Considering Workday Prism Analytics & Reporting?

This comprehensive Point of View has been developed to help those considering any Workday Prism Analytics or Workday Reporting project and to understand the nuts-and-bolts required when embarking down this path.

John Pensom, CEO and Co-Founder of PeopleInsight Workforce Analytics, shares deep knowledge of the cost, resource requirements, risk, time to implement, and complexity of taking the Workday Prism Analytics pathway, his overall perspective on people analytics, and introduce other options readily available to you.

Download the full copy below.

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"Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss"

- Roger Daltrey, The Who
- Won't Get Fooled Again (1971)

These poignant last lines from the epic song by The Who - Won’t Get Fooled Again - stand as a reminder that sometimes, as change happens, nothing actually changes.

Perhaps, 50 years later, the same can be said for HR Reporting and People Analytics. This time, somewhat old technology concepts are being regurgitated with fresh marketing campaigns and "new" product launches.

<Heard Everywhere> It’s Been 2 Years & We Still Don’t Have the Reporting & Analytics We Need

Over the last several years, thousands of organizations have implemented Workday, yet they still have many of the same long standing problems when it comes to HR Reporting and People Analytics.

I know this because at PeopleInsight, our customer base runs Workday more than any other system - and they are all looking for something different than Workday’s native reporting and add-on analytics capability.

And when Daltrey sang about a new constitution and revolution - topics much heavier than the subject matter of HR Reporting and People Analytics - the storyline for those who implement these "new" products like Workday Prism is much the same...lots of change, but not much progress.

Hence the poignant lyric ending this aptly named song, "Meet the new boss - Same as the old boss".

So, if you are running Workday and you need to go beyond the basic information delivery that's embedded in the platform, I’m not convinced that Prism Analytics is the best solution for everyone, nor the HR Reporting panacea it’s being made out to be.

We typically hear a combination of these three scenarios:

  1. I need a single view of the truth. I’m still running Non-Workday HR Technologies and I’d like to combine that data with my Workday data into a single, integrated data warehouse

  2. I need more flexibility in my reporting and analytics solution than Workday can technically or affordably deliver

  3. I’ve tried to build an internal capability for People Analytics and sputtered for one reason or another

While you may feel as if you are facing these issues alone - it’s certainly not the case. There are many others out there who feel the same.

These companies are now 2-3 years into Workday and while they are maturing from a data quality and transactional processing perspective, they still don’t have the operational & strategic people insight that they need.


PeopleInsight, the People Analytics Pureplay, is built to integrate all your disparate HR & Talent data, and deliver end-to-end reporting and analytics through the cloud.

Not only is PeopleInsight’s technology platform developed exclusively for people analytics, but the subscription always includes a fully managed service (covering all aspects of ongoing development and operations) where PeopleInsight experts literally become an extension of your team. For a fraction of the cost, time and risk of a Do It Yourself approach, you can consider PeopleInsight as your People Analytics Technology Platform and Center of Excellence.

Why You Implemented Workday

When you decided to buy and implement Workday, there were likely multiple drivers:

  • Pain with your old HRIS or siloed HR Tech landscape

  • Drive for a single, unified platform with cross HR processing and Talent management capability

  • The advantages, relative affordability and low maintenance promise of a cloud-based HCM

In addition to these pain points, you probably got excited with the prospect of improved reporting and analytics out of the box.

That’s likely turned out to be kind-of, partially true.

First off, I really like many aspects of Workday (more on this perspective later in this Point of View), and I feel the embedded nature of the information delivery within Workday, is arguably best in class.

What can be confusing, however, is that while the native capabilities for reporting, “analytics” and data visualizations in the Workday HR modules have likely helped you significantly, critical challenges still remain.

