a single code base.

The single platform idea (also aggressively pursued by Ceridian) is astonishingly simple. If there is one code base and one underlying data model, the software becomes fluid. When the software is a bunch of separately developed pieces of functionality connected with non standard interfaces, the customer ends up spending time reinventing the wheel. With a single platform, the customer gets to focus on innovation. With the alternative, the time is spent just making the tool work.

The Workday platform architecture extends the idea of a single set of descriptions of the underlying data. (Calling it a ‘model’ obscures the power available when all functions call all data elements by the same name with the same relational structure.) In a single code base single data model environment, something interesting in one area can be easily related to something in another area. If it were a consciousness, all functions can understand all elements.

The workday architecture is simple. At the most fundamental level is the platform. It evolves slowly. If it is in the system, it is in the platform.

Everything else is built from the elements of the platform. Apps are the next layer. All of the functions with names and workflows are constructed from the elements of the platform. The apps evolve significantly more quickly than the platform.

Finally, at the top most layer are configurations. This is the operational space where the specific switches in apps are arranged and enabled to create the working environment in a given customer’s installation.

Got all that?

The Learning product is built of several key elements:

  • Peer to peer learning
  • Content that can be curated and delivered in context
  • Broad and easy utilization of video
  • Campaigns and targeting
  • Analytics

There is nothing about the way that the functionality is delivered that suggests that it has to be used as a coherent package. Instead, each of the elements are available to be used together (as in a course) or independently (as in a supplement to existing processes). Planning  is actually a part of a separate package. The beautiful thing about Workday’s approach is that the raw functionality can be combine in any way that the end customer can imagine.

They are diligently pursuing the vision of an entirely configurable solution that can be the foundation of meaningful process innovation. From where I sit, no one else is delivering on this part of the promise of cloud based tools.

For as long as can remember, Naomi Bloom has been raving, like a true prophet in the wilderness, about the potential of a self-contained dynamic object model as the foundation for SaaS software. This latest Workday is the fulfillment of her preaching.

(If you don’t know Naomi’s work, she is as close to Grace Hopper, who found the first computer bug, or Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first algorithm, as we have in Enterprise Technology. Follow her blog. It’s a dense archive of foundational material.)

Why all this matters.

Without demanding it as a default, the new Workday release makes it possible to reimagine every bit of workflow as a learning experience. Recruiting is Learning, Onboarding is Learning, Performance Management is Learning, Learning is Learning, Payroll is Learnning, Planning is Learning. It is now possible to completely reimagine traditional ways of thinking and deploy situation specific work models based on real time needs for innovation and execution.

This is a box breaker. After years of being admonished to ‘think out of the box,’ Workday is delivering on an approach to enterprise software that makes it possible to uniquely configure workflows that build on, innovate from, or completely ignore historical precedents. It’s a box breaker

While not revolutionary in concept (this has been a theoretical view in the learning community for a while now), it is revolutionary in execution.

In Part II, I’ll try to illuminate this with examples of how you might use such a tool.


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