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Insights into the SAP SuccessFactors Q2 release: the innovations that stood out to me

The SAP SuccessFactors Q2 release was the 27th release in my six and a half years here. I lead the SuccessFactors Product Management, Engineering and Data Center Operations teams. These are the dedicated people who determine the roadmap strategy for SuccessFactors applications, design, develop and test our features, and run SuccessFactors in 10 Cloud data centers around the world. Back in 2010/2011 we had 5 releases a year, then in 2012, we switched to our current quarterly release schedule. As you might imagine, I have seen a lot of new features and capabilities go into our products.

Among these many features and functions, some stand out to me as particularly interesting, because of the innovation involved, the technical challenges we had to overcome, or the various iterations we went through to get to a powerful and valuable business solution. For a software engineer, often the journey is as fascinating as the end result. As we head into our first SuccessConnect of 2016 at the end of this month, I would like to discuss in this blog some of the capabilities released recently that stood out to me, put them into perspective, and introduce some ideas for our conversation at the upcoming conferences.

Intelligent Services

If you’ve been following SuccessFactors’ recent innovations, you would have heard us say a lot about Intelligent Services. To recap, an event takes place in your business, say, an employee is placed on a global assignment in one of your overseas offices, and you can configure a range of automated responses to occur as a result of that event. Before Intelligent Services, you had to rely on people to remember to make these events happen (say, take new training that’s mandatory in the new location), or they simply never occurred.

With Intelligent Services, you configure the event responses that you want, and the system ensures they occur. It’s a “publish and subscribe” model: a SuccessFactors application records an event, “publishing” the event to our “Service Event Bus”. And other SuccessFactors applications, other SAP Cloud applications, or third-party applications “subscribe” to the events and automatically react to them. For example, in our Q2 release, we introduced new automated responses to the global assignment event. One to automatically invite the relocated employee to appropriate SAP Jam groups for their new location, e.g. groups to help newly transferred expats. And another to alert the old and new managers to take the job change into account in the employee’s performance review. Whether these responses occur in your SuccessFactors environment is entirely configurable by the customer, but they no longer need to be left to somebody to remember, and you can maximize employee engagement because the system automatically attends to their unique circumstances.

Another scenario for Intelligent Services is when a recruiter goes on long term or short term leave. As of the Q2 release, SuccessFactors Recruiting can automatically respond to the leave event by reassigning open job requisitions to another recruiter. Or, if it’s a hiring manager on leave, SuccessFactors Recruiting can automatically re-route To-Dos to another hiring manager. The automatic reassignment can be configured to any number of days before the leave period commences. This ensures that customers have no loss of hiring momentum and don’t miss excellent candidates who won’t wait for a process delay caused by someone’s leave to be manually identified and rectified.

As we evolve Intelligent Services, we’re continually thinking of new use cases and opportunities. In upcoming releases, we’re enhancing Intelligent Services to enable automated responses to occur in third-party systems. For example, we’re partnering with Microsoft to update out-of-office time in Outlook’s calendar after recording time-off in SuccessFactors. We’ve also been working on enabling HR business people to self-sufficiently introduce and configure new Intelligent Services events and responses, without a dependency on technical engineers. In future releases you’ll see us introduce a new “Intelligent Services Editor” (ISE) to enable business users to define events and responses, with conditional behavior controlling when the responses occur. To date, SuccessFactors has delivered 38 Intelligent Services business events, triggering automated responses across the SuccessFactors suite and in other SAP Cloud solutions including Fieldglass and S/4HANA. At SuccessConnect 2016, we’ll introduce Intelligent Services integrations delivered with our third-party software partners.

Drinking our own champagne, so you can drink it too

For the last five years, SuccessFactors has been advancing our Cloud object extension technology, which is a framework for metadata and, so, engineers being engineers, we called it the “Metadata Framework” or “MDF” for short. Yes, engineers are firm adherents of the school of extremely literal naming conventions. MDF allows our customers to define their own custom objects inside SuccessFactors, and imbue them with business logic … logic that executes when users interact with the objects in a UI, or when systems interact with the objects via APIs. No coding involved, but our powerful Rules Engine and Workflow Engine allow sophisticated custom functionality to be defined, tested and deployed, to meet your unique business objectives.

Our engineers also use MDF themselves to design and deliver new SuccessFactors features. In the Q2 release we launched Spot Awards for managers to recognize achievements with financial awards outside of formal performance review cycles. Your compensation admins follow a step-by-step process to set up Spot Awards programs, define budgets, award categories, award levels and eligibility criteria, and then deploy the Spot Awards programs to your organization to use.

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Information where you need it, when you need it

The idea of “embedded analytics” is not new … having meaningful data immediately at hand to support sound business decisions, such as performance-based pay differentials when making compensation or promotion decisions. But how to actually embed these analytics into transactions is a non-trivial technical and design challenge. How do you make them available when you need them, but easily dismissible when you don’t, in a way that doesn’t adversely impact the display and flow of the actual business transaction?

In the Q2 release, we believe we have developed an elegant solution to this need, with the introduction of our Insights Panel, providing data to assist business decisions across the SuccessFactors suite. The sample screenshot below provides analysis pertinent to performance reviews, showing the extent to which high performers are compensated relative to others. Next to the charts is a set of links to other relevant reports and dashboards with more in-depth detail. Your business decision-makers will have relevant information directly at hand, leading to more consistently high-quality business outcomes.

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Out of sight, but definitely not out of mind

Many of the enhancements in our SuccesssFactors releases are behind-the-scenes: introduction of new technologies, performance tuning, strengthening system security, and refactoring to simplify code for improved maintainability. In the Q2 release we updated the search server technology that powers our candidate and job searches in Recruiting. As customer volumes increased on the old search server, we would occasionally have times when the automated updates to the search index would lag behind the creation of new job records, effectively making the new job records invisible. Recruiters would then suspect that the new jobs had not been created properly. In fact, they had been successfully created, but they couldn’t be found via search because they had not yet been incorporated into the search index. Now, our updated search server technology lets us infinitely scale “horizontally”, meaning we can add more server capacity as usage grows, ensuring we can provide rapid, accurate up-to-date search responses, regardless of the volume of new jobs being defined.

I look forward to continuing the conversation on these topics and more with you at our 2016 SuccessConnect series of conferences, starting with the Las Vegas conference on August 29-31. I’m excited to hear your feedback on our software releases and get your thoughts on how we can further improve our products and services to meet your needs.

4 Comments
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  • Nice! All the info is great, but really excited to see more of intelligent services! Is it foreseeable that we will be able to embed these intelligent services into workflow in order to automate “tasks” in the background. To me, this would bring us closer to the complex workflows that on-prem allows with conditional logic, background processing, etc. possible as “steps” in the workflow. Guess I will have to “play” with them….kick the tires a bit….anyways, THANKS fr the blog!

    • Christopher – Great to hear from you. Yes, please try out Intelligent Services. In fact, yes, Intelligent Services can be triggered from SF workflow today … the workflow can publish an event to the “service event bus”, which other apps can detect, react to, and trigger an automated response. Adam

  • Agree with Christopher Solomon.

    Intelligent Services is one of the most valuable SuccessFactors initiatives for the past few years. I’m waiting for Intelligent Services Editor (ISE) GA  to be able to enrich and configure the behavior and notifications.

    And hope it would be the baseline for next-gen intelligent solutions like chatbots and smart nudges.