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The Future of HR Is No HR

The Cloud Journey to HR Transformation

by Mike Ettling, President, SAP SuccessFactors | SAPinsider, Volume 16, Issue 4

October 9, 2015

With HR being viewed as a more integral role in the business, the IT landscape must adapt to reflect this change. New applications from SAP can be adopted to not only improve HR processes, but also innovate for the future. Hear how Mike Ettling, President of SAP SuccessFactors, envisions the HR of tomorrow and how SAP’s Run Simple philosophy can get you closer to that vision today.


The conversation about where HR adds the most value in your business is not new. For growth companies, it’s generally over, however. With HR seated at the executive table, the value it can drive is fully understood by the C-suite. The conversation today is what, then, is the future of HR.

Technology, while not the only driver, has certainly helped shape the conversation. Today’s modern applications are helping automate processes in smarter ways, which frees up HR to focus on the workforce itself, and employees to focus on their jobs. And today’s applications are delivering fresh insights that HR can use to help execute the strategic vision of the business.

Beyond the value, HR is faced with the same expectations, particularly from our digital natives in the workplace, for technology that is as simple to use and engaging as what we’ve grown used to in our personal lives. Increasingly, there’s a refusal to take a step backward with the technology given to us by our companies. That’s a reality for HR as well.

Transforming the Very Concept of HR

Arriving at this state of HR transformation is a journey. Not only does it require a change of mindset within the business regarding some long-held assumptions about the role of HR, it also requires a reexamination of how the IT landscape can support such a significant change. Applications and solutions that exist to simply facilitate operations are no longer enough. Today’s digital economy demands a platform that can help spur innovation. And for the HR industry as a whole, such a platform provides immense opportunity.

In this way, the future of HR can be thought of as no HR at all — existing not as a back-office processing engine, but instead as a vital partner to drive engagement with the business and help advance the overall corporate agenda of innovation and simplification.

Our outlook at SAP about how we facilitate HR transformation is part of our Run Simple philosophy. Transforming HR to run more simply is not necessarily easy, but it’s required. We’re making it simple for customers to run, use, and engage with our suite of cloud applications so the journey does not have the same level of complexity as a typical multi-year, on-premise installation.

“Simple to run” refers to deployment options that help speed implementation and adoption, and that includes the extensibility and best practice programs offered by partners using SAP HANA Cloud Platform and the ease of extensibility and integration with our applications. “Simple to use” is about a modern user interface that helps streamline processes and facilitate adoption, even among tech-savvy millennials.

“Simple to engage with” refers to the relationship SAP SuccessFactors builds with customers by reexamining how contracts, support, pricing, operations, and other customer-impacting elements of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) agreement can be simplified.

The ultimate goal for moving to the cloud to transform HR should be to embrace standards and simplification, and that is why simple to run, simple to use, and simple to engage with the technology and our company are what guide us today.


The ultimate goal for moving to the cloud to transform HR should be to embrace standards and simplification.

Collaborations and Innovations

Our recently released functionality across the suite, which we refer to as intelligent services, shows these principles in action. With intelligent services, we have rethought what happens in traditional HR systems, which regard workforce changes such as hires, promotions, or leaves of absence as individual transactions. So while these types of regular changes for every HR organization often trigger a ripple effect, those next-step transactions have historically had to be managed manually, either by the employee himself or herself, the manager, an assistant, or possibly a shared services organization within HR. Intelligent services — which at the current first release includes 16 predefined workforce changes like those I just mentioned — significantly improves the employee experience and reduces cost by eliminating the need for manual processing.

Intelligent services was born from examining what could be done to drive simplicity in the HR industry. And that asking of “Why not?” is part of the overarching vision and driving principles that every SuccessFactors initiative and program now must meet. In building the HR system of the future, it was important to move beyond performing the same functions, just in a more sophisticated way. If we are asking customers to join us on this journey of HR transformation, we must deliver value in return, and intelligent services helps melt away old business processes that were previously required to bridge the gaps between various HR functions.

Another recent announcement we made that customers will see in our next release is new LinkedIn integration through which current and prospective employees can share their LinkedIn profile information directly in the SAP SuccessFactors Recruiting application. Like intelligent services, the decision to allow this arose from us questioning how we could make it easier both for users to consolidate their employment information and for recruiters and managers to better know the skills available or needed across the company through more enriched profiles.

A final example of what happens when we ask ourselves “Why not?” was behind our partnership with IBM Kenexa, announced at SAPPHIRE NOW in May 2015. Many in the industry asked why we would partner with an oftentimes competitor, but the answer was easy: Customers have been asking for this type of integration to reduce the complexities inherent with having multiple vendors. And it opens the door for many more of them to choose SAP SuccessFactors Employee  Central without ripping out investments that currently work well for them. Moreover, providing a low-cost, low-risk open integration scenario demonstrates our firm commitment that a company’s specific path on an HR transformation journey is just as important as the end destination.

Transformation Beyond HR Alone

For many companies on the cloud journey in HR, other areas of their business are similarly looking to the cloud or to other modern technologies to support them in our digital age. SAP Business Suite 4 SAP HANA (SAP S/4HANA) is the next-generation business suite. Built on SAP HANA and using the SAP Fiori modern user experience (UX), SAP S/4HANA delivers massive simplifications and innovations to help businesses run simple in the digital economy. The SAP SuccessFactors HCM Suite is the default HCM solution for SAP S/4HANA.

Productized integration, built and maintained by SAP, exists today so customers can connect SAP SuccessFactors solutions with SAP S/4HANA, cloud edition; productized integrations between SAP SuccessFactors solutions and SAP S/4HANA, on-premise edition, are planned for delivery in the near future. SAP customers who want to move to SAP S/4HANA and are also using SAP ERP HCM can continue to leverage it, also with productized integration, until they are ready to move to SAP SuccessFactors solutions.

Take the Next Step with a Trusted Partner

In just the past year or so, many companies have moved beyond the question of whether cloud makes sense for their business. Having recognized the value it can bring, including positioning HR and the business for the digital age, the question now being asked is how to navigate an optimal transition. It isn’t about taking on-premise applications and decades-old business processes to the cloud. It’s about rethinking the future state of HR, and helping companies undertake that transformation journey.

For more information about SAP SuccessFactors solutions, visit

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Mike Ettling
Mike Ettling

SAP SuccessFactors

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