SuccessFactors' Next Act

Despite losing its brilliant head of products, Dmitri Krakovsky, to Google about 10 months ago, SAP SuccessFactors continues to build out Dmitri's road map of new products without him and come up with new surprises covering the entire employee lifecycle.

By Bill Kutik

The HCM Big Three -- SAP SuccessFactors, Workday and Oracle -- continue to innovate at a frantic pace despite sometimes being as hard to turn as an oil supertanker.

In the old days, start-ups used to mock how long it took any of them to finish a new application. But it now takes them much less time and when they do finish one, the product is often bulletproof and works in many countries around the world. Something start-ups always forgot.

Do I believe in the cult of personality when it comes to new products? Sort of. Workday HCM would not be Workday without Senior Vice President of Products Leighanne Levensaler and her team. Nor would Oracle HCM be the same without Divisional Vice President Gretchen Alarcon and hers. Their new products will be in future columns.

Dmitri Krakovsky had a nearly seven-year run as head of products for SuccessFactors before decamping for a stealthy start-up called bebop that Google acquired before he reported for work! During his tenure, he:

         managed his end of the SAP acquisition;

         took responsibility for the legacy on-prem HCM software that was not his favorite;

         with head of development Adam Kovalevsky, dealt with the 700 or so SAP software engineers assigned to build out Employee Central (his core HR offering); and

         adjusted to three bosses until lucking out with President Mike Ettling.

He also created an impressive product road map for the company now called SAP SuccessFactors. At its annual United States user conference, part of the international SuccessConnect series, the company made clear it is not only finishing what Dmitri started but is going well beyond that.

Most importantly is the re-invention of the application SuccessFactors was built on -- Performance Management -- probably most responsible for the widespread use of what's now a substantially discredited model for employee ranking.

The first part of the re-invention -- immediate employee feedback through continuous communication, rather than once a year -- was generally available in February 2016. Not widely adapted beyond the original eight users, it is now part of a pilot project under way at SAP involving 8,000 of its 80,000 employees.

Those banner newspaper and magazine headlines you've been reading about companies scrapping traditional yearly performance reviews (including one about SAP) actually mean they're probably doing some sort of pilot with a portion of their workforce. That's the case with SAP SuccessFactors' largest cloud client to date, Accenture, testing its new "performance achievement" with 16,000 of its 380,000 employees around the world. Watch Accenture CLO Rahul Varma explain it on the current episode of Firing Line with Bill Kutik.

Continuing to reach for the holistic workforce, the application's succession and development pieces now allow external candidates from the recruiting application to be made part of the planning process.

The new performance module sits on top of the old one for companies still wanting that 1-to-5 ranking for compensation. The rest of the application -- including execution and productivity, employee development and assessment -- will be generally available in February 2017.

All Big Three are re-inventing learning, now at various stages. SAP has gotten to the point of adding the e-commerce functionality that always made the LMS stand apart. Companies frequently use it to make money selling training to dealerships, franchises and other clients and partners. SAP added it by buying a company called hybris, with an open-channel marketing and selling product, and embedding parts of it into the LMS.

"It handles from tweet to receipt," Mike says cheerfully, noting that it's going to be available next year.

The build out of Intelligent Services continues for the third year with 440 customers already signed. Division Vice President David Ludlow says the most popular ones cover parts of recruiting and onboarding, and together they now number 40. Simply put, Intelligent Services is self-service on steroids, designed to automate all the still-manual transactions that ripple out from an employee making any change to the system.

The new heads of product, David Ragones and Thomas Otter, introduced S/4 HANA Finance Cloud, a financials module designed to integrate with Employee Central and HCM -- reuniting the two domains that had been sold together for 40 years. See my annual "horse race" feature next month for more details. But SAP is showing the combined power of the two with a Workforce Planning application available next year, and already announced by Workday, too.

Thomas also announced candidate relationship management for recruiting coming in 2017. That's a late start for best of breeds in talent acquisition, but about par for other major ATSes. Thomas said it might be a third module added to the current offering of Recruitment Management and Recruitment Marketing -- or might be absorbed by the second.

Most importantly, he emphasized it would have campaign management, a function that other large vendors, including Cornerstone OnDemand, still lack. And he predicted it would be functional enough to beat Avature, the long-time best-of-breed leader in CRM.

Previously an outsourcing executive, Mike Ettling seemed most proud to announce a Managed Cloud Payroll, aimed at the company's 7,000 on-premise payroll users. When they want to move to the cloud, this program would allow them to bypass a new implementation with a "lift and shift" of payroll to one of three certified partners: Accenture, NorthgateArinso and EPI-USE. Customers would still manage the database.

The hottest thing in the consumer world (aside from driverless cars) seems to be an "Intelligent Assistant" (think a smarter Siri or Alexa) or perhaps something more narrow from SAP called "Conversational HR." Brought to you by the magic of machine learning, the technology and this application are still evolving.

The idea is to integrate third-party software (including SAP) into Slack, the hot social collaboration tool that many outside the Valley have never heard of. The promise is that you can more easily communicate with teams, and reduce meetings and email. All within a year. No surprise that with other vendors working on assistants of varying intelligence, too.

But give SAP credit for being the first to try to create what it calls "Business Beyond Bias." This is similar to an advanced spell-checker but focused on replacing words that bring subtle gender bias into job descriptions, recruiting, onboarding, learning and talent. Also coming next year.

"Aggressive, Outspoken, Assertive." Words in all caps blaring from the show's screens. Homage to Dmitri? I thought. No, words considered compliments when applied to men, but frequently considered criticisms when applied to women. Sad but true. But what do you get by eliminating the words when you really want to change the thinking of people applying them to each gender? Personally, they describe all my favorite women.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chair emeritus of the 19th Annual HR Technology Conference & Expo, back at Chicago's McCormick Place, Oct. 4-7, 2016. The first afternoon at 3:30 p.m., he will host a discussion with two other veteran industry observers: Naomi Lee Bloom and Brian Sommer. Watch Naomi on the 21st episode of his broadcast-quality video series, Firing Line with Bill Kutik, about how to reduce the time and expense of selecting and implementing HCM software.


Sep 12, 2016
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