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Author's profile photo Luke Marson

Cloud implementations and expert advice for SAP & SuccessFactors customers

I was lucky enough to recently feature in a Firing Line with Bill Kutik® episode, where fellow HR implementation expert Jarret Pazahanick and I discussed the differences between cloud and on-premise HR implementations and some of the different things customers should be looking for. Although our discussions were about HR cloud implementations in general, I wanted to write about how some of these musings could be applied in a SuccessFactors context. In addition, I will also cover some other key topics that customers should consider that we didn’t cover in the interview. You can watch the video below.

Overpromising and under delivering

Jarret kicked off the conversation with some revelations about the “dirty secrets” in response to Bill asking us what the important problems are that lead to unhappiness with cloud implementations:

One of the dirty little secrets in the consulting world is that some software integrators are still overpromising, they’re over estimating their expertise and experience to try to win new project work.

This is definitely something that we’re seeing in the SuccessFactors world. If you ever visit an industry conference, you’ll probably be surprised to see that every consulting firm are “the experts” in SuccessFactors. SAP Mentor Chris Solomon discussed this in his blog SuccessFactors and SAP HCM consulting: How the West was Won! back in 2014 and yet little has changed. Customers need to make sure they do their due diligence on any potential partner and we’ll touch on this a little later. Jarret made another comment about the current situation:

The great news for customers is that there’s a new breed of consulting firms that really understand how to deploy cloud-based technology. They’re doing so with smaller teams of more experienced consultants, and doing so with a combination of remote and on-site consulting.

There is definitely a new breed of consulting partners with fresh perspectives and cloud DNA. Firms like Aasonn, Cloud Consulting Partners, and – I’m not ashamed to say it – Hula Partners have been implementing cloud since their inception and know how it all comes together for maximum customer value. It’s not just a deployment model, but a mindset that moves beyond technical implementations to value-adding business solutions that solve real customer challenges and pain points. It also involves fewer people with more rounded techno-functional skillsets and understanding of business process and organizational culture.

Unrealistic expectations

Next I was given the opportunity to give my viewpoints on the important problems and what customers can do to solve them:

Customers are still approaching cloud implementations like on-premise implementations, even though they have a different make-up. Some systems integrators and to some extend some sales executives are setting unrealistic expectations about the time it takes to implement a cloud system.

I always think it is important for a customer to think about whether they want to rush a huge, business-changing enterprise software implementation or whether they want to be more patient and thorough with such a large impact on the organization. Just because you can slam in a system in 3 months do you really want your implementation team spending 100% of their time on this initiative with no room to discuss and make the many important decisions – including unexpected decisions – that need to be made? And who is going to do their job while they’re working on this project? How can you even guarantee having the right team available during such a short period? Although it sounds good to be able to get a system implemented rapidly, the real fact is that there are many unwanted side effects that should be avoided.

Research, due diligence, and more research

Bill asked me to continue the conversation by giving my insights on how customers can get the best value out of SIs. Among my responses, I thought this piece was especially worth highlighting:

[Customers] should also be looking at doing the due diligence on their system integrator. Recently a pharmaceutical company that we were working with in the sales cycle had asked us to speak to some of our customers, they had asked us how many implementations we’d done, how many certified consultants we had, they event went as far as asking for the names and resumes of all of the people that were going to be on the project.

This is probably the most important part of any implementation – selecting the right partner. The above example is the perfect example of what a customer should do. They had worked closely and negotiated with a number of partners on the proposal and performed substantial due diligence on the partners. Customer references, a strong team of Certified Professionals in each area, and reviewing the details and track record of the partner implementations ensured that they chose the right partner to deliver their project.

Any good partner will be able to provide solid references – not just on whether the partner is nice to work with, but what the goals of the project was, how the project was delivered, and what the outcomes were – and will have Certified Professionals in most or all of the modules being delivered. There is no substitute for the experience gained by Certified Professionals and choosing consultants who don’t have Certified Professional status means that there is a risk they won’t have enough experience to lead a project. It doesn’t matter how many implementation projects a consultant has worked on, if they don’t have Certified Professional status then they won’t have delivered at least two projects across the entire project lifecycle and this experience is critical to achieve a smooth and effective implementation.