  • You still run Non-Workday systems and surveys for your HR, people and talent operations

  • You are combining your Workday data with Non-Workday data using spreadsheets

  • You are performing additional reporting and analytics in a BI tool outside of Workday

  • Your reporting is manual and/or inflexible

  • You don’t like the daily rates of Workday Reporting Configurators or BI Developers

  • You don’t have an internal IT or Business Intelligence team to rely upon

  • You have unsuccessfully tried to hire a People Analytics “expert”

  • You have your Workday report writing as one of many tasks for your Workday Analyst

You are likely in the position where you still don’t have true analytics from both your Workday data and non Workday data - an your HR and people insight is still limited.

In fact, given you spend a lot of time and resources running your Workday application - whether it be ongoing maintenance, configuration, end user support, or the upgrade cycle (which I’ve seen some organizations invest 3-5 FTEs in planning, testing and execution over a 2 month period - for every new version) - you’re often left with overwhelmed Workday Analysts with no time at all for reporting and analytics.

Workday Resource Cost & Availability

For these specialized Workday operations resources, the cost has gradually increased while availability has become more scarce.

There are other problems:

  • The Workday Analyst-type resource can be underwhelming in the HR reporting and business intelligence tasks of their jobs. They tend to have deeper skills, focus and interest in systems
    administration, configuration and development of business processes, not data, reporting and analytics. This is a generalization, of course, but really rings true when it comes to HR-specific data warehousing (a whole different beast given the effective dated nature of HR transactions), ETL, HR metrics, algorithm development, visualizations and building insightful analytical use cases for People Ops. You get the picture - they are great at running Workday, but can struggle when it comes to extending Workday’s analytics into something that you really want and need.

  • The increasing cost of a Workday Analyst, the tight labor market for this role and the mercenary movement of qualified candidates

  • The necessary and cyclical focus and investment in Upgrades

  • The total cost of maintaining Workday likely means there’s very little budget (if anything) left over for more

So it’s time to face a few facts:

  1. Workday Analysts (Junior or Senior) aren’t built for your HR Reporting and People Analytics needs.

  2. The Total Cost of Ownership of Workday is significant.

We’ll come back to this in more detail later.

What is People Analytics? Telling Apples from Oranges

Starting in 2012, I’ve been defining People Analytics as “using both people-data and business-outcomes data to make smarter people and business decisions”.

People Analytics PurePlay Capabilities

While the definition of People Analytics varies somewhat based on who you speak with, it tends to be quite consistent and can be applied to both basic people analytics capabilities (like excel-based VLOOKUPS and PivotTables) and advanced capabilities like those found in an enterprise data warehouse based solution.

The fundamentals are:

  1. Multiple sources of HR/People/Talent/Productivity data

  2. Unification of these disparate sources of data into one single repository designed for storage and manipulation of your HR data with a focus on data discovery and analysis, not transactional processing

  3. Algorithms using mathematics and statistics calculating HR metrics and relevant analytic use cases

  4. Presentation, reporting, outputs and/or visualization of your data, based on the analysis and discovery criteria which a user sets

These components must work in concert together and if your survey, talent or HCM solution isn’t employing a data warehouse for your reporting and data analysis, then it isn’t a people analytics solution.

Why is Data Warehousing for HR & People Analytics Complex & Elusive

In my opinion, there are two aspects which make data warehousing of HR data, and therefore, people analytics remarkably complex and elusive.

1. HRIS systems store transactions much differently than what is needed for reporting

Transactional systems have databases which are built to store and retrieve a transaction in the most efficient way possible - not to aggregate data for reporting. If someone was adding a bunch of transactions to an HRIS (e.g., bringing on summer hires), the technical result will be the addition of numerous rows to the database - something that an HRIS is set up to do.

On the other hand, a data warehouse in a people analytics solution stores data much differently than any transactional system. It stores data centered around the employee, position or requisition, versus storing the data around a system transaction like a hire, promotion or pay raise.

The logic needed to translate a single dimension transaction into a people-based record (that identifies key characteristics about an employee and his/her position) is really quite complex.

2. You must also construct this people-based record by bringing together different data from different sources within the context of point-in-time

As discussed in point 1, because data warehouses store differently than a transactional system, when we bring data together in an HR data warehouse, the technical activity shouldn’t be viewed as "adding transactions" as much as it is “adding more context” to an employee, position or requisition.

