Putting the Focus on People

Now, some of you out there may say that enterprise software solves complex problems and therefore it must be hard to use in order to accomplish its mission. But as Robert X. Cringely noted in a recent post, big enterprise software companies regularly made their software harder to use than it needs to be.

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“So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”

– Peter Drucker

To steal a thought from Mr. Drucker, it seems to me that “So much of what we call ERP consists in making it difficult for people to work”.

Now, some of you out there may say that enterprise software solves complex problems and therefore it must be hard to use in order to accomplish its mission. But as Robert X. Cringely noted in a recent post, big enterprise software companies regularly made their software harder to use than it needs to be.

The core of the issue, to my mind, is the problem the application is designed to solve. The term “Enterprise Resource Planning” (ERP) grew out of the earlier “Manufacturing Resource Planning” (MRP II) and the even earlier (and confusingly abbreviated) Material Requirements Planning (MRP). All these systems were designed to automate the issues encountered in the manufacturing industry. At their heart, these systems are focused on managing the materials, plant, capital and inventory required to deliver products to market. ERP is great for manufacturing companies. But manufacturing companies only employ about 10% of the US workforce. The main type of employment for US workers (as well as for workers around the globe) is in the services sector.

In the last few posts I wrote mainly about the technology that underpins Workday and how that makes us different. Changing tack, it is worthwhile talking a bit about the philosophy that underpins the Workday application suite. Again, we have taken a radically different approach to the ERP vendors. In fact, our take about the business applications that will replace ERP are all centered on one simple thing: people.

The philosophy behind Workday is all around managing the people and the knowledge capital that is at the heart of the services economy.

Naturally, the first part of Workday that we built out was around Human Capital Management. But now as we start to add financial and business management capabilities, they are driven from the point of view of the person rather than the materials or the plant. Our procurement is all about making it easy to provision and manage things like laptops and cell phones and Salesforce.com accounts to people – the tools they need to get work done.

So, the Workday goal is not just to reinvent the technology behind ERP but to reinvent what ERP means. By putting the focus on people rather than things, we hope to help cure some of the problems that Peter Drucker was referring to. We hope to make it easy (or easier) to manage people.

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