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Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Steven John, Strategic CIO Of Workday (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Aug 1st 2011

By Sramana Mitra and guest author Siddharth Garg

About Workday
Workday’s mission is to build the next generation of enterprise business services—human capital management, financial management, and payroll—and deliver its solutions through a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. Founded by former PeopleSoft founder and CEO Dave Duffield with former PeopleSoft vice chairman and head of product strategy Aneel Bhusri in March 2005, Workday aims to offer a fresh approach for today’s global businesses.

About Steven John
Prior to joining Workday, Steven John served as CIO of H. B. Fuller Company. Prior to H. B. Fuller, Steven held IT positions with Agriliance, the Society for Information Management, First Health, CIGNA, Unisource Network Services, and Transora, Inc. Mr. John is a facilitator for the Society for Information Management’s Leadership Forum, a founding member of the CIO Executive Council, a mentor in the CIO Executive Council’s Pathways program, and a contributing writer to CIO magazine. He has received awards from Computerworld magazine as one of its Premier 100 IT Leaders, the Leadership award by the CIO Executive Council, and recognition by InformationWeek as an innovator for his work in implementing cloud solutions.

Sramana Mitra: Hi, Steven, and welcome to Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing. To begin with, would you please give a bit of your background and some context on Workday from an IT scale point of view?

Steven John: Sure! There are  a couple of things about my background that I would like to share. First, I claim to be a second-generation CIO. My father was the CIO for Scott Paper, and then he was the CIO for the Mormon Church, and then after 9/11 he was brought in as the CIO for the FBI. So, I have grown up with technology from a very young age and have had exposure to a lot of CIOs and lots of organizations. I’ve spent the past 15 years as a CIO in two companies, and both were turnaround situations. The first was a merger of five companies, and it was a back-alley, brass-knuckles experience, with bloody fights to get everything unified and get a single system that was integrated and provided services to everybody. The second experience was another turnaround, and I had sworn I would not do the second one the same way I did the first one!

The second one was with H.B. Fuller, and I described their IT organization as an Eastern bloc country. The Iron Curtain had come down 20 years previous, they had stopped progressing, and now the senior management needed them to quickly get up to speed to support their growth plan. What I did was much like what the Eastern bloc countries did with wireless technologies; we leapfrogged technologies. Otherwise, we really were compelled to use old forms and ways of doing things because trying to upgrade the systems or get the latest release was going to be too much of a pain and take too much time, and I didn’t have the money or the resources. So, as a strategy we moved aggressively into the cloud. As a matter of fact, I made it the default option. My staff had to convince me why we wouldn’t go the cloud, and that was sometimes because it wasn’t available for manufacturing for our scale of company, but I required it to be the default solution and they had to convince me why we wouldn’t go to the cloud.

SM: What year are we talking when you were doing this, when you were making this leapfrog move to the cloud?

SJ: We’re talking 2006, 2007.

SM: OK.

SJ: Then in 2008 we started what I would describe as [what was] periphery. We started with CRM and HR. Actually, Workday was the first things we put in there. We were their 33rd customer, and to be honest we got to the point where we did everything we could, from email on down, in the cloud and when we got to the core ERP, our new CEO had been through two ERP implementations, and he did not want to go through another one. He said to me,  If you can bring me an ERP like Workday or Salesforce, I will do it, but I would prefer to run the risk of our old systems than feel the pain of implementing another ERP. On the one hand, he loved the cloud so much that it was the only way he wanted to go, and the downside was that an ERP solution that met all of his requirements didn’t exist yet.

That was kind of the instigator for my leaving, as I had finished what I could do there. I was very excited about what Workday was doing, so I moved to Workday. One thing I will do is, I will answer some of your questions from Workday’s perspective and some from H.B. Fuller’s perspective, and some I will just answer with my CIO community hat on; does that make sense?

SM: That’s perfect! I love that. So, let’s talk a bit about Workday for those readers who are not familiar with it.

SJ: Sure! One of the things that attracted me to Workday was that in some ways it wasn’t a dot-com. One of the things I would like to stress in this conversation, especially as we are talking to entrepreneurs, is that the cloud is not dot-com; you cannot build it in your garage. It takes a fair level of sophistication in technology. Or not even a fair level of sophistication in terms of technology; it takes deep pockets of knowledge and deep understanding of not only the technology but the business context in which it is being implemented. I believe there are many periphery opportunities for our entrepreneurs and I will talk about that later, but what attracted me to Workday was David Duffield, the founder of PeopleSoft. You know, he went through the Oracle acquisition and walked out of there with significant funds, and instead of going out and building a bigger yacht than Larry Ellison’s, he said, along with his co-CEO, if I were to start PeopleSoft again today, with today’s technology, how would I do it?

Then they gathered a technical team composed of people they knew from previous experiences, gathered them together, the best and the brightest, and created Workday. In some ways being the 33rd customer would carry a high degree of risk, but I didn’t view it that way because the people who were engaged had such depth of knowledge and understanding that I felt a high degree of confidence. I had no qualms about being the 33rd customer, and now we have more than 200. There  has been significant growth since I purchased the software back in 2007, but that was one thing that attracted me – they were established out of the gate.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Steven John, Strategic CIO Of Workday
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