Time is one of these contextual dimensions - and creates a number of challenges when designing, building and optimizing the performance of an HR data warehouse.

So when bringing in other data sources into a data warehouse for HR reporting and people analytics, we are transforming them to fit within the context of the data that is already there - which is this people-centered view.

Let’s take performance data, for example, which is often from another system or possibly even a spreadsheet. For this data, we are not just taking a file and inserting records (as your transactional systems are designed to do). We are assessing the time period for which this rating is valid (starting with an Effective Date) and adding in that characteristic, within that specific time period, to an existing employee.

This means that there’s lots of under-the-surface magic which must occur so that when you go back in time to analyze the impact that accelerated pay increases have on performance and productivity, you’re data is structured in a way which will make that analysis easy and speed-of-thought.

So when it comes to true people analytics, data preparation, storage and data management, you need two components:

  1. Very capable tools
  2. People skilled and experienced in the dark-art of HR data warehousing

Some Real Examples Re: Your People Analytics Challenge

Example 1: Unifying Candidate Data from your ATS with Employee Data from your HRIS

Your challenge starts in the fact that these transactions are executed and stored in separate segments or modules within your transactional systems of record - or most frequently, in an entirely different system altogether.

This may be a combination of an ATS, an HRIS and/or a payroll system.

The complexity is then compounded by the fact that the hiring transaction data (for a candidate we will call “Jim Wong”) must, for analytical purposes, be mashed with the data collected in your HRIS or HCM related to that same person, now an employee (i.e., not a candidate anymore) who is identified in your HRIS through an Employee ID and his name - “James Peter Wong” (aka - “Jim Wong”).

So the proper names in your ATS and HRIS mean the same, are the same, but they are different.

In addition, there is no consistent “bridge” between Mr. Wong’s candidate data in your ATS and his employee data in your HRIS.

But this is just the start.

Once you’ve consolidated all of those transactional data points about Jim/James Peter and every other candidate/employee - you then need to store them in a way which is people-centric - not transaction-centric - and in a platform capable of powerful data discovery relevant to people analytics use cases.

Example 2: Using Your People Data To Create Sales Team Success Profiles

You’ve been tasked with creating Success Profiles for your Sales Team.

In order to do that, you may start with analyzing the employee lifecycle of consistently top performers - employees like “Stephanie Cruz”.

Stephanie was an agency-sourced candidate and a finders fee was paid (incidentally, she was hired under her pre-marriage name which was logged in your iCIMS ATS as “Steph daSilva”) - and you need to track her through all positions, pay grades and compa-ratios, learning events, leaves of absence, performance ratings and sales quotas achieved.

The analysis also calls for you to find all other Sales Reps who were hired by the same Hiring Manager, a Sales Manager named Brad Jones who is consistently evaluated in his Multi-rater feedback as Top Quartile for Developing Others.

In addition, you need to test the theory that those who attended the innovative “Solution Selling” course delivered better results in the 4 Quarters immediately following the attendance of this training course.

Addressing this scenario is quite complex and a big part of the reason why we haven’t really moved the needle in HR Reporting and People Analytics over the past 20 years

In a nutshell, you are looking to understand the return on investment (ROI) and learning impact of this course given you have plans to roll it out globally (sidebar: click here to download our comprehensive Playbook which will help you tackle these types of projects).

The systems required for conducting this analysis will include: your ATS, your core HRIS, Compensation System and Pay Grade Scales (historical and current), Learning Management System, Performance Feedback Tool, Sales Results (Quotas), Time Tracking (PTO), amongst potentially other sources of data.

What’s required at speed-of-thought and with no degradation to other user’s performance, is a system being able to grab the masses of simple, single dimension transaction-centric details across a company (like promotions, learning, salary and PTO), and to then package and aggregate the right segment of data in a way that delivers an employee-centric view - with the added dimension of time.

A transactional system can’t deliver this.

