We had the opportunity to attend SAP SuccessFactors Success Connect yearly user conference in Las Vegas, held from August 29thto 31st 2017, at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. The conference was well attended, SAP claimed better than the 2016 edition with over 3500 attendees. 
So take a look at my musings on the event here: (if the video doesn’t show up, check here)

No time to watch – here is the 1-2 slide condensation (if the slide doesn’t show up, check here):

Want to read on? Here you go: 

Always tough to pick the takeaways – but here are my Top 3:

Executive Changes. New leadership in place, now time to pick up speed. As documented, SuccessFactors has new leadership at the board, at the helm and at product level. And accordingly, Rob Enslin, Greg Tomb and newly hired product, engineering and delivery leaders Amy Wilson and James Harvey were on hand for the keynote. Executive transitions are never easy, and while the four executives did an ok job during the keynote, they could have done better. At the end of the day users attend user conferences … to learn about the product – and that part was thinner than at previous Success Connect editions and certainly thinner than at competitor events. Over time I am sure areas of communication will be de-lined and most importantly all executives will have setup the course and roadmap for SuccessFactors to go forward. Well intended attempts of making the keynote more personal and approachable appeared more scripted, and while I know it was all genuine, knowing most executives since many years, the team failed to pick up where the last Success Connect in the US (from a region perspective) and in Europe / London (from a temporal perspective) stood.
Traditional broad push, more focus on Talent Management with Onboarding. A lot is happening at SuccessFactors, as the vendor claimed 2500 product developers working on the product, a number that seemed high based on my napkin quality calculation. The new highlight was a new Onboarding module, to be built on the SuccessFactors MDF framework. Good to see the leverage of MDF, but not a critical piece of automation for Talent Management. We saw the new iOS mobile application, heard multiple times how it was designed with Apple, and it is a good implementation of a mobile HR application. That previous year pledges not to let the Android version fall behind iOS again was missed, got probably lost in the transition. And then SAP SuccessFactors is (finally) moving to HANA, a move that has been supposed to happen since a while, though the scope is not fully clear, as we heard from ‘fully’ to move of the analytics layer to HANA. Harvey showed some of the benefits of moving to HANA in early product, a good start, that focusses more on dashboards and reporting than more advanced scenarios.

Long term platform and positioning questions loom.Unfortunately, Success Connect provided no light on the inherent platform issues that SuccessFactors had. To start, the original SuccessFactors operated on three and a half platforms. Then SuccessFactors added the MDF framework, and some modules run on it (EmployeeCentral and soon Onboarding for instance). In the meantime, SAP overall moved to SAP Cloud Platform as its PaaS, based on CloudFoundry. And SuccessFactors still runs on competitor Oracle’s database. All nothing news, all major questions to tackle and we felt SuccessFactors was coming close to answer them – but no update on them yet. One could argue, why do these matter, it’s all SaaS, but the agility of a vendor is determined by the productivity and the number of their platforms… obviously more platforms mean more work, support and maintenance – and therefore matter for customers as well.


Analyst Tidbits

Progress on Bias. SAP has been pushing the elimination / reduction of bias via software since Sapphire 2016. We were updated on the progress. Masking of bias related attributes and pictures is now possible. Most efforts – not surprisingly are on the reporting side. A good area to focus on and a possible differentiator.

SAP and Diversity. SAP has met its goal for gender diversity recently, meeting its goal of 25% of women in leadership positions (1stlevel manager on upwards) early and now established a new goal of 28% by 2020 and 30% by 2022 (more here). Newly minted SAP CMO Alicia Tilman and me had a great conversation on the topic – watch it here.



A good SuccessFactors conference, with new leadership in place, finding its way ‘around the furniture’. Under 100 days in its not fair to expect Willis and Harvey to have a plan, sometimes conference schedules don’t align with plan readiness… and it is better to not share something hastily. On a board level Enslin needs to come up with a vision of the SAP SaaS business he oversees now, especially how they relate to S4/HANA, platforms and future direction. But likely also too early to address, so again, better to wait than communicate prematurely. And while those high-level questions are sorted out, there is a lot of progress and work happening on product level. Attendees were generally happy with the progress. Partners showed up in force and see more traction. But strategic direction, messages and vision matter to customers and prospects – so time for SAP SuccessFactors to deliver them.

On the concern side, SuccessFactors still needs to find its way inside, versus or with the SAP mainstream. The acquisition is soon more than six years ago and while SuccessFactors has delivered a compelling HR Core product with EmployeeCentral, it need to address looming payroll (no mention in keynote) and overall platform / suite level questions. The sooner, the better. And as a general conversation, HR conferences increasingly seem to be about celebrities and good vibes. All good but the product message can’t be overshadowed too much, SuccessConnect in my view reached a critical level here.

So overall, especially on product level, good progress, let’s hope for SucessFactors clients and prospects that this productivity level is not slowing down, the high-level questions get addressed soon and then SuccessFactors gets to execute toward that vision. There is practically no HCM vendor that is not working on its next generation architecture at the moment, or at least major new investments (e.g. Payroll) – SuccessFactors will have to tackle the same challenges. Customer want and deserve answers. Stay tuned.

Want to learn more? Checkout the Storify collection below (if it doesn’t show up – check here).