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SuccessFactors and SAP HCM consulting: The Wild West of 2013

Since SAP HCM acquired SuccessFactors the number of SuccessFactors partners has grown tremendously, with nearly every SAP HCM consultancy partnering with SuccessFactors. Currently the SuccessFactors partner list has over 230 partners listed on it.

One of the biggest concerns I have, and I’ve also heard expressed by Jarret Pazahanick, is the number of consultants and consultancies who are claiming to be experts in SuccessFactors. Many of these so-called “experts” have neither implemented SuccessFactors nor have they worked with SAP or SuccessFactors on any related activities or initiatives. The SuccessFactors bandwagon is moving at a rapid pace and for many of the consultants or consultancies working in Talent Management, they have been left with little choice because of SAP’s “go-forward” strategy for Talent Management. This has left a scramble of consultancies looking for their first “break” in the SuccessFactors implementation business.

In a recent conversation I had with SAP, they expressed their concern at some of the individuals publishing professional articles or speaking at HR2013 on SuccessFactors with little to no experience or with no solid relationships with SAP or SuccessFactors. With a lot of misinformation and confusion in the marketplace, it is important that clarity remains. SAP has some plans to provide a central source of information, but there are no concrete guarantees just yet.

It will be extremely interesting to see which sessions at HR2013 provide facts and clarity and which add to the confusion. My hope is that only genuine information and clarification is presented and that speakers have their ducks in a row, as there is a common belief that even SAP have struggled with this recently. There is a real possibility that selecting a SuccessFactors speaker based on their SAP HCM reputation could lead to misinformation and create friction between SAP and the conference producers, which is not a situation that I would want because I believe that these conferences are the best around for SAP HCM.

In defense of publishers and the conference producers of HR2013, they have many of the same challenges as customers do with not knowing who really are the experts and who aren’t. Since most speakers are SAP HCM experts and are starting on a “blank canvas” when it comes to SuccessFactors, there are no real points of reference and this is another reason why customers must be extra vigilant when engaging with SuccessFactors “professionals”.

Customers should look to take some of the following steps when evaluating whether to move to the Cloud and when selecting a partner to advise them and/or support an implementation:

Stay Informed: Customers need to stay informed with the latest developments in the market. There are a number of analysts, thought-leaders, consultants, and SAP employees who are valuable sources of information on the reality of the state-of-play of SAP HCM and SuccessFactors. Customer should look to Twitter (in particular SAP HCM, Jarret Pazahanick, myself and the #SuccessFactors hashtag), the SAP Community Network, and LinkedIn to stay current. In 2013 there will be several new sources of information for customers:

Seek Expertise: Customers should ensure that their consulting/strategic partner has sufficient expertise when helping them formalize a HCM Technology strategy or support an implementation. While many consultancies or consultants don’t have experience of implementing SuccessFactors, they may have sufficient expertise to be able to support creation of a strategy. Customers should always seek to understand what credentials their partner has and should validate references. This applies to both SuccessFactors and HCM strategy construction. SuccessFactors also has a list of certified partners, which can be found here.

Use experienced consultants: When it comes to implementing SuccessFactors it is important that customers seek a partner that either has experience in SuccessFactors and SAP HCM, or has a SAP HCM partner that has partnered with an experienced SuccessFactors implementation shop. Many SAP HCM consultancies are up-skilling in experience and may partner with a SuccessFactors specialist. This is no bad thing and customers should be wary of consultancies that are “going it alone” with no experience. Having trained consultants is not enough, so customers must verify who will actually be delivering the services. I recommend this blog to help customers find the right consultants needed to successfully deliver their projects: Seven Tips to ensure you hire the Right Consultant

Customers can use many techniques to find the right partner and reaching out to fellow customers who have completed an implementation is a reliable way of finding out if a consultancy is up to the task or not. Experts will be easy to spot by customers who keep themselves informed and these individuals can either help customers deliver projects or recommend an appropriate partner.

As I was recently told, 2013 really is going to be the “Wild West” when it comes to SAP HCM and SuccessFactors.

