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Recruiter SThree replatforms business apps to Salesforce

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright March 10, 2016
Recruitment group SThree replatforms business apps from on-premise Siebel CRM and an Oracle database to Salesforce's and Heroku cloud PaaS

a businessman stepping on clouds © Rob hyrons –
As a sales-led organization, recruitment group SThree has a relatively young employee mix, with an average age of 26. This younger demographic has rapidly taken to the company's roll-out of a new set of cloud-based business applications. In fact, as word has spread throughout the group, those who've not yet gone live on the new system are increasingly impatient for their turn to arrive.

It's far cry from the last major application roll-out eight years ago, when the group had put in a heavily customized instance of Siebel CRM. That experience had left managers distrustful of what to expect this time round. But with employees quickly adopting new functionality such as mobile clients and built-in social collaboration, those fears have rapidly faded.

The decision to go cloud

It had been a desktop refresh early in 2014 that crystallized the decision to move off the Siebel system, explains Lance Fisher, SThree's CIO. Upgrading desktops to Windows 8 had meant upgrading the Siebel client-server software at the same time — a six-month project with a six-figure price tag that tied up six IT staff full-time and yet delivered no functional gain.

You've got a 2008 product, and just to keep going I've got a massive upgrade project.

After a six-month evaluation of potential alternatives, SThree decided to replatform the business to a Salesforce-based system. A year later the custom project had been developed and was ready to go live. The roll-out began last October, and by June, 2,300 users globally will be live on the system.

SThree is the parent group of a number of well-known specialist recruitment businesses, such as IT recruiter Computer Futures and other brands that focus on specific industries such as Progressive in oil & gas, Huxley in banking & finance, or Real Staffing in healthcare & life sciences. Listed on the London Stock Exchange, SThree had £849 million revenues ($1.2 billion) in its last financial year.

The demands of continuing to grow globally while dealing with increasing complexity and scale made it essential to replace the incumbent system. The company fills almost two thousand vacancies each month, as well as having ten thousand contractors on its books. An important part of its competitive advantage comes from an in-house candidate database comprising several million active CVs.

Platform choice

Although the decision to evaluate Salesforce was based on its CRM credentials, SThree realized during the evaluation that it hadn't been using Siebel's CRM functionality and the same would apply with Salesforce. What was of interest was the platform-as-a-service layer. Therefore, instead of signing up for Sales Cloud, the company ended up building its own functionality on, while transferring its CV database from an in-house Oracle server to Salesforce's Heroku platform (the CVs themselves are stored on Amazon Web Services).

Ability to integrate other services and applications was an important part of the specification, and much of the development time was taken up with integrations, in particular to the group's SAP finance and HR system of record. SThree also uses the Salesforce-native HCM system Fairsail, and Xactly for commissions. Having the flexibility to plug in external services from the recruitment world was also important, says Fisher.

I wanted PaaS because there are pockets of brilliance in the industry, there are technologies out there, I want to be able to plug and play.

Now that the new platform is in place, the ability to add new functionality and capabilities is a revelation. It's possible to create and deliver an application in as little as four days, says Fisher.

All that new technology that was closed to me in the Siebel world before, it's exciting to see what we can switch on.

Impact on IT

The new platform has meant a big change in the way IT works with the business. For one thing, there's less technology management required — some IT roles, such as database administrators, are no longer needed. For those that remain, understanding the business has become a critical requirement, along with strong management of vendor relationships.

But while the impact on IT has been huge, Fisher admits the team did oversell how much change the new system would bring to the average user's daily routine.

One thing we did wrong was tell them what a game changer it was going to be.

They still do the same things. It's about making your job quicker and faster. We got the PR a bit wrong.

Nevertheless, the faster refresh and development cycle — and a simplification of the landscape from three separate apps with Siebel to a single Salesforce environment — means that business teams can now get involved in deciding on what functionality is most useful to add next. A group of sixty key users from across the different brands is co-ordinated by a senior analyst from the IT team to exchange and evaluate ideas. Fisher says:

We've gone from [IT saying] 'You need to wait for six months,' to everybody has the same product and therefore the brands get together to decide on what they want from the next release.

You go from IT in control to the community in control.

My take

What I find fascinating about this story is that both the old and the new systems are heavily customized. The main difference between the two is that the incumbent system was on-premise while its replacement is in the cloud. But of course SThree would not have got the same outcome if the company had simply taken the old on-premise platform and moved it to the cloud. The remarkable shift in flexibility and business-IT alignment is due to the way the cloud system is architected to support custom business functionality while still allowing frequent refreshes of the underlying technology platform.

So this story is an excellent demonstration of a fundamental principle that you cannot simply move technology platforms from on-premise to the cloud without completely rearchitecting from the ground up for the cloud environment. That of course means big changes for IT, even if it doesn't make much difference to the end user's daily routine apart from an improved application experience. But once the new platform is in place, then it becomes easier to make changes to how the business operates. It's possible that the new platform will become a gamechanger for SThree's users, but that change still lies in the future.

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