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Machine Learning at the Heart of Workday’s Next Wave of Innovation


This past week Workday held its 13th Workday Rising client event in Orlando, Florida. The platform’s annual event continues to grow substantially, with more than 13k in attendance this year, up from ~10k attendees in Las Vegas at the 2018 event.

The growth in attendance points squarely to the continued steady adoption of the Workday platform, which is now supporting >2.8k HCM and >700 Finance adopters, and 40m users globally across a client base represented by 40% of the Fortune 500 and 50% of the Fortune 50, with 70% of its clients live and operating at a 97% CSAT rating. Recent newly live client examples include Lowes, Quicken Loans, and Renault.

This year, Workday extended its innovation keynote to 120 minutes to accommodate the depth of new features being launched across HCM, Finance, and Planning. Workday introduced multiple new HCM features, each geared toward supporting businesses and their workers in navigating the changing shape of HR and supporting the future of work. Central to Workday’s roadmap and future is the infusion of machine learning (ML) across the platform to augment users, personalize their experience, automate tasks, and deliver deeper insights in context and in the flow of work.

New HCM key features

Workday People Experience (March 2020): a new user interface which leverages ML to enable highly personalized support for the user’s unique journey, designed to enable employees to conduct day-to-day HR activities without needing to know exactly where to go in the platform to complete a specific task.

The new Workday People Experience includes the Workday Assistant, an NLP-enabled personal assistant, and is integrated with leading collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams to support employees “where they work”.  Additionally, Workday introduced a new case management and knowledge management tool, enabled with a case solver capability to support timely case management, resolution, and issue prevention.

Workday People Analytics (available for subscription in 2020): an AI and ML-enabled augmented HCM analytic offering designed with predefined business metrics and KPIs set around key workforce trends and topics delivered through a story view (a capability enabled by which Workday acquired in 2018). Additionally, Workday has also enabled Discovery Boards, its drag-and-drop data discovery capability for all HCM clients as part of their standard subscription.

Skills Insights & Talent Marketplace: leveraging its previously launched ML-enabled Skills Cloud (>200 client adopters and taxonomy of >200k skills), Workday introduced two key talent management capabilities. First, Skills Insights, which enables HR to assess existing skills and identify skill gaps within the organization through real-time insights; plus a new Talent Marketplace, which provides a platform for talent mobility, enabling workers to match their skills to roles, projects, and gigs, as well as being identified for opportunities where their skills are a fit.

Workday Credentials: a blockchain-enabled credentialing technology that is designed to address the historically manual and time-consuming process associated with verifying employee credentials (e.g. work experience, education, certifications, etc.). Further, Workday introduced the WayTo mobile application, which empowers users with capability to manage and share their verified professional credentials as and when desired throughout the application and screening process.

WFM & Payroll Updates

Although much of the product news centered on UX, talent management, and analytics, Workday highlighted multiple key features shaping its next generation workforce management (WFM) capabilities, all designed to drive greater user efficiency and effectiveness by leveraging automation, AI, and ML.  

Most notable was Workday’s demonstration of the progress it has made towards its “zero touch” payroll capability, which was met with highly positive approval from the payroll practitioners in attendance. The solution pairs a continuous gross-to-net calculation engine (which processes payroll results 24x7) with Smart Payroll and Smart Retro processing capability which automatically processes retroactive actions and only processes payroll for workers with payroll impacting changes. Smart Audit rounds out the capability to compare payroll results and surface exceptions for review automatically.

Workday expects to expand on its payroll capability with Instant Pay (2020) which provides an on-demand payroll capability allowing workers to request payment incrementally for hours worked and approved. Additionally, Workday demonstrated a new RPA capability (2020) enabled through partner integration with Automation Anywhere, which is aimed at reducing the historically manual efforts for key payroll inputs; initial use cases including payroll input automation and stock administration automation are both due in 2020.

Looking ahead

Clients I spoke to throughout the week (varying sizes and industries, many of which have been operating on the platform for a few years) indicated high satisfaction and value realization overall. I noticed this year there were many more full-suite adopters with both HCM and Finance in place, some of which were deploying, or at least considering adding, Planning to the mix in the near term. Those without full-suite adoption expected to expand their use to include more HCM, most commonly on the talent management side, but also some considering adding payroll where it has been left to an outsourcing provider and not yet on the platform.

Not surprising was the fact that many Workday clients I spoke to still haven’t solved (or even begun addressing) global payroll yet, a clear opportunity for Workday’s global payroll partners which I noticed maintained highly active booths all week, as this issue is clearly front of mind for many cloud HCM adopters.

However, maintaining its rapid platform adoption and historically strong revenue growth ($2.82b, +31.7% y/y for FY’19) is now the challenge for Workday which is driving towards a target of $3.59b in total revenues in FY’20. To maintain its strong adoption and growth results, Workday continues to invest heavily in platform features and innovations, dedicating ~30% of revenues annually to R&D compared to ~15% on average by its legacy and peer cloud competitors.

Workday leadership emphasized its commitment to “doubling down” on ML as the game changing technology it expects to drive its platform innovation, client value, and platform adoption in the future, innovation that will enable value for users by addressing the key HCM and business challenges organizations face today. While Workday and its peers are pushing out advanced capabilities faster than ever, the challenge now will be in helping clients keep pace with the level of change, digesting and adopting practices that put these advanced capabilities to use.

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