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.

Doug Henschen, Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

September 10, 2013

5 Min Read

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.

About the Author(s)

Doug Henschen

Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of Transform Magazine, and Executive Editor at DM News. He has covered IT and data-driven marketing for more than 15 years.

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