Workday Tech Summit 2015 by John Sumser. photo-by-Jan-Vasek-jeshoots-marina-sailboats-cc0-via-pexels

In December, I spent a day with the senior leadership of Workday and a room full of other industry analysts. Workday invests strategically in its relationships with influencers and analysts. Like much that the company does, a slow, measured and principled decision trajectory is at the heart of their progress.

The meeting was called a “Tech Summit” because the day full of presentations focused on the technical nuances and accomplishments of the firm. All of the senior leaders in management, operations and strategy took a turn in front of the audience of knowledgable pros. These events are thrown by most of the credible large software providers in the HRTech and Recruiting space. The resident core of analysts (people like Naomi Bloom, Dennis Howlett, Bill Kutik, Vinnie Mirchandani, Brian Sommers, Stacey Harris, Ray Wang, Holger Mueller, ChrisPang, Bill McNee, Mark Smith) are strong personalities with big opinions and a dialectic style of interrogation. At least some of the people who present to this group think of it as combat duty. You don’t deliver a story to that group and expect it to be taken at face value.

So, the conversations were lively. Workday invested real thought, time and energy in the preparation and staging of the event. It was held at the Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito. It’s a quiet place tucked into the old officers’ quarters of Ft. Baker. The hotel features a remarkable restaurant and world class chef.

Dinner on opening night was a buffet style experience designed around the hotel’s cooking school. If you wanted, you could learn to make a dish or two. Mostly, the event design was intended to increase conversation among the participants, both Workday execs and the assembled analysts. It worked. It set the stage for a vibrant discussion in the morning. Workday understands the value of warming up the social network.

For my money, there are four powerful takeaways from my encounter with Workday:

  1. Well executed innovation can look strange at first
    The most interesting idea presented was the worksheets , which Workday added to its platform last year. The idea left a lot of analysts scratching their heads (intrigued). In essence, worksheets blends the collaboration capabilities of Google Docs with the data accountability of an Enterprise solution. You get full privacy and security control at the cell level of the spreadsheet coupled with constantly accurate sheets.

    The idea is to tackle the twin evils of current spreadsheet usage (either “you’re not supposed to be able to see that data” or “who knows which revision we’re talking about’).

    The core technology was purchased and Workday has been busy integrating it into their product.The reason that this is interesting is that the conventional wisdom is that spreadsheets are the opposite of well disciplined enterprise behavior. Many of the leading analytics offerings (which are baked in to other solutions) sell on the idea that work done in spreadsheets is lost to the overall organization. After talking with their customers, Workday seems to have realized that contemporary knowledge engineering happens in spreadsheets and that they are they way that expertise evolves in todays company.
    This style of innovation is reminiscent of the architectural approach of waiting to see where people walk before installing the sidewalks
    . Because the worksheets offering is not a shiny new toy, my take is that it will be undervalued by the critics but will be a popular hit with customers. It solves problems rather than making waves.

  2. The ‘ecosystem’ is not a theory at Workday
    ADP, who could easily be construed as a direct competitor, was hailed as a model partner. Over the past six months, I’ve been getting to know a number of the players in the Workday ecosystem. They are vetted, credentialed and certified with depth and precision. The players are carefully tended to. (When I went to the One Source Virtual analyst’s day, a Workday executive was a part of their team.)

    From one perspective, Workday partners like OneSourceVirtual look a lot like Oracle did in the early 2000s. Lots of onsite players working the problem. Unlike other models, the Workday model seems to be to push the labor out to the ecosystem while spending core energy in a deep software product development cycle.

  3. Workday’s architecture allows for long range stability and fast paced adaptation
    As presented, Workday is composed of the platform and the functions (applications). By keeping the two universes discrete (the applications sit on top of and call resources from the platform), Workday is able to simultaneously evolve the core platform while using it to support the more rapidly changing functionality. One of the interesting things I learned is that the company has entirely rewritten the platform.
  4. The Workday ‘religion’ is a deep commitment to repeatable principles
    On every level, the Workday method involves an extraordinary level of engineering discipline. It seemed to me that we were being shown the pretty much ready for prime time stuff out of an entire lab of experiments. Before it gets shown, it gets developed in a rigorous and deep conversation with the market. Then, only a part of what gets developed makes it into production.

    Many recently emerged software ventures (Evernote is a fantastic example) have built forests of functionality.Inside of the wonderland, actual customers only use about 5%. And, it’s a different 5% for each customer. So, they are stuck supporting broad ranges of underutilized functionality. The rigor in Workday’s method appears to minimize the growth of this stuff.They also ran the assembled group of analysts through a demo of the actual software, real time on iPads. Putting the tools in our hands created a tangible experience of the product.

My sense is that the day met and exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Here are some other reviews of the event. It’s a good way to get a solid look at Workday’s technical progress and the analyst’s critiques. My Twitter feed from the day will give you the blow by blow.


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