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I was wrong about SuccessFactors Employee Central and Europe

About a year ago and even into autumn 2014, my bet was on SuccessFactors Employee Central (EC) to have an extremely slow (though eventually quite comprehensive) uptake from SAP HCM customers in most of Europe. Instead I expected European customers (there are huge variances between the various European countries, so I’m referring to the overall “average”) to implement various other SuccessFactors solutions across the wider area of talent management much quicker and maybe EC in some subsidiaries as a side-by-side scenario to close gaps in their global SAP system map.

The reasoning behind it was:

  • In terms of features, EC would not add much to the usually very mature and customised core HR solutions already in place, but probably take away quite a few things. The big advantage would be usability – or fanciness – something Europeans traditionally value less that Americans when held against hard features.
  • However, in processes like Learning, Succession Planning, Recruiting or Performance Management, the solutions in place are generally much less mature. Partly due to the not quite as strong technical solutions available, partly due to lower investment in these processes from customers so far, and partly due to a faster pace of innovation in these processes. So, SuccessFactors solutions would add a lot of value quickly.
  • HR people in many European countries love their very bespoke carved in stone process automations and they wouldn’t be able to replicate the same level of customisation – for better or worse.

As it stands, we’ve experienced a lot of interest in EC recently – very much to my surprise. So, starting with the UK&Ireland SAP Usergroup conference, where we ran a workshop on EC together with Jyoti Sharma, I started to change my mind. On that event as well as with various contacts in the German speaking countries we found that many organisations are considering, preparing or already running EC implementations. Numbers are still small compared to the SAP HCM on-premise installation base and currently there’s certainly more exploration than implementation going on, but it’s definitely picking up fast.

So, why’s that, given that the arguments above plus the very strong security concerns held in many European countries, most notably Germany, against Cloud solutions in general?

Well, there are two things many managers in Europe love and that appeal to the heart of long standing SAP on-premise customers in particular:

  • Integration and
  • A well structured approach on a sound foundation.


Despite all the new hybrid scenarios (which are absolutely necessary to build stepping stones for customers to cross the stream one step at a time), the heart of a CIO, who grew up with SAP, beats for one fully integrated system. So, running Core HR in EC and therefore on the same platform as future talent solutions has a much stronger appeal in the long run than the hybrid model.Customers without an in-house payroll are therefore naturally very tempted by a full SuccessFactors suite. With payroll on board, the decision is more difficult, as cloud payroll still isn’t really the same platform.

Well structured approach:

With German engineers sitting at the heart of Europe’s largest economy, who’d be surprised to hear that many European managers prefer to lay a solid foundation first before building the fancy part. And right they are. Whilst Talent modules like SuccessFactors Learning or Succession can provide some quick wins that may make it worthwhile to implement them first, starting with Core HR and building the rest on top is a sound approach.

So, these two points seem to drive quite a few customers, who are really after the Talent solutions, to put EC onto an early step of their roadmap.

Adding to that is the growing insight that you don’t need a system, where you can change any line of code you want to (with a modification key) to have some flexibility towards bespoke processes. Users and decision makers become more relaxed about the “straight-jacket” of SaaS, because, well: it isn’t one:

  • due to a more modern design, SuccesFactors configuration can often achieve changes that would require programming or complex technical activities for in SAP on-premise
  • The Meta Data Framework (MDF) allows for even more flexibility to build your own data structures coming with rules and all
  • The HANA cloud platform does eventually allow development of custom routines. A welcome tool for most, who come from the SAP world, although I would stick a “use responsibly” label onto it. After all, it was too much custom programming, nit too little, that drove many organisations into a dead end with their on-premise systems…

So, now being convinced that I was wrong about the expected speed of market penetration, what am I to do?

Well, I’ve done my EC training by now and also hired an EC consultant for a start 🙂

And we offer SuccessFactors and particularly Employee Central a prominent spot in our London SAP HCM and SuccessFactors conference in May. As you’ll see on the agenda we feature EC sessions by Jyoti Sharma, SuccessFactors overview and Talent sessions by Amy Grubb , and Bianke Woelke explaining Integration (on top of practical advice SAP HCM on-premise and Concur Travel and expense, so please register, if you are interested: there are still places left).

Interestingly, conference registrations confirm our reasoning already: although few delegates are live with SuccessFactors already, the cloud sessions and particularly the EC presentations beat on-premise sessions every time by number of delegate registrations.

So, I will probably be able to add some more insights on where European users and managers stand today after this conference.

But until then, I’d love to hear about your roadmap and how far you’ve progressed along it. Please make good use of the comments 🙂

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  • Sometimes it's good to be wrong, right? 😉

    Your conference is a great way to educate attendees who can't make it to the SAP Insider conferences or SAPPHIRE shows over here. HR2015 in US had a lot of great Employee Central content that isn't being put on in Europe. I'm sorry that I couldn't come to speak at your conference, but as you know the US is even busier for EC than Europe 🙂 . The current EC projects and EC opportunities that I am working on are a testament to how much is going on right now across the globe. Credit is due to the product management team on the growth of the product and strategy they have provided. While writing the EC book for SAP PRESS I am getting lots of insights from the product manager I am co-writing with on what is coming in EC this year, and it's amazing how much progress is being made - and undoubtedly this will further fuel the growth we are seeing around the world.

    I do agree on Europe and Germany; we are currently involved in a bid with a large German-based manufacturer with over 100k employees who is looking to roll out EC. I am in close contact with friends at a German-based consultancy who are seeing a lot of interest in EC and integration with SAP ERP.

    Things are looking good for EC everywhere 😎

    • Thanks for your comments, Luke.

      Let's see, whether I manage to read your general SF book before you wrote the EC one 😉

      And I just realised I failed to consult my mental scrap sheet and missed one of the point, I believe opens people up for EC: the increasing flexibility. Added to post now

  • Have the same thoughts for the Russian market.

    A year ago I couldn't even imagine that EC would be my first SuccessFactors project. - It seemed that it would have a long and thorny way to market due to the solution novelty and lack of localization.

  • sven -  i thought you folks in europe call a spade a spade? i guess you too are drinking the koolaid. do you really believe ec is integrated with the rest of sf? do moving of files now constitute integration. until there is true integration between ec and the other sf modules, ec is just another standalone product. why not just go workday core and integrate with sf talent?

    • This is the first I've heard of moving files between EC and the rest of the suite. It's funny, as I demoed hiring someone in EC from SF Recruiting to a customer last week and it didn't involve any files.

    • Hi Howard,

      I may not know all the integration points, which are not perfect, but I didn't see many issues so far.
      But even assuming there still is a lot to do, I would still see it as the best option as things are actually happening, whilst at Workday only the sales department seems to be aware of Europe's existence (UK payroll promised for 'next year' since 2010).

      But if you'd like to elaborate on where you see integration  issues for SuccessFactors EC and Talent users, would be great to discuss.

      At the end of the day, there is no such thing as perfect integration - even in on-prem SAP HCM after >20 years there is still much you might wish for.

      And if you have it, many will complain it's too closely integrated (Like users are keen on having a central orgstructure in SAP to use it for HR reporting, authorisations, workflow within and outsid of HR and then they realise there is not "one" orgstructure and they build all kinds of exceptions for those who look at the sturcture differently).

      But sure there are weaknesses and it would be good for readers here, if you could point some out.

      have great weekend!


  • I was going to say the same think Luke said. haha Glad it beating your initial expectations....and anxious to hear how receptive the audience is for the conference. Awaiting your reports! 😉