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Author's profile photo Kouros Behzad

SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics or SAP Business Intelligence for Human Resources?


“My IT team has deployed SAP BI which is providing extensive reporting across our organization. However, I am also looking for an application that is designed for my HR team. Am I running the risk of paying twice for the same tools?”

I regularly get questions on how SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics (WFA) and SAP Business Intelligence (BI) solutions, specifically SAP BusinessObjects BI for Reporting and Analytics are related or different in the context of human resources (HR).  I want to take this opportunity to explain: why traditional BI is not enough, the analytics value chain, how SAP BI solutions and SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics align along the analytics value chain, how they can be compared and contrasted, and how you can use them together to your advantage.

So, Why Is Your HR Organization Struggling?

Like many large enterprise organizations, your company has probably made investments in enterprise business intelligence tools.  This could be SAP BusinessObjects BI, IBM Cognos, Oracle BI, or other.  Yet, many such HR organizations don’t get full benefits from the reporting and analytics capabilities of the BI tools being used elsewhere in the organization.

There are some typical barriers that inhibit HR’s ability to effectively deploy enterprise BI tools.  Some common workforce analytics and planning challenges cited by HR leaders are:

  • “Our data is all over the place – we use a Band-Aid to patch together systems”
  • “It takes 3 weeks to produce our workforce dashboard – it gets sent out and we start all over again”
  • “We want our analysts to be analysts, not building pivot tables or creating VLOOKUPs”
  • “We need to be better at telling the story – that starts with credible data and metrics”

In addition, when HR leaders need workforce analytics, reports or calculations, they have to wait behind the Finance, Operations, and Sales departments.

How much of your analyst or HR business partners’ time is spent taking manual “data dumps” from your disparate HR and talent systems into Excel, then cleaning the data and putting into PowerPoint? How does this compare with amount of time spent analyzing the results and telling a compelling story?  One goal of analytics tools should be to get the most out of people’s time, energy, and talents by shifting the percentage of time spent from data assembly and transformation work to higher value-add functions like interpreting information to improve data-driven decision support:


Not All Challenges Are Technical in Nature

Finance, sales and marketing typically have clear standards for measuring and managing their business functions.   In HR, we frequently encounter less consistent metric definitions and fewer standards than are used elsewhere in the organization. Often, HR struggles to identify key performance indicators  (KPI) to measure things that matter, and it ends up tracking metrics that don’t necessarily measure business outcomes.   This results from a lack of analytics mindset (see Analytics – from the World of Finance to the HR Organization) in the HR organization — but this is changing and HR is seeing the impact and the value very rapidly.

Once they do, the challenge becomes building in-house analytic skills and capabilities in the HR organization. Frustration with current technologies and processes often spurs the need for a best-of-breed approach to workforce analytics and planning.

Traditional BI is Not Enough

The product rationale behind SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics is that traditional BI is not enough to unlock full value from people-data.   BI technology alone isn’t enough to help determine:

  • Which data to analyze?
  • How to get/integrate it?
  • How to analyze it (metrics)?
  • How to interpret it?
  • How to react?

Along the Analytics Value Chain

I attended a great presentation by Brian Ong, people analytics manager at Google, at the 2012 Human Capital Institute (HCI) Workforce Planning and Analytics Conference on Case Studies by the Google People Analytics Team.  During this presentation, Brian presented a very simple view of the Analytics Value Chain:

Analytics Value Chain.jpg

I will use this depiction to position WFA and SAP business warehouse and BI solutions relative to how well they deliver on this analytics value chain out-of-the-box.

Functionality of Key BI Tools for HR

BI tools don’t need much introduction.  They are, according to Wikipedia, “generally designed to retrieve, analyze and report data. The tools read data that have been previously stored, often, though not necessarily, in a data warehouse or data mart.”  BI helps “transform raw data into meaningful and useful information for business purposes.”

Two important things to point out in these statements: 1) BI tools are generally designed, and 2) the tools by themselves are not smart enough to transform data into meaningful and useful information for business purposes without intervention from resources with expertise.

