Workday CIO Diana McKenzie on building inclusion into a firm’s DNA

When Diana McKenzie joined Workday almost three years ago, she was the first CIO that the financial management and HR software vendor had ever had. Since then, her responsibilities have expanded rapidly, alongside the business itself.

McKenzie heads up the ‘Workday on Workday’ (WoW) team and the ‘go-to market team’, which represents a collaboration between platform like Salesforce and business engagement leads on the release of new products, as well as overseeing the business operations and strategy team.

In addition to all this, she manages the day to day IT operations, maintaining core platforms such as ServiceNow, Atlassian, JIRA and Confluence, and heads up the engineering ops team, which takes care of all core engineering operations and end user tools.

McKenzie works alongside the company’s CTO Joe Korngiebel, who is responsible for the enterprise architecture, analytics, engineering and one of the company’s newest projects: Alpha Lab, which creates a sandbox environment for testing out new creations.

Workday’s CISO also reports directly to McKenzie, meaning security matters including risk management, incident centre, security operation centre (SOC) and reporting out the security posture to the company’s audit committee and board also fall within her remit.

Collaboration stokes innovation

When McKenzie arrived in her role, Workday numbered around 6,000 members of staff, and facilitating collaboration across multiple workplaces in different locations presented a challenge.

“Because we are a very technically savvy workforce, we had just about every single collaboration communication tool that was publicly available and probably some that were only available inside the company,” she says.

In an aim to select the ‘best of breed’ (rather than one size fits all) communication tools to adopt across the company, several focus groups were convened with each comprising hundreds of staff across different functions and locations. They also collected feedback about the communication tools in use at the time across the various geographies.

“The net result of that was the selection of Zoom Enterprise, Slack Enterprise Grid, and Google, as the primary collaboration environment for Workday,” says McKenzie. “All three of those interact together seamlessly.”

One of these decisions proved particularly easy. “We already had 9,000 people using Slack, so it was pretty much a no-brainer,” says McKenzie.

McKenzie is also a proponent of a DevOps methodology.

“We’ve created an operating model where we have platform leaders and we have individuals that face off with our different business functions within the company,” she says.

“The way in which we take on work for those platforms is one where we run very much in an Agile environment with scrum teams, and those platform teams are engaged from the point that the requirements are drafted, to the development and ensuring that as we roll those changes through to production, we’re doing that with this notion of continuous integration, continuous delivery.”

Building an inclusive work space

But an Agile environment isn’t sufficient to stimulate the best work from everyone, and being a woman in what is still a very male-dominated role within the tech industry, McKenzie is proactive about making other women feel at home at Workday. She credits the founders for creating an accepting and inclusive environment.

“It’s a really different experience when I contrast it to other environments that I’ve worked in,” she comments, adding that there were already a number of women in executive leadership and senior technology roles when she started. She believes this maintains a positive cycle.

“With more women around the table – more diversity around the table – it automatically leads to more diversity, where we’re able to attract more women because they see more women being successful at Workday,” she says. “It’s that wonderful reinforcement that we have that makes this company a very special place to be.”

But the firm does not stop at mere representation. McKenzie says that there is a women’s mentoring programme where senior women in the company meet with four early in-career managers. Each meeting has a dedicated topic such as negotiating skills, conflict resolution or confidence, with materials such as articles or podcasts circulated beforehand.

“In almost every single case, when I would sit down with these four women from different functions of the company, the conversations would start with: ‘Wow, I don’t really experience that at Workday. That’s really not a problem for me, but where I came from, it was’,” says McKenzie. “That was just a real testament to the culture here.”

She also nurtures connections with women in tech across a number of organisations. When she first arrived in the Bay Area, she realised when attending big events for CIOs that there were very few female CIOs in the room.

“I knew there were other women CIOs, I just didn’t know why they weren’t going to these events,” she says.

So she, the CIO at Intel Paula Tolliver, and CIO at Zuora Alvina Antar, decided to form a women’s CIO network in Silicon Valley.

“We meet once a quarter for dinner,” says McKenzie. “We went to Lake Tahoe for a weekend a couple of months ago.

“We do that to build relationships and to make sure that when there are opportunities or events; when we see open positions; when there’s an opportunity to help individuals within our respective organisations: we’re there as a network,” she says, “to facilitate that exchange, where prior, there really wasn’t anything like that that existed in the Bay Area.”

The WoW Team

One of McKenzie’s key projects, the explosively named WoW – Workday on Workday – team is responsible for testing out Workday products within the company itself.

“This is the team that ensures that Workday is our first and best customer of our own product,” says McKenzie. “We work very closely with our product team and with finance and – we call them ‘people and purpose’ – that’s our HR organisation, to understand what the future needs of our business are in those domains.”

They also carry out a ‘canary release’ before the launch of each new product.

“We are the first ones to ever experience the deployment of any new feature in Workday,” says McKenzie. “We get that on Wednesday evening and all of our customers will get it the following week.”

Some of these projects mature internally for extended periods of time until they are perfected for an external rollout. For example, a recently released product that spent some time in the WoW incubator is Prism, an analytics platform.

“We are working very hard internally to push the boundaries of what Prism is capable of doing,” says McKenzie, who adds that the company is in the process of building a data lake that will be able to absorb data from both inside and outside Workday – for example from other SaaS platforms.

McKenzie mentioned that the company was working internally on a cloud platform, first announced two years ago, which would allow customers to extend their product.

“It really will be a platform that makes it possible for them to extend their Workday product in whatever way they need to,” she says. “Especially through an industry vertical where we don’t have many customers asking for that feature or that function.”

But just because something works for Workday doesn’t mean it will work for its customers.

“We spend time with customers understanding how they’re using our product and share with them how we’re using our product, and we learn from those conversations,” says McKenzie. These conversations inform how the product team continues to develop the product to ensure it continually meets business needs.

Customer satisfaction is key for the company, and even as it aims to scale customer growth quickly the firm is also striving to maintain customer satisfaction at 98% or higher.

Alpha Lab

Another of Workday’s projects is Alpha Lab, helmed by CTO Joe Korngiebel. This will allow any potential business partner, vendor or company Workday might be interested in investing in to try out the company’s software within a sandbox environment for all of the SaaS applications the company uses.

“We’re actually about less than 30 days away from making that environment available for our annual global Hackathon,” McKenzie says.

At this event, any Workday staff member can hack one of the company’s applications, with the possibility that it will be developed into an extension of the Workday platform or become another capability for internal use, all within the Alpha Lab.

Emerging technologies

McKenzie says she is fortunate to be working at a company such as Workday, that is primarily a SaaS user. “As a matter of fact, I have very little on-prem in my environment, and that gives me the ability to leverage the machine learning and AI capabilities that the SaaS providers are building into their platforms,” she says. “Where I need to build it out specifically at Workday becomes a narrower slice.”

Workday is also working on integrating these capabilities into their own products. “I tend to be in a very lucky position where I and my team get to influence how those capabilities come to market and how we take those up as users of our own product,” says McKenzie.

She is also excited about the capabilities that vendors such as Salesforce and ServiceNow are building into their own products. “Then for us, it really is about how do we stitch that environment together to create a more seamless experience for our workmates,” says McKenzie.


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