Workday Podcast: How Tech Companies Innovate in Disruptive Times

Deep Kular from Accenture and Ben Askin from Vertex join us on the Workday Podcast to talk about trends in the tech industry and the role of Workday's Industry Accelerator for Technology in helping companies adapt quickly and thrive in fast-changing environments.

Audio also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Technology company leaders are under a huge amount of pressure to adapt to a fast-changing environment through new business models, scaling to meet demand, and seeking out new opportunities for monetization. In this episode, Deep Kular, managing director at Accenture, and Ben Askin, chief information officer at Vertex, joined us to talk about trends in the technology industry and the role of Workday's Industry Accelerator for Technology in helping companies adapt quickly and effectively. 

Here are a few highlights of the conversation, edited for clarity. If you enjoyed this episode, you can find our entire catalog here.

  • “Enterprise companies and customers are leveraging their tax departments for more strategic business decisions all the time. And when I look at our customers in marketplaces and e-commerce, they have a completely different set of needs that they’re asking from us. So it’s constantly keeping us on our toes and keeping us innovating. What I look at is: ‘What are the operating models that we need to support such a diverse set of needs for customers?’” —Ben Askin 

  • “The conversations that are being had are about: ‘What information am I gleaning from this, and what kind of business decisions am I making?’ The expectation of the office of the CIO and the office of the CFO is increased collaboration across those organizations to make business decisions. Those back-office groups are influencing major decisions for various parts of the organization.” —Deep Kular

  • “The Industry Accelerator is essentially a combination of solutions. Workday at the center of it, but various ISV [independent software vendors] and products pulled together to provide a comprehensive end-to-end solution for your finance or HR processes, and layered on top of that is a lot of our industry and process knowledge, that Accenture brings, to bring the most value out of the solution.” —Deep Kular

Sarah Glover: Technology companies are under a lot of pressure to adapt, whether through implementing new business models, finding ways to monetize, or scaling to meet demand. I'm your host Sarah Glover, industry director for tech and media solutions marketing here at Workday. Today, we're talking about trends in the tech industry and the role of the Industry Accelerator for Technology in helping companies adapt quickly. I'm joined by Deep Kular from Accenture and Ben Askin from Vertex. Deep and Ben, thanks for joining me.

Deep Kular: Oh, thank you.

Ben Askin: Thanks, Sarah, for having us.

Glover: So first off, Deep and Ben, tell us a little bit about yourselves and your work at Accenture and Vertex. Deep, do you want to start off?

Kular: Yeah, happy to. So, Deep Kular. I'm a managing director at Accenture. So what that essentially is is I help lead our business from a Workday perspective. So my role in the firm is I lead our Workday Financials business, and really focus on the strategy and innovation that we do across the, the firm, as well as combine all the various parts of our advisory services, our BPO services, our industry practices together to really bring the best solutions for our clients.

Glover: That is fantastic. Thank you so much. Ben?

Askin: And thanks again, Sarah, for having me on the podcast. In my role at Vertex, I'm the chief information officer. I have been there just a little more over two and a half years right now. I was brought into Vertex right before we went IPO in July of 2020. This is a massive transformational shift for Vertex. And really, the thought process around me coming in was to help support major digital transformation areas in the company. One of those that is important to this podcast is around our company-wide business transformation. And it's completely focused on a modern-based approach to what we would call an ERP modernization. But it's really at the heart of what we're talking about today in the podcast from the accelerator approach that we're going to be talking about today. That initiative specifically focuses on our business operational processes from the front, middle, and back offices of the company that are leveraging the technology of Workday from finance and HCM, connected with Salesforce CPQ. And of course, Vertex is a critical component in both the Salesforce side and the Workday side. So really an exciting time to be at Vertex right now with all of this digital transformation. And you know, I feel like a kid in a candy store most days. I pretty much get what, whatever we ask for when we're driving these transformations through the company right now.

Glover: Excellent. Thank you so much. Okay. Before we get into the exciting world of accelerators, could you both kind of set the scene for us and share some trends you're seeing in the tech industry? Deep, would you like to start off?

Kular: Yeah, happy to. I think what's interesting in terms of how the market's changed, particularly in the technology industry is, with the way, there was such a massive cash infusion that happened the last couple years with COVID. And just the innovation that's happened and, and everyone really needing a better set of technologies, that had a higher degree of mobile enablement and usability to really evolve the way things were working. So back in the day, everyone was in the office having to do things with some antiquated technologies. And organizations, as software providers or technology companies in general, needed to evolve the services they provide, and, and, and really make that more accessible. I think even as customers, they had to go back and see-- I think this goes across all industries to really see, how can they work better more remotely as well?

