Start-Ups

Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri on the future of IT and what it takes to be a founder

At the 2014 VentureScape conference, Workday's Aneel Bhusri talked poignantly about balancing life as a VC and entrepreneur, and what the future of IT will look like.

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Workday CEO, Aneel Bhusri (right), chats with NVCA chairman Scott Sandell.
Image: Conner Forrest/TechRepublic

Workday is one of the rising stars in the enterprise app space. Workday's CEO, Aneel Bhusri, has led the company to a leading position in cloud-based HR and finance software. Not only is Bhusri a founder of a successful company, he is venture capital investor as well.

Scott Sandell, of New Enterprise Associates, sat down for a fireside chat with Bhsuri at the 2014 VentureScape conference put on by the National Venture Capital Association. Bhusri shared his history in venture capital investing, running a business, and how he founded Workday. He also talked about where the IT world is going.

Bhusri co-founded Workday alongside David Duffield in 2005 and it has since grown to prominence as a major contender in the ERP space. Bhusri was formerly a vice chairman at PeopleSoft, and is currently a part at venture capital firm Greylock Partners, where he also invests in the enterprise market.

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When asked whether or not his experience as a venture capitalist has helped him as an entrepreneur, Bhusri was quick to provide two areas in which is has helped. The first is the ability he now has to identify a good management team. Second is the ability to think critically and look for opportunity.

"As an entrepreneur, you're such an optimist; and I'm an optimist — you look at the world through rose-colored glasses. And, venture teaches you to be a skeptical thinker and poke holes in the problems, and look for issues, and I think it makes me a better CEO because I am looking for issues and if I can solve those problems all the good things are waiting to happen," Bhusri said.

Bhusri talked about the venture capital landscape as well. He mentioned that the current state of startups is healthy, but he is worried that too many companies might be more focused on chasing an exit, rather than disrupting an industry.

"I think the venture capital world is in a great spot right now. I worry that ideas that are not totally disruptive are being pursued because we are in a bit of an IPO/M&A cycle where we just want to get into this land grab. But, there is great innovation happening," Bhusri said.

Bhusri's insight comes from a two-decades long stint in the IT industry. Before Workday, he held a number of senior positions at enterprise IT companies, most notably PeopleSoft. One of the challenges he said that IT is facing is that CIOs have to step into the business aspect to be able to enable their companies to do great things.

"I think the biggest change in IT across companies is that CIOs are much more business-oriented today than they were 10 years ago," Chusri said. "They were techies 10 years ago. They were buying all these different products and having to build out data centers and run it themselves and do all the integration themselves. [For] today's modern CIO, the "I" could be innovation, it could be integration, the I could mean a lot of different things."

Much of this has to do with blurring lines between what constitutes business and what can be separated as technology. Bhusri was adamant that the CIO has to free up IT to focus on what their core focus is. They have to enable technology "to help your business stay competitive."

While all of that sounds easy in practice, Bhusri also made note of the changes in budgetary restrictions and spending that came after the 2007/2008 financial crisis. Another interesting point was the mention of third-party vendors playing a key role in the future of IT, a future that Bhusri said is better suited to new vendors than old vendors.

Bhusri summed it up when he said, "Business and technology are synonymous today and there's no business out there that I've ever come across that can't be disrupted by technology."

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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