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Get the Inside Scoop From the Authors of SuccessFactors with SAP ERP HCM

by Dave Hannon and Jyoti Sharma and Luke Marson and Amy Grubb

September 10, 2013

By Dave Hannon

I was lucky enough to have a chance to talk with the authors of the soon-to-be-released book SuccessFactors with SAP ERP HCM from SAP Press and learned quite a bit. In this exclusive podcast, Luke Marson, Jyoti Sharma and Amy Grubb discuss misconceptions SAP users have about SuccessFactors, SAP Jam, the HR roadmap going forward including SAP HANA, and the highs and lows of integrating SuccessFactors and SAP. Give it a listen here:

These three well-informed experts will also be hosting a live question-and-answer session on SuccessFactors here on the Insider Learning Network on Sept. 19. You can register for that free event here



Hello and welcome. This is Dave Hannon with SAPinsider.

Joining me today are three authors of a new book coming out from SAP PRESS called SuccessFactors with SAP ERP HCM.

We have Luke Marson, an SAP mentor and a principal consultant focusing on SAP HCM in SuccessFactors; Jyoti Sharma, a manager of Employee Central at EPI-USE, focusing on SuccessFactors implementations; and Amy Grubb, an SAP HCM in SuccessFactors consultant with Cloud Consulting Partners. Amy has more than 15 years’ experience in HCM and 7 years working on SuccessFactors implementations.

Thank you all for joining me today; I appreciate it.

Dave Hannon, SAPinsider: First off, I wanted to ask you about misconceptions. What may be the biggest misunderstanding that SAP users have about SuccessFactors?  Luke, maybe we can start with you on that one.

Luke Marson: Thanks, Dave. I think generally a lot of customers have fears around security and data privacy in the cloud. There are a lot of misconceptions around that, particularly with some of the scandals that have been going on recently, with things like PRISM and NSA.

You know, though, SuccessFactors has a bigger budget for security than most customers have, and one of the really important point is actually that SuccessFactors doesn’t own or control any data. The customer completely owns the data, which means actually SuccessFactors cannot give away that data if it is requested -- they simply don’t have those rights on data.

I think that’s just a really key thing for customers to understand: They still own their data entirely when they’re in the cloud, and it is very well protected by SuccessFactors and other cloud vendors as well.

Dave:  Jyoti, do you have anything to add? Any other misconceptions or misunderstandings?

Jyoti Sharma: Absolutely. Thank you for the opportunity. I’m happy to be sharing the stage with Luke and Amy. 

Luke actually started off with a very key factor about security and data privacy, which has been a deciding factor for many companies transitioning to the cloud.

Just to add to that, what I see with customers, is that it looks like that they’re expecting SuccessFactors to be an on-premise application in the cloud, which necessarily is not true.

The genome of a cloud application is really based on evolving needs of the market and your business. It’s not a monolith of code and features and functionality. We have to acknowledge that it’s more agile and modular and more malleable to the ways that you do business.

Partners who are working on these implementations with customers, they play a very crucial role in bridging that gap in understanding. And it’s important that they do that because, from my perspective, I see that it’s very important for customers to be prepared and have that mindset before they embark on a cloud, or to be specific, SuccessFactors implementation, because that’s going to help them realize the value of their investment more realistically.

Dave:  You’ve also got some thoughts, Amy, about misconceptions SAP customers may have about implementing SuccessFactors, right?

Amy Grubb: Right. From an implementation perspective, implementing SuccessFactors is really quite different from putting in an on-premise module of SAP.

If you’re looking at, for instance, putting in one of the Talent modules for SAP on-premise, that’s basically your typical SAP project where it’s a good 9 months to a year, maybe a little longer, depending on the size and complexity of the organization. And the business users are really involved at the beginning of the process through design and then they go away for a while, while developers build out and configure and then develop the parts of the application. Then they come back and they’re involved in testing. That could be a good 4, 5, maybe 6 months in between that, where they’re really not getting the opportunity to see what they’ve designed in real life.

