I spent last week in San Francisco attending SuccessConnect which is the middle of three SuccessFactors events with the last happening this week in London in which fellow SAP Mentors Luke Marson and Martin Gillet are attending. I started by attending a ½ day analyst event which SuccessFactors did a good job of having high level executives speak about the key areas and topics. A majority of the information was later disclosed during the conference but there were several times where it was gently reminded content was covered under NDA and could not be shared. The executives were refreshingly honest during the Q&A and given that I am not an analyst it was obvious that I brought a unique perspective and different line of questions to the table. The general conference took place during the next two days with a typical conference schedule of keynotes in the morning and in a afternoon a series of 7 different session tracks for the 2000 estimated attendees.
Looking back the positives things that jumped out were the customer keynotes by Hilton and Under Armour, Lars and Dimitri's keynotes, motivational speaker Ben Saunders on this journey to the North Pole, 20/20 Workplace on Millennial workers, impressive knowledge of the SuccessFactors speakers talking about SuccessFactors products, getting to explain the SAP Mentor program about 100 times, the passion customer attendees felt toward SuccessFactors, and the true excitement of almost every SuccessFactors employee up and down the organization about being part of SAP. The negative things that jumped out were the facilities seemed too small as many sessions I attended were standing room only, scheduling the PWC Keynote after the motivation speaker was a mistake, inability to start on time as both opening keynotes were over 30 minutes late and poor knowledge of the SuccessFactors speakers talking about SAP products (i.e. HANA) or answering questions coming from SAP HCM customers. There were five important topics that I want to cover in more detail.
Employee Central – It was extremely obvious that SuccessFactors is committed to building out their core HRMS offering and have recently added over 200 SAP employees from Waldorf to the development team. Some new features that will be included in the July release are absence management, mass change, global assignment, position management and payroll for ten countries. My initial view is Employee Central is very light in functionality compared to what is currently offered in SAP Personnel Administration and Organizational management but after the July release and the massive investment in this product it will quickly get to where it can support the core needs for most large global customers. It will never have all the identical features that SAP HCM offers and I personally think that is a good thing. One thing that jumped out to me was there is no SuccessFactors provided solution to handle positive time recording which is a key part of most core HRMS suites. I would like to see the SuccessFactors team make a firm roadmap commitment to develop this functionality although in the interim they offer customers a 3rd Party solution partnering with Workforce Software
It is important to note that SuccessFactors signed several large new global customers with 50K+ employees for Employee Central last quarter although they have not chosen to make that information public. I mentioned to both CMO Kara Wilson at SuccessConnect and the SAP Marketing team at SapphireNow that I believe it is a mistake not publicizing these new “wins” as many of their HR technology competitors are actively promoting their new customers.
Payroll in the Cloud – SuccessFactors is going to offer payroll for 10 countries in the July release with a goal of expanding it to over 50 countries in the coming year. The foundation of the solution will be SAP Payroll which I have long believed is the most complete global offering in the marketplace for some of the reasons I outlined in SAP Payroll under Appreciated by Forrester. From a technology standpoint it will deviate from SuccessFactors Multi-Tenant architecture and will be delivered as a SuccessFactors hosted solution requiring customers to use Employee Central as their core HRMS system. Having focused on SAP Payroll for the past 14 years I can understand why they chose to use SAP’s current offering as a starting point but think longer term believe they will have to make a commitment to re-architect and build a multi-tenant global payroll solution which will be a very complex undertaking. I am looking forward to a more detailed briefing on the payroll product prior to its July 27 release as there were many questions that the SuccessFactors team was unable to answer.
Innovation – In talking to Dmitri Krakovsky, Vice President of Product Management, it was obvious he was like a kid in a candy store given the 78% increase in R&D budget and the 200 additional resources on his team. The amount of innovation I saw being delivered over the past 6 months and on the near term roadmap was extremely impressive. SuccessFactors delivers new functionality on quarterly release that customers can switch on when they are ready and from the SAP HCM perspective the depth of functionality in each release is similar to what customers have been used to getting in each enhancement package.
The SuccessFactors team has a mission to make everything SMART which stands for Social, Mobile, connected to Analytics, have Rich integration and be Toy-like to the user which you can see firsthand in their future product vision or as Lars described it as a “dream app” at the 29 minute mark of his SapphireNow presentation. I had a great conversation with Mike Tschudy, who is leading the team working on this vision which is code named “Bubble Gum”, and I am optimistic there will be some real exciting things unfold in the coming 12-18 months.
While SuccessFactors is doing a great job in offering new and innovative functionality there is a lot of room for improvement in letting their customers know about it. In every session I attended when the speaker was recapping what had been delivered in last few updates it was very obvious it was "news" to many in the audience. This is also a problem that SAP HCM has had over the years with their customer base and an area I hope to help the SuccessFactors team with as I have some great ideas to help spread the information.
Mobility – It was repeatedly mentioned that Lars has directed the product team at SuccessFactors to have a mobile first approach on everything they do and that commitment was repeatedly on display at SuccessConnect. Dmitri Krakovsky spent virtually his entire keynote showcasing new functionality on various mobile devices and every session I attend had a portion dedicated to mobile and it is a huge part of the future product roadmap. I heard several speakers mention “you can’t have a modern UX without strong mobile functionality” and it is something I strongly agree with.
It is important to note that all the SuccessFactors mobile functionality is included in the base user license which means there is no additional cost. I was very impressed with the mobile first development approach, the existing mobile functionality, what is coming on the roadmap across BizX and Employee Central and fact that there no need for customers to purchase platforms, device management and middleware to use any of it.
New Meta-Data Framework - One thing that became clear to me from the first day is that SuccessConnect is focused towards HR business users which I found very refreshing. That said the last session I attend called “SuccessFactors’ Cloud Architecture” contained a wealth of information on how the underlying technology is being updated in a very positive way to help support more complex business requirements. I have been watching Naomi Bloom for several years try to educate people on how important it is for HR technology vendors to have a properly built object model. I won't lie that having spent my entire career in SAP it was hard for me to really fully understand the benefits but the good news is light bulb "finally" went off after seeing a live demo of the new meta-data framework that is planned for next year. Customers will be able to create objects that will have effective dating, reporting, security, translations, rule based validations and approvals within a configuration user interface and have the ability to import/export between environments. In the SAP world when new business requirement cause a change in the core it can often be very complex requiring configuration/development/conversions and from the functionality I saw SuccessFactors has planned it will be a lot easier.
All in all it was an extremely enjoyable and informative event which I would highly recommend. SAP customers considering an investment in any of the SuccessFactors offerings should plan to send business and IT representatives to this event in 2013. On a side note I think SAP and SuccessFactors owe it to their joint customers to be clear and set expectations on what they can expect at SapphireNow versus SuccessConnect versus SAP TechEd so they can allocate the appropriate budget and right mix of employees to each.
The most memorable and emotional moment was when SuccessFactors Founder and SAP Executive Board member Lars Dalgaard went off script during his keynote and delivered a heartfelt and moving story about his two and a half year old son and some of the challenges his family is going through. Recently I wrote SAP Career - You Owe it to Pay it Forward and charities involving children and cancer have always been near and dear to my heart. With that in mind I set up a HR Technology Donation Page for an upcoming Leukemia Light the Night Walk as well as made a personal donation and time commitment. I understand that charity is an individual thing but it would be great if the SAP, SuccessFactors and HR Technology community can band together for this great cause so please consider making a donation.