Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri has kicked off his last two senior management meetings by emphasizing the importance of maintaining corporate culture. He pulled up his iPad, consulted Workday's dashboards and talked about the talent the company is hiring and perhaps some relevant business trends. He also discussed what is working well at Workday and what isn't.
Such meetings are a breath of fresh air for CIO Diana McKenzie, who joined the cloud application provider in February after spending the first three decades of her IT career in the more conservative biotechnology industry. "I've never had an experience where the CEO has been the one that has been championing that conversation from the top down," McKenzie tells CIO.com. "It gives me great confidence that this company is going to be able to grow and maintain the culture that is so special to how we became who we are."
McKenzie is looking to make her own mark on Workday's corporate culture by embarking on initiatives intended to better position it for profitability. Despite growing revenue to $1.2 billion in 2015 from $134 million in 2011, the maker of human resources and ERP software has struggled to get into the black. Net income has decreased from -$80 million to -$290 million during the same period. That can make for some tense moments for a young company competing with the likes of Oracle, SAP and a cadre of native SaaS rivals.
Big data means big opportunities
Workday 1,100 customers, including Bank of America, Kohl’s and Pfizer, generate large volumes of data about how they use the company’s software. This includes anything from how often an human capital mangement or ERP app is accessed, as well as from what device it is accessed. And Workday itself creates and stores a lot of data, from information on how its sales team uses Salesforce.com to land and manage clients to trouble and maintenance alerts filed and stored in ServiceNow’s IT help desk software. But McKenzie says the data is still relatively siloed. By democratizing data – essentially making it accessible across the enterprise -- the company can better glean insights, both about how customers consume its application, as well as about how the company operates.
"A lot of data that tells us where we have opportunities to run the business more effectively and efficiently sits within a number of our platforms," McKenzie says. "Our ability to mine that to inform ourselves about where some of those opportunities might be is very important to us," McKenzie says. For example, Workday could take data it accumulates on how customers are interacting with an app to improve the product.
Improving the business architecture will create awareness among individuals in the organization about "what data we have, where it is, how they get to it, and what they can and can't see," McKenzie says. Better data governance will ensure consistent definitions of terms such as "customer profitability," which can mean different thing to different line-of-business leaders. She says it’s incumbent on her to ensure that business leaders have the right information at their fingertips to make better decisions.
While McKenzie says that it's too soon in her tenure to say exactly how her team is going to complete this alignment, she says it's a strategic imperative. To help with this initiative, she aspires to create a pipeline where she rotates employees out of IT and into product engineering and vice versa. She says close collaboration between IT and R&D, in which the teams will share knowledge about open source, architecture, data center technologies and public cloud solutions, will help Workday employees better accommodate customers.
Applying lessons learned from biotech to cloud
Steering an IT department through a rapid growth period is challenging, but McKenzie can apply some valuable lessons learned from her prior role as the CIO of Amgen, where she worked from 2004 until earlier this year. During her tenure there, revenues doubled from $10 billion to $20 billion. But the growth happened relatively quickly, which caused decision-making to move away from business leaders who were closer to the customer.
"This can be very dangerous for a company's connection to the customer and can be problematic for the company's ability to continue innovating," McKenzie says. "The importance of ensuring that everyone understand the operating model and where the decision rights sit as a company grows is very important."
The life sciences industry can wear on innovative CIOs, as stringent regulations prohibit IT from moving quickly to adopt emerging technologies. And many biotechnology professionals, despite their deep domain knowledge, simply don't get IT, compounding the challenges CIOs have in making an impact on their businesses. Yet McKenzie credits her appointment to lead Amgen's "innovation workstream," which focused on R&D intended to improve patient outcomes, for raising her interest in learning how to run a software company. She says the experience will help her at Workday, where she will influence product development and interact with customers.
"If you as an IT organization are continuously linked in to the business architecture of the company and you have a great IT team that is all about business outcomes and making sure those business leaders have the data that they need to make critical decisions, you can have a powerful impact on the company," McKenzie says.