Last week saw the coming together of the legendary HR Technology Conference and SuccessFactors’ yearly flagship conference SuccessConnect in Las Vegas, divided merely by a few hours and a HR Tech Meet Up event. Earlier in the same week I had blogged about the 5 Things I Want To Know from SuccessConnect 2013 and I had a mixed return on those 5, but took away other things that I will share in this blog. 1600 delegates made it to Vegas and I was lucky to chat with a number of them. SAP HCM customers are becoming increasingly positive towards SuccessFactors and I spoke to more PeopleSoft customers who are moving to or are looking to move to SuccessFactors.
SuccessConnect officially started on Thursday, although Wednesday provided a training day for selected delegates plus executive meetings, the event reception, and the analyst dinner. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Shawn Price and Dmitri Krakovsky as part of the executive meetings, as well as meet with a circa 55k-employee manufacturer of commercial equipment.
It was the first time I had met Shawn in person and I was impressed with his openness, honesty, and willingness to listen. In addition, he was willing to share some information about his keynote speech and I was very surprised the following morning to hear some things word-for-word that he had run by us. Due to the struggle of getting from the HR Technology Conference closing keynote arrive, both Martin Gillet and myself gave fellow SAP Mentor Chris Paine a 20 minutes 1-on-1 session with Shawn before we arrived.
In-between those meetings I had the chance to sit down and talk to a customer who are implementing a couple of SuccessFactors solutions. It was interesting to hear that their implementation was going well – despite having both of their implementation partners out-source work to other implementation partners – and that their main challenges were caused by licensing and account management issues rather than implementation issues. They were one of many customers I spoke to that were investigating Employee Central for some of their subsidiaries but had no immediate plans to implement it.
My final meeting with was with Dmitri, whom I have met several times before and always enjoy speaking with him about SuccessFactors. This was the first time I had spoken to him since he received his copies of the SAP Press book on SuccessFactors for which he had written the foreword and he was visibly pleased with the outcome. During the meeting we spoke about some of the planned enhancements to the suite, particularly around moving away from XML and SuccessFactory configurations (some of which are coming in the 1311 release) and moving the suite onto the Employee Central platform. This latter undertaking, while no easy task, is fairly significant since it will enable all applications in the suite to leverage both the Metadata Framework (and the native OData integration that it brings) and the SAP HANA Cloud Platform for extensibility. This balance of maintaining the non-customizability of SuccessFactors while allowing customers to extend the system with custom objects and applications brings optimal value and scalability for customers.
The evening saw the pool-side cocktail reception followed by the analyst dinner, both of which I was lucky to attend. It was great to catch up with some familiar faces from customers, partners, SAP, and SuccessFactors. During the analyst dinner I got the chance to speak to Mark Brandau of SuccessFactors and Sameer Patel of SAP about Social Learning – an explosive combination of expertise on both the learning and social collaboration domains. Social Learning was something I came across a number of times during the conference and will discuss more below.
The conference came to life on Wednesday morning for Shawn’s keynote speech and the subsequent opening of the expo hall. The keynote – the replay of which can be watched here – had the theme “Tomorrow won’t look like today” and announced 2 new products (HR Help Desk and Payroll Workbench), both of which I later found out will not be formally announced to the market until 2014. What was interesting is the growth in SuccessFactors: 23m users at 3700 customers, in 177 countries, supporting 35 languages.
Following the keynote the expo hall opened and it was great to see a host of friends exhibiting, plus Sharon Newton receive her brand new SAP Mentor shirt. Sharon is an excellent addition to the SAP Mentor family, along with colleague Steve Bogner. Most of the major partners were exhibiting, as you might expect.
Closing Panel Discussion
Friday was a much more relaxed day and concluded just before lunchtime with the Closing Keynote Panel. David Ludlow hosted a Future of SAP HCM discussion panel that featured Dr Karie Willyerd, Thomas Otter, Dmitri Krakovsky, and Sameer Patel. Any readers that have been to the HR2013 conferences would be familiar with Steve Bogner/Martin Gillet’s panels of the same name which inspired this panel. Although David already had a couple of questions, this was the first SAP panel I had seen that interacted with social media. A number of questions directed at the panel were tweeted during the panel using the #SConnectQA hashtag.