SuccessFactors is a completely different approach all together. Being in the cloud, the product is configurable – it’s not customizable. You don’t develop with a cloud application. It’s very highly configurable – so there are a lot of different options that you have in terms of how to configure the application or the modules that you’re working with. But the business users are involved from the beginning of the project all the way through to the end. They actually get to see the results of what they designed in a design workshop within a couple of weeks afterwards and they can see those results right away.

They’re in the system, they’re testing. Testing is an ongoing process with SuccessFactors, so you’re testing the configuration against your business process that you’ve designed. And it’s very iterative, it’s very interactive with the business users. And when they make a change to configuration, again, that’s made very quickly and they can very quickly see the results.

So the time schedule for a SuccessFactors project can be very much compressed, compared to an SAP implementation, but also the users themselves are very much involved throughout the process, getting their hands in it, right from the beginning.

I think that’s probably the biggest difference, and it’s very different for folks who are used to implementing SAP, for them to wrap their heads around. But I think once they get into it, they very much enjoy the interactivity in a SuccessFactors project.

Dave: Integration is a topic that SAP users want to hear about when we talk about SuccessFactors, so give us the inside scoop, based on your experience. What is the integration process like? Luke, maybe we can start with you?

Luke: Well, the one thing I see quite a lot is that integration isn’t actually a major issue when it comes to implementation. There’s a lot said about this, but when I see the reality, it sometimes can be quite different than some things said in public.

That’s not to say that integration isn’t important, because it is. But, for example, when we look at Talent Management, it really depends whether customers are looking to use SuccessFactors HCM Suite as their system of record for Talent Management data, or whether they actually need to have that data transferred back to SAP HCM on-premise, maybe other processes.

We certainly really look at their performance management, the performance rating is required in some processes like Succession Planning and Compensation Management. But when you’re looking at something like some other scenarios in Succession Planning or even Learning, it’s not entirely necessary to have that data transferred back into SAP.

In terms of actually setting up integration, SAP has quite recently announced a lot of details about the forthcoming roadmap and they’re actually well on their way to delivering the core foundation required to run most of the processes in SuccessFactors when SAP HCM is your core HR.

I do think that customers have to actually look at how they plan on using the system. They have to think about what data actually needs to be transferred and importantly, and how much of that data in SuccessFactors actually needs to get back into SAP HCM. Unless there’s going to be a large-scale reporting taking place -- so analytics --  then it’s not always that important. There are also the analytical tools, like Business Warehouse, can actually sort data from more than one location simultaneously, so again, it’s not always that much of an issue.

So my message to customers would be that they needn’t worry significantly about integration and that if they’ve already implemented SAP HCM, it’s likely that in one form or another they’ve already actually done some kind of integration activity.

Dave: Based on your experience Amy, how do you see the integration process?

Amy: Well the integration experience I think is a little bit different depending on the module that you’re talking about integrating with.

I work a lot with the Recruiting module and from the Recruiting perspective, the actual integration, getting that set up, is really pretty straightforward. I just completed that about 2 months ago for a co-innovation customer. I believe they were the first customer out of the gate to get that integration running back to SAP core to hire newly selected candidates.

Once we got over a few little hurdles, the integration – the setup, the configuration – was actually quite straightforward. Most of the issues that we ran into in this one example were really just related to the PI landscape with this particular customer, but the actual configuration from SuccessFactors back to SAP core was really quite straightforward.

I know this is geared more to the SAP audience, but I’ve also integrated Recruiting back to Employee Central, and that’s also quite straightforward. It’s just another template that you really design in Recruiting and make available in the instance.

