Workday's reporting and iPad offering make it a mighty presence

Workday's rise continues. The combination of an attractive UI and great software means that Oracle and SAP need to look to their laurels

Workday 17 is with us and what a difference a year makes. Before anyone thinks I've gone barking mad and totally forgotten that Workday has released versions 15 and 16 in the last calendar year then let me explain.

For those unfamiliar with the company, Workday is the brainchild of Dave Duffield, co-founder PeopleSoft and Aneel Bhusri, former chief strategist PeopleSoft. Both have earned considerable respect in enterprise circles. Both are super smart. In the UK, Workday counts Aviva among its flagship customers.

Nine months ago I said:

If Workday continues on its present trajectory, it stands a very good chance of rendering both SAP and Oracle irrelevant to the market. It is already happening ... Workday has come from near nothing three years ago to a $2.1 billion valuation based upon annual billings that are currently heading towards $300 million. Most of that revenue comes from customers that would be natural SAP-Oracle shops.

That momentum continues but with more bite.

Last year the company was heavily focused on HR with baby steps towards financials. At the time I felt the financials solution was 'good enough' functionally for larger mid-sized companies but I was less than convinced that it would be able to hold its own in enterprise level deals. The problem was far less to do with general functionality and much more to do with limited reporting.

Enterprise applications have had a bad habit of including reporting as an afterthought. Workday was always engineered with reporting as part of the core. Unfortunately, technical limitations inside the database architecture meant that this time last year it was almost useless for anything related to statutory reporting although it could go a long way to meeting operational reporting needs if customers use its tagging system. Large customers largely turned their noses up at this approach, preferring instead to bring in third party solutions like Oracle's Hyperion or SAP BusinessObjects. That was not a satisfactory outcome for Workday because it meant that other vendors were able to build a beach head, or in replacement cases, retain a piece of the business with all the implications for maintenance, support and IT complexity. That inevitably devalues the Workday value proposition.

A year on and Workday has largely solved the reporting problems. That is a real surprise to me because without getting into too much detail, I could not readily see a way by which the company's engineering team could overcome the technical problems. Even now I don't fully understand how they've achieved the current outcomes.

Regardless, the results are outstanding and performance is exceptional. At least that's how I perceived the results based upon their 20 million row test database. Standard row and column reports provide a few seconds or sub-second response times without requiring the buyer to spend an additional penny on new software.

That contrasts with SAP's HANA real time architecture. SAP is pitching massive performance improvements, especially when HANA is coupled to SAP's Business Warehouse solution. Why the contrast? If you want comparable performance on HANA based applications then you will almost certainly be spending an additional seven figures whereas with Workday, it comes as part of the latest release.

Now - does this mean that Workday 17's reporting performance is directly comparable with SAP on HANA? No. HANA is built with infinite scaling and report complexity in mind whereas Workday has to continue engineering performance into its solution. If your operational requirements are highly complex then Workday won't make the grade. However, if your reporting needs are relatively 'standard' then Workday should hold its own in 60-70 percent of cases.

Despite the emphasis on performance, speed isn't everything. The next major hurdle is budgeting forecasting and planning where Workday needs a solution. I also believe that Workday needs to attract more third party analysis tools. Right now, it has Tidemark as its operational performance analysis partner. That's a decent solution but I would be more impressed to see a partnership with Adaptive Planning, the big dog in the EPM space.

Other changes of note in Workday 17? I'm not an HR specialist so I leave it to others to comment in this space but where I will comment is on the mobile solution. Workday 16 saw considerable changes. At the time I said:

iPhone gets an updated look and feel. Now, the iPhone looks a lot like the experience you'd expect to see on HTML5. Among enhancements are easier access to worker profiles, workfeeds, time off balances, requests and approvals.

This time, it is iPad where we see the most improvement. It is hard to adequately describe how great the iPad UI looks. It is stunning. But as we all know, UI is not enough. The user experience has to be spot on as well and here Workday is in a class of its own with ease of use that will be foreign to most enterprise app users. It is ridiculously easy to work with and understand.

In recent times I have heard executives from SuccessFactors singling out Workday's mobile UI as something they should seek to emulate at worst and improve upon at best. It is hard to see how SuccessFactors will be able to do this because the Workday 17 UI/UX is so much better than anything I have seen, with the possible exception of the mobile of Microsoft Dynamics CRM running on Windows 8 slate devices.

The problem with attempting to beat out a competitor on UI/UX is that you need a dedicated team of design experts that not only 'get' this aspect of applications but who are also continually working to improve the experience. So far, we have not seen any comparable enterprise vendor taking this approach which, in turn means that Workday not only has a running start, it is already well ahead of its competition.

As always, no vendor can compete on looks alone and it would be foolish to be so wowed by the look and feel that an assessment of functional completeness goes out the window. However, the combination of a world class UI/UX, great reporting performance and functional enhancements means that Workday is now seeing many more financials deals than it was a year ago.

The numbers are unit volume numbers are still relatively small but you have to remember that Workday is not playing to the volume mid-market crowd. It has firmly set its sights on enterprise where deal sizes are considerably larger.

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