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SAP SuccessFactors Wild West ecosystem - a conversation with Jarret Pazahanick

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy August 20, 2019
Jarret Pazahanick is often cast as a bad boy for his ongoing criticism of SAP/SuccessFactors. That belies his passion for a topic that stretches over 20 years.

jarret speaking
Jarret Pazahanick

With a Twitter handle of @SAP_Jarret, there can be no doubting Jarret Pazahanick's passion for SAP and SuccessFactors in particular. That's further reinforced by the fact that over the last few years, he has more or less single-handedly built a 41,000 person strong LinkedIn community that focuses on SAP/SuccessFactors HR. While his expertise is rooted in the 30-year old SAP payroll, he cares deeply about all things SAP and especially about customer success. 

It is in that context that Pazahanick and I engaged in a long (as in much longer than usual) conversation about the SAP/SuccessFactors ecosystem and the disconnects he sees between the SAP messaging and activity on the ground. It was at times a tad irreverent and amusing but with a serious streak running through it. 

Your LinkedIn tips

Before we get into the meat of that conversation, I asked him to explain how he keeps the LinkedIn group alive and kicking. The TL;DR - it's all about persistence and having a daily routine of reading in and around the world in which he is interested, scanning hundreds of RSS feeds and picking out the best and then curating that content. Pazahanick credits Bill Kutik, often regarded as the 'grand old man' of HR for helping him find his LinkedIn mojo. If you have little time but are interested in that topic then take the first 11 minutes to pick up common-sense tips for your curation journey. Onwards...

Passion for success

While we focus on the Wild West element, which Michael Doane had in his Blue Book 20 years ago, both Pazahanick and I are keen to emphasize that it is a passion for customer success that is uppermost in our minds. However, while Wild West behavior is prevalent in software generally, Pazahanick believes that it is unusually so in SAP. That should not surprise. When you claim to touch north of 77-78% of the world's transactions then it is likely that you will be over-represented. But Pazahanick goes well beyond that when he says:

I have colleagues in every major SI, some of whom are still working on SAP projects and some of whom are working on Workday or Oracle so I get to hear much more than people might realize about what's working and what's not. What I really want to do is find out what is succeeding so that I can in turn push SAP to success because that's the world in which I live. 

In my view, that's the right way to use what amounts to competitive intelligence rather than the way CI is most often used - as a stick to beat up the competition. Does SAP appreciate that? It is hard to tell but on the matter of facts versus opinion, Pazanhanick says that SAP/SuccessFactors have never returned to him on matters of fact. 

Compare and contrast

We then got into comparisons with major competitors and Workday/Salesforce in particular. I pointed out that what I see at Workday and Salesforce is the primacy and focus on the success of the individual and how that plays out. Pazahanick asked whether I see parallels at SAP with CEO McDermott's ongoing mantra of empathy alongside the X and O messaging. Frankly, I don't because, for me, there are too many disconnects between the messaging and what we hear among users, user groups and other interested parties. Pazahanick has a specific beef with partners: 

There's countless examples of where they're not understanding their own customers, but they're out there saying this (X- O) is a brand new category and trust us we're going to redefine this category and I don't know if they have that trust out there with the right people and I don't think they understand their customer in the way they believe. Let me give you a quick example. When you go down the cons, SAP had the lowest ratings of the customers that they provided as references to Gartner, SuccessFactors has fallen further and further down the chain behind Oracle and Workday.

Instead, Pazahanick notes a strong push to get customers signed and in cases where it's not for the long term benefit of the customer, scenarios where they know the solution is not a good fit for the customer.

I get that there's a lot of pressure but the rush to sell and hit numbers is more important than delivering a successful customer outcome. I hear people complain that the Workday 98% satisfaction rate is a made-up number but then if it is so easy to achieve that then why hasn't SAP produced its own number? Another example, I'll get a call to find a referenceable SuccessFactors pharma customer and it will take months. Workday will have four or five inside a couple of weeks. I keep coming back to it - customers sell to other customers. Each industry is different but they follow each other and these take the lead for the next level down. I don't think they're committed to at least police the ecosystem to help customers transform their business in the same way that others are. 

Enhancements? You gotta be kidding

Strong words for sure but evidenced in a variety of ways. One of those recently turned up in a LinkedIn post by David Bann wherein he said: 

Since 2016, 13 976 requests have been submitted. 257 of these have been delivered by SAP – that’s 1.8%. These stats were quite an eye-opener for me – I’m not sure if I was being naive, but I expected that a much higher percentage of requests would have been delivered. I was confused at the fact that only 18.3% of delivered requests actually had the required minimum 10 votes...

...I know that SAP cannot possibly deliver on all of the submitted requests, but looking at these statistics, it tells a compelling story. The message I get from the numbers, is that if you log an Influence Request for SuccessFactors, and get the required minimum 10 votes, then you have a 0.34% chance that SAP will deliver your request. A sobering thought.

The question has to be - SuccessFactors - are you really listening?

In volume 51 of an email newsletter entitled Employee Central Intelligence (subscribe here), Brandon Toombs says of his efforts to move the enhancement needle forward:

Perhaps the most frustrating part of all is that I feel like the enhancement process itself is well designed and well run.  The problem is that there simply seems to be very little budget available to implement the suggestions.  It's like a hospital that has invested and built a world-class triage system but then staffed only one surgeon to deal with the patients. 

Therefore, I will be suspending publicizing enhancements in this newsletter.  This will continue until I see some sign that there is a more substantial commitment from SuccessFactors to enhance their solution based on customer feedback in a meaningful way.  

SIs and the kerrching factor

On the issue of SIs, Pazahanick repeated the oft moaned about the relationship between SAP and its SIs. He noted that:

As far as I know, there is no public record of any SI being punished for poor implementation. Some of them that have a record of failure are winning Pinnacle Awards - how does that work? I think a lot of times SAP SIs see customers as more of a cash cow in that they will linger on with engagements. What is SAP doing to stop this? Only this week I saw something that said heh partners we have a $200 billion economy opportunity for you. And what about all these stories on their LinkedIn channel talking about partner first. Isn't it ludicrous that we're not hearing customer first? These firms don't eant streamlined projects, they're expecting to make a lot of money from these. 

My take

Listening to Pazahanick is sometimes depressing. It seems as though much of what we discussed falls into the 'broken record' department of rough relationships and failed lessons, repeated every now and again but with little demonstrable progress. 

Having said that, we closed out our conversation with the hope that SAP will find ways to thread its own transformation in ways that better meet customer aspirations. 

And for those of you who got this's the full recording: 

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