SAP is positioned as a leader in 2013 Gartner Business Intelligence and Analytics Magic Quadrant and I cannot do justice in this blog to cover even a fraction of its capabilities and benefits it can provide.  Organizations with a strong analytics mindset can utilize the power of BI tools to drive advantage. However, BI tools are not specific to HR, which puts the HR department behind the curve relative to other departments whose needs are better supported.

  • Data: HR departments, with the help of IT, can choose to build their own data warehouse or they can deploy a standard business warehouse, such as SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW) or third party warehouse, as the foundation for the data model and then extend this to meet their needs.  If leveraging SAP NetWeaver BW, integrations to SAP for HR and SuccessFactors for Talent Management are available.

  • Metrics: HR departments are typically left on their own, or can solicit help from consultants, to identify KPIs that are important to its organizations.  Once identified, they need to get agreement from all stakeholders on the definitions of these metrics, and then use IT resources to build and roll out the metrics.  To get a jump start, SAP has made available a rapid deployment solution for Executive HR Reporting, which delivers a foundation for visualization leveraging SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards and including over 40 KPIs across HR and talent management processes.

  • Analysis:  The SAP BI solutions provide various tools to enable the analysis process.  SAP has released a framework for HR analysis via a rapid-deploymentsolution for Advanced HR Analysis based on SAP BusinessObjects Analysis edition for OLAP to enable HR analysts and HR Business Partners to explore and assess data visually, drill down to identify the root causes, answer questions, and validate hunches quickly. This solution contains predefined content around headcount, mobility and cost, recruitment, and talent management.

  • Viewers of workforce data are left to their own devices to interpret the information they see and draw their own Insights and determine suitable Actions.  

Functionality of SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics for HR

With SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics, HR and business leaders can take advantage of a solution that specifically provides the strategic and tactical insights derived from workforce analytics without having to become data or IT specialists, or having to impart deep HR experience to their IT teams who support the BI environment.  So what does this mean and how is it different from BI?

WFA comes delivered with libraries of predefined content relevant to HR:

  • Data: WFA provides target maps and integrations to bring in raw data into its warehouse in the cloud from any HR and talent management system, whether from the cloud or on-premise.  It can further take in data from other systems including sales, financials, and even external surveys providers.

    WFA Data.png                       

    Behind the scenes, the WFA transformation engine manages exceptions, fills in logical gaps, and handles organization changes to elevate the quality and credibility of the data that is later used in analysis.   The broad experience in integrating with large enterprise HR systems including SAP, PeopleSoft, and others helps to bring the application up and running in as little as
    100 days.

  • Metrics: WFA comes delivered with a library of roughly 2000 predefined metrics focused on topics such as: workforce demographics and diversity, movement into and out of organizations – internal and external,  absence management, career and development planning, compensation planning, employee relations, financial, goals management, health and safety, HR service delivery, learning management, leave accrual, payroll and benefits, performance management, recruitment, succession management, and surveys.

    Every measure and metric in WFA is comes with a clear definition, formula for how it is calculated, and its purpose to ensure a standard and mutual understanding across all users, as shown in the screenshot above. Each metric definition is complemented with a list of related measures that can assist in providing a more comprehensive view of the situation, and prompt logical next steps for analysis.  This knowledgebase reflects more than 600 person-years of practical and field experience spanning all regions and industries, enabling HR practitioners to learn experientially by simply using the solution.

  • Analysis: WFA provides multiple ways of delivering guided analysis of your workforce to help you discover what questions to ask, find out why they matter, and get answers.  One is Issue Focused Series, where WFA brings together related metrics and focus on very specific issues that are of high interest to organizations. Examples of issues include Aging Workforce, Diversity & Inclusion, Low Tenure Terminations, Internal Mobility, and Workforce Generations.  Another example is Critical Human Capital Questions, where WFA uses question-driven analytics to help answer common and critical human capital questions across HR and talent management topics, with capability to drill down to understand the root cause of trends, hotspots, or inefficiencies. Sample questions include “Do we have a pay-for-performance culture?” or “Are we building a high performance workforce?”


