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8/17/2011
02:14 PM
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Workday Bets Embedded BI Beats Gut Feel

SaaS-suite upgrade brings built-in business intelligence to process decision points, plus an iPad app.

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Enterprise application vendors have been talking about embedded business intelligence for years. With Tuesday's release of its latest software-as-a-service-based ERP suite upgrade, Workday says its built-in BI delivers user-customizable information in the context of key decisions.

There's more to the Workday 14 upgrade than embedded BI enhancements--like an iPad app, and talent-management and financial-management upgrades--but customizable, in-context intelligence is the key highlight.

Workday introduced embedded BI in release 12 with a landing page and series of prebuilt Worklet reports that users could pick and choose to build a dashboard. It was a start, but only Workday developers could build the Worklets. In release 13, Workday moved Worklet building to its report-writing interface so users could develop their own reports and data visualizations or extend and customize those developed by Workday.

Workday 14 liberates Worklets from separate landing pages and dashboards and lets users embed them right in the context of business processes. So, for example, an HR manager could mix and match pre-built and customized Worklets, embedding them directly in the interface used for a performance review, doing away with the added step of toggling back and forth to a separate dashboard or report interface.

The data displayed in a Worklet is live and interactive because it's the transactional information from within the application itself. As values change in a transactional task, they instantly change in the related analytic Worklets. When doing a pay increase in the human capital management app, for example, when you change a salary, the associated Worklet analyzing target compensation would instantly adjust. There's zero data latency and no need to build or manage a separate data warehouse.

Vendors of separate BI suites would be quick to point out their ability to combine and correlate information from separate applications and systems. Workday says it can import third-party benchmark metrics on financial performance and salaries by industry and job title, but ingesting and correlating data from third-party apps is something planned for a future release.

The other upgrades to Workday 14 include native iPad and iPhone apps built on Apple's iOS operating system. The iPad app lets managers view organizational hierarchies, access analytics, view information on employees, and take care of approvals. These iPad and iPhone apps are free and downloadable from the Apple App store. Other tablets and smartphones are supported by way of mobile HTML, rather than device-native, interfaces. These interfaces are said to support approvals and viewing of analytics.

Human capital management (HCM) enhancements in Workday 14 include an improved Talent Matrix report designed for side-by-side employee comparisons. Choosing between a two-by-two or three-by-three grid display (think Hollywood Squares or the Brady Bunch), HR managers see how employees compare on various attributes as described in "exceeds," "average," and "underperforming" terminology. The display also shows the criticality of the projects each employee is working on.

The matrix reports are designed to aid succession planning as well as appropriate assignments of the right people to the right projects and responsibilities.

Financial- and spend-management upgrades in Workday 14 include improved support for multiple legal entities. The update is said to streamline period-end financial consolidation and reporting for sophisticated organizations with multiple business units, subsidiaries, and related business entities.

Workday updates its SaaS suite three times per year, and release 14 is the second upgrade in 2011. All 142 subscriber firms currently in production are running live on the new release. More than 60 other firms are said to be under contract, putting Workday's total potential end-user footprint at over 2 million employees.

The company's latest customer win is Thomson Reuters, a 55,000-employee provider of financial, legal, tax, and accounting data and information services. The company plans to use Workday's HCM and payroll management applications to support workers in more than 100 countries.

Workday caters to organizations with more than 1,000 or more employees. The cost of a three-year (minimum) subscription is based on the number of employees, but exact terms were not disclosed.

ERP is old news, but enhancing legacy software with mobile, analytics, and social apps can deliver substantial new value. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek: SaaS can create new data silos unless companies follow best practices to make those apps work with on-premises systems and data sources. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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