SAP SuccessFactors President Greg Tomb(top) and SVP Products Amy Wilson speak at SuccessConnect
SAP SuccessFactors President Greg Tomb(top) and SVP Products Amy Wilson speak at SuccessConnect

SAP SuccessFactors is unveiling a number of new products that play to the strengths of its parent. At its recent SuccessConnect annual conference, SAP SuccessFactors announced an upcoming release that combines reporting, analytics and workforce planning for budgeting and forecasting into People Analytics, a consolidated decision-support tool for HR executives.

Before a crowd of over 4,000 attendees, SAP SuccessFactors also announced the beta availability of a digital assistant that will become part of SAP SuccessFactors and is based on the SAP CoPilot Web application bot framework and SAP Leonardo Machine Learning capabilities to deliver a conversational user interface for employee and manager self-service, similar to what Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri and IBM Watson have done at home or at work. SAP SuccessFactors also announced a recent innovation with Intelligent Learning Recommendations that use SAP Leonardo to recommend learning and development. Additionally, SAP is the latest global instance of Employee Central to go live by running the core HR product on SAP HANA, its own in-memory database. Previously Employee Central was based on the BizX infrastructure that ran on Oracle database.

The latest developments should not come as a surprise since SAP SuccessFactors is considered an integral part of the vendor with the goal of sharing technologies and resources with the rest of the company. For instance, the workforce analytics product that SuccessFactors acquired from InfoHRM has been replaced by SAP Analytics Cloud, the de-facto BI product for SAP applications.

After all, SAP SuccessFactors is now being led by Greg Tomb, who became its president in July 2017 after a 19-year career at SAP running different parts of its sales operations. Unlike his predecessors with limited exposure to SAP prior to their appointments at SAP SuccessFactors, Tomb is a consummate SAP insider with a firm belief in the integrated value of SAP’s vast technology portfolio.

SAP SuccessFactors has continued to show momentum with number of Cloud HCM customers reaching 6,400 including the signing of 2,600 Employee Central accounts as of the second quarter of 2018. Two years ago, SuccessFactors had 4,800 Cloud HCM customers including 1,250 for Employee Central.

SAP SuccessFactors has become more vocal about the synergy between its HR applications and those from Fieldglass, the contingent labor management vendor acquired by SAP in 2014. For instance, American Airlines, one of the major customer references at this year’s SuccessConnect, is taking advantage of both Employee Central for payroll and Fieldglass to manage its army of 130,000 employees and 40,000 contractors.

SAP SuccessFactors’ Intelligent Suite strategy is manifesting at a time when the HCM applications market is experiencing pent-up demand in the name of HR transformation. For instance, there was noticeable participation by oil and gas customers, a key vertical for SAP, at this year’s SuccessConnect with rebounding oil prices and renewed interest by energy firms to evaluate new systems for hiring, retaining and training new and existing employees, some of whom are nearing their retirement age.

Against that backdrop is another round of market consolidation. Workday, its rival in the Core HR space, has recently acquired Adaptive Insights, a leading vendor in the Cloud-based enterprise performance management applications. Workday is expected to replace its own Planning product with Adapter Insights for financial and workforce planning. ADP, which has an on-again and off-again relationship with SAP, has acquired Celergo for its global payroll product for 150 countries. Despite the fact that ADP and SAP have partnered on different occasions including the former OEMing Core HR applications from the latter for reselling, global payroll is where ADP and SAP knock heads with the latter increasing the number of localized payroll solutions to reach 43 countries. Then there is the pending combination of Saba and Lumesse to form one of the largest HCM vendors for Core HR, talent management and learning.

As its competitors are busy integrating different technology stacks to figure out how best they will bring new and existing products to their customers, SAP SuccessFactors is honing in on the Intelligent Suite.

SAP may have an advantage over others when it comes to aggregating and making sense of massive amounts of data pertaining to financials, employees and operations – all of which will come in handy as the world is headed toward greater use of actionable insights made possible by an emerging class of artificial intelligence and machine learning applications.

In fact, the need to have a single source of truth is cited as one of the driving factors behind many HR transformation initiatives currently underway at SAP’s major customers including the decision by Microsoft to replace its on-premise HCM applications from SAP to the Cloud-based SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central for its 230,000 employees in 109 countries in a multi-year Core HR and onboarding project.

For customers like American Airlines and Microsoft, having a single source of truth from a robust platform like SAP SuccessFactors may well be a small step toward mitigating the risks associated with hiring the wrong people or not doing enough to the check on status of an employee after a speedy onboarding.

Of course, creating a new system of record in HR does not automatically translate into better employee engagement, job satisfaction, or even productivity. Additionally, the frequency of corporate reorganization to boost top line or profitability depending on the business climate has little correlation with the type of HR systems being used. In fact, one can even argue that some of the most innovative companies like Uber that can afford highly sophisticated HR systems often find themselves having a hard time retaining their talent.

SAP SuccessFactors executives maintained that the use of Employee Central on SAP HANA – delivering a high-performance HR system with more accurate and consistent data at a moment’s notice that renders obsolete the crunching of 1,300 often outdated data feeds – is helping the company become more agile and dynamic, especially in boosting learning and anticipating implications of any reorganization in areas like diversity inclusion and talent discovery.

To be fair, SAP SuccessFactors has done a remarkable job incorporating such attributes as elimination of unconscious bias in recruiting as well as continuous performance management into its products, all of which could result in boosting retention and employee engagement. Additionally, SAP SuccessFactors has invested heavily in its mobile user interface, announcing a new SAP SuccessFactors App for Android built in co-development with Google, in order to ensure high utilization of its software by end users as well as managers and administrators. To that end, the vendor has beefed up the support track of this year’s SuccessConnect by focusing more on Master training and HCM admin training.

In the future, any breakthrough in HR transformation could depend on the pervasive use of AI and machine learning technologies for retraining and upskilling employees and/or creating a flatter organization with employees accessing more useful insights that foster and improve team collaboration.

Similar to hundreds of HCM vendors that were present at this year’s HR Tech Conference held in the same week in the same city as SuccessConnect, SAP is taking a long view – with one executive likening it to the start of a seven-year journey to revolutionize the HCM applications market – on how the convergence of new technologies like AI and Cloud migration will help crystalize the vision of many HR executives eager to transform their operations from a static repository of personnel records to an intuitive and easy to use system that caters to different needs of its employees, managers, business partners and even customers.

What SAP is counting on is the Intelligent Enterprise, scaling out to meet the diverse needs of its users for valuable insights that not only could help companies do a better job attracting and retaining top talent, but also achieve sustainable results that could fundamentally reshape how business is being run.