*update 18th February 2013: URLs for the HR Expert Special Report and the SAP Press book have been added*

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  • Luke,

    This problem is systemic. We have people in every space claiming to be 'expert consultants' when in fact they have no experience at all.

    This is why I want to make a 'Yelp' for rating consultants.


    • Hi Judson,

      This is a systematic problem, but I wanted to ensure that the point was raised again. I think it's a bit more prevalent for SuccessFactors because of the sheer number of consultancies getting in on the act.

      Best regards,


  • Hi Luke,

    nice blog.

    The question from my current engagement would be...

    We have ESS/MSS ECC6 EHP5 and Nakisa 3.0 on Java...

    How do SuccessFactors, SAP ESS/MSS, Nakisa fit together, which should be used for what and when ?  How do they work together in harmony and where do they cross over ?

    A picture would be nice of the three, what their orbits are, where they crossover and what decisions Customers can take to use which when and in what scenario 🙂

    From what I can see there isn't a lot of SuccesFactors administration doco around or OSS Notes.

    All the best for 2013 !


    • Hi Andy,

      Thanks for your comments. To be honest, there isn't any particular scenario when one should be used over the other. SAP's "go forward" solution for talent management is SuccessFactors and this is where the innovation will be going forward. However, since Nakisa are independent of SAP then they will continue to innovate in their solutions and I know that they are working on new solutions.

      As a result, there simply isn't a diagram of the 3 because it is more complicated than that. ESS and MSS can still be used, because SSO can be configured between the Portal and SuccessFactors. If customers choose to implement talent development and succession with on-premise then they should choose the WDA and Nakisa solutions. For cloud, they choose SuccessFactors Succession & Development.

      It depends entirely on whether you want to go with SAP's strategy and projected innovation, if the functionality of SuccessFactors suits you, or if your organization is ready for the cloud. Of course, there are many other factors to consider also, but it would be wise to engage a specialist who can help you.

      Best regards,


  • Thanks Luke.

    That at least gives some pointers into the decision process for finding a strategy for these areas of Talent Management.

    All the best,


    • Hi Andy,

      If you are a HR Expert subscriber then it is worth reading the HR Expert Special Report when it comes out, hopefully later this month.

      Best regards,


  • Well done in attracting attention to a critical point. I remember a time when companies had a simple test for a consultant... could you spell S-A-P? (that was a long time ago). Occasionally, now it feels we may be back there, but the on the bright side, market is a lot more sophisticated now, and I don't think inexperience will be condoned for long.

    True that it is critical to a customer to identify the right consultant - and that is not only based on absolute terms, but also on the specific knowledge in terms of industry and specific organization. Again, the final answer is "it depends".

    • Thanks Chiara. Certainly the barriers of entry have gone up, but so have the number of quality resources available. One of the differences with the "old days" is that there are now hundreds of consultancies established in SAP HCM who want to make the switch and not get left behind as a legacy consultancy. This unprecedented demand will lead to some "white lies" by consultancies and this is what customers must be aware of.

      You make great points about the right experience being more than just knowledge - industry and organizational expertise are important in some implementation projects, as well as experience specific to certain situations (business transformation as one example).

      Best regards,


  • Excellent article on an extremely important topic and one that I dont believe customers by and large are aware of so a great job shining a light on it. Much like in the SAP HCM consulting world there are lot of people and even whole consulting firms claiming SuccessFactors expertise and experience while they hope to learn on the job. I have written several articles over the past year that I hope will help customers ensure they make an educated decision.

    Signs you Should Not Trust your SAP Consultant

    Seven Tips to ensure you hire the Right Consultant

    SAP Consulting Fraud - Disturbing Example

    On a side note congratulations on the upcoming SAP Press book and I look forward to reading your HR Expert article.

    • Thanks Jarret. Your articles are very useful and valid here - customers must be vigilant and ready to challenge the consultancies that they are looking to engage with.