I think it's really interesting times, a lot of interesting challenges that are going on across, you know, the tech and media industry. And, people are having to grapple with a lot of things they never thought they would even, even on the talent side. Like, you know, I don't think anyone ever imagined--

Glover: No.

Kular:--you know, we would be remote, right? And--

Glover: Mm-mm.

Kular: ---even now, we're three years in, and I think I've had one client in the last year that said, "Hey, we want you to come to our offices, like--

Askin: Right.

Kular: --on a regular basis."

Glover: Right.

Kular: Right?

Glover: It's ever-evolving, and there isn't one solution that's going to fit all ever.

Kular: No, that's it. Yeah.

Glover: Right. Exactly. So Ben, how do you see? What challenges are you seeing?

Askin: Well, first of all, Deep, I couldn't agree more with that. I joined Vertex, in early 2020. And I was in my office for less than 30 days before we decided to bug out--

Kular: Mm-hmm.

Askin:--and sent everybody remote over a weekend. And just fortunate for the IT team that I had inherited, we had everybody, you know, rocking and rolling coming right out of that. And then we settled into, "Okay. How are we going to figure out how to do this?"

Glover: Mm-hmm.

Askin: So I just loved that, commentary around that, Deep. But for me, joining Vertex as the CIO, I never quite expected what being a CIO for a tax technology company was going to be like. What I really didn't imagine was how actually fast-moving and exciting it was going to be. What I find most interesting and fascinating about being in the role is what we focus on are the trends in the legislation that we are seeing and evolving rapidly from all corners of the globe right now. Our job as a company is to be able to predict our customers' needs, you know, for the days, the months, and years to come, and incorporate those needs into our solutions.

Glover: Mm-hmm.

Askin: And that is our mission, day in and day out at Vertex. I think for me, the main trend that I'm looking at is, "What is the makeup of our customer and partner ecosystems?" I monitor all of our go to market, and, and we go into so many new areas. Our history is really in the enterprise space.

Glover: Mm-hmm.

Askin: Vertex is a well-known solution, for most enterprise customers. However, now we are in marketplaces. We are in PayTech.The middle market is booming as we've been talking about, as well. So the needs that those customers have are very diverse. What we see right now, for example, enterprise companies and customers are leveraging their tax departments for more strategic business decisions all the time, more so than they ever have. And when I look at our customers in marketplaces and ecommerce, they have a completely different set of needs that they're asking from us, and how they want  to interact with us and the solutions that we need to provide them. So it's constantly keeping us on our toes, and constantly keeping us innovating for those industries. And again, what I look at is, "Well, what are the operating models that we need to support such a diverse set of needs for customers?" Right? How do I empower our business teams, our sales teams, it's not only our engineers and developers that build our products, but Vertex doesn't really work without the content that goes into it.

Glover: Exactly.

Askin: And that is one of the large digital programs that I'm also spearheading, within the company.

Glover: So let's dig a little bit deeper into that.

Askin: Yep.

Glover: So we've got these challenges. How do both of you see technology helping in getting over these challenges?

Askin: I think the key thing is that what companies look for, at least from Vertex, as they're implementing a Workday or they're implementing a Salesforce or they're implementing some solution, Vertex just needs to work, right?

Glover: Mm-hmm.

Askin: It's one of those solutions that needs to work when and where it's called very reliably every single time, fast every single time. So I think that the reliability of technology is a key thing. At least that's what we promise ourselves on. You know, ease of deployment, ease of use, those are nice, right? But really, when it comes down to the levels and volumes of transactions that we're dealing with our customers, it's just so important that it works right every single time that we're there. So for me, the reliability and speed that is the most important thing that we can deliver to our customers.

Glover: Gotcha.

Kular: I think that's awesome, Ben. I would add --- I think what's happened over the last few years is we've seen a major transformation in terms of what clients are expecting out of their systems, as well. And so one of the common things that I've been having conversations with CIOs and CFOs is there, there needs to be increased collaboration between both sides of the organization. And what they want out of the system is very different from before. Like, back in the day, it was, "We just want to process these transactions. We need the system to do this accounting and that basic stuff." That's table stakes now, right?

Glover: Exactly.

Kular: And the conversations that are being had are more about like, "What information am I gleaning from this, and what kind of business decisions am I making?" And, you know, the expectation of the office of the CIO and the office of the CFO is increased collaboration across those organizations to make ultimate business decisions, right? So how do we influence the outcome so we're making the right decisions on product strategy, making the right decisions on so many aspects that you wouldn't necessarily think fall within those domains. But those back office groups are influencing major decisions on various parts of the organization. Like, CIOs and CFOs need to make decisions on, back in the day, it was probably million-dollar decisions at times. Now they're like billion-dollar decisions at times.

