SAP SuccessConnect 2019 - a preview and wishlist

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett September 12, 2019
SuccessConnect 2019 has to answer several big questions centred on payroll, customer enhancements and people analytics.

SAP SuccessConnect 2019 is just around the corner but what can we expect to hear on this occasion? For the answer to that, I called up Brandon Toombs, a 20- year veteran in the HR space who tethered his boat to SAP and now SuccessFactors many years ago. 

I think it's no secret that what's going to be front and center this year is going to be Qualtrics. You don't spend that type of money in the way that SAP did without wanting to show the marketplace and both prospective and current customers what the value is that they're going to be getting.

That struck me as a slight surprise but as Toombs and I agreed, managing your people is really the flipside of managing customer relationships. In that context, some of the sentiment analysis and survey capabilities Qualtrics brings to the table make sense. The question then comes whether today's crop of HR leaders are sufficiently educated in the complexities of managing people beyond the administration function. No doubt we'll hear from the show as to progress and the relative enthusiasm of HR leaders. 

On to the wishlist. In a post at LinkedIn, Toombs said:

The time has come for SuccessFactors to come clean on what its intentions are around payroll. For years, SuccessFactors leadership has alluded to the development of a next-generation payroll, and last year a SuccessFactors Payroll Product Manager published a blog that described what qualities a new generation of payroll would have. However, despite these hints over time, the official word from SuccessFactors remains that Employee Central Payroll the go-forward strategy for SuccessFactors payroll for the foreseeable future.

Playing coy with the future of payroll is no longer an option, and SAP has no one to blame but itself. By communicating an end of support for 2025 for on-premise payroll (unless you do the side-car S4 Upgrade), SAP lit a match to the platform underlying its massive SAP HR install base. It would be like Apple announcing an end to the iPhone in two years but not really saying what the plan is for its replacement. SAP HR teams are now squarely within the planning horizon for 2025. They deserve to know what the SuccessFactors payroll offering is going to look like when they wake up on January 1, 2025.

In our conversation, he expanded on that theme, arguing that the 2025 end of life deadline that goes across SAP ECC adds a sense of urgency to the decisions SAP and its customers need to make but that uncertainty is muddying the waters. In Toombs mind, it matters less if SAP keeps with its current products and/or lifts and shifts entirely to the cloud. I tend to agree. SAP is one of only a small handful of vendors that has a global payroll. Any redevelopment with cloud in mind can't take a 'lift and shift' approach. The benefits and value of a common data model are too great to ignore. But on the other hand, such a move would represent a massive undertaking. In summary, Toombs wants clarity but he also wants to know that SAP will:

...make the required investments to ensure that the connections between Payroll and the rest of SuccessFactors is as seamless as possible. 

Returning to the question of the 2025 EOL deadline, Toombs said that aside from a degree of confusion, 

I know SAP customers who have moved to competitors because of the 2025 deadline and lack f clarity about an integrated payroll and HR suite. 

While Payroll's future is top of mind, Toombs also wants to know about people analytics.

There's a lot of business value in people analytics but we've been delayed by the rollout oof HANA into SuccessFactors. I believe that work is now complete so now we should be able to go across application types such as HR, sales, materials management and so on since there should not be any problem with different databases. The problem is that while you and I might imagine value, they just don't seem to get that same message out there as clearly as I'd wish. 

Then there's the issue of customer enhancements. In a second LinkedIn story, Toombs wrote:

It’s a not-so-well-kept secret that SAP has never been well known for systematically taking customer feedback and incorporating in its products. In the past, this has served the product reasonably well because SAP's world-class system engineers were able to focus on their own vision of how the product best would work as a fully integrated solution. Customers could then enhance the product themselves where necessary. 

When SAP acquired SuccessFactors, it touted that part of the reason for the high purchase price was to get their “cloud DNA”.  However, this is one area where the practices of the acquiring company holds sway. David Bahn wrote an excellent article How Influential Is SAP Influence details how few SAP enhancement requests submitted via its influence site actually were making it into the product.

The story then goes on to analyze the amount of customer enhancement requests that have made it into the final product. SAP's comparative track record here is substantially subpar. My guess is that with SAP pulling so much resource into the HANA migration, there hasn't been enough development bandwidth to pursue customer requests at any serious level. What's more, attempting to add functionality while also re-platforming is dangerous at best. 

Be that as it may, Toombs wants a firm commitment to improving on the number fo requests that make it across the developer finishing line.

In the on-premises world, you can pretty much do anything you want but in the multi-tenant cloud world, you're really limited. Your hands are tied to what SAP can deliver. That's OK up to a point but I do think SAP needs to make a better job, especially on those customer enhancement requests that get plenty of votes. 
If SAP does that, I think that you're going to spur a lot of people that are going to be excited about getting involved in the enhancement process.

My take

SAP SuccessFactors has been a much bigger project than SAP might have imagined when it acquired the firm in 2012. Moving the entire suite over to HANA has been a huge task. The top of mind issues Toombs sees today are fair but they represent the accumulation of topics where SAP has been constrained. 

It would be great if SAP addressed each of these topics head on with time limited roadmaps. Do that and everyone walks away happy. Fail in that regard and it opens the door to more frustration.