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Workday shows glimpse of generative AI strategy

Workday plans to unveil its generative AI strategy next month. While details are still unknown, experts say it will likely reflect what other HCM vendors are already doing.

Workday plans to add generative AI features to its HCM platform in six to 12 months to introduce noted capabilities such as language generation, document understanding and summarization, among others.

Workday is saving the details of how generative AI will affect its HR applications until next month's Workday Rising, the vendor's annual user conference. However, its application of generative AI will likely resemble what other HR vendors such as SAP and UKG have unveiled.

Generative AI strategies by large HR vendors involve using their internal data, customer data and third-party generative AI platforms. SAP uses Microsoft 365 Copilot, which infuses its Office products with generative AI capabilities. Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT. UKG is using Google's Vertex AI platform to create, for instance, conversational searches for HR data.

In a blog post, Jim Stratton, Workday's CTO, said Workday is developing its own large language models (LLMs), but is also working with multiple third-party providers to create blended or ensemble models. He didn't say whose technology it might be working with.

Josh Bersin, an independent HR analyst, said he imagines Workday partnering "with one or more LLM providers [to] talk about building 'co-pilots' or 'assistants' like SAP has announced. At this point, SAP is well along in their work with both IBM -- Watsonx and [Watson] Orchestrate -- and Microsoft [OpenAI], so Workday will likely do the same."

Augmentation, not displacement

In his post, Stratton said Workday is "leading the enterprise generative AI revolution." Evelyn McMullen, an analyst at Nucleus Research, questioned that claim, especially "when they have not yet stated the actual capabilities or their specific use cases," she said.

Other HCM platform and SaaS vendors "have already at least released concrete initial plans for generative AI," McMullen said. Nonetheless, the fact that a plan is coming soon "is most likely welcome news for Workday customers who have been wanting to take advantage of the productivity benefits enabled by generative AI with the assurance that the vendor has taken the time to fine-tune its approach."

[While AI provides] ample opportunity to automate business processes, our emphasis remains on augmenting -- not displacing -- people.
Jim StrattonCTO, Workday

The recent SAP Sapphire conference illustrated some of the capabilities generative AI is bringing to HR, such as assisting in writing job descriptions and scanning those descriptions for biased language. Generative AI is also at the heart of SAP SuccessFactors' integration with Microsoft 365 Copilot and Copilot in Viva Learning, where Copilot will offer suggestions on how an employee can improve skills in certain areas.

Job description and interview question capabilities will be generally available in November, said Aaron Green, chief marketing and solutions officer at SAP SuccessFactors, in an email. "This is just the beginning for SAP SuccessFactors. Customers can expect to see more use cases announced in our upcoming releases," he said.

Workday's Stratton said that while AI provides "ample opportunity to automate business processes, our emphasis remains on augmenting -- not displacing -- people."

He also said Workday actively participated in federal and state policy discussions on AI regulations. Indeed, Workday's ever-increasing spending on lobbying can be seen as a barometer of that interest.

According to data compiled by the nonprofit OpenSecrets, Workday spent $1.34 million last year on lobbying, a new high for the company. It spent about $1.15 million in 2021, and $1.22 million in 2020. This year, Workday has spent about $720,000 so far on lobbying efforts.

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget Editorial. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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