Why should HR care about an “extensibility” platform?
Purpose of this blog
I keep my finger on the pulse of the world of Human Resources. I read blogs about it, I listen in on presentations about it, I talk to my colleagues in the HR department about it, and I write about it. I do this, because I am interested in what are the amazing things going on in HR today as well as what is the 2 year, 5 year, and 10+ year vision that HR departments have for themselves. I also do this, because I am a Product Manager for a platform-as-a-service that can help HR departments achieve this vision through what we call “extensibility”.
Of the visions that I’ve heard HR departments set for themselves, one vision that has repeated itself over the past few years is to become a “Digital HR” department. I am certain that “extensibility” is a key piece in this transformation, and I am not alone in this belief. In fact, Josh Bersin – a leading analyst for the HR Tech market – advises companies who are assessing HR systems to seek out ones that are “extensible in their design”. So, in this blog I seek to take the overarching concept of “extensibility” and make it relevant to the world of Human Resources by presenting how it can help HR professionals enable a “Digital HR” department.
What is “Digital HR”?
But first, what exactly is “Digital HR”? To the passive onlooker, it’s a concept that has been talked about in HR conferences worldwide for a few years now. To many HR departments, it’s a lofty goal coming down from executive management in anticipation of major disruptions in the way that their companies are doing HR today. But, despite listening in on many presentations on this topic, I have always left wondering – what does “Digital HR” actually mean?
“Digital HR” or the “digitization of HR”, at its core, is a transition in how we do HR. It is the HR line of business’ reaction to the invention, productization, and proliferation of the personal computer and the Internet. The way that “Digital HR” is being approached currently is through taking HR processes that were once done with pen and paper and making these processes “digital” or done with a computer.
As an example, let’s look at the simple process of an offer letter. In the non-“Digital HR” world, a template of an offer letter is manually edited to the specifics of the offer; it is taken by the assigned HR professional to the desks of the appropriate managers to be signed; it is mailed, faxed, or given in-person to the candidate; it is signed by the candidate; it is mailed, faxed, or physically returned; it is reviewed by the assigned HR professional; and finally, it is stored away in a file cabinet. In the world of “Digital HR”, an offer letter is generated from a template stored in an applicant tracking software either owned by your company or rented by your company as a service “in the cloud”; it is emailed to the appropriate managers for their signatures; it is emailed to the candidate over the Internet who reviews it using their preferred web browser; they sign the offer letter digitally using an online signature service that encodes the signature before it is sent back and then decodes it when it is received to ensure that the signature cannot be viewed by an unwanted third-party along its hops from link to link through the Internet; the signed offer letter re-enters the applicant tracking software where it can be reviewed by the assigned HR professional for completion using their preferred web browser; and finally, the signed offer letter is then stored digitally as bits and bytes in the database of the applicant tracking software to be accessed days, weeks, months, or years later by relevant parties who have been assigned the appropriate security role and permissions to access it.
And thus, a process that may have taken weeks or months and was reliant on the scheduled routes of post offices and/or accessibility to a fax machine (preferably one that you owned to avoid unwanted eyes seeing that you are on to greener pastures) in the world prior to “Digital HR” has now been cut down to days or weeks with dependency only on access to any computer with an Internet connection (and it doesn’t even have to be your own) in this new “Digital HR” world. In this scenario, “Digital HR” includes a word processor application on your computer, the Internet for connecting all relevant parties in order to communicate and to share documents, a web browser for relevant parties to easily access these interactions happening over the Internet, a piece of HR software with machine coded logic to facilitate and automate some of the required tasks, and a database for storing all of these interactions and documents in the memory of a computer located somewhere in the world so that you can access them from anywhere and to save you some paper costs.
This is all fantastic, but is this all that the dream of “Digital HR” has promised us? The majority of analysts watching the HR market, and myself who is not an analyst but a person with active interest in HR technologies, say no. They say that there is something even greater that is possible with “Digital HR”.
“Digital HR” is employees engaging with each other like they would over Facebook or Twitter. “Digital HR” is recruiters focusing on building innovative ways to attract new, top talent rather than maintaining spreadsheets. “Digital HR” is reducing the time it takes new hires to become onboarded employees through a workflow that’s integrated across your HR, IT, and procurement systems. “Digital HR” is ensuring the validity of the information on an applicant’s resume using a blockchain.
To test whether your HR department is achieving the full potential of “Digital HR”, take a step back and ask yourself if you are redesigning existing processes or if you are working to offer new interactions and tools that will make the employee experience engaging, high-performing, and more productive. If your answer is the former, it’s not too late to pivot towards the latter. Your HR department can achieve the same, if not better, employee experience as the likes of E & J Gallo Wineries, Delta Airlines, DocuSign, Southwest Airlines, and NVIDIA; all of whom were rated in the top 25 of Glassdoor’s 2018 Best Places to Work report. The secret is to listen to the needs of your employees and build or buy what your company needs to meet those needs. One set of tools to do this is SAP Cloud Platform and “extensibility”.
