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HR2013 Amsterdam: My key takeaways

HR2013 was – predictably – a great conference. It didn’t quite live up to the US conference for me, but it was still very good and gave me a lot of value. This year was more about speaking to customers and partners rather than attending sessions. Much of the content was not that different from the US conference so I decided to make a different use of my time for sessions I had already seen.

SuccessFactors Hybrid Integration

During the jump-start day Margit Bauer spoke about the planned innovations for integration between SAP HCM and SuccessFactors BizX suite. The roadmap for the remainder of 2013 and first half of 2014 includes:

  • “Define-to-hire” process integration for Recruiting
  • Skills & Competencies integration
  • “Qualified for Success” process integration for Learning in 3 deliveries:
    • Learner history and competencies (integration with SAP ERP HCM)
    • Cost allocation (integration with SAP ERP FI/CO)
    • Compliance controlling (integration with SAP ERP EHSM)

Skills and Competencies are a core of a lot of the talent management processes so this will help cover a lot of what is missing right now for processes such as Learning, Development, and Succession.

SaaS concerns

Jeremy Masters did a great job on delivering his jump-start session on Cloud and on-premise Talent Management options. For me it was interesting to see the top concerns about SaaS software from a Forrester report. Interestingly, only security and lack of customization really came up as a barrier over the conference and even integration didn’t feature as much as expected (more on that topic later).

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Tuesday started with the Keynote by David Ludlow, with a focus on SuccessFactors Onboarding and UI/UX improvements with Employee Central and HR Renewal. Thomas Otter made a cameo appearance in the keynote and made an important point about ensuring that Employee Central also reflected the requirements of the European market and not just the US market. I think the Keynote was an odd place to feature a demo of Employee Central, but in hindsight I think the timing was right to introduce Employee Central to the audience.

What customers were saying

One of the most important parts of the conference for me is talking with customers and discovering their thoughts, challenges, and pain points on SAP HCM topics. Naturally SuccessFactors was the main topic that I discussed with almost every customer and partner. I was lucky enough to deliver some interactive sessions with customers that helped give me an insight into some of the challenges faced by customers:

  • SuccessFactors debunked: Lessons from the Trenches
  • The Future of SAP HCM: Predictions by the experts [Panel discussion]
  • SuccessFactors Integration: Experts discussion [panel discussion]

Thomas Otter and Prashanth Padmanabhan, both part of the Future of SAP HCM discussion panel joined my session on SuccessFactors debunked and came away with a number of gaps that customers were facing. Luckily I managed to connect a number of the customers with Steve Hunt from SuccessFactors who runs the Customer Value program at SuccessFactors. Interestingly some of the challenges seem related to the data model and lack of availability of the Metadata Framework (especially Position Management) across the suite – in particular in solutions such as Performance & Goals and Compensation.

In other conversations and sessions it became more obvious to me that many customers are not so concerned about standard integration. Many customers are pressing ahead with SuccessFactors irrespective of whether there is standard integration content available or not. Customers are largely moving their talent processes into the cloud – as expected – and Employee Central doesn’t appear to be on the radar of many customers. For many, BizX is the system of record for Talent (as predicted by Brandon Toombs some time ago).

Configuration and flexibility were issues that came up in a few of my sessions and for me it seemed obvious that the Metadata Framework (MDF) would solve many customers’ challenges once it is rolled out across the entire BizX suite. With the recent innovations in the MDF area it makes for a compelling framework to extend the SuccessFactors BizX suite data model, rules and validations, and UI. I will be publishing a blog on the MDF soon.

Having spent time with Thomas Otter in my session, in the Future of SAP HCM panel, and in brief discussions it is clear that he is out to listen to customers. His understanding of the market is already excellent, but on the ground he was very attentive in discussing and listening to customers when talking about Employee Central and related challenges such as Position Management. This not only gives me greater confidence that Employee Central will evolve to be one of the top core HR systems in the market, but also that cross-suite features that are core to Employee Central will become integrated in the other solutions in the BizX suite to enhance the data model and foundational configuration flexibility. Many of the consultants I spoke to seemed to feel very optimistic about Employee Central and Thomas’ appointment is definitely the key factor in this new optimism and excitement.

This was one of the first conferences where I have not been asked about or heard customers, partners, or SAP discussing Nakisa. SuccessFactors is not replacing Nakisa at many customers or markets within Europe, but the less-than-usual interest in Nakisa is slightly worrying. The Nakisa booth was still very busy, but I didn’t experience much interest elsewhere.

