Mike McNamara is CEO of a remarkable $ 25 bn a year company that many people do not know much about. Flex is contract manufacturer for a wide range of products from automobiles to medical devices. Its design and shop floor fingerprints show on a wide range of products from Cisco routers to components for Ford cars to HP servers. They manufacture across 50m square feet in 100 sites in 30 countries and have to be extremely agile. In an interview I did with him a couple of years ago, I was struck by his comment that in some years they move a quarter of their physical plant across borders! Customers want to make products as close as possible to demand– to take advantage of changing US energy economics, to be closer to emerging middle classes in Indonesia or Brazil and other trends. This triangulation across industries, geographies and customers allows them to see changing component supply chains and design and technology trends and “see the future earlier” than the average company.
In a presentation at Workday Rising in Chicago this week, McNamara said to survive and thrive in this world you have to move from thinking of the information age to believing we are in the age of intelligence. He described their IT infrastructure, with the top layer as software platforms which translate data into actionable insights and feed them into digital displays to his workers. His CMO said two years ago "And while we recognize that the company flourished in the Information Age, we are now defining the new Age of Intelligence. Our name change – from Flextronics to Flex – reflects our evolution."
A decade ago, as I described at the start of SAP Nation, McNamara and his team took a significant risk going with a very young Workday as their global HR platform. Now they see Workday as an integral part of their intelligence platform. So do a growing number of Workday’s 1,800 customers and it was apt that the focus in the conference was on a wide array of analytics and on the platform that Workday is starting to open up.
Here are some key themes
- While the transaction systems are still HR and financials focused (and many of the sessions focused on nearly 900 features introduced in release 28 and 29), the planning products have been some of the fastest adopted by customers
- If the excitement around Prism analytics is any indication, their adoption will dwarf the momentum the planning products have seen. Early adopters include Christiana Care, Hitachi, Shelter Mutual Insurance, Thomson Reuters, and United Technologies Corporation. Prism builds on the Big Data discovery tools it acquired via Platfora and allows for bringing together data from a wide range of Workday and surround, especially vertical applications like patient accounting systems in healthcare, point of sales systems in hospitality and policy and claims in insurance.
- Workday founder Dave Duffield likes to talk about the Power of One having all his customers on the same release. The real Power of One is starting to show in the benchmarking, Data-as-a- service Workday has launched. An opt-in service, it allows customers to benchmark against peer companies on metrics such as employee turnover, span of control and business process effectiveness. The service should grow in power as Workday lines up external data sources
- Soon after its GridCraft acquisition in 2015, Workday introduced “collaborative analytics” in its Worksheets – some called that its “Hyperion killer”. The team in Boulder has been busy and has been releasing additional offerings
- The number of pre-built dashboards continues to grow as is the focus on the “close to disclose” process.
- The opening of the platform is allowing for extending the Workday reach into the enterprise and allowing for more data within its reach. The conference covered some of the early apps being developed on the platform including ID services at an airline and supplier requisitions. I liked a slide with a “your idea here” text box. The simple words are a bold invitation for customers and service partners to experiment with the platform
One of the presenters in the conference said “data has replaced oil as the most important commodity these days”. Actually, it is refined oil in the form of gasoline, diesel and kerosene which makes the world go. Similarly refined data in the form of actionable intelligence is what makes companies like Flex go. The Workday refinery will be working overtime for the next few years.