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In this integration Q&A I interview Brandon Toombs, a leading SAP HCM expert who is currently supporting an implementation of the Integration Add-on 2.0 for SAP HCM and SuccessFactors. Brandon has also recently co-authored a SAP PRESS book on SAP ERP HCM Processes and Forms.

 

Hi Brandon, although you’re well known SAP HCM expert, can you give us a brief introduction to yourself and how you transitioned to SuccessFactors?

I have worked with SAP Talent Management on and off for several years, during which I have learned the value in having a fully integrated talent platform.  Concurrently, I have also watched the rise of multi-tenant architecture cloud Talent Management offerings.  I would often work with SAP sales teams as we competed for business against these cloud solutions.  During those "bake-offs" I came away impressed with the rate of innovation we would see in those cloud solutions.  So, when I learned that SAP had acquired the crown jewel of Talent Management (SuccessFactors) I knew that this was an avenue I wanted to pursue.

 

You were involved with testing of the Rapid Deployment Solution (RDS) packages for Add-on’s 1.0 and 2.0. Tell us about that.

The way I explain Rapid Deployment Solutions is that they are delivered solutions from SAP to the customer for a fixed price.  To make this possible, the scope is fixed as well.  Instead of sending you home "with a box with the TV and home theatre system", an RDS shows up with the equipment, installs it, and trains you on it.  In the context of SAP ECC to SuccessFactors, the RDS team sets up the integration in a short period of time and leaves you with the knowledge necessary to take it from there.

 

And what is the feedback you’ve had from clients?

In addition to assisting SAP with their RDS testing, I was on a team at Coeus Consulting that created an SAP-to-SuccessFactors RDS package.  It was qualified by SAP through a process that culminated with an oral presentation at SAPPHIRE.  I am therefore going to base my feedback based on conversations that I have had with customers to the Coeus RDS, which is similar to SAP's.  I can tell you that the feedback from customers has been very positive.  The ideal candidate has a mature SAP HR environment but is new to SuccessFactors BizX.  By using the RDS they can cross integration off the list of things that keep them up at night.  Even the customers I've spoken with who were too far down the path in their implementation to use the RDS could see the value in a pre-packaged approach and wished they could have benefitted from it.

 

You’re currently assisting a customer who is implementing Add-on 2.0 as part of a SuccessFactors Recruiting project. What are your thoughts on the package?

Recruiting is more challenging than many people realize because it requires 2-way integration: sending of employee/requisition data from SAP to SuccessFactors and the return of data to SAP for candidates to-be-hired.  I'm going to split up my comments to deal with the two processes separately.  I will try to be brief because I have a blog in the works where I discuss the Recruiting interface in-depth.  First though, a word about the overall architecture.

 

Overall Architecture

As of the time of writing, the interface requires use of SAP Process Integration (PI) middleware.  While the middleware itself is robust and battle-tested at numerous SAP clients, it may not be a tool that a given customer has already invested in.  SAP HANA Cloud Integration (HCI) is SAP's long-term strategy for the SAP to SuccessFactors integration.  Since HCI is "in the cloud", there is no requirement for an on-premise installation as is required for PI.  The problem is that HCI is not yet generally available.  HCI has been nearing completion of Ramp Up for the past few months, but there is no firm date that I have heard as of yet.

 

So the difficult question is what to do in the short term.  What I have seen is that customers that already have PI installed are proceeding with a PI-based installation.  For customers without PI currently installed, they are tending to wait on HCI, although some are moving ahead with PI installs.

 

The other option is to go with the file-based approach for employee data integration.  This approach can be used to send data across from SAP to SuccessFactors.  However, the new hire import into SAP currently does not have a file based interface.

 

Employee Data To SuccessFactors

The "core" of both the 1.0 and the 2.0 Add-ons are the process of sending employee data to SuccessFactors from SAP.  What's important about the Add-On employee data process is that it is able to send only employee data "deltas" to SuccessFactors.  I was surprised when I "peeked under the covers" and saw how SAP was accomplishing this.  In other areas, including the old E-Recruiting, SAP has relied on a process of writing a "pointer" every time the data changed, then reading that list of pointers (also known as "change pointers") to figure out what data needs to go across.  Instead of using change pointers for the new delta process SAP is actually comparing full data snapshots and comparing to the last full data snapshot.  When I saw this I was very skeptical that this would work for some of the large organizations that use SAP HR.  However, I have been pleasantly surprised at how fast this process happens.  Speaking with SAP support, they said for most companies this scanning process takes roughly 20 milliseconds per employee.  This means that you can scan a population with 100,000 of employees in 33 minutes and since sending changed employee data across to SuccessFactors takes only a few seconds,  this means that all but the largest organizations can send data across hourly or even faster.

