In this Q&A Sherryanne Meyer, Program Chair for Talent Management SIG and member of the ASUG board, and myself, Chair of the Talent Management SIG, will be talking to Frans Smolders, Solution Manager for Analytics and Planning at SAP about analytics and the role of SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics and SAP Business Intelligence.

 

Welcome Frans and thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Before we begin, can you give us an introduction and background to yourself and your role?

First of all thanks for providing the opportunity to share my thoughts on how customers can best take advantage of HR Analytics. In my role in Solution Management I focus on the go-to-market for our analytics and planning solutions. That means that I look after our SuccessFactors portfolio and our on-premise SAP BI and HANA portfolio for HCM. As part of my role I advise customers how they can best take advantage of the solutions that we provide.

 

Decision Sciences is at the forefront of technology today. SuccessFactors has – from what we at ASUG have seen – a very nice workforce analytics / workforce planning solution. If one of our members was looking at HANA for BI for use with the rest of their SAP landscape, tell us why they would purchase SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics. Why would they not simply include HR data in their HANA BI solution? 

Generally speaking these are the two types of customers I speak to:

 

  1. Customers with a corporate BI strategy, of which HR is part;
  2. Customers where HR has the liberty to implement their own dedicated HR platform.

 

For both options we have the platforms to support. The main differentiator between our SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics (WFA) platform and our SAP Business Intelligence portfolio is the amount and the quality of predefined content we provide.

 

With WFA customers get access to 2000+ predefined metric and benchmarks on a single platform that provides dashboards to their executives, headline reports to the line-manager, self-service query tools to their HR Analysts, and even predictive models to the HR data scientist. All of those built on the same data set and this is all purpose build and dedicated to HR. WFA is a platform that has been built over 30 years and was originally (pre-SuccessFactors acquisition) vendor agnostic. That means that customers can still load in data from many different HR and non-HR sources. For many of our customers that takes a huge pain point away because over the years they have established an infrastructure with one or multiple HR Core systems, sometimes multiple best-of-breed talent management solutions on top, and a survey tool they want to leverage data from. With WFA customers get the ability to get consolidated insight across all their data. And the predefined metrics help customers to pick and choose the right ones for them to get started or to optimize their business.

 

Can all of these capabilities also be achieved when customers uses our [on-premise] SAP BI portfolio? I would say: Yes! And potentially even more. With our SAP BI portfolio we focus on providing best-in-class functionality. SAP BI provides point solutions for every role: SAP Design Studio to create dashboards for executives, SAP Lumira and SAP InfiniteInsight for self-service functionality for HR Analysts and line-managers, and SAP Analysis edition for Office for the HR Business Partner that wants to play around with real data in Microsoft Excel and to create a PowerPoint presentation based on real data. The main difference is that with SAP BI the focus is less on providing predefined content for the HR function compared to WFA. That means that customers and SAP Partners can build out great content, fully tailor made for every use case and customer situation.

We see very happy customers in both scenarios, so apparently we have a great portfolio that suits the need for all customers. 

 

It seems to us that if a business really wants to manage their costs, the next phase of analytics is beyond identification of skills, goals, performance – but is of a more practical nature: how can I manage my staff so that I am neither under or overstaffed? How can I best utilize the staff I have throughout my plant, on my shop floor, in my warehouse? Etc. Can I get that kind of information using the SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics solution?

Many of these questions come down to workforce planning. How do I make sure I have the right people in the right place on the right time doing the right things? SuccessFactors offers a Workforce Planning (WFP) solution that is mainly focusing on strategic workforce planning. This means planning for a 2 to 5 year planning horizon and focusing on critical roles within the organization and making sure you develop and attract enough talent to support the business strategy. Making sure that the future workforce demand is aligned with the internal workforce supply.

 

Benefit of SuccessFactors is that WFP and WFA are built on the same platform. That means that historical data such as retirement, attrition and turnover is extrapolated into the future and is the foundation for the workforce supply. Customers can benefit from strategy banks with predefined strategies to close the gap between supply and demand. SuccessFactors has built this strategy bank over the last 30 years based on customer use cases, and therefore these provide good starting points for customers to shape out their HR strategies.

