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Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Steven John, Strategic CIO Of Workday (Part 2)

Posted on Tuesday, Aug 2nd 2011

By Sramana Mitra and guest author Siddharth Garg

Sramana Mitra: Yes, absolutely! So, Workday is kind of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) in the cloud solution, right? It does financial management as well as human capital management and a few other things.

Steven John: Yes.

SM: And you have a multi-tenancy architecture?

SJ: Yes, it is SaaS multi-tenant, which I personally would view as a true SaaS true cloud.

SM: Let me ask you a few you know questions in the context of being the CIO of a fast-growth, mission-critical SaaS solution company. What are some of the top design or architecture points that you have you to keep in mind when scaling a system like this?

SJ: I will answer this in a couple of ways; some of these are the advantages of starting out in this decade as opposed to three decades ago. The majority of major ERPs, if not all of them, have 1980 technology. Now, a lot has been learned since 1980, so I think what they have kept in mind or what Workday has kept in mind is that to be global at the core means realizing that in this world there really aren’t any single solutions. You get solutions that really drive, and you have global capability from the start.

Analytics need to be built in from the start, and that was one of the great lessons learned from ERP. They would create storage for data, but it was extremely difficult to get any data out of them, which was why there was such an increased in data warehouse analytics products around the ERPS. A lot of companies have a built those around that old core, but it really isn’t from the core. It isn’t business established at the core, so it seemed that people learned from their peers around the idea of having global capabilities from the core, analytics from the core, and then developed a platform upon which you could expand and build, with the scalability built in from the beginning.

The other thing I would stress, and for me it is a very big deal with my CIO hat on, is they found the right balance between freedom and order. And by that I mean in the past, we in IT and with a great deal of help from business, erred too much on the side of freedom. We did a lot of heavy customization where in a lot of cases we didn’t need to. We customized differentiators, but this actually just caused problems. A lot of the failure of the ERP era was because of self-inflicted wounds. And what is now coming to play is the shift from customization to configuration, so there are a great many ways you can configure, especially Workday, so you do not have to customize. It really balances freedom and order and helps us to get past a lot of problems we saw in the past or the things that really were a detriment to the success of IT and for business in the past. Does that make sense?

SM: Yes, it makes sense. I have some questions though; let me try to drill down a bit. You have a couple of hundred different customers from different industries with different workflows. Some of the workflows are similar; perhaps recruitment is a relatively uniform flow across the company, although there may be nuances. What is the level of customization or what is the level of configuration, to use your terminology? Is it industry specific or company specific?

SJ: One of the great things is it is really an echo system, and I will come back and answer your specific question but let me set a context for it. The great thing about being a multi-tenant single instance is that everybody is on the same version and any update touches everybody. Now, you may not have to turn on that particular configuration or that particular capability, but it is there for you. If it’s not specific to your industry, then you don’t have to turn it on, and if it is, then you can turn it on. The other example I would use in answering your question is H.B. Fuller. We felt going in that our processes were the best, so we kind of forced – and we didn’t have to customize to do this – we kind of forced the configuration of Workday to match our old process instead of using the Workday framework and workflows.

What we discovered a year into the implementation, or actually after we had gone live and had been live for a few months, was that the Workday processes were actually much simpler, more direct, and easier to use, and we eventually migrated back to those instead of the ones we had. One of my philosophies is that most companies think they are unique when they are not, and most companies think that customization will differentiate them in the marketplace and make them better, when really what they want to do is use standard processes and then focus their resources on true differentiation.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Steven John, Strategic CIO Of Workday
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