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(Note, if you don’t manage to bring Martin Gillet with you to a conference, then at least remember to bring something better than your camera phone with a bit of fluff trapped in the lens cover and you might get some good photos. Apologies to the creative types who made the SuccessFactors background that I’ve shamelessly stolen, I had to do something to make the photo look better.)

Finally managed to grab a few moments to myself, so I’m going to throw down, in what will probably be a bit of a random mess, and certainly in “my style”, some of my thoughts about attending SuccessConnect in Sydney last week.

1) Awesome people

If the people who make up the SuccessFactors story were well represented by the bunch that took the time to chat with me in Sydney – then they must have one of the higher concentrations of really intelligent, and nice, people I know.  I heard about Lars, and yes we did discuss the cult of personality – but I completely disagree with Paul Hawking (a fellow SAP Mentor – who says we have to agree?) The team of experts who make up this crew are all brilliant in their own right – without the “7 foot Viking”, yes, there would be a gap – but that wouldn’t sink the boat. In every area (I spoke to Charles DeNault about Jam,  Gord Zeilstra about recruitment and Karie Willyerd about modern talent, etc. etc.), there were people passionate about their areas and with a real drive, not only to be top of the game, but to improve and keep on improving.

2) Awesome people who listen

I was blown away in one session when I was talked through the “and these are the things that you’ve voted for” approach and idea that was presented. OK, perhaps SAP does this (I’m sure that ASUG people will chime in here – but then doesn’t their business model rely on SAP not paying attention to the little guys? – sorry might have been overly cynical there), but never in such an open way have I seen it as at SuccessConnect. People were honest and open about what they hoped to achieve. When I had a question I only needed to ask. Having had the privilege of discussions with high level SAP execs though the SAP Mentor connections , I can honestly compare the two sides. SuccessFactors has the culture that SAP is fostering in the top layers of its organisation (or at least the ones friendly to SAP Mentors) spread throughout the organisation.

3) Awesome people with a vision

On the final day of the conference (there were some training sessions the next day – I’ll have to ask some friends how they went) the “Innovators and Leaders” took to the stage to do a panel discussion. It went really well. Questions were opened to the audience, and me being who I am, I managed to get one in. I asked: “SuccessFactors likes to drink its’ own Champange – what would you, as leaders in your company, like to see SuccessFactors build in the future that would really help you with your jobs.” I got some great answers – the future for cross application integration is bright – or very poor (the idea of single LOB solutions was seen as hampering innovation and communication). Predictive analytics gave the nod to how HANA may enter the forum. “Social” interaction as a way of facilitating business might have become so obvious that it’s dropped off the SAP deck of Cloud, Mobile, and In Memory – but for the SuccessFactors guys it’s right in there in how they think. I really look forward to understanding how they bring the good bits of Streamwork and Jam together.

4) Who cares about the technology?

I know Naomi Bloom @InFullBloomUS, a particularly vocal HCM cloud supporter/analyst/blogger, makes a big deal about the underlying tech of cloud companies. And lots of my techy friends really care about this (I just had a conversation over twitter with Vijay Vijayasankar, where he expressed his concerns about the whole platform not being on the same tech stack, and why users should use Neo

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(SAP Netweaver Cloud – and yes we both prefer the old name) if SuccessFactors wasn’t using it themselves ). And if you can hang around an SAP person for more than a day without hearing about HANA, you’ve done well. But really, does it matter? What matters is great user experience, doesn’t it? OK,- if you use HANA as your underlying tooling, then it opens up possibilities for having amazing analytics that can give you powerful tools to build great UX. If all you give your users is an SQL interface, no matter if it can query billions of rows of data in seconds, you’re not going to be sitting with the cool kids at lunch. Around this whole topic I had a great chat with Aaron Au, the co-founder and CTO of SuccessFactors, and, as you can see from the photo (that’s me and Aaron), I managed to grab with my rather poor camera phone (yes, it’s time to upgrade – or at least clean the lens), he does wear a suit. But – get this – he travelled back to the US in economy, just like the rest of the team. (Thank @votegord for that amazing insight!) Over a dinner, I managed to monopolise Aaron’s time (sorry to everyone else sitting around) to ask him for a little bit of deeper info on just how he saw the Successfactors stack integrating with the SAP OnDemand suite. I also asked about how he saw the needs of enterprises used to the flexibility of building bespoke solutions within the SAP platform could be met if they were to use SuccessFactors. I want to write in a little more detail about this particular area as it really matters to me personally – but for now I’d like to summarise the response: As long as components are built in such a way that integration between them is not hindered, then a heterogeneous system stack can give rise to more innovation and powerful solutions. And in the end what matters is a great user experience across all platforms.

