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Workday Big Data Drive Starts Small

Workday Big Data Analytics is ready to take on big external data sets, but for now most customers are focused on internal analyses of smaller data.

Workday announced Tuesday that the Workday Big Data Analytics offering debuting this week is ready for all the data scale and variety customers can throw at it. But the company said it expects that most of its customers will want to start with more pressing, smaller-scale analyses that make use of internal data.

Workday also announced new endowment accounting functionality and a planned major new Workday Student application for the higher-education market, where the company competes head-on with PeopleSoft. But the big news of the day was Workday Big Data Analytics, a new component of Workday 20, the latest release of the company's cloud-based human capital management (HCM) and financials applications.

Workday announced plans for Big Data Analytics late last year, and, as promised, it's delivering a system capable of helping organizations "unify multiple sources, sizes and structures of data with Workday data to deliver insights business leaders need for critical workforce and financial decisions." But in the process of collaborating with approximately 20 customers to develop the system, Workday discovered that many known, internal analyses are more in demand than speculative big data opportunities.

[ Want more on cloud application progress? Read, Workday Keep Cloud Momentum Rolling. ]

"We're meeting them where they are today, which is dealing with enterprise structured data primarily," said Dan Beck, Workday's VP of technology product management in a phone interview with InformationWeek. "They're interested to know that they can grow into analyses of [multistructured] data from outside the enterprise as they're ready."

Examples of data that might come from outside the enterprise might include compensation benchmarking data relevant in HR analyses or sentiments about suppliers from social networks relevant to financial analyses, Beck said.

That's not to say that Workday Big Data Analytics' ability to handle a variety of data will initially go to waste. The last mile in many desired internal analyses involves data from outside of Workday. That means it doesn't necessarily conform to Workday data models, yet business users won't have to worry about complex ETL or data transformation to make use of that information, Beck said.

Workday has developed a set of 10 prebuilt templates for the most popular types of analyses requested by customers. A prebuilt template for Retention Risk and Impact Analysis, for example, calculates employee retention-risk and impact-if-lost scores by combining compensation and performance data in Workday with external CRM data. In another example, a Customer Profitability 360 template crosses revenue and cost metrics from Workday Financials with data from third-party (but internal) systems tracking support cases filed and customer satisfaction levels.

Other templates do involve analyses of high-scale, semi-structured data sources more worthy of "big data" billing. Compensation and headcount analyses, for example, blend internal, Workday-managed payroll and HR data with external salary surveys, benchmarks, and job postings and stats from recruiting sites like and social networks such as LinkedIn.

The infrastructure in use behind Workday Big Data Analytics says it all: The service is running on Amazon Web Services, specifically Simple Storage Service (S3) storage buckets and Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) processing. For now, the analytic software component from partner Datameer runs on top, in what amounts to a single, simple S3/EC2 node for each customer.

Datameer normally runs on top of Hadoop, the industry-standard big data platform. Workday is ready to switch to the Hadoop-based Amazon Elastic MapReduce service as data scale and variety warrant, Beck said, and plans call for the eventual behind-the-scenes deployment of Hadoop by Workday. For now, that's not necessary, Beck said.

So despite the lack of scale and variety many customers envision using, right now Workday's use of big data technologies lets end users load, explore and make sense of more common, structured data as is. "One of the flaws of the typical BI cycle is that because it's a typically IT-heavy process and you're populating a defined schema, you don't get to mine and make sense of your data," Beck said. "Learning about your data and understanding a correlation between, say, pay and performance is also part of the promise of big data."

Workday plans to extend Workday Big Data Analytics capabilities by adding more templates, and it has welcomed partners to do the same. Partners Deloitte and IBM Global Business Services, for example, are planning Manager Effectiveness and Attrition reporting templates, respectively. Deloitte's template will be designed to assess manager performance by comparing sales data from CRM systems, productivity metrics from help desks, and customer and employee satisfaction data from survey tools. IBM's template is intended to reduce compensation-related employee turnover by comparing worker and location profiles in Workday with salary benchmark and survey data in IBM Kenexa.

