SuccessConnect preview – 8 questions for the SAP HCM cloud


In a couple days, I’ll hop on a plane to Vegas for the SuccessConnect user conference. Yep – Jon’s got some burning cloud HCM questions that should keep him (and SAP) busy. Here’s the rundown – including some exclusive comments from SAP HCM chief Mike Ettling.

SuccessConnect Las Vegas kicks off next Tuesday, and SAP made the mistake great decision to invite yours truly (you can track SuccessConnect via the #sconnect15 Twitter hashtag – and if you tweet, you may want to add an #ERP hashtag as well, in support of a worthy fundraiser).

keys-to-driveThis is a critically important user conference for SAP. Since Sapphire Now, important questions (and announcements) have been made regarding SAP’s HCM roadmap in the context of S/4 HANA. Meantime, the large enterprise cloud HCM competition is breakneck, with Workday and Oracle HCM as major factors.

As of June 2015, Ron Hanscome, Research VP of Gartner, told Bill Kutik that all three cloud HCM players have added “somewhere around 200+ customers in the 2014 general timeframe.” As Hanscome says, “This represents a sharpening of the competitive landscape as the Oracle and SAP products mature.”

In the backchannel, I’ve heard numbers that are even higher. Rapid growth is great, but it brings serious challenges in terms of product support and upskilling with which SuccessFactors will need to contend.

Here are some of the questions I plan to get insights on during the conference.

1. What is the roadmap for SAP HCM on-premises and cloud, and how is it impacted by S/4 HANA? Since ASUG and Sapphire Now in May, some key clarifications have been made on SAP HCM and S/4 HANA. Nutshell: existing SAP customers who move to SAP S/4 HANA but aren’t ready to move to SuccessFactors “in the near term” will have the option to continue with SAP HCM on-premise along with S/4 HANA.

Sherryanne Meyer, ASUG

SAP’s David Ludlow provided some answers in his SCN blog, but as Chris Paine and Sherryanne Meyer noted in our video discussion, Hashing out the latest SAP HCM and S/4 HANA developments, plenty of questions remain. One thing we do know: customers will have the option to use S/4HANA via the HANA Enterprise Cloud through SAP and select partners (meaning: hosted option/private cloud), but SuccessFactors will not go that route. As Mike Ettling, Global Head of Cloud and On-Premise HR told us unequivocally during a Sapphire Now blogger session:

I’ve been very public on this – there will be no private version of SuccessFactors. The reason people want private cloud is to solve a problem for customers, and we think we can solve it differently.

2. Is SAP still on track to run SuccessFactors entirely on HANA by fall of 2016? During our blogger meeting with Ettling, he had some interesting commentary on the reasons for the delays in moving SuccessFactors onto HANA.

He also provided a timeframe of September 2016 for when SAP “would be totally red-free in terms of the SuccessFactors database.” (Red meaning Oracle). Ettling expanded on the delays from SAP’s initial exuberant proclamations for moving SuccessFactors quickly onto HANA. Boiling it down, as Ettling said, “It’s a bigger project that we originally thought.”

In his typically frank style, Ettling noted that they briefly “de-prioritized” the SuccessFactors-on-HANA project last year and prioritized splitting the SuccessFactors production environment into a production and testing environment. After the split, customers can get the release, and test if for 30 days before it goes into production. Out of 4,500 SuccessFactors customers, for the February 2015 release, 1,200 customers were moved to the split environment. Ettling:

We now have a crowdsourced testing capability emerging out of this test/production split that’s going to be pretty awesome, so that was a higher priority that should introduce far more stability. Large enterprises have much more regression testing and stability concerns in their cloud environments, so that’s why they wanted those capabilities.

Ettling also spoke to the crowdsourced testing benefits:

Besides our own testing, we’re getting more customer input on their testing before we actually drop the release into production. In just two releases, we’re seeing stability of releases go through the roof, so for me that was a big priority last year, so we agreed to delay the SuccessFactors-on-HANA project – we wanted to get this in.

Now that SuccessFactors-on-HANA is prioritized again, I’ll get an update from Ettling on the target release date.

