Implementing SuccessFactors Employee Central with a SAP background

My background is technical and focused on SAP, so invariably cloud implementations were going to bring new challenges. Looking for knowledge on what to expect in terms of project management I found there are a few blogs (the new manual), some notes on Employee Central project implementations, each giving details and recommendations on how to be successful. No criticism on any of these, but I haven’t found the direct Employee Central specific items that I experienced on an implementation. The article listed the project methodology adjustments and impacts without detailing the causes. I won’t address any of the project methodology principles but wanted to highlight a few very specific impacts an Employee Central implementation will have any project.

Since some of these items increase your project risks it will be prudent to ensure that you offset these risks against the business decisions and benefits that you aim to achieve from implementing Employee Central. The project impacts and risks are temporary (months) while the implementation and planned benefits should have a much longer lifespan (years).

Cloud landscapes versus traditional SAP landscapes

One of the first and seemingly simple differences are that SAP has a strict three tiered landscape. Something etched into every trained SAP Basis consultants mind! The three tiered landscape is supported by a robust transport layer that was built to enable a mechanism to move configuration between systems (development, quality and production). With Employee Central you don’t have a tiered landscape. You may choose to have more than one Employee Central instance and use each of the instance for a specific purpose (development or production), but the instances will not be linked within the landscape. There is no transport layer and system to move the configuration and provide version control. The configuration is moved (some XML imports can be done) and recreated on each instance.

Without this help on the system level, the configuration and version control need to move up to the project management methodology. The project team will need to track it and ensure that they care of it.

Release schedules

SAP is known for upgrades and support packs. Both for the complexity and regular maintenance caused. Unfortunately, some of the bad rapport is incorrect assigned because some of the changes come from the fact the legal requirements dictate these changes. Also, because of the power of SAP’s limitless customization the balance between simplicity and future maintenance is not always the easy path to follow.

Employee Central promise to take care of all of this pain since the solution and releases are in the cloud the releases schedules are applied and takes care of changes. The tradeoff for this benefit is the lack of control of applying new releases and the visibility of what is contained in each release. You won’t have the detailed notes, version control to do comparisons or even SPAU (you may even miss the SPAU).

EC debugging and error handling vs SAP development workbench

Good or bad, every SAP consultants used the workbench to search data dictionary or the trace through some ABAP code. Find the exact failure point or even using the code as a roadmap for understand was and still is key.

Employee Central is a closed system. There is no application development interface, and the only access is via configuration layer. If the only benefit was simplicity, and reduced maintenance it would be ideal, but a great deal of self determination and control is given up in return. Taking into consideration that error handling is still in the initial stages of maturity (I am sure it will improve with future releases) the project will have to deal with very vague errors and no solution to debug or resolve the issues. The solution in place the Employee Central support channel and I comment more on this later.

Employee Central data migrations and data handling

SAP started with the batch import system and later LSMW became the staple food of many data imports. Both provided options and included enough control with error handling and feedback.

With EC the foundation object configuration generates import templates (spreadsheets) that need to populated and re-imported. The design is focused on simplicity and low maintenance. The error handling during the import process does however need to improve. Experiences included successful error reporting, but without any data in Employee Central. Also because the relationships between Employee Central objects (any HR objects on SAP as well) is so fundamental if any of these are not correctly configured the import will fail but without a clear indication of why or where to look to resolve the issue.

A last point to note is that the SAP landscape firstly lacked an ability to copy data between systems. For example from production to quality for testing purposes. This was initially solved by the Data Sync Manager and later developed into a huge market with many solutions. Employee Central has reset the clock and the last few years, and there is again no solution to move that one employee from production to quality to test. Because Employee Central is a closed solution (no third party software development solutions) I am not sure what the future holds in terms of solving this issue.

Employee Central support layer and channels

Logging a SAP support request was simple and provided direct feedback on the progress. Granted not all requests were resolved on the first attempt, but the support interface was simple and partly transparent. The body of knowledge that was generated at the back of all the support was staggering. Searching through the notes and finding a similar problem and associated solution was very powerful.

Employee Central will have build body of knowledge over time, but currently the main concern is that access the JIRA support is not available in the same sense that SAP was. It is effective an internal only support solution that cannot be accessed for logging or even search only access. Hopefully the access improves or alternatively that a secondary body of knowledge is made available to assist clients and partners.