So from a Recruiting perspective – and that’s really the integration that exists today

There will be additional integration coming later this year and into early next year with Requisitions coming over, open positions triggering Requisitions in SuccessFactors. That has yet to come to fruition, that’s still being developed and I’m not sure how that’s going to go, but based on my experience with integration with Recruiting so far, I expect good things. We’ll have learned that much more about the Recruiting module and I expect that integration to go quite smoothly.

The other integration that I have experience with is just in terms of Compensation data from SuccessFactors going back to SAP, as well as the employee data interface or integration, bringing employees over from HCM core into SuccessFactors.

Again, both of those in my experience have gone rather smoothly. I think both of those have been out there for a little bit longer than the Recruiting integration and again, I think most of the issues I’ve seen have really been related to just getting the PI landscape set up and any kinks worked out there.

Once that gateway, if you will, is set up, the integration between SuccessFactors and SAP is really quite straightforward.

Dave: Do you have anything to add to that, Jyoti? Any other perspectives that you’ve seen out there?

Jyoti:  Sure. I am just implementing Employee Central with a customer, and I cannot tell you how many times we’ve had discussions where particular data elements were initially thought, ‘Oh, we need to bring this over to Employee Central,’ but when you actually analyze the business case for it, it really was not important.

I recommend, customers, that before you even go and build your integration strategy, look at the big picture. Look at what you’re asking the solution to deliver for you. (Luke has done an excellent job on the integration chapter in the book, as in other chapters. So if you have basic questions, be sure to go through that chapter.)

In terms of middleware, I’ve seen that a lot of customers are confused about this. Many customers think that Dell Boomi is the only middleware that you can use and that’s not necessarily true. We have those integrations at EPI-USE using SAP PI. If you’re a SAP customer, you have a PI license, you can definitely leverage that when you build integration. Definitely keep the big picture in mind before you invest your resources and time and money on integration strategy and technology.

Dave: In the book you delve into the SuccessFactors roadmap, so I want to get to your input on that. Is there anything you could share with folks about the roadmap that they might not know yet? Anything you’ve come across while researching the book?

Jyoti, maybe we can start with you. I know you’ve got some experience with Employee Central specifically.

Jyoti: Thank you, Dave, that’s a brilliant question.

From my perspective, I see the roadmap as being a SuccessFactors product roadmap for sure, but then there’s also the customer’s organizational roadmap that we, as consultants, are working with on an everyday basis.

We have seen that there is a paradigm shift in the way the capability analysis is being conducted for customers, and I can easily see the SuccessFactors product roadmap driving a lot of these discussions.

It’s so encouraging and enlightening for me to see that in the course of these discussions, you can actually see business owners embracing new ways of thinking, and to me, that is the biggest differentiator that the SuccessFactors HCM suite is bringing to the way that we do business and I think also the way we live our lives. Because a key experience that I have personally felt using SuccessFactors, and I’ve seen my customers giving me “Wows” on an everyday basis, is the impact on work-life balance. 

We all know that professional and personal boundaries have long been submerged, but an application of SuccessFactors helps you in balancing those merging boundaries and provides us with a better quality of life in the system.

Specific to Employee Central, I see that customers are increasingly becoming aware that the functions  of their HRIS systems definitely serves the purpose that they were built for, but in today’s world, they are faced with a more dynamic workforce and a more constantly changing competitive landscape.

So they need something as dynamic and as evolving as Employee Central to be able to embrace everything in a quantitative manner and drive revenue for their business.

Dave: Luke, anything that you’ve come across about that SuccessFactors roadmap that you want to share?

Luke: To follow on what Jyoti said, there’s a lot of investment taking place in Employee Central. And I think over the next 12 months, we’re going see a lot of new features coming in, expanding on a lot of the current functionality as well as some new functionality.

One of the drawbacks of the SAAS model – it’s good that there are four releases a year -- but due to their  short time frames, SuccessFactors doesn’t usually often commit too far ahead of each release. So there’s room for customers to sit there and say, ‘What’s the roadmap for the next 12-18 months, what sort of things can we expect to see?’

