Workday Rising 2023: The rise (and proliferation) of AI in workplace software

Workday staged the US leg of its annual user and partner conference series this September in San Francisco and the Computer Weekly Developer Network team was there to slot in its puncard and report for duty.

With a concerted focus on AI (and of course generative Artificial Intelligence) being rolled out at multiple stages, tiers and levels of its Human Resources (HR) and finance platform, Workday clearly wants to try and define the term ‘work smart’ with new AI services.

Now celebrating 18-years in operation, the company says that some 65 million people work in companies served by its software.

Workday co-CEO Carl Eschenbach started off the keynote session by talking about how much care and consideration the company is taking as it looks to apply AI to actions such as simplifying expense reports, writing job descriptions and other core HR functions.

“People talk about AI and they talk about ML, but they don’t talk about the output of those models – and the output is only ever as good as the data [you have at hand] and Workday has ‘really’ good data,” enthused  Eschenbach. “But we are very direct and will listen to you [the users] very closely and work to deliver the tools and functions – such as decreasing our platform’s maintenance windows – that people need in the workplace.”

If a 99.9% service level agreement (SLA) can get a round of applause anywhere, it’s here when  Eschenbach talks about it.

Bringing AWS on to talk about the companies’ partnership – there is work underway to be able to call native AWS services from within Workday. Functions such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) and document scanning will be possible (under early access programmes) as soon as next year.

Aligned goals

Maria Black from HR, payroll and tax services company ADP joined Eschenbach on stage to talk about the partnership that the two companies are rolling out. With 1 in 6 Americans now getting their pay cheques from ADP, Black said that 41 million earners around the world are paid through ADP and that represents a big responsibility for the firm.

“For us, it’s all about adding value to our clients and the people that work for them,” said ADP president Black. “Workday and ADP have had a partnership for around a decade ago – but it is global integration between HR and payroll that have brought us together, so there is tremendous overlap between our joint client bases. The work that we have done together to date puts in a place where there are opportunities going forward – and for me it’s all about making it easy and that means even better (and tighter) integration between our systems.”

With so many new levels of compliance that IT vendors in this space need to adhere to, both speakers noted how closely HR-type platform companies will need to continue to work together.

Work needs to scale

Journalist Emily Chang (she’s Emmy award-winning, apparently) welcomed Sunny Bedi, CIO & CDO at Snowflake on stage. As a full platform customer of Workday, Bedi said that his experience was new in this use case because he had never seen an HR platform winner with a financials platform.

“My first question was whether this would enable us to scale,” said Bedi, making subtle reference to the fact that Snowflake has of course experienced very rapid growth (and performed a dozen or so acquisitions) in recent times. “Workday helped with our scaling plans significantly. Onboarding so many employees during Covid as we did and making sure that they were productive from day 1 was a key focus for us and we wanted to do it in a very ‘graceful’ manner – the very personalised experience we get from Workday have enabled us to give our employees what they need.”

With a whole selection of speakers to work through, Chang also welcomed Adena Friedman, chairman and CEO at Nasdaq. Talking about how Nasdaq was founded as an ‘information service’ from the start, Friedman explained how her team has adopted more and more services from Workday over recent years.

Workday platform updates

In terms of platform & product updates, Workday brought forward a whole selection of AI-related enhancements. Among these, the company announced several new features within Workday Human Capital Management (HCM) that simplify and elevate the manager experience by empowering them with the tools they need to lead efficiently and effectively.

These new capabilities are supposed to provide managers with timely insights and recommended actions around things like team time off, important dates, employee skills, sentiment, goals etc.

“Managers play such a pivotal role in the growth and development of their teams, but face increasing pressure to improve productivity and performance while navigating evolving workplace policies,” said David Somers, group general manager, office of the chief human resource officer product, Workday. “Workday is the single source of truth for people data, enabling us to surface relevant team information to managers when they need it most, helping them be more impactful. Workday AI is making it easier for managers to succeed in their most important role: people leadership.”

Workday announced the availability of Manager Insights Hub, a new solution that delivers automated insights and timely actions when they’re needed most.

Manager Insights Hub uses AI and ML to surface ‘personalised recommendations’ – such as connections, mentors and gigs – and make it easier for managers to proactively identify the best opportunities for their employees based on skills interests, which helps improve talent mobility and employee engagement across the team.

Workday also introduced Flex Teams, a new capability within Workday HCM that helps managers quickly identify talent from across the organization, assemble a team and define roles. For example, if a manager needs a team to launch a new product, they can leverage AI within Workday Skills Cloud to see and add suggested employees based on their skills. This is said to help managers act while enabling employees to see more tailored opportunities for growth based on their skills and interests.

Clean data

Workday makes much of what it calls its largest, cleanest set of financial and HR data – and that’s an important claim really isn’t it? As we now engineer-in so much more AI into software that manages ‘real people’ in the workplace, the need to base decisions stemming from data resources on the most accurate and trustworthy data (Workday likes to use the word transparent) is of paramount importance.

This is digital HR, not just the personnel department your grandparents might have known… it’s time to ditch the factory punchcards of the past and log in to the new world of work.


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