And I think that the magnitude of the shift that we're starting to see around the need and pace at which some of these decisions need to be made requires technology that's simplifying a lot of the old pieces of the puzzle, and now moving more towards analytics and insight and making the right business decisions. And I think that's where, you know, Workday in particular has been huge, right, for many, many customers. Because, you don't spend the time on the things that often you used to --- just basic support of the application, you probably needed a massive team before, Ben, right.

Askin: Yep.

Kular: Now you're able to shift that and put them on better value-added services across the organization, right? I'd say that's probably the biggest area we've seen a change.

Glover: So that is a perfect segue. So I've got a fun question for you now. So for both of you, if you had one minute in an elevator to explain what the Industry Accelerator for Technology is, how would you explain it? And also a follow-up on that is --- why does it matter for this industry at this moment in time?

Kular: Why don't I take a first cut at it?

So for me, the Industry Accelerator is essentially a combination of a bunch of solutions. So, Workday is at the center of it, but various ISV and products are pulled together to provide a comprehensive end-to-end solution for your finance or HR processes. Layered on top of that is a lot of our industry and process knowledge that Accenture brings to bear, to really bring the most value out of the solution. And that's ultimately what it is, is a combination of process, advisory, our intimate knowledge of the industries across technology, media, all the various facets of CMT, bring that all together to say here's how your business needs to be structured. So not every company has a basic subscription or just software, the old way of doing it. It's now a big subscription component. It's got advertising revenue. It's got all these various things. And we have to provide that fulsome view. So that's ultimately what it is. In terms of, why it's important now, businesses are changing and changing at a rapid pace, right? So, the pace of growth is changing so frequently, you need a system that can align with that so it's not an encumbrance to you making those business changes. And you want something that can move at pace with you. And to me, that's ultimately what we're bringing to bear, together and bringing those various comprehensive solutions and pick and choose what makes sense for each business. So we provide that wide range of various ISVs. Like Ben's organization Vertex is a huge component of that, as a tax provider. But it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Glover: Exactly. And we're gonna get back to you, Ben, in just a second. But Deep, I'm gonna stay with you on this point. And can you delve a little bit more into Accenture's role as the GSI for this accelerator?

Kular: So, what we're really excited about, as the GSI, to really help push this, is, we've made massive investments over decades in this industry. Things you wouldn't necessarily know about Accenture, so we are the largest finance outsourcer in the CMT, like, industry. Over 50% of software and, and technology companies, run their operations for cross-finance and HR. And so we bring all that depth of experience, across the industry. And then we combine that with the technology solutions that my team brings with Workday, and other solutions we offer across Accenture. The other piece I'd hit on is that we have deep relationships with so many different ISVs across various platforms, Salesforce being one, Vertex being another, other systems like Apttus, all across the board with a wide range of organizations. And we're uniquely positioned to bring all of those together to really meet the wide range of needs for technology companies.

Glover: Right. Now, you are in a very unique position, Ben, because you are both one of the ISVs for this accelerator, but you are also a customer. So we're doubly-honored in that regard. So could you both talk about and share some insights into Accenture and Vertex's relationship and how that manifests into that partnership in action, that Industry Accelerator in action?

Askin: So let's start here. If you remember the commercial with the startup who put up a website, and they put out an order, and one order came in, and then two orders came in, and then 15,000 orders came in, and it went to 100,000 orders. I feel like that's what I walked into when I walked in-into Vertex. And when I looked around the technology landscape that we had at the company at that time, I was very concerned that there was no way we were going to be able to keep pace with scale and growth. not only from our enterprise, customers, but in our GOs that we work in, Europe, Brazil, across the world. And then just the sheer different markets that we were going into, from large enterprise, mid-market, PayTech, fintech, all over the board, right now in areas where we're providing solutions. So in order to keep up with that pace and growth, I really had to rethink, "What does ERP look like?" And dreaming those dreams, we landed at the cornerstone of that, what I knew we needed as a company was we needed to be able to be very agile and go very fast into new markets that we wanted to get ---

