Dave’s next move: Workday guns for Oracle

When Dave Duffield failed to block Oracle’s hostile takeover of his business applications company, PeopleSoft, he was quick to signal he would be back for revenge. After the 18 month acrimonious battle that concluded with Oracle’s $10.3 billion acquisition in early 2005 – and Duffield’s embittered departure along with 6,000 of his colleagues – he tantalisingly cranked up DavesNextMove.com.

Now, details are beginning to emerge about that next – and hitherto top-secret – venture. Workday, an assembly of some of PeopleSoft’s top engineers, operational executives and strategists, is expected to come out of ‘stealth mode’ in the next few months, revealing a product line that exploits the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, as well as open source, XML and web services, to offer “a revolutionary…next generation approach [that] will result in applications that are highly adaptable, easy to use and less expensive to deploy and manage.”

From its base in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Walnut Creek, Workday will initially launch a suite of human resource applications positioned in the more advanced, analytics-driven segment of human capital management (HCM).

Dave Duffield, Workday

Echoing PeopleSoft’s early go-to-market strategy, that launch into HR will be followed next year by a series of financial applications. However, the “paradigm shift in how enterprise applications serve the extended enterprise” that the company is promising relates more to the delivery model: a hosted, multi-tenanted service. Taking a leaf from the book of customer relationship management SaaS provider Salesforce.com, Workday will also provide a development platform, a set of baseline functionality that third parties can use to extend applications and develop their own plug-in modules.

But its model also allows for ‘self-hosting’. There will be circumstances where customers will want to host the software 'behind the firewall' and still have their applications managed by Workday, the company says. This makes sense for those who make heavy customisations that would otherwise be difficult to support in a typical SaaS environment, says Mark Nittler, VP and chief financial management strategist at Workday, who previously ran financial applications strategy at PeopleSoft.

At least some of that technology is derived from the Summer 2005 acquisition of NetYourWork.com by DavesNextMove.com. HR blogsite SystematicHR suggested at the time that NetYourWork had already built general ledger, budgeting, accounts receivable/payable, purchasing, expense reporting, payroll and HR modules.

From the get-go, Workday will be aiming high. It intends to target the upper echelons of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) mid-market, businesses with annual revenues of $250 million to $1.5 billion. The ‘low-hanging fruit’ in that segment are companies which are looking to replace their older lines of applications, but which are not comfortable with the costs, inflexibility and complexity of “monolithic” ERP systems.

"There are a good amount of legacy McCormack & Dodge and older JD Edwards replacement opportunities,” says Nittler. Highlighting the fact that JD Edwards is now part of the Oracle stable, he adds: “We think we can provide these companies with a compelling alternative to current Oracle offerings." Indeed, Workday executives make no bones about the fact that Oracle is the company they have in its sights.

They are, however, keen to avoid any direct confrontation with ERP market leader SAP. They are also hoping to keep out of the way of Microsoft: "We see them as a potential partner rather than competitor," says Nittler.

The company also identifies some area where it will not be active. Its HR offerings are unlikely to extend to payroll, for example; analysts suggest that it will provide such services through partnerships with payroll specialists such as ADP.

Unburdened by legacy code, the company says it is infusing its designs with cutting-edge capabilities.

With its financial applications, due for release next summer, it is "looking to embed compliance and advanced business information as part of the core,” says Nittler. “That helps customers keep costs down."

Additionally, in designing the Workday suite, the company using the social computing concept of descriptive 'tags' rather than the complex alphanumeric account code blocks that are typical in ERP today. It will offer a two-tier approach where core, standard processes use 'enterprise' tags that work right across the system, plus user-defined 'personal tags' to be employed any way the customer requires. This overcomes the rigidity that existing account codes introduce into enterprise systems. "We're not offering account code blocks. We're trying to make this as flexible as possible for customers," says Nittler.

Winning over customers is certainly the primary goal. But with its predominance of PeopleSoft alumni and Duffield’s deep pockets – he reputedly made $600 million out of the sale of PeopleSoft – Workday has another aim in mind. It may have no illusions that it will be Oracle’s nemesis, but it is certainly keen to play its part.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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