3. Can SuccessFactors turn the HANA Cloud Platform into an extensibility advantage? The configuration of multi-tenant SaaS products always has its limitations. Customization of code is off the table. Product extensibility via add-on applications becomes a huge advantage. SAP has the chance to seize that advantage via SuccessFactors extensions on the HANA Cloud Platform. (See my video with Chris Paine and Luke Marson for an in-depth discussion on building on the HCP). But as Den Howlett recently pointed out, HCP has plenty of work to do for ease of online ramp-up. Ease of development is another question – I’ll look to get an update in Vegas. Speaking of which…

4. What is the timeframe for rolling out MDF across the entire SuccessFactors product?
For lighter extensibility, SAP’s Metadata Framework (MDF) is a models-driven approach that has gotten very positive reviews from consultants with whom I’ve spoken. As of now, MDF can be used to extend Employee Central functionality, as well as recruiting, but a timeframe for MDF across SuccessFactors is a question.

5. What is the update on providing native time functionality within SuccessFactors? The question of how much time evaluation functionality will be provided natively by SuccessFactors has been a source of confusion in the SAP community – enough so that on May 11, SAP HCM expert Sven Ringling posted a blog about it. SAP’s Thomas Otter, Vice President, Product Management, Employee Central posted a response to Ringling, taking issue with the perceived confusion:

Our strategy for “Time” has been consistent since acquisition. Start with Time Off. Build a simple but useful solution, and expand that based on customer feedback. Over the last 18 months, Time Off has grown up. It now meets the needs of many complex customers, and the roadmap looks solid. There is work to do, but customer adoption has been remarkable… Timesheet is on a similar curve. It is early days, but we have great expectations for that solution. The next stage of the journey is time evaluation.

Otter did not elaborate on the timeframes for time evaluation functionality in his blog comments. But when I asked him about it on Twitter, he said that “SuccessConnect will be worth a visit.” We’ll find out soon.

6. How will SuccessFactors ramp-up qualified consultants and avoid certification pitfalls? One of the perils of growth is understaffed implementations. Consultant quality is paramount – not an easy thing given that, as Jarret Pazahanick and Luke Marson have noted, the transition from SAP HCM to HCM cloud consultant is no cakewalk. Properly executed, certification can play a vital role, but there are concerns here too.

At the end of the this panel from the SAP Insider conference in Nice moderated by HRIZON VP Jyoti Sharma, SuccessFactors partners expressed concern about how certification has changed since being incorporated into SAP Education (which brings me to an old stomping ground). But: SAP Education has also made some constructive changes after consulting with SAP HR experts. That’s a longer convo; I’ll be digging into it with SAP and partners shortly. Ergo:

7. What is the story with the SuccessFactors-ASUG “Trip Advisor” consultant rating project? Diginomica’s Brian Sommer raised the issue of consultant quality with Mike Ettling during our Sapphire Now meeting, and Ettling referenced a “Trip Advisor for consultants” tool they are working on with ASUG.

ASUG has been down the admirable road of attempting to validate consulting quality before, with the short-lived “ASUG Edge” solution I wrote about back in 2008.  Ettling believes this type of tool is crucial. Of the 17 (or so) commitments around service delivery he published at SuccessConnect last year, Ettling told us that the “Trip Advisor for partners” is the only one that hasn’t happened yet.

But now, partnering with ASUG, it’s moving ahead:

When I look at the few projects around the globe that are struggling, it comes down to projects being deployed with an on-premise mindset and approach. To be able to understand who are the systems integrators who get how to deploy cloud is really important for customers.

I may get a preview of this not-yet-released tool today via Sherryanne Meyer, who now serves as ASUG’s HR customer advocate. But will this solution be limited to SuccessFactors partners? I’m thinking not. Expect updates. And, last but not least:

8. What are the customer experiences running SuccessFactors? The SuccessFactors communications team is working hard to get me lined up with some customers for insights into their implementations. That’s the diginomica bread-and-butter, so I’m looking forward to getting the story directly from customers – both in formal interviews and wherever I can corner them, ideally with an ice cold seltzer in hand.

That’s a wrap

That’s it – I’ll wrap this before I get us piled up in questions. I look forward to getting a gut check on all of the above and more. SuccessFactors also has several different user groups, including ASUG, so how users formally voice their views to SAP is a question to explore. Mike Ettling also shared some concerns about cloud data sovereignty on a global scale and SuccessFactors’ plans to address this, so that’s one more topic I hope to serve up to diginomica readers upon my return.

I hope to tape some on-site video and/or podcasts for multi-media fans. Oh, and I may go to a show while I’m there. I’m open to your suggestions, but keep in mind that Mariah Carey is off for the summer (thankfully), and you couldn’t drag me to Britney Spears.

