August 25, 2019 Pleasanton / CA / USA - Close up of Workday sign at their headquarters; Workday, Inc. is an on‑demand (cloud-based) financial management and human capital management software vendor
Image: Sundry Photography/Adobe Stock

A cloud computing instance is a compute and storage “lump” located inside a data center, usually on a blade server, often with optimizations for particular use case types. The whole package is delivered to a specific license contract, but some clouds are aligned for specific industry application scenarios, so how would they differ and what kind of specialist functions might they be capable of?

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Looking for some insight into this subject and skewing the analysis to suit the specialism at hand, Workday’s Chief Strategy Officer Pete Schlampp used his appearance at his firm’s recent annual user convention to explain what life might look like inside a human resources and financial management services cloud.

During Workday Rising Europe held in Stockholm this month, Schlampp met with press and analysts to explain where his firm’s platform is going next and what factors might coalesce to form this notion of a people and financial cloud.

The personnel puzzle

To clear the personnel puzzle out the way first, we employ the term HR in the widest possible sense — i.e., to also incorporate the notion of so-called human capital management, a means of managing workforce value, worth and state throughout the whole employee lifecycle, usually via a cloud-based platform.

For completeness, let’s also say that a finance cloud is a set of services designed to handle an organization’s accounting and finance requirements, and not a cloud specific to the capital markets and trading field.

As a specialist in enterprise cloud applications for HR and finance, the Workday Enterprise Management Cloud is among the organization’s flagship go-to-market offerings. Schlampp and team used the event to showcase how its platform is now being amplified through the use of industry accelerators, pre-built connections and pre-aligned solutions designed to help customers get HR and finance operations running in the cloud faster and more effectively.

By working with key partners including KPMG, Deloitte, Accenture and PWC, Workday says it is building HR and finance clouds by using the combined knowledge and expertise of these companies across industries to help customers overcome complex business challenges and transform how they manage these essential business functions.

This means that while an HR and finance cloud is still a cloud, it is a cloud instance and set of services built to be able to exist and work in what might be a highly regulated industry where digital initiatives always come with special boundaries and challenges.

Transformation, first steps

“Companies come to Workday and our partners and they say: ‘Hey, I’ve got a business problem, I need to transform,’” Schlampp said. “It’s not just about the software. It’s about how they transform the business itself. The first thing we do with these companies is to get them on our digital platform so they can transform their business in an agile way, and our partners play a vital role because they’ve worked with a host of other businesses that have been in the same spot, and they’ve seen how to change processes and do it successfully on top of Workday.”

We’re getting closer to how an HR and finance cloud functions, but this is still all relatively big-picture stuff that could apply to any digital transformation scenario at this stage. Where do the workforce-specific elements come to the fore, and how are they handled?

For banking industry HR scenarios, Workday has shaped its cloud offering to accommodate for the stringent reporting and accounting requirements of the sector. The Workday Financial Management and Workday Accounting Center solutions combine with partner-developed products to deliver finance-reconciled data with regulatory reporting capabilities in order to streamline operations.

For the healthcare business, Workday’s industry accelerator is built to specifically serve the finance and talent resource requirements of this sector. It is engineered to offer supply chain management functions such as the ability to automate the validation of clinician credentials. In other words, it helps to get new nurses on the floor faster.

Deeper granularity of functions

Looking at a practical application of technology on show here, Workday’s Schlampp explained some of the processes at an even deeper level of granularity.

“Let’s say we have a chief financial officer who’s trying to close their books at the end of the quarter,” Schlampp explained. “They have a bunch of transactions in the ledger, and they’re like: ‘Hey, this one appears to be potentially duplicate. Could it be an error in the way that it was entered?’ We can surface that data record in Workday and examine it to see if it’s two different suppliers with slightly differently spelled names that might appear to be one entity. This is the kind of capability we’re talking about here, and not having the ability to do this can really slow a business down.”

Workday points out a core USP in its service and reinforces the fact that all live customers are using the same version of its software. Quite literally, every single customer is running the same version of the software all the time around the globe. Schlampp says that this means every user only ever touches and uses a single data model, empowered by the company’s own machine learning algorithm.

That’s important, because for users of other enterprise resource planning systems with an HR and finance function, different customers might be running different versions of the core software. From Schlampp’s perspective, when it comes to people and money, it’s important to talk apples and apples, not apples and oranges.

Data sharing across commonalities

As a technology that extends this concept of the HR and finance cloud outwards into the realm of data sharing, Workday has plenty of skin in the game. The company’s Innovation Services Addendum is described as an essential prerequisite to adopting Workday Skills Cloud. ISA is an opt-in that allows customers to reap the benefits of advanced technologies and intelligent applications, such as ML and analytics.

Applying these technologies to people and building an Enterprise Management Cloud is a tough job. Schlampp described a scenario where a firm might have some common industry elements, but much more that might be completely specific to just one working operation. Applying ML to these scenarios is much more complicated, and Workday has been investing in research and development in this space for most of the last decade.

Does Workday confirm it has sections of its data center estate pre-provisioned for specific HR functions and specific finance functions that would be less efficient if applied to other business requirements?

“We have specifically engineered cloud-based human capital management software, and we’re the first company to do it at a large enterprise scale,” Schlampp said. “We’re the leader in this space. I would say it’s different from having a finance cloud, because some customers use our HR applications, but don’t use finance applications… At the end of the day, those two systems actually live in servers that touch each other in the data center, and they share that same data model.”

Circumventing conglomerations

The message from Workday here is that all of its applications work better together, and they work better than any conglomeration of products from legacy providers in what would inevitably be a more loosely coupled arrangement.

While it’s often tough to get any technology vendor to really explain what it does outside of the context of its own platform, Workday has done a fairly comprehensive job of explaining real functions in real applications in real cloud instances — in this case, HR and finance ones. People and money matter.

The cloud is covered. Check out more cloud-filled event news with these recent reports from AWS re:Invent 2022 and Google Next ’22.

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