Higher-Ed Aspirations

Workday made two significant announcements for the higher-education market on Tuesday. As part of the Workday 20 release, the company introduced new endowment accounting capabilities designed to give colleges and universities a single system for tracking and managing financial gifts. The system will replace disparate and antiquated paper-based tracking, reducing costs and time spent on complex financial reports, according to Workday. It's also designed to improve response times to revenue and spending inquiries and ensure adherence to compliance standards set forth by boards and local, state and national government bodies.

In a major new application development effort, Workday announced it will introduce Workday Student. The new application will provide a student information system of record and will include components for student recruiting, admissions, registration, financial awards, student aid, tuition management and graduation.

The first Workday Student components are expected to be introduced in mid-2014, and the company expects the full system to be rolled out by 2016. The system is intended to take on PeopleSoft (a company co-founded by Workday co-founder Dave Duffield) and other aging platforms that Workday says weren't designed for the mobile, socially connected and non-traditional part-time and increasingly online student bodies of today.

Like its sister HCM and financials applications, Workday Student will be cloud-based software that Workday asserts will be more agile and adaptable for colleges and universities, while better meeting student expectations for online, mobile and social functionality than aging, on-premises applications.

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D. Henschen
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
9/10/2013 | 9:16:50 PM
re: Workday Big Data Drive Starts Small
That's very much what they have in mind. Workday execs say incumbent student systems were built for school admin, but students want and need something that makes dealing with the school Amazon shopping simple. The example above about getting an alert about consequences if you're attempting to change your major would be a case in point. That's just one example about having intelligent connections between course schedules, degree requirements, student aid and more -- not to mention more social stuff around offering feedback on professors, etc.
In short, much of the talk is about providing a more student-oriented system. Now it's a matter of delivering on the promise.
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
9/10/2013 | 7:03:59 PM
re: Workday Big Data Drive Starts Small
Turns out a college local to me in South Florida is one of several working with Workday to design this student tracking system to their specs.Just received this by email:

Broward College, which serves 67,000 students throughout the Fort Lauderdale area, announced today that is has partnered with Workday, a leader in enterprise cloud applications for human resources and finance, to help design the first student application built in the last 20 years for higher education - and the first in the cloud.

Challenged with antiquated systems that were not built
for the needs of todayGÇÖs students or institutions, Broward has joined other select higher education institutions to help Workday design a mobile-first cloud application built for modern day that will transform the way colleges are able to serve students.

J. David Armstrong, Jr., president, Broward College, joined Dave Duffield, co-founder and co-CEO, Workday, on stage today at WorkdayGÇÖs annual customer conference, Workday Rising, to publicly announce plans to build the new application, Workday Student.
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
9/10/2013 | 6:39:07 PM
re: Workday Big Data Drive Starts Small
If they can orient student information systems toward the needs of the student, rather than the administrators only, that could be a winner tapping into the trend of consumer-driven IT.
D. Henschen
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
9/10/2013 | 2:19:48 PM
re: Workday Big Data Drive Starts Small
On big data, the only question I had left unanswered was how Datameer does its integration and analysis tricks running on top of S3 and EC2? Anyone?

On higher ed, big problems not solved by current student systems? Colleges and universities are having a hard time with demand planning in part because there are so many non-traditional, part-time, online and on- and off-again students that take up
to six years to graduate. College and university financial pressures also make it difficult for students to register for high-demand, degree-required classes. Workday says students need "guided pathways" (think wizards) to alert them to the graduation and financial ramifications of their choices. If a student explores options to switch majors, for example, Workday Student will be able to warn when and whether financial aid might run out, the vendor says.

Workday is clearly hip to the latest demands. Now it's building an application from
scratch with input from partner customers to deliver what Workday says will be the
first new student system introduced in the last 20 years.
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