      Best regards,


  • a couple of thoughts

    1) where are all the "legacy" successfactor consulting companies? i have not heard of 1 merger unlike workday that has seen quite a few

    2) no disrespect luke but you too have jumped on the bandwagon so we could ask the same question of you in terms of experience etc. not too long ago you were only a sap / nakisa tm consultant. you are not alone and can include jarrett et. al

    3) to one other posters point, this is like back in the day, nowadays it is a bit more difficult because you have to be able to spell "successfactors" 😛

    4) as another poster indicated in another article, for a consulting company to be "certified", they need only 1 consultant that is certifed in that module. So you have 5 or 6 certified consultants in each area and voila. not a high barrier of entry if you ask me.

    5) we need some real certification, unlike the current sap certfiication.start off correctly by providing certification that can be trusted in the market

    • Hi Howard,

      Thanks for your comments. I'm not quite sure I understand the first point, but if you are referring to the SuccessFactors partners of the "pre-SAP" era then I think they will still exist. Around 70% of SuccessFactors' customers are non-SAP customers so there is a big market for those consultancies still.

      Regarding point 2, I definitely have jumped on the bandwagon because, as a Talent Management solution architect and someone that has had many "off the record" conversations with SAP, I can clearly see that SAP's future is with SuccessFactors in this area. I am quite happy that my company are not one of those I am referring to, since they are working with a well-known SuccessFactors partner to gain credible experience before pushing services.

      Currently I am working on a few initiatives with SAP and SuccessFactors directly that many individuals do not have access to and some of these individuals are writing about or speaking about those topics. You will be amazed at how wrong some SAP HCM experts are around information about SuccessFactors and SAP are very well aware of what is happening in the marketplace with consultants.

      The barriers for partnership are low and this could become a bigger problem as SAP and SuccessFactors look to change the partnership model for consultancies. There will be some formal announcements soon, so watch out.

      Best regards,


  • Luke,

    Firstly, great title for this blog.  Disappointed not to see a picture of some "spurs" though 😉

    There has definitely been a scramble for SAP HCM consultants and consultancies to jump on the SFSF "bandwagon" and there is also a lot of talk going on out there.  On this I agree.  The bit I am more curious about is what we all expect consultants and consultancies to do.  It certainly isn't a new phenomena, as others have pointed out!

    I wonder what behaviour everyone would define as "perfect" ... first it seems we want consultants/consultancies to stay close to SAP/SFSF (partnership), we want them to be trained (SFSF courses open to partners) and we want them to be experienced.  The final piece of the puzzle is the one you just can't "buy" your way into and no-one was born with SFSF experience (even Lars!) and everyone has to start somewhere.  One way is for consultants to work with SFSF or another partner to get experience during a project by applying some of their HCM skills.  For customers, it needs to be transparent and fair though.

    The best piece I've read for a while in this area is Chris McNarney's story that Jarret published - highly recommended (link in Jarret's comment above).  As consultant with a SAP HCM services partner, I'm happy that my company is investing in partnership, training and working with others on SFSF initiatives.  Doing nothing is not the way forward, but I would feel equally uncomfortable pretending to be something I'm not (or my employer doing that either). 

    From your list of advice, I don't disagree with any of them, but think the use of experienced (verified, not just trained) consultants is by far the most important.  Both you and I know this has happened in other SAP HCM areas and the issues it can cause.

    Best regards,


    • Hi Stephen,

      Thanks for your comments. Of course, for customers it is ideal if all consultancies have partnership, training and experience, but the reality is that this simply is not possible. As  you mentioned, your company are partnering with others on "initiatives" and this is something I have seen a lot of consultancies do with some of the consultancies experienced in SuccessFactors but not in SAP HCM.

      The perfect behaviour would be for consultancies to not pretend they are experts when they haven't got anything above the basic training. While there are experts who have not implemented, these are very thin on the ground. So far the so-called "experts" I have seen have made glaring mistakes or only provided simple information that is available publicly. Real expertise can be proven with a significant accumulation of information and knowledge, which I've not seen much of so far.