End note: if you’re looking for more content prior to the show, I recommend the excellent SAP HCM Insights podcast series from Steve Bogner and friends (their most recent episode also hits on certification). Jarret Pazahanick’s 9,000 word opus, The Future of SAP HCM and SuccessFactors Consulting – 2015, which compiles views from experts across the SuccessFactors product line, will get you through a good chunk of your plane ride.

If you want to check out the hour long “Hashing out the latest SAP HCM and S/4 HANA developments” discussion with Paine and Meyer, here’s a link to the audio, or you can check it on my iTunes feed.

Image credit: Establishment of real estate contracts © yuu –

Disclosure: SAP is a diginomica premier partner, as is Workday and Oracle.

Minor update, August 8, 6pm ET, in question #1, note S/4HANA to be offered as a private hosted option via the HANA Enterprise Cloud, as confirmed by SAP’s Sven Denecken (SAP has made some changes in how S/4HANA is offered, at least in terms of marketing language, since ASUG/Sapphire Now).

    Comments are closed.

    1. says:

      I got a fairly snooty ping on FB…who cares about whether SFSF runs on HANA or not? It’s a fair point. Your point: “Large enterprises have much more regression testing and stability concerns in their cloud environments” is at odds with what we generally see in cloud environments. Are they shoe horning extensions or is it the case that SFSF isn’t a platform in the Salesforce sense?

      1. Jon Reed says:

        “who cares about whether SFSF runs on HANA or not? It’s a fair point.”
        It’s a snarky point, I’ll grant that, but not a fair point. As early as 2012 SuccessFactors leaders including Lars Dalgaard were boldly telling customers that moving SuccessFactors onto HANA was a “key priority area for development as it will help increase customer value by dramatically speeding existing processes, enabling access to large amounts of data in shorter periods of time and providing real-time access to information tailored to individual requirements.”
        So, the SuccessFactors ecosystem is understandably interested in experiencing that “increase in customer value”, and also in the delays SAP has experienced in the process of moving SuccessFactors onto HANA, and why.

        There are plenty more reasons why folks are interested in this topic, including but not limited to HANA’s ability to support a large scale multi-tenant SaaS application, and another validation of HANA as a operational database. Of the ten or so answers I have heard from SAP executives about why SuccessFactors and HANA was delayed, Ettling’s answer was by far the most transparent and practical. And in the process of answering it, he shared the plans and early results from splitting the productive and test environments, a notable development. So it was worth including in this post.

        I will say this: I don’t consider that particular question the most important on this list to address next week, especially since we pretty much have most of the answer here. But if I learn anything important on it I will share.

        Regarding your next comment on regression testing and stability concerns, that wasn’t my point as you noted, that was a quote from Mike Ettling, so we’d need to take that up further with him and other SuccessFactors executives. I don’t expect anyone from SAP to say that their cloud requires more testing and has more stability issues than others, however. 🙂 But, I think you raise an interesting point here pertaining to the friction of SuccessFactors versus other large scale SaaS apps, and I’ll try to pose that to customers next week in Las Vegas…

        – Jon

    2. says:

      Jon,SAP keeps saying “Run Simple” but they don’t seem to be delivering on that promise. Instead of offering multiple HCM solutions, simpler solution would be S/H HANA or sHCM.  David Ludlow in his blog states SAP is not going to simplify ERP HCM solution. In my opinion, running Success Factors on HANA is “simplification”. SAP continues to make everything complex. Instead of maintaining two HCM solutions for next 10 years, integrating/merging two HCM solutions into one “Simple” HCM solution would be a great success story for HANA; and it follows SAP’s motto: “Run Simple”. This also would support SAP’s mission: Innovation without disruption.On certification, SAP could do a lot more in identifying and certifying qualified candidates. They, from first hand experience, failed to accomplish that in 2012 with HANA certification.Best,Bala Prabahar

      1. Jon Reed says:

        Bala thanks – you’ve raised some good points and some we have discussed in the past also. You know how I feel about SAP certification in general – many missed opportunities, in particular to use imagination to beef up certification by validating field experience. In terms of SuccessFactors, they have managed to incorporate some of that into the Professional level, I will look into that more next week and if it will carry over to HANA etc.

        As for your simplification points, I agree with a lot of it. Some of it is in line with what SAP is thinking, but given this is a conference preview post I have left some of this open ended until next week. Then we’ll see. 🙂

        – Jon

        1. says:

          Thanks Jon for sharing your thoughts. Look forward to reading your blogs from Las Vegas. Best,Bala