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Have you ever wondered about the biggest “gotcha’s” in moving critical enterprise software applications to the cloud?  If you’re smart (and we suspect you are), mitigating risk is the first thing you think about before you make any major change. You include IT from the beginning in the conversation about integration with your existing IT assets. You only consider applications from leading firms in mature cloud software areas. You’re careful to select a reputable firm as your system integrator (SI).

The SaaS-driven age of cloud-based applications means you no longer have to house a server farm on premises to host behind-the-firewall applications. You don’t need the hardware. You don’t need the big IT staff to maintain it. You don’t need the internal helpdesk to manage your local instance. Less often noted is this: The cloud means you don’t have to engage SI’s with armies of highly-paid consultants for months on end to deploy your software.

In this article, the first of a planned series about getting the most from your relationship with your SI, we look at what to look for in the organization you entrust with the implementation of your cloud-based HRM applications.  We make no pretense of neutrality: as a rapidly growing SI ourselves, we clearly have strong opinions, based on our experience with over 1,500 customers. Our goal is to engage you in seeing what we’ve seen as we share this journey to the cloud. First, a little background on where the trip has taken all of us so far.

A recent KPMG survey of 674 businesses and IT executives found that more than half are already using cloud-based software.  Unfortunately, about one third of these companies report higher than anticipated implementation costs.  Almost 31% cited integration challenges with their existing IT architecture. Despite these findings, the overall consensus was positive.  About 70% of respondents agreed that the cloud is delivering efficiencies and cost savings. Imagine what they could be accomplishing if their implementations had been even better!

If you listen to the large industry analysts like Gartner, you know they estimate the enterprise IT market is about $1 trillion, while the portion using the cloud is just $100 billion.  What this means is that we’re barely 10% into the biggest enterprise IT transformation in 25 years.  Research and Markets tells us the global HRM software market should continue to see robust demand for SaaS-based HRM software, but they caution that a shortage of trained consultants within SI’s poses a huge challenge. 

Traditionally companies, particularly large organizations like the Fortune 100, have sought safety by using the large SI’s.  Increasingly, these SI’s lag the more nimble and entrepreneurial SI firms who were the early adopters and promoters of cloud technology. Large SI’s remain rooted in the business model which has served them so well. The foundation of this model – and the source of their profitability – is the expert army, the on-premise team of consultants who descend on organizations for months-long implementations. If you’ve been through an enterprise software deployment project with one of these occupying armies, you know that they’re smart, hard-working, and incented to stay as long as they can. 

Just as SaaS makes software more agile, easier to deploy and tailor, our success shows that implementing enterprise cloud application doesn’t require the army of on-site experts the large firms have at the core of their approach. For the last six years our firm has been taking our customers on trips to the cloud. And no, we’re not Virgin Galactic lead by Richard Branson.  The focus of our firm since 2006 has been implementing SuccessFactors (now an SAP company) Talent Management, Learning, and Workforce Planning solutions for customers. The customers we’ve taken on this trip ranged from 75 to tens of thousands of employees.  Many of these customers were medium to large multi-national companies whose employees who speak multiple languages and are located all over the globe. In the last five and one half years, we’ve deployed Cloud HR solutions for over 1,500 companies in 30 countries (which makes our firm one of the most active consultancies in the Cloud).

Like you, the goal of most of our customers is to leverage the efficiencies and economies of scale that cloud software inherently provides. They achieve the higher return on investment (ROI) for their cloud software implementations when they get the shortest possible “time-to-value” (TTV).  Cloud software can make TTV much shorter because highly configurable solutions don’t require extensive (and expensive, and army-requiring) customizations to design, deploy, and maintain.  

One key to short time to value is how easy it is for employees (including IT) to use the software, what the marketing and sales folks call ETC (“easy-to-consume”). A competent SI, who understands the number of configurable options in your software, and stays abreast of the many and rapid changes that come with quarterly updates, can help you cut through the  cascade of options to get to just the ones you need. These SI’s don’t let you waste
project configuration cycles exploring esoteric configuration options, and they make sure you identify any product gaps early in the project timeline.  This requires a depth of expertise that usually comes from an organization that specializes in a single vendor’s enterprise application or in a niche served by only a few vendors.

A competent SI who has deep knowledge of the product also can help you develop work-arounds and process redesigns to fit the SaaS solution before differences between how you do something today and the best way to use the software derail your project.  Quick problem solving, deep expertise, and excellent project leadership skills don’t require an army: they just require the right people. Deploying a small, nimble, highly responsive and experienced team of deeply knowledgeable resources is a faster route to success, and it also means you don’t need to offshore half of your deployment to reduce costs. 

The next area of concern, and rightly so, is integration of cloud applications with your internal IT assets. The next article in this planned series explores how to approach the connectivity, interface, and security issues associated with integrating your new HRM cloud applications with your existing IT assets.

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