 

Requisition Data To SuccessFactors

The requisition integration with SAP is not yet generally available.  From what I hear the process will be triggered by a vacancy creation on a position on SAP, although that could have changed.  This is scheduled to be delivered in the next couple of months, so it will be interesting to see what the final design looks like.

 

New Hires From SuccessFactors

With respect to the data coming back from SuccessFactors to SAP HR, the process works pretty smoothly as well: you set up an Ad-Hoc Report in SuccessFactors and "pull" it from SAP.  The data then gets stored in a staging table that is used to hire the employee.  The interface also includes messages back to SuccessFactors to change the status to "received" for the candidate and eventually to "hired" within SuccessFactors.

 

In order to allow the SuccessFactors-based new hire process to work with the widest range of customers as possible, the process was set up to work with a variant of PA40.  That means that the core logic that customers have configured into the Personnel Administration processes works with the SuccessFactors hiring process. The process also includes nice touches such as checking for duplicate employees as well as ways to deal with situations where incomplete data has come across from SuccessFactors.

 

How did you find the process of setting up the Add-on and was the available documentation sufficient in supporting this?

The Add-On setup is tricky if only because there are 3 different parts: SAP ECC, PI, and SuccessFactors.  In general the documentation does an effective job in explaining what needs to be done in SAP HR and PI.  The documentation is more limited on the SuccessFactors side.  This makes it critical that your HR team clearly communicates to your SuccessFactors implementation partner what needs to be included so that the SuccessFactors resource can incorporate the fields in the requisition/candidate and build the necessary Ad-Hoc reports.  Of course the easiest way to side-step this issue is to utilize resources that have been through the process already.

 

Did you find many gotcha’s during the implementation?

The overall "gotcha" to the process is the fact that the integration really requires collaboration among SAP HR resources, PI resources, and SuccessFactors resources from the start as the needs of the Integration Add-On really need to be considered early on in the design process.  For recruiting integration, all of the elements that need to be sent back across from SuccessFactors to SAP need to be sent across using a metadata interface into SAP.  This makes the new fields available for mapping of the SuccessFactors data to SAP.  To make things a little bit more challenging, there are certain fields (employee group, subgroup, and personnel area) that have to be included in the data coming across from SuccessFactors into SAP in order for the delivered New Hire Process to work right.  If the integration process starts after the design has already been finalized for the requisition/candidate, this can cause rework.

 

My recommendation is to ensure your implementation team is aware of the requirements for the SAP integration early on.  This is where the RDS approach fits in nicely as you can have the RDS team come in and set up the baseline integration early on and do the Knowledge Transfer.  This serves as a good jumping off point for the rest of the implementation.

 

Would you say the package is “complete” for this process, or are there areas where you see enhancements or improvements?

My primary complaint with the SuccessFactors to SAP new hire process is that it does not integrate with the newly developed HR Renewal Infotype screens or even HCM Processes and Forms.  For customers who have invested in Renewal/HCM Processes and Forms, this will be disappointing.  For example, one of my current customers is having to build out customization so that the data can be moved from the staging table for the New Hire interface to HCM Processes and Forms hiring process.

 

For the employee data interface to SuccessFactors, the main complaint I hear from customers is that while SuccessFactors itself can store numerous custom fields, the interface into SuccessFactors is currently restricted to allow only 15 custom fields to be interfaced in.  For customers with unique data needs, this can be a challenge.

 

And as I mentioned above the main gap right now is the lack of integration between SAP org management and the creation of the requisition. This will hopefully be addressed in the coming weeks as the Requisition interface is scheduled to be delivered in Q3.

 

If you could give one piece of key advice to a customer who is going to implement the add-on, what would it be?

Consider the integration requirements at the start of the project so that those needs can be incorporated into the design early on.  A "co-education" where the SAP HR teams learn details of SuccessFactors and your SuccessFactors resources learn some of the key requirements within SAP is ideal.

 

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

As a shameless plug, implementing either the SAP or Coeus RDS integration packages is a great way to accelerate the process.

 

Thanks for your time Brandon.

You're welcome Luke.

 

 

Brandon can be followed on Twitter via @BrandonToombs. I can also be followed via @LukeMarson.

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