A Front Row Seat At Workday DevCon

This week I spent a day at Workday’s DevCon, the company’s fast-growing application developer conference, and there is a lot to talk about.

Let me start with a simple reminder: for all its strategy, sales, and marketing, Workday is essentially a software company. The Workday platform is a marvel of technology, and over the last few years the company has been opening it up as a platform, a set of APIs, and a place for partners and developers to build new things. And this strategy has huge and significant implications.

Several weeks ago Aneel Bhusri the Co-Founder, Co-CEO and Chairman, made a comment that in order for Workday to grow into its $10 Billion ambitions, the company will need partners to build more vertical applications on top of the platform. Well, this week they rolled out many of the tools that make this happen, so I’ll briefly discuss them here.

The Workday APIs

You have to think about Workday as a platform like Google, AWS, or Azure. While most companies think of it as an application, the platform itself has more than 2,000 application programming interfaces (APIs) that let customers or partners access data, create and orchestrate transactions, integrate other systems, or build additional functionality.

The Developer Community and Opportunity

Right now there are approximately 3,500 certified Workday developers in the world and LinkedIn alone shows more than 15,000 such jobs open. So this is a hot space and lots of people are looking for these skills.

Since the system has many proprietary features (as do the other cloud platforms), developers have to get to know how these APIs work. So most of the developers I met there had lots of experience with Workday, and the company spends lots of time teaching them, supporting them, and promoting the work they do.

One group of developers from PwC, for example, built an entire “shop management” application that integrates with Workday Financials. Their client, which appears to be a large insurance company, wanted to integrate its financial management with the huge network of auto repair shops around the world.

As I listened to their discussion I realized they were really building an entire vertical application that deeply integrates with Workday. Consider, for example, how an auto repair shop creates an “estimate,” which then results in a “final invoice,” which includes the cost of parts and services, with many parts supplied by others. All these transactional steps eventually result in revenue or expense for the insurance company, so the PwC team built a careful integration for each step. What they essentially built is a vertical application for Workday.

Wes Fisher, a senior Workday engineer discussed the company’s two-year effort to build a massive financial application for Asset Market Pricing and Profitability called FTP (Funds Transfer Pricing). Every time a bank issues a loan or takes a deposit or issues a CD, there are a series of financial transactions that must be accounted for. The treasury department of that bank wants to look at these thousands of assets in the face of different interest rate changes, future scenarios, and market segments. It’s a massively important application that every bank must use.

Workday is building this system in partnership with its clients and using Workday Prism Analytics and Workday Extend for implementation. The engineer showed us the workflows, the application design, and how they have been working with clients to bring it to market. Again I walked away thinking “this is a whole new vertical application for Workday,” something that will help the company grow.

Many corporate developers were also talking about their work. SunLife, for example, has built more than ten new applications on top of Workday and the developer who did much of the work started as a configuration manager. She learned, over a few years of hard work, how to code, use, test, and deploy these apps and is now proudly showing them off. They do things like help employees administer their tuition reimbursement, other forms of leave, and things that the company used to do by hand. Over the years they’ve moved from query and reporting applications to complex transactional applications built on Workday. Each eliminates spreadsheets or other paper processes.

So this opportunity, essentially, is everywhere. Just as you use Excel or PowerPoint to “build” what you need as an individual, you can now use Workday to “build” whatever you need that spans many employees or systems in your company.

What’s New

While I’m not a software engineer (I did do coding in Fortran, Cobol, and DB2 years ago), I did learn a lot about some of the new tools. Here are a few of the sessions I attended:

  • The New Workday Graph API – you can now use GraphQL (an open-source query language widely used by many software developers) to sit on top of the Workday APIs. This means almost any software engineer with simple query processing experience can access many of the Workday APIs through GraphQL, an easy-to-use interface.
  • New User Interface Objects – you can now develop Workday apps that publish videos, create graphs (of many types), including tables and computational objects (like spreadsheets), cards (the beautiful little boxes that appear in Workday Journeys and many user interfaces), and what Workday calls Hubs (which can range little web pages with menus and tabs to complex information centers). This will make new Workday apps much more interesting and extend them into new areas.
  • Workday Orchestrate – Workday has a workflow engine designed to create complex workflows, integrate with external systems, create business rules and approvals, create process triggers, and much more.
  • Workday Prism Analytics – As I described in the LTM project above, this is a massive data processing platform that can process data, analyze data, and has a highly programmable interface to manage large amounts of rapidly changing data
  • Integration With Workday Adaptive Planning – one of the developers built an application that takes a financial plan in Adaptive Planning (for tuition reimbursement) and lets managers around the company input and edit their tuition estimates. Imagine the myriad of opportunities for automated workforce planning.
  • New integration with UiPath, opening the door to use RPA (robotic process automation) to automate actions in other systems from Workday Business Processes. This opens the door to new applications for onboarding, transition, and hundreds of other employee or candidate applications.
  • Workday AppBuilder, an integrated toolset that brings all the workday tools together.

Where Is All This Going?

The momentum here is massive. Now that Workday is used by tens of thousands of companies, the marketplace of internal developers, consulting firms, and application providers is growing. I looked on LinkedIn today and found that there are now more Workday Developer jobs open than there are Oracle Developer positions!

What this means, of course, is that firms like PwC, Deloitte, Kainos, Alight, Intecrowd, and others are rapidly building Workday development businesses. But the big opportunity is within your own company. While you probably have a small team of people who configure and manage your Workday system, you can now hire contractors or start to train developers to customize, integrate, and extend the system.

Is this an easy-to-use experience? I would have to say no. If you compare developing a Workday Extend application with a project like building a new Microsoft Teams site or ServiceNow Journey, it’s still a much more complex process. Workday at its core is a highly scalable transactional system, so you have to know what you’re doing.

But over time this will change. This is only the second year Workday has been in the “Developer Con” business, so I would guess you’ll see thousands more developers here in a year. The company has definitely gotten the gospel and is now pushing hard to make it easier than ever to extend, adapt, and expand your Workday investment.

Additional Information

Workday Innovation Summit: Lots of Growth Ahead

HR Technology Market Disrupted: Employee Experience Is The New Core

Workday Goes Everywhere: Into The Flow Of Work And More

Workday Learning: Accelerating Fast