Further info and resources from my website

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

An open letter to Workday's Bhusri and Duffield: Time to fix Europe


Dear Dave and Aneel,
Drip-feeding country extensions
is NOT the right strategy

A great admirer of Workday's since its beginnings, for various reasons you will find summarized in several of my blog posts, the global and European person I am was more than gratified to see that you have decided to open an office in Germany. However, this cannot hide the fact that  before you open a new market, you should make sure the previous ones are up and running.

The Frenchman in me cannot therefore understand why you are expanding in Germany when you have yet to make France work. It was exactly three years ago  that you opened the French office and in that period of time you have only signed up two French customers: Lafarge and Sanofi. Even Oracle has managed to sign up more Fusion customers in France, which is the ultimate insult. With France being PeopleSoft's most successful market outside the United States, it should have been a piece of cake to convert many of these customers to Workday. Adding insult to injury, Danone, of all customers switched from PeopleSoft to... SuccessFactors when it should have been yours. A crime!

What has gone wrong?

The most serious mistake you have made is one typical of American multinaltionals: starting a presence in the UK and thinking that with that "Europe is solved." The UK, as many British people may have told you, is not in Europe, but off Europe. In a couple of years, they may no longer even be in the European Union. Opening an office in London is no more meaningful than opening one in Chicago. With most EMEA executives being UK-based (and British) you have made your EMEA organization EMEA in name only. As is natural they would focus on what they know best: the UK market, which explains your success in the UK, and then the "low-hanging fruit" of the Netherlands and Scandinavia. But the rest is as far away from them as planet Mars. The appointment of Chano Fernandez, a Spanish national, was a step in the right direction, but I have a feeling you didn't hire him because he hails from Spain, a country close to my heart (read my blog post "My 20-Year Affair with Spain") but because he was at SAP. And, anyway, since he was appointed, a year ago, I have yet to see a single Spanish company select Workday. Or an Italian company. Or a German one.

You have clearly made some casting mistakes, hiring the wrong people for the wrong roles in the wrong geography. Worse, many of the people you have hired in key positions have no prior experience in HR systems, your flagship product. Don't get me wrong: it may make sense sometimes to hire people from a  wider field, but when your product is first and foremost about HR, it boggles the mind to see so many people in key Workday EMEA roles who have no experience of talking to HR leaders, have no sense of the local HR ecosystem or a deep understanding of the competition.

As you know, every HR market is quite parochial. Sending to France a high-flying VP from HQ who speaks no French, cannot spell the name of some of the competitors, is not on a first-name basis with many opinion leaders and system integrators is a waste of your resources. And are you surprised at the results? Are you surprised that some of your better people,especially from sales, have left and are joining your competition?

Another key dimension of the local nature of HR is localization or what I  call "glocalization". I am
Marketing 101 mistake: English-language product screens
on  Workday's French website (As of  09-02-15 )
flabbergasted that it is taking you so long to develop the various country payroll localizations needed to be successful in the European market. You have waited for your 11th year in business to finally come up with your first European localization: the UK (well, not yet available, just announced for this year.) And France won't be available before next year. Wouldn't it make sense, from a product strategy perspective, to have swapped the countries and delivered France first?  That UK-centricity I mentioned earlier is again at work. Do you remember the number of European localizations (including Payroll) we released in PeopleSoft 8 between 2000 and 2001? EIGHT! Why this suspenseful drip-feeding of localizations at Workday? (And don't get me started on other regions of the world such as Asia or Brazil where I spend part of the year, and which are unlikely to get anything from you before eons - unless there is a clear change in product direction.)
Used to be one of the blogger's favorite 
Workday features. 
Now gone

You got so many things right from the beginning, and are still performing so brilliantly in many areas, that it pains me to see how you lost sight of the ball in Europe, and are making mistakes which, based on your previous PeopleSoft experience, you shouldn't have made. I guess you wouldn't be human if you didn't repeat some of your past mistakes.

Another thing. Please tone down the paranoid streak in your Partner and Alliance organization. So many positive things are already being written/said about you, you don't need to overdo it by becoming a marketing control freak who tries to prevent any constructive criticism to be published. All of your admirers, whose numbers include me, do not want you to turn into another evil company of which there are far too many in our industry.

I hope that my advice will help Workday grow into a better, more focused and successful SaaS company.

Oh, one last thing: Please bring back the Wheel. I miss it a lot.

Ahmed Limam


  1. Part of the problem is that they are still running their support centers in English-speaking countries. For Workday to effectively enter the German and French markets, and others that you mention like Brazil, they are going to have to significantly expand their support operations as well as legislative support staff for each "glocalization" (to use your term). French customers are not going to accept having to deal with Support issues in English. Even if they have someone in their Canadian operations that speaks "French" we both know that French in Europe and French in Canada might as well be two separate languages.

    In addition, they are going to need to fully localize all their screens for each country. Doing it just for Self-Service and in a handful of other places, is woefully short-sighted. Do they expect Administrators to always work in English? Would this be acceptable to German and French customers? This deficit really stands out whenever they are demoing the product in another language, as your screen shot above points out so well.

  2. Bring Back the Wheel - gets my vote as well!!!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.