In this Q&A I had the pleasure of interviewing Jyoti Sharma, VP of Consulting & Services, Cloud HCM at HRIZONS. Jyoti is an SCN contributor with blogs such as SuccessFactors: The X Factor of Data Models, The Why, How, and Where of moving to the Cloud, and Looking back 12 months at SuccessFactors Employee Central and the February 2014 (1402) release and has spoken at various events in the US and Europe.
Hi Jyoti, thanks for joining me. Can you give us a brief introduction to yourself?
Hi Luke, thanks for having me. I have a Bachelors in Psychology and a MBA in Marketing and Operations. I had a few gigs as a Research Analyst before I made an entry into the SAP world. I have implemented the core modules of SAP HCM, with a special focus on payroll. Along with being a functional lead consultant I was always interested in working with customers on their business case for implementing software. That interest got a big push with SAP’s acquisition of SuccessFactors, as that opened a whole new avenue for me to explore. Taking the customer on their journey of transitioning to the cloud is one that truly excites me. The evolution of Employee Central as a truly global core HRIS and its integration with the rest of the SuccessFactors HCM suite intrigues me as it gives me more avenues as a consultant to build a best-of-breed solution for customers.
So, tell me what’s so special about Employee Central versus SAP HCM. What is the value proposition that appeals to customers?
That’s my favorite question and one I have been answering frequently for customers. Let me answer this question from the 3 perspectives that I see as valuable and beneficial for the customer:
- Easy-to-use data structures
- Support and maintenance
The data structures in Employee Central whether they are Foundation Objects or the more recent Metadata Framework are intuitive and easy to use by the customers. They can be configured with minimal assistance from your implementation partner and provide agile building blocks to set up your enterprise and personnel structure. It also provides extensibility options should your enterprise have complex business rules and requirements. This ensures that you are not confined to a structure because, to be honest, anyone who has implemented SAP HCM knows in their heart that many times a customer HAD to use the enterprise and organizational entities as provided. As sturdy as the SAP HCM OM module is, it also forces customer to stay within a realm of a rigid design making it difficult for organizations to be nimble footed during acquisitions or enterprise structure changes. On the contrary, Employee Central has many standard enterprise objects and has the flexibility to use additional objects without the extent of this type of customization – while remaining similar to the way OM objects interact with each other but with enhanced flexibility.
Now coming to the usability of the system, it is empowered with a very user friendly and intuitive interface so much so that I have been in customer meetings where the customer has preempted were I am going click. I particularly like how you can see the history adjacent to the current record of an employee or organizational entity. The clarity of the layout and enticing graphics give a resonating appeal to end users.
In terms of support and maintenance, once the system has been implemented for a customer the cost for support and maintenance of Employee Central is considerably lower than maintenance and upgrades for SAP HCM. In addition, administration can be done by HR or by a single IT resource rather than requiring basis consultants, authorization consultants, an ABAPer, an OM/PA consultant, etc.
What gotcha’s have you found during your Employee Central implementations and do you have any advice for customers implementing Employee Central?
Like with any software implementations I have found gotchas during Employee Central implementations. Employee Central is a SaaS software and one of the salient features of a SaaS solution is that it evolves with the needs of the market. During some of my initial implementations I found a few product limitations, which since then have been tackled by an ardent product management team. However, it required some creativity and skill to work within the realms of those limitations to provide the best available solution to the customer. For example the system does not have in-built validations for Zip code based on the county entered in the Addresses portlet. Another example is that when you create generic objects, upon save the system adds a few system generated fields that are mandatory. However if you aren’t aware of that system behavior you could inadvertently delete some of those fields in the course of making modifications to the generic object and this could lead to incomprehensible system errors so much so that the only way to troubleshoot it may be to recreate a completely new generic object.
Are you able to shed some light on integration between Employee Central and other systems, such as Employee Central Payroll, SAP HCM, and third party solutions?
SuccessFactors include Dell Boomi AtomSphere in their Employee Central subscription, so standard integration content is available customers for integrating with SAP ERP (including HCM and Payroll), Employee Central Payroll, and third party solutions (e.g. Kronos, BenefitFocus, ADP GlobalView, etc.) – for free. Customer can also use SAP HANA Cloud Integration at a cost of 7.5% of their subscription, but for most customers there is no value in using this solution instead of Dell Boomi AtomSphere. SAP NetWeaver PI is a good option for customers who do not need to integrate Employee Central with third party providers. Personally I push customers towards Dell Boomi AtomSphere in most cases, although of course it depends on the customer scenario.
What are the key features would you like to see added to Employee Central?
Actually it is very exciting to share that a few features like the matrix relationship on positions and the manual delegation of workflows were at the top of my features wish list and they have been released in the latest 1402 release. I am busy implementing both of them at a customer and I will keep the community updated on my findings. Some of the other features that I would like I also know are on the roadmap, including Concurrent Employment and managing and generating documents (such as creating exit interview letters or uploading and storing documents required for managing employees on Global Assignment).
And what would say are the weak spots of Employee Central?
There are some features that I believe have potential for improvement and can further enhance the value of Employee Central. The first one is when Foundation Object data changes (for example, the head of a department changes), the data must propagate more seamlessly to the employee Job Information record. The other main area of improvement that I have already mentioned are data imports. The transport mechanism from the Test instance to the Production instance has seen enhancements, but it needs to be further improved as that will have a significant impact on the implementation timeline.
If you could give one piece of key advice to a customer who is going to implement Employee Central, what would it be?
My one key piece of advice to customers would be to utilize the Employee Central implementation as an opportunity to re-examine the ways that they do business. The fact that the solution is so flexible and agile is an avenue for organizations to adopt the product design to build a solution that turns them into an agile organization and hence better suited to thrive in a competitive landscape.
Often many customers do not have forward looking or streamlined business process and lack an overall and well-defined strategy for core HR and Talent solutions. It helps to get a head start on that organizational strategy as then it is relatively easy to achieve a high ROI. It is also important to identify your champions of the cloud early on within the organization as these are the folks that will drive the adoption of the newly implemented software working in tandem with your implementation partner.
Employee Central is an excellent excuse to transform the way that HR and the business has been operating and move from transactional to strategic integrated HCM.
Tell us a bit about Employee Central Payroll
Simply put Employee Central Payroll is a solution that allows you to run payroll in the cloud using SAP’s proven and powerful payroll engine while maintaining core HR data in Employee Central. The core HR employee data is maintained in Employee Central and replicated to Employee Central Payroll. Most of the payroll relevant master data such as the Tax infotypes, Bank Details, etc. can be maintained in Employee Central through the UI mash-up screens and are replicated to Employee Central Payroll. Once the payroll is successfully run the employees can view the pay slip in Employee Central.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Well, your questions were quite comprehensive so there’s not much left to add except something that I always encourage customers to invest in and that is a good Business Analyst. Some business process owners are great business analysts by virtue of experience – but that is not always the case. With the speed at which Employee Central implementations happen and the multi-faceted impact on current and future processes it is crucial that you have a Business Analyst who can continuously assess the impact of decisions made to ensure your implementation is still delivering on the KPIs of your business case. Having one that continues to stay up-to-date with the changes in Employee Central and across the SuccessFactors HCM suite is a real treat for any customer.
Thanks for your time Jyoti, this has been very insightful!
Thanks Luke, it has been a pleasure.
Jyoti can be followed on Twitter via @JyotiSharma20. You can keep up-to-date with the latest information on Employee Central and the rest of the SuccessFactors HCM suite in the SAP and SuccessFactors LinkedIn group.