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Workday fund seeks data science and machine learning

Workday unveils fund for startups in data science and machine learning and expands financial software to include planning, budgeting and forecasting.

Workday has unveiled the creation of a new corporate venture fund and initial investments from the fund in four early-stage technology companies.

The fund, called Workday Ventures, marks another important step for the software giant in the critical field of data science and machine learning. The announcement of the new investment arm comes a few months after Workday released new predictive human capital management software resulting from its 2014 purchase of Identified, a data science and machine learning company.

"We're in the midst of a major revolution in all things data, specifically bringing data science and machine learning to business decision making," said Daniel Beck, senior vice president of technology products at Workday, in announcing the new investment arm.

Separately, Workday, which provides human capital management and financial management software, took the wraps off a new planning, budgeting and forecasting product.

During a conference call, Beck and Adeyemi "Ade" Ajao, vice president of technology product strategy, discussed investments in Jobr, a recruiting application; Metanautix, a data aggregation company; ThinAir, a specialist in security, and Unbabel, which offers language translation.

During the past four months, Ajao said, Workday contributed small parts of the $1 million to $7 million in venture dollars raised so far by each of the companies.

The four software-as-a-service companies offer different products, but all of them have data science and machine learning at their core, he said.

Investing, but not controlling

Beck and Ajao said the venture fund's goal is to help startups as they market their products to enterprises, not to take over or control the fund recipients. Workday could provide technical help, and the early companies will assist Workday in staying current with new technologies, they said.

"We want to allow them to thrive and grow," Beck said. "We are certainly staying close to these companies. Down the road, some of them, maybe over time, will become part of Workday but that is not our intent."

Beck said Workday can introduce early companies to the type of big organizations serviced by Workday and can help them with marketing strategies. Workday itself will not sell the products of companies that receive fund investments, he said.

The venture fund's goal is to help startups as they market their products to enterprises, not to take over or control the fund recipients.

However, Workday, in some cases, will try out the technologies for data science and machine learning, Beck said. For example, Workday is considering using Metanautix to help with exploring and analyzing the Workday cloud. Metanautix can help enterprises pull together data that exists in many different formats.

While unveiling its new investment arm, the company also released Workday Next, a corporate branding that ties together the company's core technology groups.

A new section on went live on July 14 with content related to Workday Next.

Company to expand into planning, budgeting and forecasting

Workday also announced that a new application for planning, budgeting and forecasting will be available for sale in September 2016 and in limited use starting in spring 2016.

 The Workday Planning app "is a collaborative planning, budgeting and forecasting application. It allows customers to create their financial workforce plans," said Leighanne Levensaler, a senior vice president responsible for direction and strategy of applications at Workday. She said the application includes three new significant capabilities beyond Workday's existing financial management software:

  • One is a budget generator to allow customers to combine historical, actual budget results with modeling assumptions to automatically create a baseline budget without having to integrate it with other systems.
  • Another feature allows collaboration for planning, she said. Teams will be able to create models and scenarios and then share and edit them with operational managers to finalize a budget or forecast. People will deal with live data in a secure environment, she said.
  • When a plan is finalized, the team will be able to execute on the budget, track actual budget numbers, perform budget controls and measure performance against the budget.

Workday now provides features such as reporting and analytics, headcount management, and performance monitoring, she said.

"What we are adding is the ability to generate a budget, to collaboratively plan in a worksheet approach and the opportunity to do planning and modeling," she said.

Users will see HR data in real-time and won't need to extract it from a separate system, she said. They can compare these numbers with estimated and actual budgets, for example.

If a company is delivering a new product or service, for example, a leader can prepare a budget, including project-related headcount and expenses, revise it and then track estimated budgets compared to actual numbers.

The application will appear familiar to users of Excel spreadsheets, but will also provide enterprise-grade capabilities for security, reliability and data that can be found in Workday, she said. Customers can import existing spreadsheets and then link them to their corporate plan and budget, she added.

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