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HR Tech, Las Vegas, 10/8-10/2014
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Webinar Sponsored by Workday: "Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Business Value," 5/3/12 Audio/Whitepaper
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HR Happy Hour - Episode 118 - 'Work and the Future of Work', 9/23/11
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Webcast Sponsored by Workday: "Building a Solid Business Case for HR Technology Change," 5/31/12
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Workday Rising, 10/11/10
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Adventures of Bloom & Wallace

a work in progress

Interrogatory Configuration And Workday’s Tech Summit 2012

[Full disclosure:  Workday is a client, but I attended their Tech Summit 2012 and a portion of Workday Rising 2012 as an "influencer," and my related travel expenses were reimbursed by Workday.] 

You may have thought that everything that could be said about Workday’s Tech Summit 2012 had already been posted, but you were wrong.  There was another announcement made there quietly, as befits the first steps on what is going to be a multi-release, probably multi-year product journey, that has not yet been covered.  And since Workday’s announced “Collaboration Framework,” described by them as a lifecycle deployment tool, is their vision for interrogatory configuration (which I still think they should have been named “Naomi”), I thought I’d combine an update of my own views on this topic with the highlights of what Workday announced at their recent Tech Summit: 

#WDAY @Workday‘s interrogatory configuration tool accelerates configuration of SaaS tenant, supports sales demos as well as implementation   2:58 PM – 5 Nov 12 

Three years ago, in the first month of my blogging journey, I wrote:

“Two of my long-standing HRM software architecture preferences have gone mainstream (remember, this is 12/2009):

  1. True multi-tenancy, a required foundation for successful HRM SaaS products or BPO platforms; and
  2. Highly configurable tenants, to include the effective-dating of those configurations, full inheritance across and within tenants, and no disruption of configurations as the vendor applies new releases.”

Thus began the introduction to my first post on interrogatory configuration, on what I saw then, and even more so now, as the key to durable success for true SaaS.  Yes, as I envision it, interrogatory configuration is an essential enabler of financial success for true SaaS vendors, of business outcomes and agility/innovation success for their customers, and of freedom for those customers (once and for all) from overly expensive and time-consuming sales cycles, implementation projects, ongoing adoption of new capabilities, and ongoing accommodation of customer business changes. 

Winding forward three years, I’m not only convinced that interrogatory configuration is that key but am heartened to see how much progress has been made by the true SaaS HRM vendor community on turning the relevant concepts and intellectual property into early stage delivery.  Therefore, among the many announcements made by Workday at their recent Technology Summit and Rising customer conference, I see their work on interrogatory configuration as having some of the most durable benefits for their customers.

Highly configurable (you already know that Workday, with release 18, will unleash the capability to extend their objects and empower these extensions with the full range of object support that every Workday object receives — see Josh Bersin’s excellent discussion), metadata-driven, definitional development is a wonderful thing.  Several of my client HRM software vendors are on this path, but Workday is still the most visible and mature true SaaS HRM vendor using these techniques — and Workday has delivered the most complete expression of them thus far.  

But even in configuration, all those available choices have to be analyzed, selected, tested and implemented, individually and in combination with other choices.  And this must be done with care and a deep knowledge of the downstream implications of various configurations, not only during the initial implementation but also every time business needs change, software upgrades are applied (even when applied as SaaS mostly opt-in updates), regulatory rules appear/change including retroactively, new executives bring new perspectives, etc.

Enter interrogatory configuration, which is pretty easy to explain but VERY difficult to do, at least for complex HRM software.  Basically it’s a piece of software (think TurboTax) which poses questions to the client ‘s business analyst (which could be a 3rd party, including the vendor’s implementation services person), provides a context for those questions along with the implications of selecting from among the available answers (e.g. explaining what types of organizational structures use what types of position to job relationships and why), and then, based on the selections made (and all such are of course effective-dated and subject to inheritance where appropriate), it does the configuration of the base application without manual intervention of any kind.  Interestingly, Google filed a patent for a VERY limited example of this in 1997, which was awarded in 2001, in which they make very clear that you can’t do this unless the underlying architecture, the software to be thus configured, is composed of objects that can be manipulated dynamically.