What about Workday’s "new" capability – Prism Analytics?


Before I provide my opinion on that, I need to both level-set my perspective on Workday, and ask a few questions of my own.

Why I Like Workday

For the record, I really like Workday.

Many forward-looking, talent driven, value driven organizations looking to implement a new HR system have Workday at the top of their list.

While this isn’t the right vehicle to argue the pros, cons and competitive options - here’s why I like it and the “net-net”:

  • Cloud first architecture
  • Great company who will be around and innovating for a long time
  • One system - with all the benefits of ongoing maintenance and technical progression
  • The advantage of integrated Financial Management, Planning and other capabilities like Employee Experience Management, should that be a requirement
  • Even though there are better best-of-breed capabilities out there in certain domains, Workday is the most comprehensive and progressive cloud-based HCM out there for mid-large-global enterprise -from Recruitment to Talent Management to Core HR Administration and Payroll
  • A transactional layer which is highly configurable for your business processes (with the right resources) yet still Software-as-a-Service
  • Overall, a lower total cost of ownership over the system lifecycle
  • Although there are always bumps, predictability of success is far higher and comparatively easier to implement
  • Lastly, Workday delivers a transactional layer which is effective at embedding basic information, reporting and some data visualization - pretty well optimizing what a transactional system
    architecture can accomplish when it comes to reporting

Now some questions...

  • Given Workday has positioned itself in recent years on best-in-class reporting and analytics, embedded within the HCM workflow, what is different about Prism Analytics and if you are running Workday today, didn’t you think you were already getting this capability?

  • If I implement Prism Analytics, what will I have to do to make it a success?

  • I’ve just hired a People Analytics expert, will Prism Analytics make this role already obsolete?

  • How are the marketing missives of Workday “doubling down on data and analytics” with Prism any different than what SAP/SuccessFactors have done with their BW and Business Objects architecture over the past 15 or so years? Or ORACLE with their OBIEE solutions? Or Ultimate Software/UKG with their IBM Cognos snap on?

"I thought I already had People Analytics in Workday"

That’s what you thought, but unfortunately, you didn’t. You had transactional reporting with some basic data visualization.

Now, the reporting was pretty good on some levels - in my opinion - best-in-class. Workday customers had much better data and information delivery embedded throughout the Workday UI, which likely met the basic needs and the self-serve reporting requirements of many front-line users.

But it wasn’t analytics and it didn’t meet the needs of many functional analysts and leads, nor power reporting teams, and certainly not those who wanted insight based on data mashed from both Workday and non-Workday sources.

So even though things look quite rosy from the outside-in, there are many Workday customers who undergo massive weekly and monthly headaches and complexity delivering the type of reporting and analytics they really want, need and expect. We know this because many of our customers run Workday and have partnered with us to solve these reporting and analytics challenges with our managed service analytics solution.

In 2016, Workday acquired Platfora - a crackerjack operational analytics platform and BI tool provider. The Platfora IP was much different than embedded transactional reporting - as it was a full fledged BI platform -so it had the ability to deliver people analytics according to the definition I’ve provided earlier in this point of view.

On the one hand, Platfora had deep capabilities in all aspects of data integration, data warehousing, data discovery tools and experience in working at some of the world’s largest companies to uncover important insights from all sorts of transactional, operational, customer, and machine data.

Yet on the other hand, from what I can tell, Platfora didn't speak a lot about their experience in HR data, employee-based “people analytics” - which, to my earlier points, are very complex.

Again, from what I can tell, their analytic use cases and depth tends to be financial, operational, sales and customer data - which is far simpler (I hear some of you groan to which I ask...."why are we still faced with this universal problem of crappy HR reporting?") and much more predictable when it comes to HR data sources.

I have some key, follow-on questions:

  • Will Workday’s Prism Analytics be able to easily transform BOTH your Workday and Non Workday transaction-centric people data into a seamlessly unified employee-centric HR data warehouse?

  • Will it work with the complexity of the rest of your HR data and scale the way a Workday product should?