SAP Cloud Platform + “extensibility” = “Digital HR”
Let me start this section with the disclaimer that I am not trying to sell you SAP Cloud Platform. I am merely a Product Manager for SAP Cloud Platform who believes that we have offered something that can truly help you address some of the challenges facing your HR department in the wake of “Digital HR”.
Today, many of you now own HR systems like SAP SuccessFactors as your answer to “Digital HR”. These systems have been wonderful in helping you to expedite your HR processes and massively cut costs like in the offer letter scenario that I describe in the section What is “Digital HR”? above. But, as I said in that same section, while these systems give you the base (or core) for a “Digital HR” department, there are further “Digital HR” possibilities for your company to achieve.
To achieve these possibilities, I propose SAP Cloud Platform. Of its many capabilities, one popular capability that SAP Cloud Platform offers is an “extensibility foundation”. In other words, SAP Cloud Platform gives your HR department the ability to take the existing capabilities of your HR system and build or buy new capabilities that connect to that system in a secure way and that are “loosely coupled” i.e. they are able to be disconnected from that system without harming it. We call these new capabilities “extensions”.
HR plays a key role in an extension project. SAP Cloud Platform is not a tool just for developers and IT folks. As Manju Venkatesh writes in his blog on setting up an extension project team, there is a need for an HR professional in the process of extending an HR system. The extension project team needs someone invested in the employee experience. Someone who listens to employees, identifies an unmet demand, and determines what is needed to achieve that demand.
In summary, “extensibility” enables extensions and extensions enable Digital HR. But extensions don’t happen in a vacuum. They are the result of a project, and these projects are often driven by an HR professional who knows the current employee experience and wants to improve it. SAP Cloud Platform provides HR the opportunity to make these improvements.
In the sections above, we determine that most HR departments are seeking to become “Digital HR” departments; we figure out what “Digital HR” actually means; we learn what it takes to become a “Digital HR” department; and we look at how “extensibility” factors into all of this. I lay this all out to make the point that HR professionals should care about “extensibility” because it can help you to face the disruptions brought on by “Digital HR” and come out with the engaged, high-performing, and productive workforce that, at the end of the day, is the end goal of any HR department. While there are many tools to take advantage of “extensibility”, I seek to make the decision easier by promoting SAP Cloud Platform as that tool.
From this blog, I recommend going to my blog on the desirability, viability, and feasibility of extending SAP SuccessFactors with SAP Cloud Platform where we drill more into the extension capabilities of specifically SAP Cloud Platform. If you found this topic peaked your curiosity and you’re interested in learning more, there is a so-called “Learning Mission” that SAP provides for HR professionals to learn about the business value of SAP Cloud Platform to an HR department in a structured learning environment.
About the author
Colin Kraczkowsky is on the Product Management team for SAP Cloud Platform. His domain expertise includes SAP SuccessFactors extension development on the platform.
Colin’s professional history includes enablement and extension development for SAP’s analytic portfolio and front-end design and business development for a digital media startup in Washington, D.C.
In his spare time, Colin likes to explore new areas, watch scary movies, try weird foods and participate in Turkey Trots. Colin is currently located in Palo Alto, California.
Connect with Colin – https://www.linkedin.com/in/colinkraczkowsky
Thanks for the blog! First off, I have worked in SAP HR/HCM for years and years. More "recently", once SuccessFactors came into the picture, I was worried about my place in this new world as a "techy". The extensibility platform is thankfully one of those places!...however, even with the robustness it offers, I still find its adoption lacking. In most cases, it seems it is used most by 3rd parties who built solutions to "bolt on" to SF where it was lacking (like Benefits). Soooo still waiting to see it really come into its own.
Secondly, past that, PLEASE stop using the term "digital HR"! It makes my skin crawl. It's like unknowingly drinking spoiled milk. Makes me gag. "Digital" anything is such a played out buzzword....and everything you just described is nothing more but the same ol "paperless office" spiel that made its rounds in the 90s and early 2000s. If anything, the focus should still be on "strategic HR"...not my favorite buzzword but at least it conveys are more lofty goal than "digital". And yes, extensibility does play right into "strategic" as well.
Thank you for the read! I'm glad that the point came across that SAP Cloud Platform has an empowering effect on those in the HR space.
It's interesting that you mention slow adoption. The Product Management team has been grappling with this for a while now, and we recently released (to a small, target group) this new service that we are temporarily calling "PlatformX" with the intention of accelerating this adoption. The opportunity is there with "PlatformX" to produce some solutions on the platform that could be truly innovative.
I lean towards agreeing with you on the term "Digital HR". I like what Josh Bersin said about "digital*" kind of being the new "e*" from the early 2000s, but I've yet to her anyone call it "eTransformation" :). I've not heard of "strategic HR", but I'll look into it. If you have any particularly good resources, please share.