 

Before the workforce planning kicks off, companies usually spend time analyzing their business in WFA. The 2000+ metric I was referring to earlier focus on all areas of the HR business and help business users to get insight in all those important queries you raised. The key element is to deliver that information with the ‘information need’ of the business user in mind. It has to be actionable! As a foundation we deliver so-called metric packs. To name a few of these metric packs: Absence Management, Employee Relations, Financial Management, HR Service Delivery, Health and Safety (OH&S) and Survey. On top we obviously have the talent management metric packs that support the talent management processes.

As you can see it’s a wide range of metric packs which contain the metrics that we combine for customers to get compelling insight across their organization.

 

As I mentioned, what we care for at SuccessFactors is that these metrics are brought to the end user in a way that sticks and is actionable. That means that the metrics need to tell a story and they must be relevant to the end user. I’ve seen many dashboards in the past which were provided to line management and were never really used because the data in the dashboard did not really mean anything to the line manager. We avoid that with SuccessFactors by having a constant dialog with the customer. Communication lines between customers and SuccessFactors product development are short for our Analytics and Planning functionality. Customers can also unite via dedicated analytics communities and expert forums. Based on feedback we are able to provide content that is actionable for the line-manager. For example we point out which are the employees at risk of leaving within a manager’s area of responsibility. We show the manager what the employee groups of risk are. For example, employees within a certain part of the organization, with a certain tenure, and without a promotion in the last years. We even explain to the line-manager what they can do to turn this trend around. And we have many more of these examples.

 

Are there limitations to using SuccessFactors over HANA? For example, could I – in theory – create warehouses of data from my on-premise system to export to SuccessFactors for analysis? Or is this a scenario that will (eventually) be better served by HANA?

You can load data into WFA from any system. At SuccessFactors we prefer transactional data sources (like Employee Central, SAP HCM, or a non-SAP source), however it is also possible to load in data from analytical sources. Customers with heavily customized data cleansing scenarios in their analytical database might take this route to avoid this work being done in their analytical database and in WFA. Vice versa it is also possible to load SuccessFactors load data into SAP HANA and/or SAP NetWeaver BW. 

 

SuccessFactors is supposedly going to run on HANA at some point also. Would that change some of your answers?

My answers above would have been longer because SAP HANA brings more value propositions and options for customers

 

What other impacts does SuccessFactors on HANA have for Workforce Analytics?

We are currently working hard on bringing the WFA application to SAP HANA because SAP HANA is key in our innovation strategy. This will bring unprecedented options to our WFA platform. To name a few innovations which we are planning to deliver:

 

  1. 1.       Ability to leverage SAP middleware for integration of data from source systems into WFA.   This would be an alternative process to extracting data from source systems into flat files, transferring, transforming and loading into WFA. With SAP middleware as the mode for loading data, customers can move to a delta load where new/updated records from source system are loaded into WFA on a more frequent basis.
  2. With SAP HANA there will also be no need to preprocess the data for analytics. One of the powers of SAP HANA lies in real-time aggregation of large volumes of data.   As such, all source transactions are loaded into WFA warehouse at the very granular level (raw data). Today the transformation process aggregates data once all data is loaded into the cloud and makes it available in the WFA application at aggregate level to maintain high performance levels for the end users. With SAP HANA, all analytics is aggregated in real time so the user will always have the option to drill down all the way to source transactions. This will also minimize the time required for up front data transformation since data that come in based on delta loads become immediately available.
  3. SAP HANA will allow us to run our transactional applications and analytics/reporting application on one database, eliminating the need to replicate data from one database to another. What this means is that customers will get analytics immediately, in real-time and will not need to wait for us to move the data into WFA and recalculate the cubes. This is especially important for customers with a global presence where processes run on different schedules in different regions/countries. This will help ensure that you always have access to the most recent information.
  4. In the future we can leverage the predictive library that SAP HANA brings (the R library) and SAP BI products like the ones coming from the Kxen acquisition (now SAP InfiniteInsight) to develop and deliver predictive HR content.