      And I totally agree that doing nothing is not the way forward, but my point is that too many companies are trying to suggest they can run when really they are only just taking their first steps of walking. It's encouraging that a lot of companies are showing initiative and enthusiasm (although SAP didn't give many a choice), but there should be some honesty and realism. But then again I think it was Jarret Pazahanick who recently pointed out that every consultancy makes a claim of being "World class" so I think it's just another case of the same. Eventually the men will stand out from the boys, but in the meantime customers need to stay vigilant when engaging with a "traditional" SAP HCM consultancy.

      Best regards,


  • Thanks Luke,

    Well articulated write up and i want to believe many customers will be confused at this point about migrating to clouds but like you rightly said 2013 will be a "Wild West" for SAP HCM and SuccessFactors just few weeks in 2013 there is been quite a number of articles on SAP HCM and Successfactors and cloud computing business in general and clients will have to weigh the options and opportunities in migrating to the cloud and how this will help them run better. Hope HR2013 enlighten us more on the benefits and roadmap for SAP HCM and SuccessFactors.


    • Hi Latunde,

      Thanks for your comments. There have been a few articles already and SAP have had to get some corrected or have highlighted others as being incorrect. This is a worrying trend and what is more worrying are the number of sessions being given by companies whose source of information is not implementation experience, but blogs written by people like Jarret Pazahanick and myself. Chinese Whispers and all that! I watched a recent webinar by "experts" and many of the answers given were generic or easily obtainable public information, so nothing special. I hope things change soon, but it will take a while for the real experts to emerge.

      Best regards,


  • In my dealings with SuccessFactors, I've seen these definitions to distinguish between trained, experienced and expert. 

    Expert = Trained and certified by SuccessFactors + experienced in at least two full implementations + able to act as mentor for other consultants.
    Experienced = Trained and certified by SuccessFactors + experienced in at least two full implementations.
    Trained = Trained (no implementation experience ) by SuccessFactors.

    I thought these definitions were relevant here and would be useful to customers who can "qualify" the expertise of resources.

    • Hi Stephen,

      Thanks for adding this as it's a valuable point for customers to recognize. When hiring SuccessFactors consultants then customers should seek to verify these levels with the consultants they are considering. I imagine there are many consultants who are "Trained" but being advertised as an expert, which could be confused with "Expert" in a SuccessFactors training context [SuccessFactors definitions in quotation marks].

      Best regards,


    • Its great to see some definitions around expertise in Success Factors as this is an important step in "taming the west".  However I've been mulling over the definitions used and I don't think they are as clear as I'd first thought.  I think they just need a bit more information than a sentence on each provides.

      I think the grey areas are best described with a handful of questions...

      If someone is trained by Success Factors then it is easy to establish that that person as "Trained".  For the "Experienced" level the addition is to be certified by Success Factors and to have two full implementations worth of experience.

      Q1) Does this mean you can be certified before getting two implementations, or are these implementations a pre-requisite of becoming certified?

      Q2) "at least" is the term used for the implementations, so that would suggest it is not automatic to be "Experienced" (/certified?) and I wonder what the other criteria might be around this.

      The difference between "Expert" and "Experienced" appears to be the addition of mentoring capability.

      Q3) Is mentoring capability decided by Success Factors (presumably it would be) and if so, what are the criteria?

      If anyone can clarify on any of these then please do 🙂

      • Hi Stephen,

        You can only get certification after completing 2 implementations, so the definitions are not worded 100% correctly. However, the distinctions are important for customers whether the definition is not 100% worded correctly.

        However, I'm not overly familiar with these definitions as I've not seen them in any SuccessFactors material, but it's worth customers verifying if a customer claims to have these distinctions.

        Best regards,


          • Sorry Stephen, I meant the definitions that you had posted, not that the definitions were yours. I just thought that the definitions weren't so clear, because other partner material I have read specifies that you need 2 full implementations to get certified. But the fact that SuccessFactors uses these distinctions helps customers get the right level of expertise that they need for their projects and it was great that you bought up an important piece of advice.

            Best regards,