Smart customers choose the right partners

Bill asked Jarret how he felt about being grilled by a prospect and among many of the essential pieces of advice he gave was:

A large pharmaceutical customer of mine is going down this journey right now … they’re reviewing all of their business processes. They realized we deployed on-premise technology 17 years ago. HR has changed, IT has changed, our business has changed, and they’re really looking to find some lessons that when they do their implementation they’re going to be that much further ahead.

This statement is true for so many customers who are using on-premise technology, even if they’re still getting lots of value out of the software. So much has changed in the world since many of the current on-premise systems were released and although they have innovated over the years, their core foundation is built for doing business in a world that most organizations have moved on from. Having a modern mindset and having a partner that understands cloud technology, modern business processes, and how to provide real value in a cloud world is imperative to taking advantage of cloud technology and the constant innovation it will bring. Approaching a cloud implementation as an on-premise implementation will mean teaching an old dog old tricks. It is up to you to ensure that embrace the new world and make the right decisions in your project.

And finally… Key topics we didn’t cover

There are many topics we simply couldn’t cover in this short interview. The consultant skillset has changed with the cloud and consultants have struggled with the transition from single-skilled roles to multi-faceted skillsets and there are many pitfalls they need to overcome to make the jump into SuccessFactors. Be aware of consulting leaders, sales executives, and marketing professionals who are writing or speaking at conferences – their motive may be more around positioning their consultancies than providing useful information. Ask yourself, “Is this individual really implementing software? Do they really have hands-on experience?” A deeper dive will often provide the answer.

It’s worth watching Mike Ettling’s SuccessConnect 2015 Keynote if you haven’t yet seen it as he touches on a few topics that are relevant for customers and cloud implementations.


Bill gave both Jarret and I a great opportunity to discuss how cloud implementations have changed and I hope that we didn’t disappoint. There are so many aspects of HR software and HR software implementations that have changed over the last decade and cloud is providing an ideal path for customers to get new value from HR technology. However, with these changes come new areas of consideration for customers and new approaches to ensuring business value across the lifecycle of the implementation, from software selection and choosing the right partner to how projects are run and how ultimately they will derive business value.

Keep up-to-date on the latest SuccessFactors news, views, and practical articles and blogs in the SAP HCM and SuccessFactors LinkedIn group.

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      Author's profile photo J. Pazahanick
      J. Pazahanick

      Thanks for pulling this article together Luke and it was great to collaborate on something that is near and dear to both of us.

      Author's profile photo Luke Marson
      Luke Marson
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Jarret and totally agree. Hopefully customers will get a lot of value from this.

      Author's profile photo Colleen Hebbert
      Colleen Hebbert

      Hi Luke

      Good summary of this topic. Being an On-Premise background myself and now embracing Cloud you are right about the change in approach to such implementations.

      I've been discussing similar topics with other colleague who are going through cloud-based implementation at the moment. Two key observations I'm finding are:

      1. Cloud side (SuccessFactors) teams are coming in with the rapid deployment options and the view is here is our product, complete the configuration workbook and we'll have it up in running in the 10-12 weeks.
      2. Integration of Cloud with on-Premise

      In the first case, the business needs internal skills to review the business processes and design them and determine how best to complete the workbooks. Yes the Cloud consultant provide advise but you don't see as much blueprint design focus. Maybe it's just the people I've been chatting too. There is a risk if the business  has immature process or issues then they may struggle moving across to cloud or not reap the full benefits.

      For example, figuring out who to configure their workflow and notifications as well as security. With the security side, there is a lot more risk if it's not secure properly as you don't have the client settings/etc that an on Premise provides. Yes, the provisioning side protect some stuff (not certified so no access for me).