In anticipation of Workday answering “but yes, of course”, you need to get your best, deepest HR data specialist into the conversation and ask your Sales Rep how, where, when and what will it take?

While most things are technically possible, and I’m not saying that Workday won’t have an artful solution to this “HR data is complex” dilemma, I’m most definitely saying Workday Prism Analytics is taking you down a path which will be expensive, resource-intensive and complex for your team and less capable than alternatives which have been commercially available since 2012 at a fraction of the cost.

Click here to learn if the options may be a better fit for you

6 Considerations for Workday Prism Analytics

6 Considerations

One Time Cost

Implementation + Initial development of your Reports & Analytics + Training + Annual Subscription Fee of ~40% your HCM licensing.

According to Workday’s President and CFO, Prism will cost about 40% of your Workday HCM subscription.

While that may be up for negotiation, this is an entirely new technical capability for Workday with a new technical architecture.

Platfora was likely acquired at a decent multiple, and their team of ~100 Silicon Valley engineers have been working for the past few years to rebuild from the ground up, within the Workday environment. This means there’s been a ton of investment - and some of that debt needs to be paid off.

Annual Subscription Fee aside, what will be your total cost of ownership for implementing Prism, and what are your options?

How much will you have to spend on initial configuration and implementation? Training credits? Expert partner professional services?

Ongoing Cost

Annual Prism Subscription of ~40% your HCM licensing + BI Developer(s) for ongoing dev & data management. Est $150k-$300k/yr.

Let’s say you get a storming deal on early-mover pricing, now you’ve got to run it.

Over and above your annual, ongoing subscription fees you will be paying to Workday for the product, you will need additional specialized resource(s) specifically for Business Intelligence - that’s in addition to your Workday HCM Analyst(s) who will continue to operate and upgrade the core HR and Finance modules.

I’ve estimated that the smallest companies running Workday (~1,000
employees) will need to spend at least $150k/year on delivering People Analytics through Prism - with many enterprises spending well into the high hundreds of thousands annually.

The Need to Hire HR BI Developers

To deliver HR Reporting and People Analytics through Prism, you will need BI Developer(s) with HR data experience and expertise.

With the prospect of “no more SQL”, the going-in position is that Prism Analytics is built for the people operations analyst, the people analytics expert, or your team member responsible for recruitment reporting.

I’m not sure about that given the specific tasks required for running Prism would be more familiar to someone in a BI Developer or Data Management role rather than a People Ops specialist. You do, however, already have Workday HCM Analyst(s) on the ground. Good news right?

Maybe not. My sense is your Workday HCM Analyst may not be able to make the leap - or have the time and interest - to becoming this BI Developer for ongoing run support of your Workday Prism capability.

And your people analytics “expert”, who you’ve just hired in the past few years, might be best utilized actually using your Prism Analytics outputs to drive business decisions versus integrating and preparing your data and developing dashboards - which will take up a significant portion of this role if you lumber her or him with this.

You may want to ask your People Analytics “expert” what they need to be successful - and where they should spend their time:

  • Operating your BI infrastructure and preparing data, or
  • Using your data and analytical solutions to solve people and business issues that matter.

If they opt for the former, beware. If they opt for the latter, you’d better have a good strategy to enable this because they might not stick around for long - and then you’ll be back at the beginning.

Remember, this is a frothy market for hot skills like a People Analytics “expert”.

I think the reality is you will need to hire a net new BI Developer strictly for Prism Analytics for HR.

Once you do hire your new BI Developer (aka Prism Analytics for HR Developer), this person might not have any experience in the nuances of HR data warehousing, the data driven needs of your people operations, and how to best develop business-focused and impactful people analytics.

Bottom line, implementing Prism Analytics for HR will likely require you to add a full FTE (and maybe more) with the optimal skills combination of a BI Developer mixed with a People Analytics lead.

BI Developers will cost you about $100k per year - not including the Workday hot-skills premium, your location puts-and-takes, and your payroll load factor.

That needs to be part of your total cost of ownership.