5) Which brings me to mobile

Mobile was there, I mean, it was there. Stop, period, the end. The understanding was that you can’t have a modern UX without mobile. And what was even more interesting, they didn’t need a third party device management solution (aka Afaria) to use it. It just worked – and they had experiences of companies with hundreds of thousands of employees using the apps. Strangely enough, most people with a smartphone actually know how to upload an app onto it. After all the sell that SAP has put on the absolute need for device level management (which I haven’t really ever bought), it was nice to see a perfectly good solution that worked and didn’t use it at all.

6) Biggest takeaway.

OK, so I was at a HCM focused conference, and I’ve been to a few of those in the SAP world too and I’ve seen a similar sort of thing, but that was caused by ignorance not choice.

None of the customers at SuccessConnect really seemed to care about the technology. They just wanted it to work, and to work right. And because for most of them SuccessFactors was working, then their projects (and the budgets behind them) weren’t about the tech and getting the tech working, but were about change management and training, and more change management and more training. And guess what – they had wildly successful projects.

This is certain to be the first of very many blogs I’m going to write in the SuccessFactors space. I clearly see this is where I’m going to be headed longer term. I’d like to make my first one a little special by signing this one off with a huge” thank you” to the guys who looked after the poor little guy in a blue top so well over the three days I was there. In particular thanks to Andrea Meyer (the person whose phone number is apparently on every SuccessFactors press release) and Michelle Herman (who has to manage all that) . Friends are people who come and sit on the floor with you.  Thanks for a great conference!

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10 Comments

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  1. Steve Bogner

    Great blog Chris – sounds like a great conference. I guess I’d say the underlying tech matters to the extent that it enables or hinders the capability/usability of the software. Whether it’s PHP, Ruby, ABAP, HANA, MySQL or Fortran I really don’t care – until it gets in the way of scalability, functionality, interoperability, usability, etc. But that’s the point of SaaS anyway – we don’t care so much about the tech but more about the standards it supports.

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    1. Chris Paine

      I’d agree Steve. As long as it doesn’t stop you providing a great UX – then really it is up to the cloud provider to deal with. And yes if they have really nasty tech in there it will take them longer to iterate and produce new stuff – but that certainly isn’t the impression that I’m getting from the functionality being delivered from SuccessFactors. The new Employee Central interface was pretty nice (given how hard I’m having to work with some customers to actually load employee photos – we might still be a way away in some cases, but still…).

      Aaron was quite clear (to be elaborated in future blog) that a homogeneous stack was great if you were building everything from scratch, but if you have a stack that can support heterogeneous environments and still allow them to interact (e.g. use Jam everywhere as the “social” glue.) then you are in a far more competitive position.

      I think I agree.

      Thanks for the comment, and it was a really good conference. If you get the chance to go to the one in San Fran or London, I’d recommend it.

      Cheers,

      Chris

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  2. Jarret Pazahanick

    Excellent write up Chris and dont appreciate how high you set the bar for my SuccessConnect San Fran recap blog 🙂

    I thought your observation on mobile was spot on as it is one area where existing SAP HCM OnPremise customers will notice real benefits with SuccessFactors given that it is truly free vs SAP customers having to install and pay for SUP and Gateway licensing to get “free” apps.

    On a side note after seeing Martin in action at Sapphire my smartphone pictures are going to be a real let down for the community as well 🙂

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    1. Chris Paine

      Don’t worry Jarret, there are plenty of points that need discussing that will come out of SuccessConnect San Fran – to be noted it will be the only SuccessConnect that Lars will be attending – so perhaps he may spring a few interesting ideas out there. And it will be interesting to have the chance to discuss how Ariba will be integrated now that a week or so has gone past since that was announced.

      Looking forward to seeing how you view it.

