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September 10, 2013

Workday Opens the Flood Gates to External Data

Alex Woodie

Organizations today have a lot of options when it comes to picking a big data platform. Hadoop, Hive, MongoDB, etc. The list goes on and one. With today’s launch of Workday’s Big Data Analytics offering, the provider of cloud-based HR and financial applications is hoping to simplify the big data decision process for its customers.

Workday has long offered analytic capabilities as part of its HR and financial application services. But until now, those Workday analytics have been restricted to running only against the customer’s Workday-related data.

That is changing with the launch of the Big Data Analytics option, which gives Workday customers the option to integrate outside data into their Workday environments, and to run analytics against the combined data. In addition to enabling users to import their own data, Workday is providing pre-built data feeds for popular topics.

The new Big Data Analytics offering does utilize Hadoop on the backend, but that shouldn’t concern non-technical business users, says Dan Beck, the company’s vice president of technology product management. “There’s no coding MapReduce jobs. There are no SQL statements. It’s about using functions in an Excel-like metaphor to join data,” he says. “If you’re good at Excel and can handle functions in Excel–like slicing and dicing data and seeing trends and correlations–that’s the form factor we’re going for with this.”

The offering’s Excel-like analytic client is based on technology that Workday OEM’ed from Datameer. On the backend, the setup will initially be based on Amazon Web services, including S3, EC2, and the Elastic MapReduce. Beck says in the future the setup will be run on Cloudera’s Hadoop distribution hosted in Workday’s data center.

Workday will ship five pre-built templates with the offering (or, more accurately, be enabled on the Workday servers, since this is a SaaS offering). These templates are designed to accelerate the entire process, including obtaining and integrating outside data, mixing it with existing Workday data, and then creating visualizations that business users can understand and take actions on.

The five templates that are available now cover various HR and financial topics, and include: Market Compensation Comparison (compares Workday data with data from benchmark studies and surveys); Global Payroll Cost Analysis (merges payroll-related data); Headcount Analysis (pulls data from external recruiting solutions); Retention Risk and Impact Analysis (pulls data from external social sites); High Performer Analysis (helps characterize the best employees to help develop ways to boost lower performing workers).

The company plans to ship two more templates, including Revenue Pulse (pulls data from competitive, regional, and economic data sets) and Worker Productivity (pulls data from CRM systems, surveys, and learning management systems). IBM has also committed to building a template called Attrition Reporting, and other systems integrators that partner with Workday are apparently working on their own templates too, Beck says.

Workday is also building a series of data “bridges” and templates to take even more work out of the data ingest and analysis process. These bridges will allow customer to access their data sets stored in, LinkedIn, and ServiceNow. Others could be added in the future, Beck says.

Workday users can also build their own connections to outside data. They can do this using basic connectors to load flat files, or they can get fancier and do some programmatic integration using Web services or ODBC or JDBC connections.

Workday customers have been asking for this capability for some time, Beck says. “They’re excited about big data,” he says. “They’re becoming aware of the broader possibilities in the big data space. What about job board data? What about LinkedIn data? What about general government data?  I’m amazed at the amount of value in just Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the list goes on from there.”

Of course, Workday customers have always had the capability to blend and analyze external data with their Workday data. Since day one, the San Francisco, California company has allowed customers to pull their data out of Workday and store it in an on-premise data mart.

But keeping the data within Workday brings certain advantages, Beck says, including avoiding the need to replicate transactional data out of Workday, the consistency of a unified security model, and the capability to integrate the results of analytic processes within the standard Workday application workflow. Beck also counts the capability to disseminate and view reports to mobile devices as another benefit.

Don’t expect to see Workday transform itself into an analytic cloud company. “We’re not trying to be all things to all people. We’re really narrowly focused around key business questions that relate to HR and finance,” Beck says. “It’s a fairly logical extension to say, I have a little more data that if I could bring it into Workday’s cloud, I could make a better decision.”

Customers can start with 2TB of data in their Workday Big Data Analytics environment, and scale up to 50TB across four usage tiers (although they can go higher if needed). The offering is a part of the rollout of Workday 20, which includes other new features.


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