My Thoughts on SuccessFactors Employee Central

I recently had the opportunity to spend a week in Las Vegas attending the HR Technology Conference and SuccessFactors SuccessConnect and during that time had lots of in-depth discussions with analysts, customers and fellow consultants. One of the SAP/SuccessFactors products I got asked the most about was Employee Central, which is the SuccessFactors Core HRMS offering.

My Thoughts on SuccessFactors Employee Central

Here are some of the most frequent questions and the opinion I shared.

Is Employee Central Enterprise Ready? – Since there are no standards around what “Enterprise Ready” really means I will tell you that many large companies have purchased Employee Central such as Pepsi, who was front and center all week at both conferences, and will have all 300,000 of their employees on Employee Central by 2016. Early adopters will help pave the road for every vendors SaaS offerings and it is important to note there is no vendor in the market that has every feature/function that the legacy OnPremise vendors have built over the past 25 years. At the core Employee Central has come a long ways in the past 18 months, has an aggressive roadmap and is one that should be considered if you are looking to move your core HRMS into the cloud.

How does it compare to SAP HCM? – It was made very clear that SuccessFactors does not plan to duplicate every feature function that has been built into SAP HCM over the past 20-25 years which in my opinion is the right strategy. I can respect for some customers this will be perceived in a negative light but they must remember that part of deploying a next generation cloud solution should include revisiting existing business processes and how your company does HR. Jason Averbook had a wonderful keynote at the HR Technology Conference and his core message was how we should not be trying to recreate the past, in a shiny new solution, and it was time for every company to start “Reimaging HR”. On a side note many things that can be real pain points for SAP HCM customers such as Mobile, Ad Hoc Reporting, Workflows, Overall Usability are embedded in the Employee Central offering.

How does Employee Central compare to Workday? – This was a hard one for me to answer since I only have first hand experience with Employee Central but it is obvious that these are two vendors that are being shortlisted by many customers. My high level recommendation was for customers get in-depth demos from both, do a lot of research, request to talk to several of their existing customers, and see which one matches up best to their business requirements. On a side note well known analyst Josh Bersin talks about the two vendors in his well written event recap.

How does Employee Central compare to Oracle Fusion? – This was only asked by one customer, and one I obviously couldn’t answer, but it is was pretty obvious that most SAP HCM customers fall into one of three groups. Those that plan to stay with their SAP HCM OnPremise solution and attempt to innovate around the edges using a hybrid strategy, those that are kicking the tires moving fully into the cloud and are loyal to SAP, and those who are looking at multiple HRMS vendors with the most common two mentioned to me being Employee Central and Workday.

Is SAP Really Committed to Employee Central? – It is pretty obvious that there is a huge commitment within SAP around Employee Central, which came across loud and clear when Vice President Thomas Otter said “ We have more engineers working on Employee Central than we ever had at ANY point for SAP HCM”. It is my belief that within the HR Technology space we are in the early innings of a major shift from client server technology (think SAP HCM, Peoplesoft, Oracle EBS) to next generation cloud based offerings within HR. Core HRMS is the foundation for many companies and why it is so important for SAP that Employee Central does well because if they lose the core to one of their competitors they will most likely lose the ability to cross sell their other offerings such as SuccessFactors BizX, Workforce Analytics, Jam, Payroll and potentially longer term Finance.

How Flexible is Employee Central? – It is surprisingly flexible as one of the myths around many of the SaaS based offerings is you have to take exactly what the vendor gives you and that is not acurate. This is one area of heavy investment within Employee Central and two powerful offerings include the Meta Data Framework and the HANA Cloud Platform Extension Package. Lots of buzzwords were thrown around this week such as scalable and extensible but SuccessFactors is starting to build out a tool set to be able to deliver those words. On a side note, several things in Employee Central can be configured that would have required ABAP development in the SAP HCM world.

