Is Workday the Apple of HR Software?


Gotta love the folks at Workday. They're not afraid to "think different."

This last week they introduced their time and attendance module, adding to the company's ever-growing set of integrated functional modules for HR and business management.

Watching Workday is like watching a butterfly evolve and open its wings. Initially the company looked like a cloud-based HRMS company. And they focused on displacing legacy HRMS systems and integrating HR and payroll applications in a highly flexible new system. They piled on many new features (expense management, project management, mobile, employee directory) and now offer what I'd call a complete "environment" for enterprise people management (including performance and goal management).

While this was being rolled out the company continued to develop its financial applications, which are now becoming as functional as many more mature ERP financial systems. And all this is integrated into a single user experience which is among the easiest to use on the market (read my post on "Systems of Engagement" for more details.)

All this is built on Workday's modern "object model" (read database technology and design), which lets customers set up a variety of complex business rules and easily manage them while the organization grows and reorganizes. The Workday team has already built this kind of software before (several times actually), so they know that the big problem companies face with their ERP software is not features, but making the system configurable and flexible to adapt as the company changes. And in this area Workday has quite a unique capability.

Becoming the Apple of HR (or Enterprise) Software

After watching the latest demo of time and attendance features, I first asked myself "why this?" Kronos, Cybershift, and other companies already dominate this market. Is the company going a bit off the ranch?

Then it occurred to me.  Just like Apple has relentlessly moved from category to category, ignoring incumbent vendors, but creating a "more integrated" and "easier to use" system, so is Workday doing the same. If you buy Workday, you may not get all the features of Kronos, but the system is so well integrated that, well, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. People will actually use it.

In a sense, Workday  = Oracle (HRMS) + ADP (Payroll) + SuccessFactors (Perf Mgt-Goal Mgt – Succession) + Kronos (Time & Attendance) + GEAC/Quickbooks (Financials) + much more.

Sure, the company doesn't have every feature of all these companies products, nor does Workday offer a robust applicant tracking system, a learning management system, a recognition and rewards system, or many other HR applications. And for now the company has an open API and middleware framework that lets Workday partner with many incumbent HR software companies to implement a "platform as a service" solution.

But when you look at the way the pieces fit together, you start to see an Apple strategy emerge. Workday is so well integrated and functionally consistent (all the modules function very similarly, unlike products which are "acquired" and "integrated", that one could say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This is exactly why Apple has been so successful. Apple's email, messaging, video, and other features are not as feature rich as others, but they work very well and they all work together. And they're easy to use.

Many other companies are going down this path, by the way. SumTotal Systems, a privately held company which is the largest provider of learning management software, has integrated its entire suite of HR applications into a seamless interface as well. But when you look at SumTotal you can tell the products are "integrated" not "built together." Ditto Oracle, SAP, and nearly everyone else.

We're getting ready to launch all our new HR software research this Fall, and the market has really evolved. Now, more than ever, vendors which can provide an Apple-like experience to their customers are going to clearly differentiate themselves in the market.

We've all been trained by Apple to expect things to be simple and easy to use. Now's the time for ERP and HR software vendors to "think different" too.

Josh Bersin

Josh Bersin writes on the ever-changing landscape of business-driven learning, HR and talent management. His favorite topics include strategic talent management, creating high-impact learning organizations, and how organizations drive business change and competitive advantage through talent strategy and technology.

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