      In relation to the Integration, having sat through workshops discussions, you hear a lot of what SF can do but it won't necessary be consistent in the back-end. A lot of it is simplified but it's two completely different systems so it's hard to provide a consistent solution to the end user.

      For example, the concept of Matrix Managers or Proxy doesn't really exist in SAP. Same goes with the People Org structure versus the Position Org Structure. Delegation is quite simplistic compared to SAP. So when you go to implement a hybrid solution, you find yourself telling the user in this are do XYZ but over here do ABC and it can confuse the user. Alternatively, you look for options that are consistent across both side.

      Another example is the org structure - encouraging use of multiple positions holders (and reduce the overall number of positions) in SF but replication over to SAP fails as bucket positions are not liked (user ends up in default position which is not great for workflow). Not sure if this is an interface issue but it's an example where the need to integrate with on-premise can create some limitations in using SF.

      Of course in all of these, if you choose the right Implementation Partner and they know what they are doing then they can navigate you through these challenges. But that comes back to one of the points you have made - everyone out there is skilling up their workforce and claiming to be experts but few really are.

      Going off on a tangent - and more into your other blogs with Jarret -  I do see the skills of the Cloud Consultant here being a lot more business orientated but someone who understand the overall architecture of the product and integration with other systems.

      For me, the biggest challenge I've found with support SuccessFactors is loss of control (or perception of it). I"m not certified so I can't go into the back end. I don't have tools to trace and troubleshoot issues. I like to get into the details and source code/table definitions to track the problem. I don't have any of this (and it could just be ignorance on my part). When it comes to security, change documents and reporting is quite minimal so it adds more challenges for me...a topic milling in my head that might become a blog one day.



      Author's profile photo Luke Marson
      Luke Marson
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Colleen,

      Thanks for your comments.

      Your two observations are valid and I would have concerns with any partner that wants to offer a rapid implementation. For a "simpler" module like performance & Goals it might be valid, but for the bigger and more complex modules that touch larger parts of your business (such as Onboarding, Recruiting, or Employee Central) I would not recommend a customer looks at a rapid deployment approach. There are so many decisions that need to be made that you might find you need to add 1/3 to 1/2 of the time again just to get through the design phase, which of course will mean more costs and delays for you.

      While the workbook is the focus, it doesn't mean business process maps and blueprints aren't created. But for the rapid deployment approach this is what you're going to get.

      You are right about integration, depending on your needs. You ought to seek out a strong architect who understands both SAP and SuccessFactors to help you review this.

      I don't know why you're being encouraged to use a position for multiple holders. It is possible, but it's not the recommendation and nor is it mandatory; you should define yourself which approach you want to use. I wonder if you've been advised this based on the ease of the solution rather than the business need/value.

      While you are right that the cloud consultants are more business focused, this doesn't mean they aren't technically focused also. They should be both. They should be able to help you with both the process design as well as the technical aspects and integration landscape.

      SuccessFactors doesn't take the power or control away. You have access to most if not all of the tools - typically it's just scheduled jobs that are "hidden away" in the backend. you just need a partner who will give you the right amount of knowledge transfer and support to ensure you understand how to manage your own system.

      Best regards,


      Author's profile photo Colleen Hebbert
      Colleen Hebbert

      Hi Luke

      Sorry, wasn't implying that we are being told that but more that the products have different setups and understanding the integration between the two is important.

      We went live recently and it took 9 months with the primary focus on cleaning data, defining new process and change management. The key difference is the business could see the refinements through sprint cycles so they were a lot more trained prior to go live.

      My power and control is more about the stuff that is hidden away.. I like to look. In some cases they make it quite open (foundation objects are loaded and done by the business whilst in SAP it's configuration change and transports). I've been lucky the consultants on my project are patient enough to explain what's happening in the provisioning side (they even showed me the jobs).



      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hi Luke,

      Really great interview from you and Jarret.

      These expert's advice could be a very good reference to the Customers.

      Thank you to both of you.



      Author's profile photo J. Pazahanick
      J. Pazahanick

      Thanks for kind words Soumya and glad you enjoyed it.