  • Insight: Most HR and IT organizations face complexity in assembling and communicating insight.  Managers are time poor and need advice, not more data.BI-based analytics often prompt follow-on questions that are hard to address in a timely manner.  With its latest feature, Headlines, WFA continually mines HR and talent data across the organization and behind the scenes, finds pain points and hot spots that matter to each manager, and presents custom alerts to individual managers in common language, to highlight specific areas of concern. This is a very different tact from pushing dashboards, however sophisticated, and leaving the audience to its own device to read and interpret the charts and graphs.

    Headlines takes this further to describe what could be contributing to the condition, other related items that should be given consideration, recommendations on how to address the situation, as well as predictive analytics to identify who else may be at risk.  Headlines (video) is clearly a differentiator from typical BI tools as it helps managers understand the situation as it is happening, pre-empts questions, provides advice and guidance, and focuses and facilitates dialog to address issues.


    WFA also enables you to benchmark yourself against your peers to identify gaps, build business cases, and take action.  Benchmarks are available across metrics and topic areas for all users of the application, and can provide comparisons within your organization, as well as to others using the WFA solution.  This is typically a service that is only offered by third party providers.

  • Action:  Where relevant, WFA provides recommendations for action from the best practice “strategy bank,” which is based on years of field research and domain expertise.   WFA also provides quick links and actions where it makes sense from employee-level detail to navigate directly to relevant areas in the SuccessFactors suite to take action.

Comparison of SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics with SAP BI Solutions

There are other ways of comparing and contrasting the solutions as outlined below:

SAP Business Intelligence SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics

Multi-purpose business intelligence tool set which can cover HR and other needs, but all content needs to be built out from scratch

Purpose-built application delivering deep and broad embedded content to address HR analytics requirements specifically

Deployed on-premise

Deployed from the cloud

One unified and complete BI suite addressing the full spectrum of BI needs across the enterprise

Solution optimized for decisions involving human capital, designed to enhance HR’s role as advisor to the business

Comprised of advanced business intelligence and analytics tools ranging from Extract-Transform-Load (ETL), query and reporting, dashboards, exploration and discovery, and predictive

Has embedded tools for query and reporting, dashboards, exploration and discovery, and basic predictive

Very flexible and powerful in terms of how the tools are configured and deployed by IT for use throughout the organization

Flexibility to rapidly enable HR and line of business users to define and perform own human capital-related metrics and

Data source agnostic; can connect to any transaction or warehouse

Cloud-based specialty data warehouse optimized for human capital-related data sources and metrics

Once your data is loaded into business warehouse or connection is made to the data source, the work just begins for building queries, metrics, dashboards, and analysis using the appropriate BI tool

Once data is loaded, the application is ready to use and draw value from immediately

Requires IT resources with knowledge of technology and data models to support HR in generating reports and output

Intuitive and designed for the HR professional and line of business users

Primarily helps IT resources and selected HR power-users up-skill and learn new technologies

Helps users from HR and line of business up-skill and learn how to apply analytics for better decisions

How SAP BusinessObjects BI Solutions and SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics Work Together

Now that we’ve talked about how they’re different, let’s briefly talk about how WFA fits together with other analytic solutions:

WFA with BI.png

In a side-by-side deployment, you can extend utilization of HR metrics from SuccessFactors WFA by allowing consolidation with cross enterprise reporting, to be presented via enterprise scorecards and dashboards to increases visibility into workforce trends, risks, and opportunities.

This can help accelerate the correlation and analysis of workforce characteristics against data from other parts of enterprise, and gain insights into how investments in talent are impacting business outcomes.

When talking about SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics, note the emphasis and attention on HR and content delivered out-of-the-box, as opposed to technology talk.  While many of the WFA capabilities can be replicated on top of an enterprise BI platform, doing so comes with a very long implementation timeframe and at a very high cost.

So, in answer to the question, “WFA or BI?”, I say— SAP BusinessObjects BI Solutions and SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics.

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      Author's profile photo Luke Marson
      Luke Marson

      Hi Kouros,

      This is a really great blog and covers a topic that has caused some confusion in customers recently. I'm glad you've taken the time to explain the positioning, as well as provide details on how the WFA solution can help HR organizations.

      It is true that HR often has to "piggyback" BI or analytics implementations and therefore doesn't get the focus it requires. By implementing SuccessFactors WFA it gives HR the opportunity to get more value from analytics than a typical cross-functional BI or BW implementation would. With this focus, they can begin the self-discovery towards using analytics meaningfully to drive their business forward.