I thought that the panel was excellent and a fine way of ending the conference. There were quite a number of insightful points made, a sample of which are:
- Otter: HCM has been focused on administration for localization but was very North America focused and that there was a need to learn from other countries. The question was about globalization but the answer is about localization it seems.
- Patel: we need to rethink talent ecosystems to include external partners, customers to increase business success
- Willyerd: There is a need for local talent and it needs to be enabled with learning
- Willyerd: SAP Jam can connect groups across countries, markets, and time zones
- Patel: We need to move away from the false walls of the organization and think of the ecosystem talent
- Krakovsky: SAP HANA is important to SuccessFactors. Speed is great but you also break the typical notion of analytics.
- Otter: HANA is more than a database. It includes PaaS, integration and other benefits. We will use HANA to leverage extensibility for Employee Central and we hope for partners to build out functionality. Its power gives the ability to build the unique capabilities that you need.
- Patel: the SAP HANA Cloud extension strategy can infuse collaboration strategies through tools like SAP Jam. With HANA you can “cheat the cloud” to develop what is relevant to your business.
- Patel: What can the data in social & Core HR systems help organizations to predict about their talent?
- Otter: Big Data with include data from outside of HR systems in the future. For example, analytics on competitor job openings and movement of employees.
Key Takeaway 1: Employee Central momentum is building and it is here to stay
I won’t dwell too much on my first key takeaway as Jarret Pazahanick soundly covers it in his blog My Thoughts on SuccessFactors Employee Central, but Employee Central was quite central to a number of the messages and sessions at the conference. The first Employee Central session of the conference “SuccessFactors Employee Central Core HR: learn about the latest features” with Murali Mazhavanchery was a packed house and Murali didn’t disappoint with his deep knowledge of both the solution and the new features.
There were 2 panel discussions on Thursday that showcased expert insights from some of the key individuals in the area and allowed customers to ask their questions – which they brought in their droves. The first session – “Panel Discussion: Going to cloud with Employee Central” – featured Thomas Otter and Joachim Förderer from SAP/SuccessFactors and was attended by over 150 delegates. The second panel discussion – “Employee Central panel – next-generation core HR” – again featured Thomas Otter alongside product, implementation, and integration experts Jyoti Sharma, Umesh Rustogi, and Randy Houck. I had the delight of moderating the session, which attracted 115 attendees. Both sessions featured a number of enticing questions and excellent insights into why, how, and when customers should implement and integrate Employee Central.
In addition to being a focal point, I spoke with a number of SAP HCM and PeopleSoft customers that were interested in moving now or in the future. My message was consistent: if your core HR system works for you then don’t move. Keep it. Leverage that investment until the point comes when you need to freshen things up or it is no longer feasible to continue to maintain or upgrade your system. I am a firm believer that at some point in the mid-term future Employee Central is going to cross the point at which maintaining an on-premise system versus moving to the Cloud is no longer viable.
Key Takeaway 2: Cloud extensibility has come to town
SAP HANA Cloud Platform was formally announced on the Thursday of the conference (more details via the SuccessFactors Press Release) and is a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) that provides customers with the ability – in a SuccessFactors context – to create and integrate custom-built applications into Employee Central. As mentioned from my chat with Dmitri, SAP HANA Cloud Platform leverages the Metadata Framework to allow custom Generic Objects to be used in these applications. Additionally, SAP HANA Cloud Platform is mobile-enabled so that apps can also be consumed on mobile devices.
The integration with the Employee Central data model and the OData integration that is native to the Metadata Framework provides a great amount of power to customers that want to add those applications into Employee Central that had previously been ABAP reports or custom applications in their on-premise systems, while at the same time protecting their Employee Central system from the instabilities and lock-in caused by system customizations. In addition, customers and partners can sell their applications on the SAP HANA Cloud App Store so that great applications are no longer locked away at one customer. This can also mean that customers can sell apps to recoup some of the expense of creating the app.
