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Workday Student System: Preparing for the Future

On September 10, 2013 Workday announced the development of a student system that is mobile-first cloud application. This announcement will surely have an impact on future planning for many organizations dissatisfied with their current system. According to the release, Workday stated:

Today’s higher education institutions face increasing pressures due to political and public dissatisfaction with rising tuition costs, increased student debt, and declining job-placement rates. Funding models for these institutions are shifting from enrollment-based to outcome-based, placing more emphasis on students getting the relevant job skills they need to compete in the global economy. Higher education institutions are tackling these problems with 20-year-old legacy student applications and bolt-on solutions, resulting in complex and disjointed systems that are extremely costly to maintain.  

Cloud computing

What are the potential challenges?
I think there are many organizations facing the challenge of supporting new models with their currently configured system, with fewer people and money to effectively make changes. Workday’s approach is:

… to leverage modern technology, cloud delivery, in-memory technology, object modeling, and big data analytics, to create a natively built mobile student application that transforms the way colleges manage their students—from prospecting to graduation and beyond.

In a blog post from February 2012, SaaS Changes to Higher Ed ERP Market, I identified the challenge of current ERP vendors trying to change to a student centric approach:

The current ERP offerings would have a very difficult time adjusting from a model of managing the students to a model where the student is the center of the interactions. SaaS provides a different implementation model that can provide an institution savings, but also could provide the speed and agility  for an ERP vendor to change to a student centric approach.

Workday plans to make an add-on application, sold separately, of the system available to customers in the second half of 2014. They foresee the release of the complete product by the end of 2016. Important considerations to mull over will include the components in the initial release versus the full product and the impact on current planning.

Will the Workday and SalesForce partnership factor into the student system?
In addition to the student system announcement, Workday and SalesForce announced a partnership that will “…connect Salesforce’s platform to Workday’s financial management and human resources tools, while linking Workday’s applications directly into Force.com and Salesforce’s collaboration tool, chatter.”

I do wonder if Workday will use the SalesForce platform to provide the CRM capability. Leveraging the SalesForce platform would speed the development and allow Workday to focus on the core student system functionality. We will have to see how Workday leverages this partnership and if they leverage other SaaS vendors, such as Regent Education who provides a financial aid solution designed to handle non-standard terms.

The finance and HR solution will be viewed as the starting point with the promise of the new student system. Assuming the vision is delivered, I would imagine the first implementation of the student system would be as a separate system to help address non-standard term issues like continuing education and competency-based learning.

What key points should we consider?
As you approach your planning process, it is always important to:

  • Ensure the vision and timing of the Workday student system meets your organizational objectives.
  • Ensure the definition of the early release and the full product is capable of meeting your needs.
  • Understand the true cost and value of any solution, SaaS or traditional. The costs models are different, and it is important to understand the costs and the value over time. Speed and agility are valuable to industry in transition.
  • Understand the organizational impact to the implementation of technology solutions. SaaS solutions will have an impact on an IT group with changes to roles and responsibilities.

It will be interesting to see the current vendor reaction to the Workday system. How will they respond, if at all? Existing vendors have the benefit of having an installed base and Workday has the advantage of building a new solution to meet today’s needs. Hopefully, this will lead to better options for higher education.

It will take time for the Workday system to be developed, but a SaaS vendor can become a major player very quickly. Just look at Instructure’s LMS solution. Canvas was released in 2011 and today is in use at over 400 colleges, universities, and school districts. Canvas moved from new player to being considered on almost all LMS selection processes in a very short period of time. Only time will tell if Workday does the same.

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