I had the pleasure of speaking with Jon Reed and Chris Paine about the SuccessFactors Employee Central extensions package on the SAP HANA Cloud Platform. We had a 63 minute video conversation and touched on a number of topics around the extension package, ranging from its potential for customers to the obstacles preventing adoption. Below you can find the video and the key talking points from the video. An audio-only version is available here.
01:44 Chris: the first time this really got mentioned was when Aaron Au came to SuccessConnect in Sydney. He launched this whole idea of building extensions onto SuccessFactors. It makes a lot of sense, we have a Cloud platform and especially when you’re coming from where a lot of us are – the SAP HCM solutions – you can pretty much do anything you want with them. If you give me enough time and money I can make an SAP system make me a cup of coffee. It’s that extendable – I can really change however it works. I can make it so that I can get a free cup of coffee anytime an employee is hired in the system, easy. If you take a look at the Cloud systems, that’s not necessarily how it works.
05:45 Chris: There is a huge advantage of going into the Cloud for their solutions, but those little extensibility things have suddenly become “well, how the hell do we do them?” And that’s where I think that HANA Cloud Platform is starting to fill a little gap.
08:16 Luke: The Metadata Framework is a framework for creating custom objects and custom business rules within the SuccessFactors system. You can create maybe a new Benefits objects, as per SuccessFactors have done because they leverage this system for new functionality in the system, like the new Benefits functionality or the Time Off functionality. It also has integration capabilities such as OData, so you can do much more efficient and much better data access, so reading, writing, making changes, leveraging the permissions model, etc., within the system. So your HANA Cloud Platform extensions can also leverage this platform, so you can data in and out of SuccessFactors in the HANA Cloud Platform.
13:16 Chris: Although it’s incredibly powerful – that MDF solution – it doesn’t allow you to do incredibly custom things, like create a formatted email and do a special calculation, do a drag and drop from one side of the screen to the other side of the screen … It is basically a data representation and there are certain ways it can be represented on the screen. But it’s not going to allow you to build entirely new functionality in the solution.
15:41 Luke: One of the selling points of the Cloud – but also one of its biggest setbacks – is the fact that it’s not customizable. In order to maintain quarterly releases – or however often you have releases – you need to have a certain code-based which can’t be changed, no matter what you want to do. The MDF adds a lot of flexibility into that, but if you want to actually do something custom, you want to code, you want to build something you can’t do that to the SuccessFactors system. And nor do we want people to do that. Extensibility gives you a way to be able to create custom code, custom applications, without touching the system in any way. It’s the best of both worlds in one way.
17:13 Chris: I’ll go back to the on-premise world. We actually have a lot of problems with upgrades because customers have modified their systems so much. They sit there and they have to do 2 months of regression testing before they can apply a patch to bring their system up to the next level.
17:31 Jon: There’s a fancy analyst word for that Chris: technical debt. It’s the new evil thing that no customer wants.
21:31 Chris: I have this external application and I have SuccessFactors and I’m going to get them to talk to each together, fine. But from the user point of view that’s an external application. This is SuccessFactors. Perhaps they share some data, but they are clearly two things. What the extension packs are allowing us to do is to take that external application, host it on the HANA Cloud Platform, and make it to the end user so it’s seamlessly inside SuccessFactors.
23:37 Jon: Chris, I think you hit on a really important point about the user experience, which is becoming – as you know – especially in the HCM space a defining factor how customers choose to buy their software. I think there’s also the method you described to maintaining interfaces is another form of technical debt that companies can’t stand any more, which is you build these interfaces but you have to constantly maintain them. It seems like this would address both of those issues pretty nicely.
25:55 Luke: I’m not really seeing too much exposure to customers. I not sure the concept of a platform to customers, particularly SAP HCM customers, is not a concept that they’re really used to. They’re normally used to doing – as Chris mentioned – extending the system, bastardizing the system, whatever their doing, using user exits, BAdIs within the system, so they’re not really used to having this external platform and creating applications outside of the system. It’s still something that customers need to get educated on and try to understand what it is. I think one of the problems with trying to get the concept across to customers is the fact that there are very few good use cases at the moment.
31:22 Chris: As a partner I need to sign up as a HANA Cloud extension partner, which involves me getting hold of a SuccessFactors system with extensions enabled and a HANA Cloud Platform account, which I can then develop on. And that has a certain cost associated with it each year.
40:31 Chris: There is the possibility with an extension to build something that might be your competitive advantage.
43:51 Chris: I think you’ve also made a point there – you’ve mentioned Employee Central multiple times Luke. It’s probably worth pointing out that the extensions are mainly based around Employee Central at the moment, rather than being based around any of the other areas. And I think yes you’re right, that Employee Central has taken a little bit of leadership in putting together that longer-term roadmap.
57:03 Chris: If SAP wants to build out that marketplace, to build the apps so they can go to a customer and say “look at this huge marketplace that our partners have built applications for” then those entry conditions for partners needs to be as low as possible.
59:54 Jon: I really liked … the revamped Marketplace look. I really like the ease of consumption they are laying out.
1:00:46 Jon: If a small partner like yours with resources struggles to ramp up, it makes it more difficult still for the individual developer, and I think SAP needs to solve that.