Workday Debuts a Universal Skills Ontology Called Skills Cloud

Workday updates its human capital management system with the addition of Workday skills cloud, a machine learning-powered skills ontology designed to help organizations better understand and manage their employees' talents.


How many ways can you say “project management”? While the responsibilities may be almost identical, one company’s project manager might be another company’s team leader or group leader. That might not seem like such a big deal, but from a human resources perspective it is.

Workday found that common skills can have up to 20-plus synonyms, which skills cloud consolidates to reveal the relationship between skills—for example, showing that “patient management” is related to “urgent care” and “clinical trials” for nurses.

“There is a taxonomy of skills which people invest a lot of resources in to develop, but it becomes immediately dated as skills change over time,” Cristina Goldt, vice president of HCM Products at Workday, told eWEEK. “Our aim with skills cloud was to create a common language of skills that all customers can use.”

Goldt said machine learning technology was essential to the development of skills cloud because it was able to quickly process the massive amounts of data Workday has collected on the relationships between job descriptions, skills and titles. “Skills cloud gives our customers a richer data set and the ability to do more granular searches for talent both internally and externally,” said Goldt.

Another important aspect of skills cloud is that it’s not static. Data on more than 31 million workers are in Workday systems, and skills cloud will constantly update as new skills come to the fore. It’s also designed to make it easier for HR departments to manage talent by dramatically reducing redundancies in the way skills are identified. (For the customers who elect to participate in the skills cloud service, contributed data is “de-identified” and added to a secure, aggregated dataset.)

“To give you an idea how big this is, we have already reduced one million user-entered skills down to 55,000 skills,” said Goldt. “We had one customer who had a hundred definitions for the same set of skills.”

After a period of beta-testing, Workday skills cloud was officially announced as generally available on Oct. 2 at the company’s Workday Rising conference in Las Vegas. Goldt said skills cloud is laying the foundation for a true talent marketplace that better serves employees and managers.

Hundreds of Thousands of Job Titles

“The systems we have now are too unwieldly where you have hundreds of thousands of job titles. It’s more advantageous to consolidate job titles so you can fold them into job families,” Ventana Research analyst Steve Goldberg told eWEEK. “Workday is a first mover with this application; it’s very cutting edge.”

From an employee perspective, Goldberg said skills cloud is going to help clarify roles and accomplishments and potentially even improve the prospects for promotion.

“Skills cloud is part of our core HCM product, and we feel it’s very foundational,” said Goldt. It’s not a bright, shiny object on the periphery; skills are key to how you think about talent.”

As skills cloud advances, Workday said it will give companies comprehensive talent matching and recommendations. For example, a hiring manager searching for a candidate with a competency in “web design” would also be provided a candidate with “graphic design,” “web development,” and/or “Flash design” skills.

Skills cloud is generally available to customers as part of Workday Innovation Services, a program that provides certain optional services—such as Workday Benchmarking—that extend and enhance how customers use Workday. Skills cloud is free for Workday HCM customers that subscribe to Workday Innovation Services.

David Needle

David Needle

Based in Silicon Valley, veteran technology reporter David Needle covers mobile, bi g data, and social media among other topics. He was formerly News Editor at Infoworld, Editor of Computer Currents...