Finance and the Tech Foundation: Making Sense of Enterprise Tech Concepts, Part 1

Having the right finance system has never been more critical for finance teams, who are increasingly being asked to advise their organizations on growth, strategy, and planning. But, let’s face it: understanding how different systems actually work and even deciphering the terms used to describe them can be difficult, especially when there is so much noise in the market. It’s easy to conclude that there are multiple approaches that are essentially the same.

But just like a house needs a good foundation, a finance system needs the right technology foundation to support business demands—today and into the future. A house built on a shaky foundation might look fine from the outside, and seem solid enough—but I’m not sure I’d want to be in it when an earthquake comes along. The same is true when it comes to the foundation of a finance system, and that’s why finance teams need a basic familiarity with the core technologies and concepts that are transforming the profession. What you don’t know can hurt you. And, if you don’t ask the right questions now, you might be saddled with technology you’ll regret.

This blog series will explain several technology concepts that Workday was built upon—the cloud delivery model, data security, a unified architecture, transactions and analytics in one place, and built-in workflow. I’ll then look at the capabilities and benefits that this foundation brings to finance professionals. Our hope is that by explaining why these fundamental technology choices matter, we’ll make it easier for finance professionals to make the right decision. And I promise not to get too geeky, keeping this in the realm of why this matters for finance.

Cloud Delivery Model

It’s worth remembering what it used to be like before the cloud. Software was implemented on-premise using dedicated hardware, and implementations often included customizations that modified the basic software. Organizations were responsible for maintaining hardware, upgrading software, and keeping any customizations up-to-date, often relying heavily on IT for this support. Vendors needed to support multiple versions, because not all customers could or would upgrade to the latest version due to cost and complexity.

Just like a house needs a good foundation, a finance system needs the right technology foundation to support business demands—today and into the future.

With all of the responsibilities and pressures facing finance teams today, they don’t have time to be concerned about whether their software is up-to-date and able to support business and regulatory changes, or if they’ll need to allocate budget to maintain their systems.

From the beginning, Workday wanted to solve the headaches caused by the old models: maintenance, upgrades, time, complexity, cost, and a race to avoid running obsolete software, to name a few. This leads us to the first fundamental concept that Workday embraced: the cloud. But it’s not just the fact that we embraced the cloud, but how we went about embracing it.

At a fundamental level, any architecture that makes software available as a service could be considered cloud. But, it’s how a vendor leverages the cloud model that has the most impact on your organization. Many vendors have simply taken their existing on-premise software and moved it off-site, making it available to customers through an interface. This approach simply takes the same issues you had before and moves them to a different location. It doesn’t solve the problems facing finance teams, who still grapple with out-of-date software that requires expensive, complex IT projects to make the changes necessary to keep your business in compliance with an ever-changing regulatory environment or to simply get an accurate view into how your business is performing. It’s a little like moving all the junk in your closet into storage without going through it and getting rid of anything.

We set out to build a system where all customers would be on the same version of the same system. For finance, this means that when a feature is added to Workday’s software—say, to address a new regulation—every customer gets it, automatically, and at the same time. This also means that customers can share best practices, because they’re all running the same software, and that integrations with other systems “just work,” because there’s only one version of Workday’s system.

By delivering our financial management system through the cloud, we can also make sure that customers have the resources they need, including during period-end and other crucial times. From the very beginning, we accepted that our applications would have to be highly available. To this end, we have made significant investments in architecture, backup, disaster recovery, monitoring, and automation technologies to help prevent our customers from experiencing outages to their business during critical tasks. We’re even taking this a step further, investing in the technology and processes required to achieve zero downtime, ensuring the system is always available without exception.

Data Security

You may have concerns around data security and privacy when it comes to using a finance system delivered in the cloud. You want to be assured that your data is only accessible to you and there’s no risk of data loss. Workday is strongly committed to protecting our customer’s data and their privacy. We have a single security model for all data, transactions, processing, and applications, which allows us to ensure that all access and changes to data are tracked and audited.

We’ve gone even further to ensure we are certified against the most rigid industry standards around data security and privacy, such as ISO 27001 and 27018. If you are not familiar with these guidelines, what this means is that we hold ourselves to the highest standard when it comes to securing data in order to exceed even the most demanding security requirements from your organization.

I’ll finish explaining the rest of these core technology concepts in my next blog—a unified architecture, transactions and analytics in one place, and built-in workflow—and share why they matter so much to finance and supporting the business.

(Read the next post in this series, “Finance and the Tech Foundation: Making Sense of Enterprise Tech Concepts, Part 2.”)