More Talmudic than Socratic, this question/answer dialogue continues, with each exchange doing one set of configurations while setting up the next set, until the customer has implemented fully the set of capabilities/business rules/coding structures/workflows/etc. that will be their implemented software as of the selected effective date.  An interrogatory configurator is designed to work prospectively, so that you can see how a partially to fully configured application will look/behave before committing those configurations to take effect.  For those configurations that are permitted to be changed retroactively, with the attendant retroactive processing once they are approved for implementation, the interrogatory configurator is also intended to work retroactively.

Without interrogatory configuration, every time those hand-done configurations must be changed, all those choices must be re-evaluated against the needed changes, and then new choices made, tested and implemented.  Furthermore, the implications of each configuration change for downstream processes must be analyzed and actions taken to at least inform users of those implications.  So, while we may be able to eliminate most of the programming implementation work by having great configuration tools delivered with our HRM software, without interrogatory configuration we have by no means reduced the business analyst time and expertise needed to keep things running properly.  And great, models-based HRM business analysts are really scarce.

This is the business case for automating as completely as possible the configuration of highly configurable, true HRM SaaS, to include when used in BPO platforms.  It’s the business case for my emphasis on  interrogatory configuration,  something on which I’ve been working for at least the last fifteen years and which, thanks to advances in the underlying software development technologies, is getting very close to fruition. 

Now imagine that the interrogatory configurator is a integral part of the marketing to sales cycle, allowing for a high degree of self-provisioning, at least for less complex organizations (notice I didn’t say small or quote headcounts).  And even for the most complex organizations, imagine how much configuration could be done with data gleaned during the sales cycle (perhaps primed by the vendor’s CRM system?) so that a usefully configured application could become a sales cycle tool which blends seamlessly into the actual implementation once agreements are signed.  To the extent that true HRM SaaS vendors proceed down this path, the whole dynamic, timeline and cost of the sales to implementation processes are improved beyond that which can be achieved otherwise.  In addition, the role, staffing and economics of the systems integrators (SIs), are changed substantially, to the benefit of both the customer and the SaaS vendor.

And that’s exactly how I read Workday’s plans in this area.  Dubbed their “Collaboration Framework,” Workday’s approach is to begin, at the earliest date of prospect interaction, to seed their Collaboration Framework with a wide range of facts about the prospect captured today via their CRM (Salesforce.com) system and then use that information to launch their interrogatory configuration.  With hundreds of business processes and reports, not to mention pre-configured security groups, landing pages and integrations, which themselves map to objects in their solution library, they envision their collaboration framework as providing the needed user experience to take prospects through a discovery process which then assembles their initial Workday tenant.  There’s a lot more to this, but at its heart, it’s about knowing which Workday objects to use where, with or without customer-specific extensions, and how the individual customer’s versions of these objects are connected to deliver the requested functionality.

The bottom line. Reducing dramatically the elapsed time and cost of HRM software sales and implementation, not to mention ongoing configuration, is an important enough business outcome for HRM SaaS vendors and BPO providers to justify building interrogatory configurators.  Doing this requires underlying software architectures which enable configuration without miles of procedural code.  It also requires the product’s designers to know and be able to express the patterns of good practice in a whole range of HRM areas, from organizational designs to hiring practices, and the good practice combinations of same.  And there’s an enhanced opportunity here for incorporating all manner of exogenous data, from salary surveys and hiring patterns to commentary on which organizational designs are common in specific industries — and why.  If your vendors aren’t working on this, it may be  awkward for them that Workday has begun this journey in earnest.  And if you’re a true SaaS vendor in the HR technology space who’ doing something similar, I’d love to hear from you.

[The complex configuration flowchart illustration above is taken from the publicly posted http://docs.oracle.com/cd/E18727_01/doc.121/e13426/T356981T356985.htm .  This document and its associated flowchart are the detailed instructions for configuring the Oracle Treasure functions within EBS 12.1  This is precisely the type of complex configuration, where choices and downstream implications matter, that an interrogatory configurator is intended to handle during initial implementation as well as with every new release of a true SaaS product as well as with every business change which must be reflected, in an effective-dated manner, via changes to those configurations. ]

4 comments to Interrogatory Configuration And Workday’s Tech Summit 2012

  • Peter

    Hi Naomi,

    Can you say more about the role of an interrogatory configurator after initial implementation? I think you are saying it is just as valuable there. Can you provide an example?