From a partner standpoint access to information and partnership is one of the biggest challenges and many of the independent consultants are struggling to get this access. Thomas Otter said he would try to influence change, but this is outside of his official remit and I would expect SuccessFactors to be looking at revising their partner model already. I am surprised that this has not already happened.

My Key Takeaways

So, now onto my key takeaways:

  • Customers are implementing  SuccessFactors irrespective of whether there is standard integration content available from SAP
  • Uptake of SuccessFactors is well underway in the Nordics and UK, but is weaker elsewhere in Europe
  • Interest in Nakisa seems to remain, although it has decreased significantly in the last year
  • HR Renewal looks great, but the UI/UX is still inferior to SuccessFactors
  • In general, customers are still confused about the options available to them and the direction of SAP
  • Customers felt that many of the SAP-run sessions were marketing sessions rather than information sessions
  • Thomas Otter’s appointment has bought a new optimism around Employee Central and by listening to customers he has shown why many believe this is a significant appointment

Overall I felt that the audience is generally where the US audience was with SuccessFactors and the SAP strategy at last year’s HR2012 event. It seems that the message is not getting across as much and judging by the low level of Tweeting, many European customers are not making full use of the channels available to them to ensure that they stay well informed. I don’t think this is particularly the fault of SAP, but it shows that there needs to be more infiltration of information to the customer ecosystem. Ralf Wagner, head of Solution Management HCM, told me that he felt there should be more focused topics at next year’s event rather than covering a wide range of topics. In some way I agree with this and I think it would be good, especially from a SuccessFactors perspective, to focus on what the audience really wants:

  • Clarity on the strategy and roadmap of SAP and SuccessFactors
  • More information on the SuccessFactors solutions relevant to the market (Compensation, Recruiting, and Learning)
  • Further details on the integration content and roadmap

Further Reading

Martin Gillet – as usual – starred as the paparazzi and has an excellent collection available here. Martin also created a Storify story for the jump-start day here and a Storifier story of the conference here.

Luke Marson HR2013 – SAPinsider Video series part 2 of 6 features an interview I did for Hans Loekkegaard of Red Commerce live at HR2013.

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  • Well done, Luke.

    I particularly like this:

    One of the most important parts of the conference for me is talking with customers and discovering their thoughts, challenges, and pain points on SAP HCM topics

    I also smiled at this:

    • Customers felt that many of the SAP-run sessions were marketing sessions rather than information sessions

    What were your thoughts on co-location with BI 2013, GRC, and Financials?



    • Hi Tammy,

      Thanks for your comments. As funny as your second point is, customers were not smiling. Some actually felt that they would not return next year if they knew it was going to be the same.

      It’s great to have BI, GRC, Financials, and (late addition) CRM in the same place as it means more content for customers. However, it also means it can be tough dedicating your time to HCM folks when you end up chatting with BI or GRC folks “inadvertently”. Although I like to talk to folks of all walks of life, I simply don’t have the time or competence to talk GRC or BI. If there were 8 days a week I might have a different view 😉

      Best regards,


  • Luke-

    Great blog.  Sounds like a great conference as well. 

    Good to hear mention of the SuccessFactors metadata framework.  This was touted a year ago as providing future extensability to the BizX suite, but I haven’t heard much about it since.  Did they shed much light on this topic?

    • Hi Brandon,

      It was a great conference and you would’ve enjoyed it.

      There was nothing new on the Metadata Framework, but I have a blog due out next week or the following week that covers part of it. I do think it is important that SuccessFactors get it rolled out across the suite as quickly as possible, but we’ll see what is said at SuccessConnect.

      Best regards,


  • Luke- thanks for the good summary.  Good to see you in

    It’s great that SAP gets its act together in terms of roadmap &
    direction of SuccesFactors and the integration with on-premise.  I feel
    however (at the risk of being called ‘so-90’s’) that there should be more
    attention to questions related to the still impressive on-premise HCM nstalled base.
    I have had a fair bit of day-to-day questions around, areas like
    reporting, reconciliation, employee correspondence, query handling, data
    governance …  and the likes.  I agree, less sexy but equally

    In terms of the set-up of the conference, I feel it’s time, like
    in Vegas, for the organisers to get the focus right and create a single HCM
    event.    .



