CEO Aneel Bhusri talks Workday and Machine Learning at its 2019 customer conference.
CEO Aneel Bhusri talks Workday and Machine Learning at its 2019 customer conference.

Machine Learning More Disruptive than Cloud, Says Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri

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Warning that businesses that ignore machine learning will “be left in the dust,” Workday CEO and longtime cloud evangelist Aneel Bhusri said yesterday that machine learning will become even more disruptive than the cloud computing he’s helped turn into a global phenomenon.

Those would be strong words from any executive. But when they come from Bhusri—one of the leading advocates of and evangelists for cloud computing over the past 14 years—they dramatically underscore the scale and scope of ML’s impact on the business world.

In his keynote address opening his company’s annual Workday Rising customer conference, Bhusri pegged ML as one of the three top-priority areas at fast-growing Workday as it gets closer to topping $1 billion in quarterly revenue. That milestone will probably happen later this year, thanks to:

  • a relentless focus on innovation;
  • machine learning at the core of all Workday technology; and
  • an ongoing focus on customer success and great customer experiences.
A Critical Time for Workday

Bhusri’s pointed and powerful focus on the ubiquitous role machine learning is playing at Workday comes at a critical time for the rapidly growing high-flier, which is #8 on my Cloud Wars Top 10 ranking.

And by “critical time,” I mean that Workday continues to be a nemesis for much-larger competitors SAP and Oracle (#4 and #5 in my Top 10). That, despite SAP and Oracle’s ongoing efforts to marginalize Workday and find a way to stunt its very serious momentum in what used to be their world. (You can read more about that in Archrivals Oracle and Workday Agree on One Thing: SaaS Market Booming.)

Both SAP and Oracle have annualized cloud revenue in the range of $8 billion. Workday’s closing in on a $4-billion annualized run rate. On top of that, both SAP and Oracle have enormous installed bases of big-company customers in every industry and every region of the world. They both desperately need to hold onto those customers as they move from traditional on-premises apps to the cloud.

How Workday Plans to Compete

Looking to disrupt those plans, Workday is relying on three powerful capabilities. These should help it continue growing at 25% to 30% per quarter and, if not thwart, then at least impede the plans of its larger rivals to achieve a dominant position in the SaaS market.

  1. Workday has remarkable relationships with its customers and a longtime obsession with delivering customer success and great experiences to customers. (The company announced this week that its customer satisfaction score for the past 12 months was 97%.)
  2. A competitive advantage from its aggressive and heavily funded R&D efforts. This includes the infusion of cutting-edge technologies such as ML into its products and services.
  3. Its rapidly expanding product portfolio. This not only gives it more to sell but potentially gives customers more reasons to expand within the Workday family.
Key Talking Points from Workday Rising

Regarding that second point about Workday’s all-in commitment to advanced technology overall and ML in particular, let’s take a look at a few points Bhusri and his colleagues made during the opening-day keynote.

  • Its competitors—both cloud-native and those spanning both cloud and on-premises—spend about 15% of revenue on R&D. Workday spends twice that, at 30%.

    CEO Aneel Bhusri talks Workday and Machine Learning at its 2019 customer conference.
    Bhusri gives his Innovation Keynote
  • Bhusri said the theme of this year’s Rising event is “for a changing world,” spanning upheavals in business, society and culture. The only way to help businesses keep up with all that change is via ML and other advanced technologies.
  • Bhusri issued a grave warning and bracing call to action for business leaders still on the fence about ML. “If you don’t embrace Machine Learning in your business and your competitors do, you’re going to be left in the dust,” he said.
  • Workday’s focusing on delivering “customer-centric machine learning” for its customers. Bhusri said that his company has the unique capability to do so, because all of Workday’s products are built on a common architecture with a single data model. That architecture funnels vast volumes of data to help its ML tools can learn and improve.
  • Workday introduced 9 new products at Rising. Every one features ML built-in at the core, Bhusri said.
  • In a customer video, Patagonia said Workday’s ML-powered HCM tools have transformed the recruiting “waiting game.” Instead of unacceptably long lag times for filling key positions, it has a high-value tool that helps fill those spots quickly.
  • In another customer video, Life Time Fitness said the ML capabilities in Workday Financials have helped it automate the detection of errors and anomalies. This allows employees to devote more time to delivering the top priority for Life Time: great customer experiences. 
Closing Thoughts: Workday Knows What It’s Doing

Of course, SAP and Oracle and Salesforce and every other tech vendor is aggressively pursuing new and better ways to drive new business value for customers via ML. But Workday’s been at it for several years and believes it can exploit that experience and expertise into some serious competitive advantage.

Does Bhusri really believe ML will be more disruptive than the cloud?

Well, no tech-industry executive knows the cloud any better than Aneel Bhusri, and it’s just not in his nature to make audacious claims just to hear how they sound. I’ve known Bhusri since 2007, and I believe him.

More important, many thousands of customers do as well.

Disclosure: at the time of this writing, Workday was a client of Cloud Wars Media LLC.


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