Main content

Self sovereign career identity - a conversation with Meg Bear, SAP SuccessFactors

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy November 16, 2020
What if you owned your employment history and skills credentials in a way that was both trusted and portable? That would be useful and powerful for both employers and individuals,

Around 18 months ago, I spoke with Yvette Cameron on the topic self-sovereign career identity. Yvette is someone I've known for many years as a deep thinking HCM analyst and later SVP strategy at SAP SuccessFactors. It was in the context of her latest role as co-founder Velocity Career Labs that we spoke. At the time self-sovereign identity was an entirely new concept to me and one that I struggled to understand. Fast forward to last month and I saw that Meg Bear was talking about the topic with Yvette. Meg is head of product engineering and operations for SAP SuccessFactors product portfolio. The following video provides the essence of what was said at the time:

Our conversation started with Meg giving me the context of how SAP SuccessFactors views the world of HR in 2020 as follows:

What we believe for the 2020 evolution of our market is what we call human experience management, which is taking everything that we've always done, but adding clarity about the critical role that individuals play. So thinking not just about HR functions, but thinking about people as levers for business outcomes, and putting people at the centre of that so that you get both better line of sight but also better lift because when you think about kind of how organisations are changing, they're moving from everything being command and control to more bottoms up.

The pandemic has moved that general idea forward significantly as HR leaders need to thin, about the impact of working from different environments than the office. Wellness for example in all its forms has taken center stage. Employee engagement as a measure to assess likely changes in productivity fits into this picture. 

These are topics that really say around the edge of what HR does but which now are seen as central to ensuring that the workforce is in the best shape possible. But when you look at the future, it is much more dynaqmic and has to be adaptble. You saw that i nthe early days of the pandemic and it's only going to continue.

That an interesting view as the opinions I see fall into two camps. On the one hand, I see leaders focusing on the need to get back to cube life. On the other hand, I hear leaders saying we will never go back to what we did before and that the workforce will be much more fluid. Meg is talking about a slightly different situation where it is the organization that has to be more adaptable because control over the working environment has moved to the individual. So then how do you assemble a well-qualified workforce, hiring people you may not meet in the hiring process let alone in real-life? At least not so often. What about the changes in people's roles as more automation creeps into the workplace? 

As you look at how things are going forward, you start to see that it's not just the jobs that are changing dramatically, but the function within the job. So I might stay in the same job role from an HR point of view. But the things that are required of me to do this job are changing. So the skills that I needed last year to do this job might not be the skills I need next year. If I were just to look at how SAP is adapting with our with our move to the cloud, of course, we're investing much more in technologies that we didn't see as important just a few years ago but which today are vital to the future. In turn, those techonlogies require new skills. 

Unsurprsingly, the dynamic and increasingly complex nature of how work is evolving presents challenges for both employers and employees, made all the more so by the fact most service industry workers are operating in remote locations. Meg argues that for the individual to succeed, they need agency in order to show competence, request training, and demonstrate success.

In Meg's view, that's where Velocity fits in. 

The Velocity piece is a way for me as an individual to own my credentials, to say, these are the things that I know. And these are the things I've done. And if I can own that, I have a lot more interest in it. And I can use it in a lot more interesting ways. In the past, that might have just been something that I built as reputation within a company, I can now make that a more dynamic and portable reputation I can take with me anywhere.

Today, and in the context of hiring, the focusa is on confirming or proving who you are as an individual with a right to work, whether you have a criminal record, whether you achieved the qualifications you say you have. These are information requirements that get repeated over and over as people move from place to place. These pieces of information are also error prone for many reasons. For example, on qualifications, some universities have readily accessible records while others do not. The Velocity construct turns that entire problem on its head, giving the individual ownership of their credentials in a trustless network that uses blockchain technology. 

Velocity offers the individual the opportunity to decide who gets to see what and so allows the individual to tailor sharing of the credentials depending on the role under consideration. Rather than individuals being force marched to include each and every work experience in a CV or resumé, they can focus on what matters for the job or role they want to pursue. From the employer side, the information shared is deemed to be trusted since the sources of data used are inherently trusted and validated. The problem is that I don't see a level playing field for validated information. Meg agrees but says the current ways of validating credentials is fundamentally broken so there is a real need today for an alternative way to obtain credentials. 

This is a future state and it needs to be an industry approach. Here I tihk that Velocity has done a great job bringing companies and institutions together into its foundation which is based on an open network. 

Meg sees people's development as another scenario where Velocity makes sense. 

We can all offer learning, we can encourage training but who owns the outcome? If I as the individual feel I have some agency in that then I'll surely be more encouraged to come forward for assistance. As an employer, I can look at the cerdentialed record as opportunities to develop a person's skillset for the next thing where I need people. What we're really talking about is having a better data construct that helps us predict and evolve how we interact with people.

I wonder how this myriad of possibilities translates into solving the problems companies and organizations are working through today. Meg acknowledged that the overall vision of self sovereign career identity may seem futuristic buy she say that SAP SuccessFactors customers ask for help with marketplaces, upskilling and reskilling is hiig on the agenda. 

Having a repository for trusted credentials which I can query for what our customers are asking fits into those needs so yes, we are talking future state but the need is present. 

My take

There are many examples of marketplace style sites. LinkedIn acts as one, Upwork as another. Velocity and the principles behind it represent an opportunity that rarely exists: the creation of a two-sided market controlled by millions of individuals acting in their best interests rather than by a network owner that hoovers up all the value. Velcoity's success will, in part, depend in the goodwill of firms like SAP, Oracle and Unit4 (who are members of the Velocity Foundation)  that can count on millions of employees among its SuccessFactors customer base. But it will need many more network participants on both the supply and demand side of the global employment market. Vendors who take advantage of the Velocity technology will need to ensure that the portability which Velocity encourages is reflected in the data which internal apps can consume. 

A grey colored placeholder image