Like every innovation, cloud computing has reached the point where it’s time for demystification.  Although early adopters in human resources (HR) are already scaling new heights with cloud, many more professionals are just as keen to understand how cloud can bring value to their company.

In a candid interview on the debut broadcast of “Firing Line with Bill Kutik,” Mike Ettling, president of HR Line of Business at SuccessFactors/SAP, talked about what HR should demand from cloud software, as well as the vendors providing it. He boils success down to his leadership philosophy gained from lessons learned while growing up in South Africa during the apartheid era. The conversation began when Ettling responded to Kutik’s question about his email signature which is a famous quote from Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands it goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language it goes to his heart.”

Ettling explained that this embodies his philosophy about leadership.

“When you can resonate with people and talk to their hearts, you get people engaged with you, and you can motivate people to do what they need to do.”

His interview is the first in a monthly series of short videos with thought-leaders from the HR technology community hosted by Bill Kutik, HR Technology Columnist for Human Resource Executive magazine and host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show. In a captivating discussion, the two HR gurus touched on how cloud fundamentally changes what HR decision-makers should expect from their software providers.

First and foremost, Ettling believes HR vendors need to understand that customers are buying outcomes.

“We are selling software combined with data centers, combined with network infrastructure, combined with support which is enabling a customer to engage their people in an HR context. This differentiation between selling software and selling an outcome will be the great determinant between the winners and losers in the next five years.”

Not surprisingly, it all comes down to long-term relationships. Ettling said his background in the outsourcing world was the ideal preparation for a career in cloud.

“In outsourcing, you’re only as good as the last mistake you made the day before — or not. Renewals are made and happen during the life of the contract. If you find yourself in a position where you’re selling the renewal, you’ve failed. That is so similar to the cloud world.”

In the same vein, Ettling and Kutik agreed cloud makes the vendor always responsible.

“It doesn’t matter whether the partners implemented it wrong or the network’s fallen over. In the cloud world it comes back to the vendor,” said Ettling. “Customer service models have to recognize that and enable it. You can’t have delineation between what is and isn’t the vendor’s problem. The customers want the outcome fixed and the outcome delivered.”

Upcoming episodes include an interview with David Ludlow, Group Vice President of HR Line of Business at SAP, who will talk about how companies are finding cloud is a fast affordable route to speed up innovation. This will be followed by Ann Miller-Rauch, VP of Talent Management for Software AG, who will share her company’s step-by-step journey to the cloud.

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