 

It would seem that if I want the greatest reporting flexibility, I would build warehouses that could be used either internally with my BI analytics tools or externally with SuccessFactors as well. Is that a feasible solution? In other words – might that be a recommendation to HR today: Build warehouses of your key data elements and plan to use these as modules within various reporting platforms – whether that is SuccessFactors or HANA?

Deploying the exact same data models on-premise and in the cloud would be difficult. If customers have the skills and the ability to build these out, but do not want to have the infrastructure on their premise they could also use our HANA Enterprise Cloud. This is a private cloud, with a dedicated landscape for one customer. In this private cloud customers can run SAP NetWeaver BW on SAP HANA. This provides the data warehouse and full flexibility to run and operate it for the entire enterprise with all the visualization tools on top that they require to support their use cases.

 

If customers want to load SuccessFactors data in such a landscape they can leverage our SF API built on the ODATA protocol, which means that customers can now easier connect to the SF API and get access to the data in the SuccessFactors modules. Customers that want to build own analytical models in SAP NetWeaver BW can benefit from this innovation in combination with the predefined connector that we deliver as part of SAP Data Services (on-premise) or HANA Cloud Integration (cloud). This connector comes with a predefined field mapping and connectivity to extract data from the SuccessFactors modules into an analytical source.

 

For customers that do not have such strong analytical skills in house, or customers were such skill sets focus on non-HR processes like sales and finance, we provide our WFA platform. We take these customers by the hand in delivering meaningful analytics to their business users.

 

What about protecting the data? In all of the on-premise reporting that I do today, the security roles that I’ve designed in the backend SAP HCM instance carry through to reports. I am assured that no manager can see any data about someone who is not currently within their org structure. How difficult will it be to manage that same model going forward – either in BI or SuccessFactors?

I think that we need to differentiate Reporting (OLTP) and Analytics (OLAP). Reporting is what you do at a transactional data source, like Employee Central or SAP HCM. This takes the authorization model of the transactional system into account. For Analytics however things are usually more advanced than pulling a report on just one metric (like illness, overtime, or headcount). In Analytics you can combine metrics and look at them along multiple dimensions (Cubes).

 

Within BI traditionally different authorization models exist (e.g. in SAP NetWeaver BW, and in SAP BusinessObjects applications). This is helpful when e.g. managers want to run an internal benchmark to figure out how they are doing compared to other departments based on a certain metric. This would not work when a manager could only see his or her data. The same applies to WFA. It comes with an own role and object based authorization model.

 

In the future we are planning to provide customers the option to leverage the same authorization model for transactional and analytical purposes. This potentially would reduce TCO for customers. But as you can understand based on the above this would need thorough analysis. The devil is always in the details! 

 

Is there are real differentiator between the two options, or is it really down to customer choice and their existing landscape? Does the business versus IT buying habits have any influence?

I think that the major difference is: either you decide to deploy and maintain HR Analytics under your own responsibility and ability, or you consume it as a service and the work is done for you. Both are feasible options.

 

Is there anything you would like to add?

It really comes down to a fundamental choice: how do customers want to run their business. What skill sets would they like to invest in, and what is their long-term goal with HR Analytics?

 

HR Analytics can really make a measurable impact to a business. Organizational cost, building talent, achieving operational excellence are all influenced by HR Analytics. There are even studies that show that HR metrics are the best predictors for a company’s stock price!

 

But HR Analytics is not a periodical exercise of creating a dashboard and throwing that over the fence to the business folks. It requires continuous effort to measure the effectiveness of your (HR) processes and to optimize the HR Analytics that are deployed. So the question is: do you want to do that yourself, or do you want to consume that as a service?  

 

Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us Frans, this has been most informative.

My pleasure!

 

You can reach Frans on frans.smolders@sap.com or via Twitter at @FransSmolders.