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Upcoming Workday PaaS aims to open HCM ecosystem to cloud developers

As the Workday HCM ecosystem broadens its user footprint, the company is about to open up its platform and libraries, allowing developers to create custom app add-ons.

"When will Workday open up its platform?"

It's a question posed by none other than Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri in a blog entry he posted on July 11, 2017. The answer appears to be October 2017. In his post, Bhusri said Workday plans to enter the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) market, opening its Workday Cloud Platform to customers, partners and independent software vendors.

Bhusri's question has been asked before. "Workday has been asked about this for a number of years," said Chris Pang, a Gartner research director focused on human capital management (HCM) and ERP technology. "From a technical perspective, Workday is catching up to both Oracle and SAP. This Workday PaaS has been a long time coming."

A Workday PaaS should come as good news to businesses considering a revamp of their legacy HCM environments. As enterprises work to reduce their reliance on legacy applications developed in-house, the value of specialized, subscription cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings rises.

If a SaaS speed bump exists, it is the need to customize those offerings to fit each organization's unique methods, whether it is Salesforce for sales force automation, Concur for travel and expense reporting, Slack for collaboration or Workday for HCM. This ability to customize -- and integrate -- these services through a PaaS to meet individual companies' needs is essential.

In his blog post, Bhusri addressed that very point, writing, "Workday intends to enable customers and our broader ecosystem to use our platform services to build custom extensions and applications."

According to Dan Beck, Workday's senior vice president for technology strategy, the Workday PaaS will provide developers with the ability to work outside the confines of the Workday ecosystem, making it easier to build multi-SaaS integrations. That capability could lead to developers recommending Workday, despite its high cost, to IT decision-makers who might have been reluctant to select an HCM platform perceived as not fully open.

Why wait until now to introduce a Workday PaaS? "We've been busy building out our applications," Beck said. "We're at a point now where we can be open and support the tools that you want to use -- Java, Node.js or clean RESTful APIs." Pointing out a key difference with Oracle, he said, "Oracle is pushing its databases on people, but we don't care how you persist data. You want to use S3 [Simple Storage Service] or Redshift -- both from Amazon -- knock yourself out."

A spokeswoman for the global consultancy Accenture acknowledged the plans for a Workday PaaS, but declined to provide further insight, saying only that Workday "plans to share more details about the Workday Cloud Platform at Workday Rising in October." Workday Rising, slated for Oct. 9 to 12 in Chicago, is the company's customer and partner conference. A European counterpart is scheduled for Barcelona, Spain, in November.

Second-generation Workday PaaS

Though Bhusri and Beck said the time is right, it turns out this initiative is not Workday's first PaaS go-around. In March 2011, the company launched the Workday Integration Cloud Platform, making it an early player in providing customers with a limited development platform.

From that PaaS, based on technology that would now be considered passé, Beck said thousands of integrations were built. "We took the tools that our own developer team was using to build integrations and made it available to our customers," he said. "In 2011, that was more about system-to-system integration. Now, it's about building apps where you can control the user interface and have access to our libraries."

Another key generational difference is the older platform relied on SOAP technology for data exchange, whereas the new Workday PaaS is built atop thoroughly modern REST technology, Beck said.

The act of getting a Workday environment, historically, was reasonably challenging. It was too much friction for developers.
Dan Becksenior vice president for technology strategy, Workday

To provide developers with the ability to exchange techniques and ideas, Beck said the company is gearing up a community called cloud.workday.com, expected to launch before the end of 2017. Staffed around the clock, the site is slated to feature tutorials and offer a feedback loop. "We'll spin up dedicated environments for developers," Beck said. "The act of getting a Workday environment, historically, was reasonably challenging. It was too much friction for developers."

Pang said with each passing year, Workday has made its platform more configurable, allowing the creation of custom fields, but it has taken a cautious position when it came to throwing the doors wide open to custom development. "As competitors have become more sophisticated in their usage of PaaS, Workday has had to follow suit," he said.

The company will provide a series of API tools for developers, but Beck said it was too early to provide details. To help educate developers, Workday has begun offering eight-week, intensive developer training courses tailored to the Workday platform.

HCM segment is growing

The market for HCM software -- what used to be known as human resources -- is soaring. According to a forecast from MarketsAndMarkets, the global market for HCM software is expected to grow from $14.5 billion in 2017 to $22.5 billion in 2022, a compound annual growth rate of 9.2%. Workday itself scored a big win in January 2017 when it landed Walmart as a client for the Workday subscription-based SaaS HCM platform, according to CNBC, which also noted that the casual-dining chain Panera Bread also signed on recently. In February 2017, Workday announced it had signed Amazon as a customer.

By 2020, Gartner predicts 30% of midmarket and large enterprises will have invested in cloud-based HCM, according to the most recent Gartner Magic Quadrant report, published in June 2016.

Joel Shore is news writer for TechTarget's Business Applications and Architecture Media Group. Write to him at jshore@techtarget.com or follow @JshoreTT on Twitter.

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