SAP’s SuccessFactors platform is turning employees into a true business asset
Technology has kept up its blistering pace and transformed the way we work forever. It’s created jobs we never imagined could have existed, enabled more flexible working conditions and disrupted the monotonous nine to five with a steady rise of gig workers. By all accounts, technology has upended the norm when it comes to the world of work – but how can we make sure people aren’t left behind? In many ways, it seems it’s time for a human revolution with HR at its core.
Equipped with its latest platform SuccessFactors, SAP is leading the charge when it comes to workforce transformations. The end-to-end cloud-based platform isn’t like the other HR systems you may be familiar with. “Old HR systems were a back-office system by definition: they were about automating processes and risk management,” recalls Marc Havercroft, COO & Vice President of Strategy, HCM Cloud & Digital Strategy and Transformation at SAP. “Instead, SuccessFactors is built as a front-office system for individuals to use – not just HR but all employees.” This brings about another stark difference: a new way of thinking about the workforce. “Old HR systems perceived people as risks and, I don't know about you, but I don't go to work trying to bring the company down," laughs Havercroft. “Every day, I try and do a good job and come up with new ideas. SuccessFactors is about changing that dynamic of risk and saying ‘We believe our people are an asset not a liability’.” In this way, Havercroft says the platform is redefining the role of HR and “taking away a lot of the administrative burden so that you can focus on managing an individual’s entire career from being recruited all the way to being paid or promoted”.
Uniquely, SuccessFactors isn’t a standalone or individual application – it’s an end-to-end platform which allows data to float seamlessly from one point to another. By realising the power of data at every given chance, the opportunities are endless. It means that if you’re hired and fill in an application form, you don’t need to constantly re-fill out forms with the same information because it’s already in the firm’s core records. “We get data from every aspect of a person's interactions with the system,” Havercroft explains. “The other beautiful thing is that, as part of SAP, we can also pull data from other applications and areas of your business.” This allows you to identify trends: for instance, you might historically see a notable spike in resignations in the first quarter that you want to remedy. However, the characteristic that excites Havercroft most isn’t what SuccessFactors can tell you about the past but what it can predict in the future. “We can take historic data and see what will happen if you do the same thing going forward but, more importantly, we can also run scenarios.” In order to tackle the ever-growing data mountain, the firm sifts through data and zeroes in on delivering true business outcomes. “The first thing I always ask my customers before we get to the analytics is: what questions do you want to answer? This allows us to see what is irrelevant or quality data. It saves our customers a lot of time and returns greater insights more quickly and efficiently.” Working shoulder to shoulder with the customer is an essential part of SAP’s service. As a cloud based software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform, Havercroft highlights: “You’re getting a service on an ongoing basis which drives innovation.”
“We have a very strong history of being the technology partner of choice,” he adds. “SAP has been around for 50 years; we’re one of the biggest software companies in Europe and one of the most valued brands. If you’ve seen the pace of technology in recent years then you know that innovation is going to be critical to the survival of your business. Humbly I have to say when you look at SAP’s credentials and compare that to what businesses are looking for in a partner, SAP sits pretty well in that checklist.”
With a native app, SAP SuccessFactors solutions make it easy to engage with the workforce and complete HR tasks. People can access their SuccessFactors applications on the go and stay connected to their business anytime, anywhere. To keep up to date with the latest innovations, the team at SAP have developed a new app store where other technologies and startups in HR can build apps. Similar to the apps that can be added to an iPhone or Android device, these new apps offer a personalised experience. This not only keeps the spotlight on the employee experience, it also slashes the cost of integrating new third-party systems. “It depends on scale and complexity but typically integration is expensive and it takes time,” Havercroft observes. “With SuccessFactors you go to the app store, download and pay for the app – the integration cost is low and it’s as instantaneous as it is with your phone.”
“Rather than being that closed, historic technology company, SuccessFactors is an open API system – above all else we encourage innovation and app development,” he adds. “I’m really excited that we’ve created this community of really innovative people that aren't just fixing a problem and a process, they're coming up with new ways to measure culture.” One of the significant partnerships SAP has at the moment is with Thrive Global, a business founded by co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington. Under the strain of long work hours, Huffington collapsed due to sleep deprivation and exhaustion, and quickly recognised that many workers like her were facing a stress and burnout epidemic. Bringing corporate welfare to the fore, she created an app which is now available on the SuccessFactors platform. “It’s an example where businesses are putting the focus on people,” says Havercroft, noting that, for him, this is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job.
“It’s a great example of where we’re using software and technology to treat people as assets,” he adds. “What I’m most happy about is that I truly think it's helping people's lives in a changing world. It's helping them to not fear technology, but rather see it as an opportunity. It’s helping people realise that technology isn’t going to remove our jobs. Instead it’s helping us learn and follow passions. We've really concentrated on using the employee experience and turning that person into an asset, not as a corporate headcount, but as a productive, creative individual. And I think that's what we're most proud of.”
Supporting objective decision making at every stage of the HR lifecycle from recruiting to talent management, SuccessFactors is also helping businesses move beyond bias. Using powerful machine learning and analytics, the platform helps to detect mitigate bias across the talent management lifecycle, providing a catalyst for change. “Whether we realise it or not, sometimes unconscious bias exists within organisations, so to counter this we give our customers the option to remove identifiers like names, addresses, genders from the application process so that in effect, they’re only looking at a person’s skills and abilities.” In addition, the firm can also offer reports on diversity and pay differences whilst giving advice on activities or actions. Diversity matters: it offers a spectrum of ideas and opinions and it can also deliver real business outcomes too. A 2017 report by McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 15% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. “If you have a better, more diverse workforce you better reflect your customer base and you’ll be more commercial,” Havencroft adds.
At the beginning of this year SAP completed its acquisition of US software firm Qualtrics for US$8bn. It’s a momentous deal for the firm which will allow SAP to combine its operational data with Qualtric’s customer experience data and, in turn, will enable clients to include real-time feedback into their strategies. “It will provide what we call employee experience, those moments that matter,” Havencroft explains. “So how was your first day at work? How was your experience around the induction? To be able to get that real time experience data and then overlay that with operational data, it's going to be phenomenal.
“I think the addition of Qualtrics and employee experience data is going to give a layer of personalisation for the individual and then, in turn, the employer. It's really going to take that principle of people not as a risk but an asset to the next level.”