Friday, January 24, 2014

Workday Making Life Easier for Enterprise Users

Even if you don't follow developments in HR technology, you should pay attention to what Workday is doing, for two reasons. First, Workday is no longer just an HR systems provider, having expanded its footprint into financial systems, operational support for service delivery, and business intelligence. Second, as a SaaS-only provider, Workday has been, in my opinion, a leader in best practices in deploying cloud enterprise systems.

In December, the company released Workday 21. In addition to the 246 new features included in this version, it also features a major update to its user interface, which Workday starting rolling out earlier this month. 

Enterprise User Experience Overdue for Refresh

The look and feel of enterprise software has not changed much since the days of client server, when graphical user interfaces took over from the old green screen mainframe-like experience. Workers use desktop computers to access a main menu, which displays a series of icons or links that point to various subsystems. Data entry screens cram as much information as possible so that users do not have to click through to multiple panels to complete a transaction. Because of the density of information, enterprise software came with extensive user manuals, online help, and training classes.

When vendors abandoned the client-server architecture for browser-based thin clients, they did not generally change this paradigm. They just changed the back-end. They did not significantly alter the fundamental user experience.

Now vendors face a serious problem when users demand mobile access. These user interfaces do not translate at all to a smart phone or tablet display. Mobile access, if provided at all, is a completely different user interface than that on the desktop. In fact, some vendors sell mobile access as an additional product, separate from the vendor's traditional desktop access.

Raising the Bar

Workday has always paid a lot of attention to its user interface. In fact, Workday has gone through something like five major updates in its UI: from HTML/AJAX to Adobe Flex, then adding native IOS and Android, and now to HTML5.

But apart from the technology change, Workday's new interface illustrates several best practices, some of which it derived from consumer Internet services, such as Google and Facebook.These are my take-ways:
  1. One interface for all platforms. The familiar "Workday Wheel" is now gone. Why? Because it did not translate well to smartphone or tablet access. The new homepage is a grid of icons that resize and scale according to the size of the screen.
  2. Easy movement between platforms. Most of us get interrupted in the middle of our work. The new UI allows users to start a process, such as a performance review, on one platform (e.g. a desktop) and then continue or complete it on another platform (e.g. a smartphone). 
  3. Less is more. Workday has removed less-than-essential information from panels, such as the employee profile, organizing and relegating it into tabs or linked lists, so that panels focus the user's attention on what is most important. I especially like the drop-down navigation on the left side of the header bar, which looks quite a bit like Facebook's left side navigation.

  4. Inbox-driven workflow. No more jumping jumping back and forth to the Workday Wheel to complete tasks. A new unified in-box gives users a view of all notifications, with a preview pane and ability to take action right in the inbox.
  5. Intuitive use. Viewing the user interface in action, it becomes obvious that most users will not need a lot of training on "what key do I press?" As in the past, they will need training on Workday's functionality and how it applies to their jobs. But the new interface should greatly speed the time to productivity for most users. 
These are just some of the points about the new UI. In addition, there are many functionality enhancements, which I'm not covering here.

To see quick overview of the new UI, check out this video by Workday's VP of User Experience, Joe Korngiebe (you can skip past Joe's opening remarks and start at the one minute mark, if you like). 

To be fair, other enterprise vendors, such as Infor, Oracle, and SAP, are making great strides in the user interfaces as well. Workday's most recent release provides another example of how life is getting easier for enterprise software users.

Update: Over at Diginomica, Dennis Howlett has his own take on Workday's new UI.

Related Posts 

Best Practices for SaaS Upgrades as Seen in Workday's Approach
Workday Pushing High-end SaaS for the Enterprise


Matthew King said...

Hi Frank,

You mention a unified inbox driven workflow.

However, when I expand the picture I can't see an inbox. Can you elaborate on this concept if not the specifics?

Also, can emails be sent and received from within the Workday environment? In other words is there still a need for a separate email tool such as Outlook?

Frank Scavo said...

Hi Matthew, to see the inbox, click on the video that I reference in the post ( and go to the 1:37 minute mark.

The "inbox" is not an email inbox. It is simply a list of actions or notifications that the user should act upon.

Therefore, no, the Workday inbox does not replace your email client. you will still need Outlook an equivalent.

Peter E said...

I've used "work-a-day" recently and I have been underwhelmed. I asked a few of my peers and they felt the same. Apparently our platform has been given this new look and feel just yet, but the version we have is clunky and cumbersome to an individual employee. Maybe if you manage a team of 50+ employees, the functionality will be more useful.

I'll be interested to see the updates. I have not been impressed over the last 1-2 years.

I work at a big tech company in SV (product marketing).

Frank Scavo said...

Peter, please email me at the email address shown in right hand column. I'd be interested in more details on your experience, on a confidential basis.