Now this is quite different from what customers might be used to with an enhancement package where SAP will say, ‘Okay, these are the xxx that we’re planning to get into the release,” and more often than not, they will all go into that release.

It also means that sometimes customers have to try to work around them. As Jyoti said, a lot of customers do rely on that information to make their plans, so it can be kind of difficult. Some customers  making the decision as to whether to move to the cloud may just depend on functionality in one release, kind of pick through the boxes, and say ‘Yeah, now is the time to go.’

I think the only thing that is really planned and reasonably thought ahead is integration.

As I mentioned previously, SAP has now pretty much planned what integration concepts are going to be released until the end of next year, which will largely complete their roadmap.

For Employee Central integrations, in terms of third-party vendors and things like times and benefits,  payroll, and BPO providers – a lot of that is also on a roadmap now. So customers who are looking at Employee Central and whether that will work with their existing payroll supplier, or whether Employee Central payroll is going to support one of their countries, they will be able to get hold of that kind of information.

So it’s just a different way of doing things for customers that they might have to get used to when they look at or move into the cloud.

Dave:  Any plans you’re aware of involving SuccessFactors and SAP HANA? I know that’s always a hot-button topic. Luke, anything you’ve heard, or any comments you want to make on that?

Luke:  You’re absolutely right. SuccessFactors on HANA is quite a hot topic, and I think people are fairly aware that there’s going to be a lot of advantages when that happens.

So I think they’re planning to have their existing Oracle databases replaced by SAP HANA by the end of the year. I think already the platform itself is sitting on top of the SAP HANA cloud infrastructure, although that didn’t have as much of bearing as the database, which will provide some significant enhancements with speed.

And there’s also, slightly related, the SAP HANA cloud platform, as well, and that’s quite linked into Employee Central, so maybe that’s something Jyoti might want to cover.

Jyoti: Thanks, Luke. The SAP HANA Cloud Platform -- just for customers’ benefit, it’s platform-as-a-service and there are a lot of developments happening in the Employee Central space where, leveraging on the metadata framework and the SAP HANA cloud platform, you can do custom development and you can develop extensions to your Employee Central instance.

The biggest benefit is that, while software-as-a-service is beneficial, sometimes the one size does not fit all, and the platform-as-a-service helps you add the differentiating aspect to your implementation. It also gives you the scale and velocity that’s needed to meet your demands. It’s easy to maintain and update, and the best part is that it gets integrated with existing applications and data.

So we are looking for the SAP HANA platform to make Employee Central a more robust core HRIS  and make for a more promising solution for customers.

Dave:  Another area of SuccessFactors that I wanted to talk about was SAP Jam.  For SAP users, this might be something new. Is this a useful tool that all organizations should look into? Or is this a “nice to have” feature if they’re reviewing SuccessFactors functionality?

Luke: Yes, SAP Jam is an interesting one. Again, it’s one of those things that goes across organizations because, unlike the rest of the SuccessFactors HCM suite, SAP Jam is more cross-functional, cross-domain. It’s a solution that you could use with just your sales functions or finance functions, or you could use entirely across all aspects of your organization.

I like all of the functionality in SAP Jam. I actually use it quite regularly, so I do see a lot of value in it and I think there are many companies that can get benefits from having this kind of open, knowledge-sharing collaboration platform. It is kind of gamification-oriented -- people can get a lot of recognition, a lot of kudos from helping others, from sharing knowledge, and generally collaborating.

For example, a company has a sales initiative taking place. Maybe there’s a particular customer looking for something and they can reach out to the other sales colleagues across one or more Jam groups and answer the question and seek an answer which otherwise might be quite difficult -- or might require spamming a lot of people with a lot of emails to find this information.

So I do see a lot of value in it, but I’m not sure it is for every organization at the moment.

Dave: Amy, how about you? Do you have any thought on SAP Jam or any experience with it?