      Best regards,


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member


      Great article about the pros and cons of SuccessFactors WFA vs a more traditional BI solution. I've been using the WFA product for a number of years (pre-dating the SF acquisition of Inform) and have used this basic concept to explain why a specialized BI tool is critical to utilization of HR human capital metrics and analysis.

      Two other points can come into play when comparing WFA to a in-house BI solution: consulting expertise and guidance in implementing this type of solution. HR Professionals are typically less comfortable with the technical aspects of mapping the data sources together and SF brings a robust group of consultants to the table to help with both the technical aspects of the implementation. Additionally, they are available to help design the output needed to move along the continuum from basic reporting of metrics to creating actionable dashboards and reports. Given the shortage of analytical capabilities in a typical HR group, it is critical to have a consultant who can assist in gaining the knowledge needed to start getting traction from this investment.



      Author's profile photo Kouros Behzad
      Kouros Behzad
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Lisa,

      Thank you for your comments, and for highlighting the additional points.  I could not agree more.  SF itself certainly brings strong and dedicated group of consultants to accelerate the time to value for our customers, and we also have some great partners with deep expertise to complement our resources and help customers through their journey to analytics maturity.

      Kindest regards,


      Author's profile photo Ashok Babu Kumili
      Ashok Babu Kumili

      Great article. Covered very imp areas of HR system. Thank you.

      Author's profile photo Julien Quester-Semeon
      Julien Quester-Semeon

      Thanks for this very comprehensive explanation on the differences and possible interactions between SAP BI and WFA. I often get questions on that topic in the WFA Mastery Trainings and this will help answering.

      As you explain through your blog, the "out-of-the-box-ness" is the big difference: per-topic metrics packs, talent insights, benchmarks, headlines, implementation efficiency and an action-oriented framework (strategy banks) make WFA-P the go-to solution to get quickly actionable analytics on HR metrics.

      Thanks again.

      Author's profile photo Shankar Sasikumar
      Shankar Sasikumar

      Great piece of information. 🙂

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hello Kouros,

      Its Great, so SAP HCM_ WFA and BI are turning towards Success Factor!




      Author's profile photo Kouros Behzad
      Kouros Behzad
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Jayasree,

      Thank you for your comment. 

      SAP HCM on premise is certainly turning to SuccessFactors for talent management and workforce analytics.  Having said that, customers that have invested in SAP BI and BW can take advantage of our rapid deployment solutions for HR that provide a framework for building HCM analytics on premise, but with much lighter HR content out of the box.

      SuccessFactors WFA is on the cloud for HR and currently does not leverage any of the enterprise SAP BI technologies for visualizations.

      Kindest regards,


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Thanks, Kouros.

      I am looking forward to take step on Success Factors.


      Jayasree D

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hello Kouros,

      Great article. One question, though. Is it your assumption that an organization have moved all or most of their functions from core SAP HCM to SuccessFactors? What is your suggestion in case you have a hybrid scenario, where different HCM functons are scattered in various systems like Compensation and part of Talent Management into SuccessFactors, some are still in our Legacy Applications, some are still in SAP HCM etc. In that case you still suggest that SF WFA?

      Author's profile photo Kouros Behzad
      Kouros Behzad
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Prathamesh,

      Appreciate your interest and question.  Actually I make no assumptions about the source of the data!   It could be any, all, or a mix of HR and talent management systems and extending to sources outside HR, and even Excel.  Let me clarify:

      SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics (WFA) foundation lies in Infohrm, an analytics solution that SuccessFactors acquired in 2010.  Infohrm was a long-time leader in workforce analytics and agnostic of the source HR and Talent Management systems.  Infohrm customers included SAP and PeopleSoft's among the many, and likewise for talent functions it sourced it's data from SuccessFactors, Taleo, and many others on the market.

      Fast forward to today...if a customer runs SAP core HR then the integration to bring data into WFA is delivered and supported by SAP.  You can find documentation for this on SAP Service Marketplace.   If a customer is running SuccessFactors Employee Central (EC) as their core HR or if they are running SuccessFactors Talent Management then integration to WFA is built in.   If a customer is running any 3rd party system for core HR or any of the talent management functions, regardless if the system is on premise or on the cloud, then SuccessFactors or one of our partners will work with the customer to establish connection, extract and bring in data into WFA.

