Workday aims anew at Oracle with planned software for higher ed

Workday Schools is under development but won't be fully complete until 2016

Workday is hoping to give rival Oracle and other ERP (enterprise resource planning) vendors fits with an upcoming product aimed at institutions of higher education.

Dubbed Workday Student, the cloud-based software will be Workday's entry into the SIS (student information system) market, which includes products such as Oracle's PeopleSoft Campus Solutions as well as ones from specialized vendors like Pearson.

While SIS products currently in the market have been upgraded over time, their fundamental architecture is 20 years old, said Liz Dietz, vice president of strategy and product management.

"We're taking a completely different approach," Dietz said. "We're bringing together not only a system of record but a mobile-first system of engagement," as well as Workday's new Big Data Analytics offering, which was also announced Tuesday.

Workday has quietly been working with a number of schools on designing the new product, including Yale University and Broward College. The institutions cover a wide range of segments, from community colleges to research institutes and "non-traditional universities," Dietz said.

SIS software suites are large in scope and functionality, given the number of processes they run. Subsequently, Workday isn't promising to have a complete entry anytime soon. Initial components of the suite are planned for release in the second half of next year, with a full product by the end of 2016.

But schools are crying out for a superior alternative now, according to Dietz.

Students today have "completely different expectations," wanting to interact with school systems via their iPads or mobile phones, she said. They also want the systems to be easy to use, and not "cumbersome, complicated and confusing," Dietz said.

Workday has been conducting a student focus group using hundreds of interns working for the vendor, who have offered "overwhelmingly negative" feedback about the systems they currently use at school, she added.

In addition, today many students' circumstances are different than in the past, according to Dietz. "It used to be the traditional student was under 24 years old, it was their first time going to college," But many students today are non-traditional, such as adults looking to add skills.

"These students are turning to institutions that offer flexible degrees, flexible learning," she said. Older SIS systems are "not structured or architected in this old technology to accommodate these flexible terms."

While SIS vendors have kept their systems up to date with financial aid regulations and other matters, in terms of new functionality "all they can deliver is more bolt-on products," Dietz said. "That might be a nice stop-gap but it doesn't address the issues facing education today."

But one advantage those vendors have is an actual product available for sale. And Workday will have to convince customers it can deliver a system successfully without the sort of hiccups that led to situations like Montclair State University's now-settled lawsuit against Oracle over a troubled PeopleSoft project there.

Workday has a shot, according to analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research.

"The issue today with student systems is that they are currently all old," he said. "There are not too many good options. The higher education replacement market is ready to move."

Workday's upcoming product also stands to give schools a chance to save on IT resources and management by off-loading their SIS to the cloud, Wang said.

In addition, Workday has brought in a seasoned team to run the schools business, he added. Dietz, for example, is a founding partner of Campus Solutions, which was acquired by PeopleSoft in 1997 before PeopleSoft itself was bought by Oracle in a hostile takeover.

Workday is expected to discuss its plans for Workday Schools in more detail at its Workday Rising customer conference this week in San Francisco.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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