    Thanks,
    Peter

    • Naomi Bloom

      Sorry about the delayed response, but we’ve been traveling. Once there’s an effective interrogatory configurator for an application or suite of applications, presuming that it’s been architected properly to include being fully effective-dated, here are some ways in which it can be used post-initial implementation: (1) between new releases of functionality from the vendor, if your business rules/processes/etc. change, you would rerun the configurator, making new choices in those areas where your business has changed, and this would reconfigure on the fly your current release of the software with the effective-date you’ve chosen for each change; (2) when a new release comes from the vendor, with much of the new functionality opt-in, so turned off, but with a new release of the interrogatory configurator, you would run the configurator (already loaded with your prior configuration choices that are still in effect), now making choices in the area of new functionality but also with the option of changing previous choices while the configurator guides you to avoid both unreasonable combinations and conflicting choices. Hope this helps. Naomi

  • [...] Bloom introduces us to “Interrogatory Configuration” in her post. As she states: “The tools described here are intended to put HR analysts [...]

  • Paul
    But can the same principles not apply to all enterprise software? Our research started in the late 80s addressing how to simplify application build. The research established that in reality business logic had not changed since commerce started and by focusing on peoples need for support to create information identified some 13 generic “task types” both human and system that actually address all business logic. By building links with inbuilt choices of action early prototypes showed it could work. The task types were coded ready to configure and stored in a relational database (now Oracle) some might call “objects”. A Graphical Process Design was built over the core engine and where the build takes place with simple click drag drop and open to configure.

    A simple interface was created to allow business analyst skills to set up the database. The forms, one of the task types, are created and stored in the database and dynamically created recognising who is logged on their role and allocated work. A presentation layer was created to support the UI. Recent developments have seen an MDM to collate data from legacy as required for use by the user whose work can take place “in memory”. The real clever bit was once the build takes place in the Graphical interface at a click of a button the configured task are declared through to the database where the Process engine automatically sets all parameters up as required and the application is read to run. There is no code change generation or compiling which of course makes future change very easy and quick.

    And so today after decades of R&D with early adopters it is ready having had extensive testing. It does address all business requirements as follows

    1. BPM focus on people and their processes how business really works
    2. Process engine to ensure all works to plan
    3. Rules engine reflecting real world of work and compliance
    4. Calculation engine automating system work
    5. State/instance engine real time feed back
    6. Workflow everything connected in right order and supporting asynchronous work
    7. Integrated UI dynamically and custom created for who, when & where as required
    8. ACM fully supported a customer centric approach
    9. Knowledge Management Information presented in context
    10. Audit trail, events, escalations supporting control with empowerment
    11. Time recording supports activity based costing
    12. Real time reporting become predictive making better decisions
    13. Complex Event Management including handling exceptions, escalations etc
    14. Build mash ups one screen multiple data sources
    15. Linked Ajax Grids enter information only once with faster access to related data
    16. Roles and performers people and machines ready to work
    17. Management hierarchy who sees what reallocation of work as required
    18. E-mail and correspondence document control tracking external communications
    19. Data storage seamless link between front office and back office – no middleware
    20. Shared services one application multiple customisable groups
    21. Intelligent processes improve outcomes.
    22. SSMQ, XML gateways and “ESB” Orchestration of legacy information
    23. Adaptors JDBC csi and custom links catered for as required
    24. Version control easy install of required changes with no disruption

    And with early adopters and POCs can address

    • Product and pricing configurators
    • Scheduling
    • Running a bank foreign cheque clearing system
    • Debt Management
    • Grant management with means testing and inflation module
    • Event management
    • Insurance claims
    • Mortgage underwriting
    • Expenses, holiday and compassionate leave requests (HR)
    • Healthcare managing mission critical A&E
    • Exploration of Mineral rights
    • Purchase Order system
    • Asset register management as a shared service
    • Management of police requests for phone search linking to terabytes of data
    • “The Living Process” intelligent process with dynamic interaction with users
    • Intelligent questionnaires

    Conclusion is this a framework to achieve what you describe but on a wider platform across the enterprise? Complete flexibility for custom delivery of a SaaS application with no coding. The data centric approach supports multiple groups of one application each group having its own identity making ideal for customisable SaaS. To give you an idea of time frame of a typical build an estimate can be based upon the number of user forms/reports becomes the number of man days to build the whole application. Complex configurators or intelligent processes can be longer but once built many sub processes are re-useable for such future builds.

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