      Furthermore, if a customer has a mix and/or multiple HR and talent management systems, has data on contingent and temp workers, and wants to bring in financial and sales data relevant to the workforce, and survey and engagement data then WFA will become the single source of truth for all workforce data, globally.  The customers' business questions dictate what data they need to analyze, and there are no limitations with WFA.

      In the transformation and load process, data is confirmed for validity and quality, and in some cases gaps are filled in.  This ensures that the data used in downstream analysis is credible and of high quality.

      Once data is loaded, customers can readily begin to take advantage of the delivered libraries of metrics and analysis to draw insights from their data across the various functions.

      So in short, I would recommend SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics, especially when a customer is dealing with disparate systems in their landscape.

      I hope this answers your question.  Please reach out to me directly ( if you'd like to discuss a particular case.

      Kindest regards,


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Thanks Kouros for sharing your insight on SuccessFactors WFA.


      Jayasree D

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hi Kouros,

      this is really helpful. While checking for even further information I ran into the recommendation of combining HANA and WFA. Does this mean the same thing you said: WFA and SAP BusinessObjects? Or can BI be deployed without HANA?

      Thanks and Kind regards,


      Author's profile photo Kouros Behzad
      Kouros Behzad
      Blog Post Author

      Hello Sigrid,

      There are actually different things here at work:

      1) Internally we're working on bringing WFA on SAP HANA platform.  This is foundational and will enable us to dramatically extend the application and its capabilities beyond the rich content that is available today.

      2) Today you can bring sales, financial, operations, and other data into WFA to analyze against your workforce data.  Not all customers will bring non-workforce data into WFA so

      we provide you with capabilities to take data from WFA for analysis outside alongside your sales, financial, operations, and other data, where-ever you wish do perform this analysis, and this could be in SAP BW, or HANA.  You can use SAP BI tools as the visualization layer on top of SAP HANA and SAP BW, or data store of your choice.

      3) SAP BI can be deployed with or without SAP HANA.  It depends on where the data resides.

      4) We're also working to provide access to WFA data store in the cloud via SAP BI tools like SAP Lumira.

      I hope I have answered your questions.

      Kindest regards,


      Author's profile photo Mayank Gaur
      Mayank Gaur

      Hello Kouros,

      In your last post you talked about providing WFA data store access via SAP BI tool, is there any recent development in that area?

      Best Regards


      Author's profile photo Kouros Behzad
      Kouros Behzad
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Mayank,

      API's are available today to connect to the transactional store for SuccessFactors - see documentation at, which can then be used on conjunction with SAP BI.  Connectivity with WFA is not yet available, but in the works.

      Kindest regards,


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Some of you may be interested to note that we have connected SAP BusinessObjects to SuccessFactors directly, using OData API connection with SAP Data Services 4.2. That is for customers who wish to bring this data into an Enterprise Data Warehouse.

      We're the first and only ones to accomplish this with Data Services and would be happy to share best practices & lessons learned. Contact us or join our upcoming webcast to learn more.

      Thanks, Ron

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hi Kourus,

      Thanks for coming up with this blog.

      Is there any info you can share how both the SAP and SF WFA solutions can extract information from a Rostering Solution?  Are there pre-defined metrics available as well?

      Thanks again.

      Best Regards,


      Author's profile photo Kouros Behzad
      Kouros Behzad
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Grace,

      SAP certainly integrates with Rostering solutions, but it's only to exchange worker profile information.  SAP and SuccessFactors currently do not integrate with a Rostering solution, to acquire its data and transform into predefined metrics - no metrics pack exists for this purpose.

      I'd be interested to hear more on metrics requirements for this use case.  Feel free to email me at

      Kindest regards,


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      This is still such an exciting and hot topic for discussion.

      For many service-based industries, wages make up over 50% of operating costs, making it critical to combine SuccessFactors HR data with SAP financials and other sources (such as ADP payroll) for your analytics environment.

      We're hosting a webcast on this topic, coming up Aug 19th and would love to have you join us.