Amy: I sure do. First of all, I really like Jam as a collaboration tool. I think it’s really a great product.

My personal experience with Jam is as an instructor with Success Academy. I teach Recruiting Mastery right now, and Success Academy uses Jam all the time. That’s how they facilitate most of their training classes, so every course that you take has its own Jam group. We use Jam all the time to open up class communication so we use the Jam Wall, the feed updates. Participants post their questions right on the Jam wall. It encourages class collaboration because everyone can see those questions; they can respond to each other’s questions, help each other learn, and also it’s just a great communication – better than email – in getting that information out there.

The other advantage is every participant who goes through class has the advantage of all of the other questions that have been asked -- not only in their class but in previous classes. They’re all saved on the Jam wall. They can search that, find information; they can watch videos that participants have posted.

It’s just a really great collaboration tool from a learning perspective. I think the recording functionality is great and really encourages informal as well as formal learning.

Jyoti:  Dave, I just wanted to quickly add on SAP Jam, just for the benefit of customers in the audience. I’m seeing SAP Jam being rapidly used as a leveling tool when any organization is looking to transition to the cloud. So it’s being used as a quick-win item – and it’s such a beautiful product that you don’t have to put a lot of effort to interest your business owners and your CFOs and CTOs. So that’s something to keep in mind if anyone listening to the podcast is looking at transition.

Dave: Last, I wanted to ask there are any other interesting tidbits you came across while writing the book, especially keeping in mind that a lot of SAP users might not be all that familiar with SuccessFactors at the level that you are.

Jyoti: For me, the most interesting part, of course, was the journey writing the book with such brilliant people as Luke, Amy, and our contributors Atif and Regan. But what was also interesting to me was the numerous ways they could share their experiences and the numerous ways each of us could devise this application and build a solution for customers.

I was implementing Employee Central while writing the book and had the opportunity to share a lot of practical experience and add value to the book. I was also working from an outsider’s perspective on an Employee Central payroll implementation, and that helped me add a lot of practical perspective to the book, so a lot of good information.

Employee Central is emerging as a product and it also makes for a very promising core HRIS, but increasingly of course the partner is choosing the key element and in the age that we live, everything was changing so rapidly. Something very interesting that happened is that EPI-USE released a rapid deployment package for Employee Central payroll and since then, we’ve seen so much interest among customers. We would have never believed that there are so many businesses around there that are looking to transition their payroll applications to the cloud.

For me, that was one of the most interesting developments while writing the book and seeing these products develop.

Luke: One of the things that I noticed, for the period of writing the book and even unfortunately afterwards, is that things are changing rapidly within the whole SAP HCM and SuccessFactors world -- ranging from functionality to branding and marketing. When we started the book to when we finished, there were a number of changes that had taken place, just in how they refer to products.

SAP Jam was just changing rapidly, and some of the early chapters we really had to go back, revisit, and rewrite them towards the end of the writing period. So with that in mind, I would say to customers: Look, things are changing a lot. You need to keep yourself up to date with what’s going on.

There are a few avenues for doing that. You should always stay in touch with SAP and SuccessFactors. They pretty much have all the latest information, whether that’s around integration or how the product suite might have changed, what new functionality is coming out, or what new developments are planned. There are also some great groups on LinkedIn and there’s Twitter and the SAP Community Network.

I think if it’s something that you’re seriously interested in doing, I do recommend that if you haven’t visited for a while and you’re looking to make a major decision, make sure you harvest as much information as you can to make sure you can make the best decision on the latest information out there.

Dave: To find out more about the new book SuccessFactors with SAP ERP HCM, you can go to

Luke Marson, Amy Grubb, and Jyoti Sharma, thank you very much for joining me today. It’s been   very enlightening.

Have your own questions for Amy, Luke and Jyoti? Chat with the authors of SuccessFactors for SAP ERP HCM in a live Q&A on Thursday, September 19 at 11am-12pm ET. More details are available here. 

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