Workday CEOs To SaaS Customers: “You Are The Revolution”

In 2006, Workday was a tiny HR software startup with one customer. Four years later, on a balmy Tuesday morning in San Francisco, co-founder Dave Duffield spoke to hundreds of Workday Rising conference attendees about the significance of the gathering.

“You are part of a revolution,” Duffield told a filled-to-capacity ballroom at the Intercontinental Hotel. About 800 customers, prospects, and employees were in attendance, up more than 40% since last year.

The revolution−as anyone remotely aware of what’s happening in the software industry knows−is cloud computing, and Duffield and Aneel Bhusri, also co-founder and co-CEO, cited numbers to demonstrate the enterprise world’s hunger for this revolution−and more specifically, Workday’s human resources and financial software delivered in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model.

While Workday has been careful to manage growth in its early years, nearly 700,000 employees at customer sites are now using Workday−with 20% of them signing in from outside North America− and the Workday system is processing 33 million requests each week, Duffield said.

Workday Co-CEO Dave Duffield presents at Workday Rising 2010

But most relevant to this notion of a revolution is that more than 40% of Workday customers switched over from one of the few remaining top-tier traditional ERP software vendors, according to numbers provided by Bhusri.

“2010 is the year that cloud computing reached the mainstream,” Bhusri told attendees. “Five years from now, people will look back and say this time frame was the tipping point when anything that was innovative came through the cloud model.”

The co-CEOs emphasis on the cloud computing revolution may have seemed a little removed to, say, HR managers in the audience more focused on the features and functions of Workday HCM than the dynamics of the enterprise software industry. (And, they’ll learn plenty of drill-down product details during sessions taking place throughout the conference.)

But it’s clearly Duffield’s and Bhusri’s belief that the cloud computing revolution touches every one of its customers, as it upends the traditional approach to enterprise software and opens the door to more rapid and useful innovations.

Take multitenant system architectures, which Bhusri noted are used by the who’s who of cloud computing: Google, Amazon,, Rackspace, and of course, Workday. Multitenant means that Workday can update customers at the same time, providing a steady and predictable schedule of new features and functionality. Multitenancy lets vendors focus more resources on building great software and systems and their customers focus fewer resources on maintaining and upgrading systems. (In December, all customers are scheduled to go live on Workday 12).

Workday Co-CEO Aneel Bhusri presenting at Workday Rising 2010

Workday’s development approach also calls for separating the user interfaces from core applications, Bhusri said, which lets it keep pace with rapidly evolving user preferences. Phenomenal consumer reception of the Apple iPad, for example, points to the growing preferences of all users to be able to touch their way to information and navigate with fingers rather than mouse clicks. In Workday Labs, a newly formed research and innovation center, Workday is working on a prototype of an iPad application for Workday users.

“It’s innovating not for the sake of innovating,” Bhusri said, “but for making your work lives better.”