Personally this is one of the most exciting areas of Employee Central and SuccessFactors and this is one area where partners are needed by SAP to grow the domain. Where there were limitations before, there are now opportunities.
Key Takeaway 3: Social Learning is the key use case for social collaboration in HCM
One of the things I had noticed during talking with a few Learning folks, heard in some of the sessions, and again heard in the closing keynote was the coming together of social collaboration and enterprise learning. SAP Jam perfectly complements SuccessFactors Learning in a social learning environment and provides a more cost-effective and collaborative use case for enterprise learning. Sameer Patel also told me that “Learning happens via courses but learning also happens on the job. Some of the best minds in your organization are in your retail outlets, your factory floors, serving customers in the field and in office cubicles. Blending formal, instructional learning with SAP Jam’s informal learning capabilities helps organizations leverage the kind of critical know-how that only comes from day-to-day experiences.”
Having been through multiple SuccessFactors’ Mastery training courses and spent parts of my career in uninspiring class-room or video-based trainings I can appreciate how this new approach to learning clearly offers a significantly higher return for both learners and organizations. The business case is not hard to justify.
Key Takeaway 4: SAP HANA Cloud Integration is coming
During his panel session, Joachim Förderer mentioned that Employee Central and Employee Central Payroll integration will use SAP HANA Cloud Integration going forward. This seems to be the start of SAP’s move away from Dell Boomi AtomSphere towards SAP HANA Cloud Integration as their integration platform for core HR. The AtomSphere with Dell runs out in 2020 and from what I understand is costly. This timeframe gives SAP plenty of time to re-create the existing horde of Employee Central integration content and migrate customers onto the HCI platform.
Not much has been made of the availability of HCI for SuccessFactors Performance & Goals, Recruiting, and Compensation to-date, but I fully expect SAP to start pushing HCI in H1 2014.
Key Takeaway 5: Customers are getting smarter when it comes to SuccessFactors
Customers are definitely smarter when it comes to understanding what SuccessFactors is and what the value proposition is. Customers have been doing their research and due diligence, and trying to understand how Cloud can work for them. Even many customers who are choosing not to go the Cloud understand why and understand when a good time will be. Many customers came up to me to say that they have been reading my blogs and it has helped them get a better understanding of SuccessFactors.
The SAP marketing machine has slowed down. Customers have understood the high-level value of the Cloud and are now delving into the detail. On the panel that I moderated it was clear by the type of questions being posed that we had an educated audience. It is not enough to give high level detail or solely provide expertise – customers are now looking for real experience to get proper insights when making business decisions and implementing solutions. This is the turning point where the market is going to begin to separate between those that have transitioned and those that have not. Of course, there are still many customers that are in need of information but overall I am seeing customers ramp up their understanding.
The conference was enjoyed by everyone I spoke to. As always this is in part to the attendees and the activities put on, but also the exhibition hall was well organized and well visited and the range and quality of sessions was high. There were a number of panel sessions and these are becoming the new norm at conferences these days. Customers love to drive the content of the session towards them and this gives them an opportunity for that. But notwithstanding, some of the other “classical” lecture sessions were well presented and attended.
The key outcome of the conference was information. The panels, sessions, executive meetings, and networking gave me plenty of opportunities to learn new things, gain insights, and get understanding of the direction SAP/SuccessFactors, partners, and customers are going in. Many partners have made their own niche but have also used SuccessFactors to grow out of their niche and expand their HR footprint. This can only be good for customers but should cause worry to niche partners and those who have not yet begun the transition.
A big thanks should go to Martin Gillet for being the unofficial conference photographer and – as usual – doing a fantastic job. All photos here are courtesy of Martin and you can view his full album of photographs from this event on his SuccessConnect Flickr album.
Now to sum it all up: will I be going next year? Absolutely.