    • Hi Luc,

      Thanks for your comments and it was definitely good to catch up in Amsterdam. I am in agreement that we need the event to be purely HCM, but the attendance levels are quite small (around 300 this year for HR) and many of the staff come from the US for the event.

      I think the conference was quite heavily SuccessFactors-focused as I mentioned in my Key Takeaways section. It needs to be focused specifically on the topics of interest and include more topics like those you mentioned. SuccessFactors is not so hot in Europe like it is in the US and the conference needs to reflect that. However, maybe next year we’ll see something different.

      Best regards,


  • Hi Luke,

    An excellent recap. My highlight amongst other things is your mention of MDF which is key to catapulting EC in the desired direction. It has made significant headway in making EC extensible and adaptable to customer’s needs but we have a long way to go.

    It is very encouraging to hear that Thomas is focussed on making EC a truly global solution. I have been working with a few customers in Australia and UK lately and there is definitely excitement about the product once they have been educated on what the product can deliver today and the proposed roadmap. I completely agree with you that “there needs to be more infiltration of information to the customer ecosystem”. Partners can definitely accelerate that alongside Alliance Managers from SuccessFactors but in my experience the effort has to be more synchronized than is right now, as you mention, hopefully we see a new more engaging avataar of the Partner model soon.

    To the surprise of many Saas Pundits, your observation is accurate that customers are implementing SuccessFactors irrespective of standard integration content from SAP, and in most cases I have found that customers are using the challenge as an opportunity to take a second look at the way they do business, which is one of the many intangible benefits offered by a SaaS solution. Lots of stories to share over a glass of wine at SuccessConnect!

    I am very excited and feel fortunate to be surrounded with all the action around Employee Central and your expertise, deep customer insights and willingness to contribute to the Community defintely makes the journey of all SuccessFactors consultants enriching, so keep the ink flowing.



    • Thanks for your kind words Jyoti 🙂

      I like the MDF framework and although it offers a lot of functionality it has a lot of potential to grow further in the future. Hopefully you’ll enjoy my blog on MDF as much as this one 🙂

      Best regards,


  • Good blog Luke , especially for people who were not there. I am glad to know that the SFSF uptake has increased in the Nordics and UK as I had an impession on the contrary. I think some good case studies or success stories will be helpful to encourage more customers.

    Re the Talent Management suite, did you find that customers were adopting SFSF for one or 2 areas only ( e.g. Performance and Compensation) or were they going for the complete suite?

    Looking forward to your blog on MDF

    • Thanks Vinay. I find it interesting that you have a different impression of the Nordics and UK and it would be good to find out more. I spoke to a lot of customers in Denmark and Finland who are implementing, considering implementing, or are using SuccessFactors.

      I didn’t speak to many customers who were going with the full suite – in fact, the only customer I did speak to was a customer of mine already . Mainly customers seem to be going for Learning, Compensation, and/or Recruiting. I didn’t speak to any European customers considering Employee Central.

  • Hi Luke

    Thanks for a great summary and for sharing your insights.  Most of your observations on customer interest and response echo what I am seeing here in Australia, which is interesting. I also feel very positive about the future of Employee Central, and was most impressed by the tremendous growth in the product between Dec 2012 and the 1305 release.  MDF will be key for customers wanting extensibility and the more it grows, the more it will align with the expectations of current on-premise SAP HCM customers too. Thomas Otter’s appointment underscores expectations of a bright future for EC.

    I look forward to your MDF blog with great interest 🙂

    • Thanks Clementine and it’s interesting that Australia is “reflecting” what is happening in Europe right now. I wonder if these are more global trends as I also see customers going for Compensation, Learning and/or Recruiting in the US – although also we’re seeing a lot of interest in the other solutions in the suite (including Employee Central) in the US too. I definitely share your excitement about Employee Central!

  • Another exceptional blog, Luke – you have a gift in making everybody feel as IF they had been in the attendance (and we all wish we could have been).

    It is extremely interesting to see waking of interest for Employee Central, and I see that the comments echo it, speaking of great expectations. The foundation is there, and it is only growing.

    • Thanks Chiara! It was a real shame you weren’t there, but hopefully I’ll see you next time.

      I agree on Employee Central and Thomas has given everyone an expectation that this foundation will grow into something significant. I am confident that this will follow through.