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Workday enters the big data game at Workday Rising

At Workday Rising, the vendor's annual user conference, executives announced its Big Data Analytics offering and gave a sneak peek at the roadmap.

Workday has officially thrown its hat in the big data ring.

The Pleasanton, Calif.-based financial and human capital management (HCM) software vendor announced the availability of its Big Data Analytics offering this week in San Francisco at its annual user conference, Workday Rising.

"Workday Big Data Analytics is built around the concept of taking all the Workday data, putting it into a next generation of data warehouse, and being able to bring in any type of enterprise data -- Google docs, data, Jira, Office documents -- [as well as] public data -- government census, LinkedIn, weather data -- and do deep analysis against that data and really figure out where your business is going," said Aneel Bhusri, Workday co-CEO.

But in the ever-expanding world of big data, it's often difficult for business leaders to know where to start. Giving a nod to this problem, Big Data Analytics, part of Workday 20, also includes ten pre-built analytics "templates" -- five on the HCM side and five on the finance side.

Dave Duffield, Workday co-CEO, also announced a completely new product the vendor is developing in conjunction with a handful of academic institutions: Workday Student. "Workday will take a new approach to the traditional student system, bringing together a system of record, a mobile-first system of engagement, and a big data analytic foundation," the company stated in a release. While components of the product will be available in late 2014, the full version is slated for release in 2016.

Paul Hamerman, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass., stressed the significance of this news. "The big roadmap initiative announced at this event is higher education, a major undertaking," he said. "The roadmap will continue to evolve as Workday chooses other vertical segments to compete in. So far it has been focused mainly on services businesses and horizontal apps, but not yet on companies selling a physical product."

During the keynote presentation, Workday executives also gave updates on the progress of Financials, listed feature enhancements slated for Financials and HCM, and demoed a new user interface and the highly anticipated recruitment offering.

Big Data Analytics templates act as starter packs

Templates within Big Data Analytics for HCM include headcount analysis, high performer analysis and market compensation comparison, which uses external benchmarks to contextualize salary decisions. On the finance side, templates include competitive benchmark, which compares an organization's performance to financial statements from other companies, customer profitability, and sales performance.

Although the Big Data Analytics templates are sorted by human resources (HR) and finance, Bhusri cited research indicating the two functions will work together more in the future. According to a Towers Watson survey, 70% of HR professionals and 49% of finance leaders envision more collaboration between the departments in coming years, Bhusri said.

While Hamerman acknowledged the importance of collaboration, he also threw some cold water on this angle. "Finance and HR need to collaborate around things like correlating business performance and people performance, and a common platform may help, but this is mainly a marketing pitch," he said.

Global focus for Financials in 2014

So just how many customers are reaping the benefits of Workday's common HCM and financials platform? According to Duffield, Financials now has 50 customers -- just 10 more than Workday Rising 2012. Twenty-five are live on the system.

Hamerman cited two reasons to explain this fact. "Part of the reason for the slow growth is market readiness for cloud financials, and [also] because Workday has chosen to sell financials only to existing HCM customers," he said. "I expect both of these factors to change and expect the customer growth to accelerate."

During an update on the progress of Financials, Mike Frandsen, Workday vice president of products, said the system is now functionally up to par with software from legacy financial management vendors. "Other than treasury, we have the breadth of software that we need to support financials," he said.

But Frandsen acknowledged that there is still some work to be done in terms of global capabilities. "There are a number of features we need to add that are specific to Europe and Asia," he said. "2013 was more of a focus on scale and deep functionality, and in 2014, we'll really hit the global functionality hard."

Features that Frandsen said are on the horizon for Financials over the next few releases include industry-specific functionality, enhanced Microsoft Excel capabilities and more advanced analytics. In addition, Workday 21 will include a procurement dashboard and advanced matching. Items on the "drawing board" of possibilities include tools for budgeting, planning and forecasting, and treasury management, Bhusri said.

New user interface to be built on HTML5

On the HCM side, Workday 21 will bring mobile performance reviews, career planning and compliance adjustments for the Affordable Care Act. But the big news of the vendor's December release, according to Bhusri, is a new user interface (UI).

"As part of this transition, we're leaving our good friend Flex behind," Bhusri said. "It allowed us to provide a very robust user experience when we started the company, but today there's a better technology that we are transitioning to: HTML5."

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Hamerman said this is a welcome change. "The UI refresh looks good," he said. "It is needed for a couple reasons -- the existing wheel paradigm was getting stale, and Workday needed to get Flex out of the UI to improve compatibility with mobile browsers." Indeed, during a brief demo, Director of Workday Labs Joe Korngiebel showed that the new UI "responds to whatever device you're using."

Another forthcoming development that was demoed was the recruiting application, which will be released early next year. The system is being designed for mobile first, and Leighanne Levensaler, Workday vice president of HCM products, said the ease of use for hiring managers -- not just recruiters -- is top of mind. Features include the ability to view internal and external candidates side by side, and the ability to get others' interview feedback in near real time.

Workday slows releases in response to customers

But with all the new features and offerings that lie ahead, can customers keep up? While Bhusri at first teased the audience by saying the company was adding another release per year, he ultimately revealed the vendor will decrease the number of releases per year from three to two. The announcement was met by applause.

"We really do listen to you, [and] we know the updates take some work. They're a lot better than legacy upgrades, but they take some work," Bhusri said. "With our shift to agile development methodology, and using scrums as our way of organizing our teams, we don't anticipate any slowdown in innovation."

He also revealed the addition of a new preview tenant -- a sandbox environment in which customers can test new features one month before the release date. Hamerman said this preview instance is intended to "lessen the workload of new releases."

"The change in release cadence was driven by customers. Customers want new features, but also want to minimize the disruption of assimilating the new functionality," Hamerman said.

But even though it might be scaling back on releases, Workday's overall growth is certainly climbing.

"Workday is guiding for about 60% growth this year. Last quarter it grew revenues by 70%. The prospect pipeline appears to be strong and it may exceed its growth guidance," Hamerman said. "[It's] phenomenal."

Emma Snider is the associate editor for Follow her on Twitter @emmajs24 and the site @SearchFinApps.

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