CHICAGO — A partnership with Amazon Web Services is not only allowing Workday Inc. to do a test run on operating its software as a service on public cloud infrastructure, it’s opening the doors on signing up more Canadian companies with data residency requirements, according to Workday executives.

Workday is on the verge of announcing its first financial services customer in Canada with a matter of weeks. The unnamed customer will be using Workday’s HCM and Payroll products as a shared service to support its franchises. That customer will be running Workday on AWS Canada Central region as a full production grade service, says David Clarke, senior vice-president of technology at Workday.

“For regulatory or preference reasons they want their data to be resident in Canada,” he says. “So I expect that we’ll be rolling out multiple customers [in Canada] by the end of 2018.”

While Workday is anticipating more customers from Canada’s financial services industry, this won’t be the first time it’s cracked that nut. Sun Life Financial and AGF Management Ltd. are already counted among Workday customers in the Great White North.

The Pleasanton, Calif.-based human capital management and financial management software firm has operated out of its own data centers since its founding in 2005. But CEO and co-founder Aneel Bhusri is signaling a strategic shift is underway.

“Amazon for us is the right architectural decision, it’s a phenomenal platform,” he said at Workday Rising, the firm’s annual user conference. “We’re going to drive as many people as we can into the public cloud.”

Still, Bhusri anticipates Workday will continue to run its own data centres for another five to seven years. That’s to appease certain customers that prefer it to be isolated from a hyperscale cloud provider. Large retailers in particular are not keen on operating on major public cloud platforms, he said.

Workday is already supporting enterprise applications for 1,300 businesses with AWS, according to an Amazon case study. It identified Amazon as its preferred public cloud partner in November of last year. In February, Amazon also became a Workday customer in February, using its Human Capital Management and Payroll software worldwide. No financial terms of that deal were disclosed.

“We don’t want to build a bunch of data centers around the world, that’s super expensive,” Clarke says.

While next regions for the AWS rollout haven’t been announced yet, Clarke predicts that after Canada and the U.S., Asia and Europe will be next with expansion plans for 2019.

It won’t be hard for Workday to move its infrastructure, Clarke says, as Workday will be able to lean on its experience running development workloads in the cloud. Also, Workday will gain some new operational capabilities it doesn’t currently have. Clarke points to having extra capacity to scale compute power quickly, and the ability to update software without causing downtime because of the redundancy available on AWS.

Another Workday product, Learning, was announced in 2015 and became generally available in 2016. The video education service runs entirely on AWS – from hosting to streaming and transcoding the video.
Clarke sees more ways he can take advantage of AWS in the future. He points to the natural language voice services that Workday Talk delivers, offering a button in Workday’s mobile app and in its desktop interface that allows users to ask a quick question to another employee or to an AI-powered chatbot. Amazon’s Alexa-related APIs and its capability to enable text to voice could play a role in this.

“It can inform decision making and the ability to execute right on the spot,” he says. “We want to meet customers right where they are.”

Slated for the Workday 30 release, Workday Talk will be able to provide information on employees. Even further down the road, analytics questions could be added.



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