When will Employee Central Offer more robust time functionality? – This was a topic of conversation in every session I attended as well as have heard this repeatedly over the past year from customers. Some hints were dropped that SuccessFactors may be looking at offering a time sheet in the not to distant future and it already has Time Off functionality but it appears that a powerfully time processing functionality is a ways out. In the interim, customers are recommend to use partners such as Workforce Software and Kronos which are integrated with Employee Central.

How is Employee Central doing in the Market? – From the information shared at SuccessConnect there are currently 3.4 million users of Employee Central, which is some sizable grow from where it was 18 months ago. I know first hand there are several large Employee Central implementations on going and several large SAP HCM customers considering it.

Is Employee Central really a true cloud offering? – Employee Central is a true multi-tenant SaaS solution that would even qualify for my friend Naomi Bloom’s rigid InFullBloom SaaS. In my opinion, it has very modern cloud architecture and the least technical debt of any of the SAP/SuccessFactors HCM product offerings. I understand that for many customers the technical underpinning can be complex but they play a big role in the vendor being able to quickly deliver future innovation, which is an important consideration when comparing SaaS vendors.

Does Employee Central have a Payroll Offering? – Yes, as customers have a few different options if they are considering in-house payroll as Employee Central integrates with Employee Central Payroll (Hosted) for 23 countries or SAP OnPremise Payroll that has roughly 7,000 customers worldwid. There is some “exciting” new functionality coming in 2014/15 for both Payroll solutions that is long overdue including a new Payroll Cockpit and a few other things that cannot be made public yet.

As a customer, how do I handle all the new functionality? – Make no mistake the four releases a year can be a blessing and a curse. The good thing is that changes are coming every three months and the bad thing is that changes are coming every three months. It is important that Employee Central customers give a lot of thought on how they plan handle this rapid innovation within their core HRMS system. Some of the ways I would recommend for customers to stay on top from an information standpoint is to always attend the quarterly release calls which are updated in the SuccessFactors customer community, attend webinars, review the new Upgrade Center, get the SAP and SuccessFactors book, and of course be part of the popular SAP and SuccessFactors Group.

How do I find a good Employee Central Consulting Firm – There are some interesting dynamics in the marketplace where several of legacy SAP HCM consulting firms are trying to break into the SuccessFactors market by low bidding projects so they can win their first Employee Central project and train their people on the job. It’s one of the reasons SAP Mentor Luke Marson wrote SuccessFactors Consulting – The Wild West and check out Howard Marshall historical perspectives in a short article as well (check out the comment thread). I think it is important to find a SuccessFactors consulting firm that offers a true SaaS consulting model to install Employee Central as if not you could end up paying a lot more for your implementation. Please, please, please ensure you spend some time to do detailed reference checks with customers where the consulting firm you are considering has actually delivered an Employee Central implementation as there is a LOT of shady behavior happening in the market. Once you find a good consulting firm, it is never a bad idea to follow my Seven Tips to Ensure You Hire the Right Consultant as most apply to SuccessFactors as well.

How do I get trained in Employee Central? – SuccessFactors offers a three-week Employee Central Mastery training that is ONLY available to SuccessFactors Partners for those interested from a consulting angle as well as there are 12 other mostly online courses out on the SuccessFactors Learning Portal.

Customers must understand that their core HRMS system will set the foundation not only for transactional HR, but also for their strategic HR as well as analytics. While I am sensitive to the fact that some companies have spent millions of dollars on their existing OnPremise HR technology that should not necessarily prohibit them from moving to a next generation solution when there is an opportunity. It’s sort of like an old car that is paid off, you know how it works, you have customized it, you know how it drives and are comfortable just paying the yearly maintenance to keep it running, but understand, that an old car gets to drive down an old road. It is very clear that the HR industry is rapidly changing (aka traveling down a new road) with things like mobile, gamification, social, predictive analytics, big data, millennials entering workforce and these are things that many of OnPremise systems that were built 20-25 years are not very well prepared to handle. It is my belief that most of the real innovation in HR Technology is happening in the cloud, and as you can see from the above, SAP is making a big bet with their SuccessFactors Employee Central offering and even moving from SAP HCM to Employee Central internally.