It's Alive! Workday Financials Hits the Stage (Part 1)

Earlier in the summer, I had the chance to stop by Workday's road show as it passed through Chicago. For an enterprise software start-up perspective, the event was well attended. Somewhere around 30 people showed up by my count, maybe more, to hear Dave Duffield and others take the stage to introduce Workday. In comparison, Ariba's Supply Watch road show which occurred around the same time, had around half the attendees (evidently the cult of Dave is bigger than the cult of Bob).

Getting to hear Dave Duffield was a treat. I had never met him before, but my colleague, Brian Sommer, had early ties to Peoplesoft and has known him for years. After hearing him, I'd describe Dave as a shy, soft-spoken CEO who cares more about customers than the limelight. For those who know FreeMarkets CEO, Glen Meakem, imagine about the most polar opposite leader you could think of, and that's Dave. And in today's enterprise software world, that's probably a good thing, as a soft leadership style often speaks the loudest most recently, I've found.

Earlier today, Workday announced the availability of Workday Financials, the company's second module (HR, or Human Capital Management as they tag it, was the first -- no surprise there). Last week, I had the chance to speak with Workday about the forthcoming announcement and walk through a quick demo of the new module. I got a chuckle out of one of their slides which joked that they're releasing "The first enterprise business management solution delivered since: The Web turned two, Sarbanes met Oxley, and the world became flat." Cute, I must say. But what they're up to really is quite different. The whole architecture of Workday is set up around the premise that the core ERP approaches of old are flawed, limited by the technical shortcomings of the time when they were originally developed.

Back then, processing power was expensive (as was memory, storage, and just about everything else). Getting the most out of every processing cycle to capture, automate and report on the basic financial state and health of the business was all that could be expected. But in Workday's words, "focusing on debits and credits, by design, omits important data about economic events." Workday's approach -- in addition to tracking debits and credits through accounts payable, accounts receivables, and financial account and reporting -- is to focus on the who, what, where, when and why of all finance related activity. In my view, by enabling the flexibility to track and manage business activities at this level of detail in a core ERP environment, Workday has the potential to create an entire knowledge ecosystem within its application -- not a partner ecosystem that more traditional ERP suites required to enable their users to gain access to this type of information. Indeed, causing customer death by bolt-ons or partner solutions is not the plan here.

One of Workday's approaches to overcoming the limitations of the accounting Code Block is to incorporate something they're calling Workday "Tags" right at the core. The concept is similar to tagging in a Web environment. But the difference here is that the tags become part of the everyday information access and workflow for users in the system -- not just those surfing the web looking for topics of interests outside of enterprise data. For example, consider the ability to create a tag for regional supplier groups, spend categories, projects, products, customers, cost centers, channels, etc. By a mere click, you'll be able to drill down and find relevant data -- without waiting until the next business day for IT to create a custom report. And you're able to do this contextually, as you navigate around the areas to which your are already accustomed to seeing in more traditional finance modules.

Are you curious about why Workday went down the entirely new development path they choose and how they plans to go to market with their new module (and how eventually it will play into a Spend Management focused offering as well)? Stay tuned and find out in Part 2 of this post later in the week.

Jason Busch

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