“Especially in financials, CFOs don’t wake up in the morning saying, ‘what I want to do today is replace my general ledger,’ but they are finding that existing systems aren’t letting them do the things with machine learning, better reporting and so on that newer competitors are benefiting from,” Mr Clarke said.
Oracle and SAP would hotly dispute Workday’s claims that they are the best choice for HR and financial software in the cloud era, and have spent the last few years looking to reposition themselves in the minds of customers as cloud players.
But Mr Clarke said its rivals were struggling to make a generational shift from the so-called client server era, where systems and applications were housed on in-house infrastructure, to cloud computing.
Newer companies like Workday had an advantage because they had a suite of cloud native products, whereas the likes of SAP and Oracle had to waste effort maintaining and developing older technology products.
Workday’s more established rivals were playing catch-up by acquiring cloud-based software companies and hoping to cobble them together.
Since buying travel and expenses management software company Concur for $US8.3 billion in 2014, SAP has acquired 11 other companies, most notably salesforce management software firm Callidus Software for $US2.24 billion and customer and employee survey software company Qualtrics for $US8 billion.
“[Oracle and SAP] do say they are doing what Workday is doing and we’re flattered that their marketing materials resemble ours,” Mr Clarke said.
“We try not to talk too much about our competitors, but they’ve gone off and followed an acquisition path to get to some of these capabilities. But that has ended up meaning that they have got islands of capability which are just not connected to each other.
“So, [with SAP] if you’re reporting expenses in Concur, you can’t run the same report in SuccessFactors, they’re kind of islands of modernity, whereas in a cloud-native system like ours, a report you write in one area of our application works in the other area.”
While it is a software provider, Mr Clarke said Workday was seeing at first hand the struggle some organisations were having in transitioning to a new way of working, where smarter systems could automate mundane tasks.
Mr Clarke is one of Workday’s top executives globally, and said he saw the same challenges facing Australian organisations as elsewhere, where demand for technical skills was far higher than supply.
The company was keen to advocate for educational changes, so that companies will be more willing to invest in ambitious tech initiatives.
“That has to come back to an education strategy in countries, and politicians are only really now starting to grapple with it, because they often feel that tech is a little elitist, and not something they want to be seen to champion,” Mr Clarke said.
“The fact is that the way that we teach kids today is the same as the way we taught them 20 years ago, where they are still sitting in a classroom with a teacher who did a degree in one subject and isn’t qualified to teach programming or maths.”
Asia Pacific director of Workday Financials James Harkin said the company had won contracts with five Australian universities in the last 18 months, and the executives all spoke about tech-led changes to the workforce and workplace, and what automation meant for jobs.
“The universities are paranoid about this, because they recognise that in many respects they’ve been selling certificates, rather than selling education,” Mr Harkin said.
“With digital disruption to education they’ve got to think about how they make themselves more relevant … Instead of a certificate that costs you $100,000 with a big HECS debt, why not change the way you’re thinking about training the workers for the work of the future?”