Workday Enters SIS Market

Human resource and finance software provider Workday will next year introduce a cloud-based student information system to challenge legacy software providers.

September 11, 2013

College students today most often interact with their student information systems (SIS) when they roll out of bed at the crack of dawn to secure their classes for the next semester. Workday next year hopes to be providing those systems -- entering a market that is already saturated with competitors.

Workday currently offers cloud-based human resource and finance software, as well as data analytics in those area. With Workday Student, an application that students, faculty members and administrators can access on a range of devices, from smartphones to computers, the company's software will also cover student information. 

“They’re following a well-known playbook -- start with finance and HR, and then move into other elements,” said Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project.

Through its recent hires, Workday has signaled that it planned to expand its higher education offerings. The company recently brought on Liz Dietz, who previously ran PeopleSoft’s higher education software product division, as vice president of strategy and product management. Oracle, which also provides student information systems, acquired PeopleSoft in 2005. 

During talks with Workday’s design partners, which range from Tallahassee Community College to Yale University, Dietz said the institutions are concerned about the calls to contain costs and improve student retention. These priorities are shaping the features they now require from their software systems. In particular, many institutions need a system capable of handling a variety of degree options, from standard terms and semesters to certificates and competency-based programs, which legacy systems sometimes make it difficult to do, Dietz said.

“The thing I hear most from not only these partners but just higher education in general is that the current systems they have don’t really meet their needs or the pressure they’re feeling,” Dietz said.

But these providers also enjoy the benefits of incumbency, which Green said could make it difficult for Workday to convince institutions to switch. "There's not a lot of flipping," he said.

Most importantly, Workday needs to convince institutions that switching will cost less in the long run than staying put.

"Even ignoring the licensing costs, the implementation of a new SIS is a very expensive and challenging process," said Brian Parish, president of IData "That being said, there are people who may have been on certain systems for a very long time and have customized the heck out of it and are looking at the upgrade costs to get caught up. That might give them an opportunity to switch."

In an attempt to distinguish itself from its soon-to-be competitors, Workday Student will include, as the name might suggest, several student-oriented features. The company this summer surveyed its more than 300 interns to gauge how students interact with their information systems. Based on those results, students often pick their classes based on what their friends say on Facebook and, Dietz said.

“It was pretty shocking -- coming from someone who built these systems before -- at how dissatisfied they were,” Dietz said.

Workday Student will generate suggested courses based on student preferences, including interests and work schedules. As students complete more courses, Dietz said the system will learn and suggest more personalized recommendations. The application will also include social features in an attempt to boost student engagement. If students have to choose between multiple sections of the same course, they will be able to tell which section their friends picked. And once they have pieced together their schedules, students can share their choices on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

For administrators and faculty members, Workday hopes its software will make it easier to plan course offerings based on how students are progressing through their academic programs. Should a student fail an important course or drop a class needed to finish on time, Dietz said the system could ping the appropriate administrator with a notification.

J. David Armstrong Jr., president of Broward College, said that function could help institutions retain students who might otherwise drop out.

“We cannot handle that right now with the technology we have,” Armstrong said. “We’re literally using paper and pencil, Excel spreadsheets or telephone calls.”

Broward is one of Workday’s design partners. Armstrong said the institution uses a decades-old system he described as an old car. “It runs, but doesn’t have nearly the functionality that we need today,” he said.

Workday Student’s core features will be available in the second half of 2014. When the full suite launches by the end of 2016, Workday hopes the system will be able to replace the heavily modified systems institutions are running today, Dietz said.

“If you look at the legacy systems that are on the market and dominating, they’re all old,” Dietz said. “They don’t have embedded analytics. They don’t have embedded business processes or workflow, native mobile -- so each one of these imperatives are accomplished by buying more products, bolting them on, integrating them, and the stacks they have to maintain get bigger, more expensive, and more fragile.”

Workday will enter a market where all but 5 percent of institutions have picked an established system provider, according to an analysis by the Tambellini Group. It will also create another option for institutions after a series of mergers. Apart from Oracle’s acquisition of PeopleSoft, Datatel and SunGard in 2012 joined to form Ellucian, which now controls about 40 percent of the market.

SIS Vendor Market Share
  Total Market Share
Ellucian                             40%
Campus Management 24%
Oracle 12%
Jenzabar 9%
Three Rivers Systems 3%
Homegrown 5%
Other 5%

“We’re really going after the entire market,” Dietz said, adding that she thought Workday Student will become a "disruptive force."

Greg Dukat, CEO of Campus Management, welcomed Workday to the market in a written statement.

"The education sector is constantly evolving," Dukat wrote. "At Campus Management it is our mission to stay ahead of the curve and ensure that our products benefit from our decades of experience and deep domain knowledge in higher education." Campus Management is particular popular among private, for-profit institutions. Without counting them, Campus Management's market share drops to about 2 percent.

Sashi Parthasarathi, vice president and general manager of Jenzabar, also contested the idea that existing SIS providers are failing to keep up with market demand for new technology, including cloud-based storage. "We saw that trend coming three years ago," Parthasarathi said. "We have continued to invest, we’ve always invested, so we don’t believe our flagship products are legacy."

Ellucian did not respond to a request for comment. 

Workday calls its system the first new student application in decades, which Green called a "misnomer."

"They’re not the first new newly designed SIS," Green said. "Let the record show there have been some failed efforts as well. This is not without risk, both in terms of the underlying code as well as market acceptance."


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