The stage during Workday rising, where the future of enterprise apps was discussed
The stage during Workday rising, where the future of enterprise apps was discussed

Workday, Machine Learning, and the Future of Enterprise Applications

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As Workday prepares to release quarterly and 12-month financial results later this week, it’s worth considering the implications of its tagline: “Built for the Future.”

In an industry filled with huge competitors led by high-profile CEOs, Workday’s always marched to its own indie beat: low-profile, calm, and generally under the radar.

While I don’t think its recently modified tagline—again, “Built for the Future”—augurs any change in that profile, it does represent a powerful position that CEO Aneel Bhusri’s looking to claim as his company is on the verge of reporting its first billion-dollar quarter.

Because that tagline’s not really about Workday’s products: its flagship HCM software, and it’s not about its fast-growing Financials applications, or its Planning suite or its Prism Analytics.

Instead, it’s about Workday’s customers. It’s about their need to have future-proof and data-driven capabilities for the digital future that awaits us all.

It’s about a promise that Workday is making to its customers: while all of this brinksmanship is going on with companies like SAP and Oracle, you the customer can count on us at Workday to stay focused on taking you successfully, confidently and capably into that future.

For Workday itself, the “Built for the Future” tagline underscores the company’s longtime commitment to differentiating itself through its advanced technology, and also Workday’s desire for that capability to stand out more clearly in the marketplace.

That technological sophistication starts at the top. A few months ago, in an exclusive interview, Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri described himself as the company’s “Pied Piper of ML” for his passionate advocacy about a technology that he believes will be even more disruptive than the cloud

To offer a look into Bhusri’s thinking and why it’s so vital to Workday’s future, here’s an excerpt from that exclusive interview:

In his own understated but high-impact way, Workday cofounder and CEO Aneel Bhusri has become one of the world’s most-bullish evangelists for the extraordinary power and potential of machine learning.

“We’ve always talked about predictive analytics but they’re now a reality—and it’s really a reality,” Bhusri said in a recent exclusive interview.

“It’s what we’ve dreamed about for a long time. But we never actually got there because the technologies weren’t there—but now they’re here.”

And Bhusri is making sure that Workday—which is on the verge of posting its first billion-dollar quarter—is at the forefront in giving corporate customers the full benefits of ML’s transformative capabilities.

“Machine learning is just so profound, right? It’s impacting all of our lives in so many ways,” Bhusri said when I brought up his comment that ML will be even more disruptive than the cloud.

The “Pied Piper of Machine Learning”

“Internally I described my role to the company as ‘the pied piper of machine learning,’” he said with a chuckle. “And I asked every employee in the company to buy the book “Prediction Machines” and charge it back to Workday because we all have to get comfortable with this new world and be able to succeed in it and be able to talk to our customers about it.”

It looks like one of the ways Bhusri is helping Workday’s entire workforce “to get comfortable with this new world” is by letting them know that he’s driving the conversation for that conversion.

“For me there’s actually something very gratifying when I can say, okay, not going to try to get the engineers to work on five different things,” says Bhusri, who refers to himself self-effacingly as “a products guy.”

“So every time I see one of our engineers or developers, I ask, ‘what are you doing on machine learning?’ Or ‘what do you think about machine learning?’ And ‘what should we be doing with machine learning?

“Pretty soon they’re all saying, ‘Okay, before I meet with Aneel, I know he’s going to ask about machine learning so I should have my act together,” Bhusri said. “It gets everybody on the same page—people are excited.” 

At least so far, Workday’s customers have been eager to share that excitement and allow Workday to help them build their digital futures.

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