Sep 06

Have I seen the future? Impressions from Dreamforce (salesforce.com) and Workday

“salesforce.com`s” (sic) Dreamforce extravaganza took place in San Francisco at the end of August, and extravagant it was  – with Marc Beniof as tireless chief cheerleader for 45000 registrants and host to a social vision of computing that he happily disgorged. In contrast Workday, separately, presented its own vision for HR and Financials for tomorrow. Both have compelling aspects, in vastly different ways – although both are based in a cloud. To IT one will look rather more familiar and more attractive than the other.

Dreamforce was Hollywood come to software. Marc Beniof delivered his vision of how the enterprise must become social. He argued, with passion and supporting figures, that cloud-based IT – which is what Salesforce has been delivering for almost a decade – is now (in his words) inevitable. Already 22% of “Internet time” is social; by 2013 he forecast that there will be 16Bn mobile devices (primarily smart-phones and tablets). But he went much further. He suggested that, just as the consumer has gone social with Facebook and Twitter et alii, so must enterprises; that organizations and businesses which do not go social will lose contact with customers and so must gradually lose touch with sales. Whether or not you agree with this concept of a social enterprise, and the 3 steps to reach it, he produced enough instances to show that he is already convincing many enterprises (from Burberry to Avon to Kelly Services, etc.) that the social enterprise can be real.

Beyond his clarion call that businesses must introduce that social enterprise he went further. He described a mobile world – quoting Morgan Stanley that tablets are the “fastest ramping product ever” – which by definition require an on-demand cloud platform which can support a social enterprise (which is necessarily mobile). That is why salesforce.com has delivered Chatter, a Twitter-like social tool that it has embedded within the force.com platform. It is why salesforce.com is adopting HTML5 – not least because (through its touch.salesforce.com layer) developers for the salesforce.com cloud platform will no longer have to worry about which type of mobile device will consume the applications and data that reside within salesforce.com’s cloud. It is also why database.com and force.com have had significant other improvements announced – all aimed at enabling the willing to transition from conventional IT to a cloud computing implementation.

Being able to contrast salesforce.com and Workday is instructive. Workday is quite different and comes from a wholly different and proven heritage. For those who do not recall, Dave Duffield (and others from PeopleSoft) founded Workday. Dave Duffield must also be unique. He has already made 3 fortunes through delivering applications centered around the HR and financial disciplines while exploiting different generations of technology: first at Information Associates (online computing), then at Integral Software (using databases) and after that at PeopleSoft (client/server). He looks well set with Workday (cloud and mobile) to do it for a fourth time – even if HR is now called Human Capital Management (HRC).

Like Salesforce.com, Workday is mobile and the cloud but with a decidedly different emphasis. Rather than concentrate on “enhanced twittering” at the core (as Salesforce.com is doing with Chatter), Workday has rethought how its processes and data within its “application suite’s” capabilities might exploit mobile computing, most specifically tablets, to deliver what mobile people want. To Workday tablets are the next generation – flexible, portable and capable of being used by most people in an organization – because most people consume information rather than create it. In the Workday vision, PCs become specialized – for use by staff who need the greater screen real estate to perform their functions.

In effect Workday is approaching HRC (and its Financials, which are almost complete as a separate product suite), from the angle that it is information and the associated actions/decisions that are all important, that it is information usage and consumption rather than processing which counts. Workday makes this that much easier by locating its applications (and thereby the processes, actions and associated information) within its own cloud which in turn removes the need, as with the salesforce.com approach, for customers to have to worry about updates, storage, backup, etc.: all this is done for you as part of the software-as-a-service.

With its innovative Workday Wheel, information and actions are presented on the mobile devices (especially well on tablets), while still keeping the enterprise data secure (within the Workday cloud, and not on the mobile device). This enables, for example, most C-level executive to focus on reporting and on actions/decisions that they need to take, rather than on how processes work. Similarly managers and people who are on the move want access to the information that helps them complete their objectives. The ease and flexibility which Workday makes possible has to be seen.

Have I, therefore, seen the future? Both ‘salesforce.com’ and Workday present visions of a future that are quite distinct from that with which IT is familiar. They are also very different visions, albeit with common elements – not least their emphases on running applications in a cloud and on the importance of mobility as key determinants of the future. To many in IT the salesforce.com “super-emphasis” on the need for a social enterprise may seem “over-the-top”, and more like showbiz than reality. But customers with big brand names have already signed up.

By comparison the Workday approach seems “flatter”: it lacks the razzamatazz. But it is also much more immediately appealing as it there is less noise to cut through. For IT and for many in management, the Workday approach will be simpler to understand for it requires less of a leap of imagination (and faith). To me, the Workday “philosophy” is the more readily credible.

Yet IT should look at both, especially for the costs and operational efficiencies and simplicities introduced to enterprises (though not necessarily to IT). These are potentially of huge value, financial and operational. Furthermore, the salesforce.com approach and that of Workday are no longer so far apart. At Dreamforce they jointly announced plans to combine Workday’s software-as-a-service applications with salesforce.com’s Chatter social application and to run with force.com, thus enabling Salesforce.com/Workday customers to create custom applications which access Workday’s information as well as add the social enterprise dimension.

The traditional world of IT, and especially that of traditional software vendors, should both be nervous. The latter’s legacy maintenance income streams may be their key to short term survival (though for how long remains to be seen). Many of IT’s traditional functions may also disappear. Whether it is salesforce.com or Workday or some other cloud and mobile-oriented vendor, delivery shaped by the flexibility of a cloud and the flexibility of mobile devices is here to stay.

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