---into, you know, certainly beating our competition. So I wanted to be in the markets. I wanted to have our business teams ready to roll with good processes and good solutions in days and weeks, not months and not long periods of large-scale programs that it would take to do that. So that front and middle-office area, that's where we really looked at a lot of technology from Salesforce to be able to move very quickly. But I wanted a really strong back end, as well, that was going to support that. And Workday was just the obvious choice for us. From the beginning we started the journey, from the finance solution, through all the HCM solutions, through Adaptive, through Prism, you know, we took the whole kit and caboodle when we went for this. And I think the key thing there was just to kind of go back to the other question, mid and small-enterprise companies like Vertex, and many others need solutions like this accelerator concept is providing. Because the real thing is when you look around, the small players, they're just too small. And the big players are just too big. So I'm coming from a world of a big player, right? But all of my budget is going into the TCO of managing and maintaining that system. I want to spend my budget on innovating. I want to spend my budget on driving forward. So when we looked at that, we said, "Okay. This is how we want to architect it. Okay. Who can help us do this?" And that's when we called Accenture. So it's been a partnership of Workday and Accenture and Vertex since the moment we started this thing, and dreaming this thing. I would say in some respects, we are certainly pioneering, and providing more definition to what this Industry Accelerator's going to be. And it's arm in arm every day, us going through this. And, our business teams, they can see it so well. Everyone is so committed around it. Everybody just agrees that this is such a worth-it endeavor for us. We can grow with Workday. We grow with Vertex. We grow with Accenture. But the thing I love about working with Workday the most---is that I really do feel like we have exceeded the table with Workday. I sit on some advisory boards with Workday. When they're coming up with what their product, product road maps are, what features they need, I get a phone call or a couple of meetings about it. So I really do feel like they're the right size fit, for us. And I know Workday does big, big, big. And, you know, Accenture does big, big, big. And you always worry about, "I'm too small to hang out with these kinds of companies." And we're not. Like, they really don't make it that way. They make it about us. And I think that that's why we're going to be successful as we go through this, so

Glover: And we are honored to have you on our customer advisory council. You are--

Askin: For sure.

Glover:--key and instrumental to us.

Askin: I love it.

Glover: Let's talk a little bit about the role of Vertex in this accelerator as an ISV partner. We like to use the term interoperability. Could you explain what that means to the audience and how you fit into the ecosystem?

Askin: So let's start here. Wearing my CIO hat --- interoperability simply just means to me that Vertex just works reliably each and every time, when and where the solution is called. Just work with no worries and no down. That's with interoperability, whether it's executing in-inside of Salesforce, whether it's executing inside of Workday, just reliable tax calculations. And much more than that now because I get, you know, a lot of good reporting data, outside of it around that. But I want those transactions to fire correctly every single time, based on whatever my business is going through at the time. If I'm in retail, and it’s around the holidays, I know my volumes are going to be a lot higher, and I have different tax rules that are happening associated with holiday purchases. I think that's a key thing for interoperability.

Before I was at Vertex, I was a consultant in some large firms. I was an executive in large firms, doing the big, big ERP types of implementations. And over the 20 years of doing that, Vertex was just a common solution in all of those engagements, in the vast majority of them. And I think the key thing with all those implementations, and including the ones that we're running now, is that Vertex was a very straightforward implementation. It never showed up on my status reports for anything that I was looking at. I had much bigger things to worry about as I was going through that. And it just works, you know? You would put it in, you would test it, and then it worked. And in my job, that's all I really care about, you know? Does it work? Because I want to focus my attention on areas that are maybe less mature or that need to be more of a well-oiled machine. I want to make sure I'm spending my time there. So that's what I do really appreciate about Vertex. It was an easy decision for me to come, because I always believed that companies that build good-quality products have good quality people. And then I think just in the last thing, so I'll take my CIO hat off and I'll put my CTO hat on or go-to-market hat on for Vertex here for a second. I've watched this partnership between Workday and Vertex evolve around the solutions that we're building that we're putting, in through Workday, and also on the Salesforce side. But certainly, let's focus on Workday for a few minutes. The team that is working together in our, we call it our Workday ecosystem. Those are the teams that are doing the engineering work with Workday. Day in and day out, they are working with Workday. Day in and day out, they are testing and trying and building new things that are just really making that total customer experience as simple, as reliable, and as speedy as possible. And just when I walked into the-- into the event last night, there was our team talking with the Workday engineer team. And there was just this genuine we-like-each-other feeling about it. And you know good work's coming out of that. So I'm really excited about the partnership that we’re developing with Workday and as well the partnership that we’re developing with Accenture as we go through there. So hopefully---

Glover: I absolutely love the phrase works without worries.

Askin: Yep, works without worries.

Glover: I like works without worries. Want to coin that.

Thank you so much, Ben. Thank you so much, Deep. It's been an absolute pleasure speaking with you today. So we have been talking about the Industry Accelerator for Technology with Deep Kular from Accenture and Ben Askin from Vertex. Don't forget to follow us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. And remember, you can find our entire catalog at I'm your host Sarah Glover, and I hope you have a great Workday.

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