I am a big fan of Tom Peters’ classic. He has a new book out on excellence and I will get to that but this week at the Workday analyst summit I found I was reading a live case study on excellence. Between taking notes and photos of slides, I kept going back to my posts from the 8 previous summits, including the electric first one which has set the bar for similar analyst events by other vendors. When I am talking excellence I don’t just mean financial performance – there are plenty of Wall Street analysts who can tell you about Workday’s track record where they have grown to support over 30 million users. I am talking about how it has scaled its talent, how it has evolved its technology and how it keeps getting more and more customers to be early adopters for new features in a notoriously cautious enterprise software market.
There was a segment of the day when 8 female Workday and customer execs, many with accents, presented one after another. When asked how Workday can handle diversity so easily, CEO Aneel Bhusri somewhat casually said “It’s in our DNA”. No, it is not, they work hard at it. They have an executive, Greg Pryor focused on Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness. He presented about it on the day. As I looked at previous year notes, I saw how Leighanne Levensaler has transitioned from her role as VP, HCM products to SVP of Corporate Strategy, Erin Yang has matured in her role from defining their Platform Strategy to now rolling it out. Joe Korngiebel has gone from quartermaster (Q to James Bond fans with toys all us geeks salivate over) to CTO and Petros Dermetzis has returned from a sabbatical. Stan Swete, early architect of the Workday cloud, has taken on many roles over the years and told me he is particularly proud how Workday has grown talent pools in Dublin, Ireland (growing the acquisition of Cape Clear) and Boulder, CO (leveraging the GridCraft acquisition) while keeping the culture similar to that in California. It helps that execs like David Clarke go back to the old country with that muscle memory.
I have long maintained Gartner defined “technical debt” too narrowly – its not just about customers who do not upgrade for years, its also about vendors who don’t refresh their technology on a regular basis. As I looked at my notes over the past few years, I saw a different focus each year - resilience in 2014, Prism and other analytics last year. Each year, they reiterated what they had told us and what they ended up doing. This year, the focus was more on natural workspaces leveraging UX driven by various personas and their Canvas Design standards, what’s next for the analytics and the platform, and Machine Learning applied to various financial and hr scenarios.
Under NDA, Workday shared early adopters of Prism Analytics, data as a service (their benchmarking offering), the Platform, the mid market initiative, the Skills cloud and a few other initiatives - most launched less than a year ago.
Each one of the slides had big brand names, and many had large counts. What makes customers so comfortable to repeatedly sign up for Workday technology and functionality while adopting other enterprise tech at snail’s pace?
The last point brings me to an area that has always perplexed me. Customers keep asking Workday to move into new functional areas, especially vertical ones. But Workday has been content and disciplined, other than in the education sector, to stick to financials and HCM.
I have become so predictable asking about vertical functionality that Aneel surprised me this time with an acknowledgement that they may be ready to expand.
“We’ve been a services oriented company — education, government and healthcare were the early ones, financial services (insurance, banking) will be the next big push for us in terms of industry. That’s where I’d hope we’ll find some interesting products to build in.”
He could have also mentioned retail. Amazon AND Walmart. (who said they disagree about everything?) Lowes, Target, Kohl’s – the customer list there is long.
And therein lies Workday’s challenge. They keep executing so well that people keep clamoring for them to do more and expand wide. That, to borrow Tom’s new title – is their Excellence Dividend.
But they have been real careful not to splurge.