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  3. Paul Hawking

    Good blog Chris

    My concern was more about the enthusiasm of the SuccessFactors employees and how the praises for Lars was thick and fast.  I have never heard the word “love” used so many times at an IT event.  “Lars loves this” , “What we love about Lars”. This raised a couple of concerns for me. There is no doubt the solution is rich and of value to SAP customers.  However can the enthusiastic SuccessFactors culture survive? Is it driven by their dynamic leader and what happens if he leaves SAP?

    Can this culture survive in SAP?  I used the analogy in discussions that it is like the new GENY employee. Give them freedom in the hope they will innovate and influence the culture of the company.   But at some stage management will say “no we don’t do things that way”.

    No matter how autonomous the cloud group will be they will still have to interact with other more traditional areas of SAP.  It will be interesting to see how this all comes together.

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    1. Chris Paine

      I’d agree Paul – there was a lot of “love” going around.

      But I don’t think I heard Lars mentioned as much as you you. Even at the closing keynote when the leaders and innovators were discussion how they were going to do things, where they were, what they saw the challenges to be, he only got 2 mentions (I was counting) in the hour they were on stage.

      I’m not sure I heard the “what we love about Lars” bit at all (perhaps I’m selectively forgetting).

      I think perhaps given the larger than life media face that Lars has, and the fact that we’ve all seen him (at least seen his SAPPHIRE keynote) means that it was link that people could use to get through to those of us who were new – but I saw that use dying out as the conference went on.

      What I wanted to point out is that I do not think that the culture is driven by Lars – not nearly so much as the SAP culture is driven by Hasso, Jim and Bill. The SuccessFactors culture of openness, enthusiasm and dynamism seems to be spread throughout all the people I spoke with – whereas the open and frank SAP culture that is embodied by Vishal etc. does not (in my experience) extend all the way to the shop floor. Perhaps you saw it differently! I’m happy to disagree 🙂

      As to the GenY analogy – I think that many management teams would do well to wake up to the fact that soon over half their workforce is going to be born after 1977, if they don’t start embracing different ways of doing things then their businesses will see the impacts – not to mention the overwhelming competition from the companies that do see the difference and advantage! (there was an excellent session on Wednesday morning that covered this very well – I think you would have enjoyed it – fortunately they videoed it so we’ll be able to replay soon!)

      At the moment they( SAP and SFSF) seem to be very different organisations and I think that whilst there is a divide they will retain their differences – would the lack of Lars make any difference as and when they merge? I don’t think it would make a huge one. My viewpoint – I’m happy to be marked wrong or a troublemaker – in fact I take pride in that 😉

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  4. Sascha Wenninger

    Hi Chris,

    awesome job capturing the spirit of the event; I would have to agree with your assessment of the SFSF culture as seen through the lens of a conference attendee: lots of very open and honest discussions were to be had.

    Two things particularly struck me: How lean SFSF runs as a company. They seem to be able to do just fine as a company serving 15 million+ end users with a total global staff of 1400, and without a massive amount of management “overhead” (did anyone say OneVoice? 😉 ).

    The other thing was the relentless determination which seeped through many of the slides. Payroll for 10 countries to be released in SFSF in July. This year! EmployeeCentral to be at feature parity with SAP core HCM in 2-3 years. Strong focus on winning with Jam. Good stuff – what’s what I want to see as an interested bystander.

    I was also really glad that you were at the event – you asked more questions than all of the bloggers and analysts combined that afternoon, and very intelligent ones at that!

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    1. Chris Paine

      Thanks Sascha! There was a really good buzz at the conference. I hope that those attending in SF and London get a similar one.

      I was mentioning today to someone that what really struck me about the SFSF guys, wasn’t so much their current solutions (which are looking pretty darn slick) or their breadth of experience in the area that they are playing in (ever been to a keynote run by SAP  that didn’t actually mention the software until the very last slide, but instead talked in general terms about the business problems?). What got me was their speed of innovation and ability to change and adapt. Looking at how the performance solution’s UI and UX have changed over the last few years – is like looking at SAP’s solution spread over the last 10 years – and the exciting thing is the pace – as you alluded to – isn’t slacking.

      As to me having a big mouth and asking lots of questions 😉 – well it’ll get me into trouble one day – but whilst I’m still able to ask useful questions, I’ll keep going. 😀

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