Your Systems' Evolving Data Models

Your data structures from other systems will be constantly in flux. Your BI Developer(s) will need to be on top of this moving forward.

This mainly applies to Non-Workday Systems whose data you’ve integrated into your Prism engine - their constantly evolving data models will cause downstream issues of data preparation and management errors in your analytics.

  • How is your BI Developer going to deal with that?
  • How much time will that take every month?
  • What validation processes, integrations, relationships and governance will they need in place with non HR system owners and IT?

HR Data Complexity

HR Data is some of the most complex within a business due to its nested, historical and progressive nature. Flat transactional data must be transformed and it's not an easy task.

I’ve already provided my detailed reasoning for this earlier in this Point of View - HR data is a remarkably tough nut to crack for analytical purposes.

Transactional HR data is simply not usable for true analytics. It must be transformed. And Transactional systems are not built to run analytics. You need a data warehouse-based system for that purpose.

And herein lies the reason why there’s limited reporting and analytic functionality in any transactional system - and the very essence of why Workday bought Platfora and is releasing Prism Analytics.

Incidentally, this holds true for any transactional system, from Workday to Salesforce to a Point-of-Sale system and beyond.

Transactional systems are for transacting, or writing data to a system. Data warehouses and analytics systems are designed for reading data from systems data management, discovery and visualization.

Apples and oranges.

Blending Data Complexity

HR Data becomes even more complex when you add business dimensions from other systems like performance, outcomes or productivity - especially when there's no unique identifier

As an extension to the prior 2 items, mashing HR and business data together from different sources, Workday or non Workday is a custom activity given the endless arrays of data schema that will be present.

Think of a company who is moving towards Workday over several phases - but is currently running Workday HR, ORACLE Financials, and best-of-breed products like iCIMS as an ATS, UKG for Time & Leave, Cornerstone for Learning, Salesforce as a CRM, workforce plans in spreadsheets, Qualtrics for ExM, operational production data in a custom system, and externally sourced “big data” for things like local labor market metrics.

Now think about getting analytics on “productivity” which might solicit data from each of these systems.

Next, consider how your HR Team (or more than likely, your BI Developer) will map all of these data points (each system with unique identifiers - some consistent, others not), into a consolidated record that works both initially, but more importantly, in a seamless, ongoing production-like fashion.

Set-it-and-forget-it won’t work because the transformation and integration of your other HR data (non Workday systems, surveys, productivity, learning, health and safety, time, etc.) into one single, unified data set is EXTREMELY COMPLEX and finicky which needs and deserves constant care and feeding - regardless of the BI toolsets at your disposal.

This is a unique, custom and forever activity for every HR Technology landscape.

Transformation of data for analytic use cases also requires your BI Developer to have great understanding of the business outcomes and problems you are looking for insight into.

My sense is it will take some time for your BI Developer to come up to speed on your most pressing strategic and operational people, talent and organizational issues that warrant analytical investigation.

See these considerations summarized in an Infographic.

How Workday is Doubling Down on Data and Analytics

Over the past 20+ years, we’ve actually seen this storyline and type of solution before - and I hope I’ve made my point of view on what works for transactional reporting or operational BI is nowhere near a slam dunk for HR.

So we need to ask, what’s different this time, with Prism Analytics?

How are these product claims any different than what SAP & SuccessFactors have done with their BW and Business Objects architecture over the past 20 or so years? Or ORACLE with their OBIEE solutions? Or UKG with their IBM Cognos snap on?

My perspective is that there’s nothing dramatically new here.

Prism is an extension of Workday’s modular focus into a new purpose - that of business intelligence - using tools and approaches which have been around for a long time (in techno-years anyway).

For those who want to run both transactional processing and business intelligence from within Workday, you’ll now have a native and integrated solution.

But there will be a significant total cost of ownership, high complexity and risk… up for that?

Why not consider your options?

There are options out there which may be a much better fit for your HR Reporting and People Analytics needs.


Find out if you are fit with this quick self assessment

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