SAP SuccessFactors announced an all-new conversational interface for its HCM software suite this week. But delegates at its annual SuccessConnect conference could be forgiven for not noticing. Far more fanfare was devoted to promoting SAP's recent acquisition Qualtrics, and how it can be used to monitor employee experience.
The unifying theme was that this is all about experience. SuccessFactors no longer wants to be known as an HCM vendor, but as a purveyor of human experience management (HXM). This reflects the new priority in business, as President Greg Tomb told the opening keynote audience:
We are at an inflection point where organizations are raising people to a board level priority ... This is the time for Human Resources to step forward as the strategic partners to CEOs. That means we truly need to understand the experience of our people.
SAP's answer to this challenge — across all its applications, not just
HCM sorry HXM — is to marry data from its traditional operational focus — 'O data' — together with data gathered about what people are experiencing — 'X data'. Qualtrics is SAP's recommended tool for gathering that X data, but the real value comes from putting the X and O data together.
Tomb discussed a case in point where SuccessFactors had recently realized some of its rising stars were leaving the sales team. While sales leaders were saying this could be solved by raising commissions, a different picture emerged when the X data was cross-referenced with O data on length of tenure. It revealed that recent recruits were leaving because of a poor experience. When those issues were fixed, the attrition dropped off. The moral of this tale?
You cannot O-Data your way to a best-in-class workforce.
Next-generation conversational UX
Of course one important aspect of employee experience is the systems that people use. This is where the new conversational, AI-powered user experience (UX) comes in. It's a couple of years since SuccessFactors started talking about this next-generation UX being on the roadmap. This week it took center stage — the image at the top of the story depicts its full scope — and the ambition goes far beyond the confines of traditional HCM. The aim is to provide an experience that brings together many different roles and functions, as Amy Wilson, Senior Vice President of Product, explained on stage:
These experiences transcend traditional boundaries and are intertwined with each other. In fact, we're transcending boundaries not just within traditional HCM, but beyond. When we chart human experience journeys, it includes things like IT, procurement, travel, work, and even life. We call this the Intelligent Enterprise and it is an essential element of the HXM platform.
By now, some attendees were anxious to hear more details of this new offering, but were disappointed to learn that it currently remains more of a vision than a deliverable reality. The new UX is set for release at an unspecified date in 2020 — and much of its ability to connect beyond the realms of HCM is dependent on those other applications already running on SAP Cloud Platform, which underpins the Intelligent Enterprise.
With many customers still running HCM and other applications on-premise and already worrying about how they'll move to the cloud ahead of the current support deadline of 2025, these timelines offer scant comfort.
As all of this sank in, opinion was divided as to whether the keynote had delivered the SuccessConnect experience that attendees really wanted. Not all faces were smiley:
— Chris Paine (@wombling) September 17, 2019
While there were demos of the new UX in action — a candidate application process and a job requisition process — most of the use cases presented during the keynote were examples of how Qualtrics could be applied to HR processes. But there was little evidence of customer adoption — all were internal examples from SAP itself. Just one customer of the three brought on stage was using Qualtrics for HR.
How Tec de Monterrey uses Qualtrics
Education non-profit Tec de Monterrey started using Qualtrics last year to survey opinion among its 30,000 employees. The organization is so on-message that it has a Chief Employee Experience Officer, Hernan Garcia, who explained how Qualtrics had made a difference:
You can have a lot of different analysis comparing the different segments of population, or cities, or ages. It's very easy to identify those heat maps and make decisions — where do you need to focus more, pay attention and decide changes.
Now Tec de Monterrey has identified what SAP calls "moments that matter" in its employee journey map. It plans to use Qualtrics to measure these ten crucial moments to make sure that they are really great experiences for the employee. It's all part of an initiative to transform the employee experience, Garcia explained:
The employee experience is not only the HR function, but every single process an employee, or even a candidate, experiences in their day-to-day interaction with the University. What we decided is that we were going to redefine all the different touch points employees have with the organisation.
We worked with the accounting department, with procurement, with IT, the contact centres, with shared services, to identify the processes that were not adding value to the employee or to the university. We started changing the way we were designing the processes and the interaction.
This conforms to SAP's recommended 4-stage roadmap for transitioning from the old transactional world of HCM to the promised land of HXM. The first step is dissatisfaction with the current model. Next comes the creation of frictionless interactions. The third step is to define, measure and refine those crucial moments that matter. The final state is a shared culture of "sustained enthusiasm."
I can go along with the vision here — it's aligned with trends towards XaaS, digital teamwork and frictionless enterprise that I've identified elsewhere. Organizations do need to transform fast, and they won't succeed unless they engage their people in that transformation.
The problem is that the message comes across from SAP as a sales pitch for Qualtrics that doesn't address the core challenges customers are facing with their current SAP technology stack. In part that's because those incumbent systems require a huge effort to bring them up-to-date, and yet the target state-of-the-art is constantly advancing. Now there's a completely new UX waiting in the wings that assumes a lot of cross-functional integration across multiple enterprise applications.
As a keynote experience, this year's SuccessConnect certainly had a 'wow' factor. I'm sure it delighted many. But as I recently observed, customer experience alone isn't worth much if the ultimate outcome is a disaster. There's a big gap to close between the vision shown on stage this week and the practical reality that customers will ultimately experience. Can SAP deliver? The jury's out on that.