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Corporate alumni networks are going cloud-based in sync with today’s hyper-connected, socially driven era. However, people are the real story behind the technology. Steve Rietzke, who recently rejoined SAP as a Services Account Manager in the United States, sees the company’s online network as a superb way for ex-employees to connect in a global business environment. After working at SAP for 11 years, then leaving for positions with startups and partners, Rietzke stayed in touch with former colleagues through an informal, annual holiday party. Last season he used the SAP Alumni Network to find and invite more people to that get-together.

“Many former SAP employees continue working in the company’s ecosystem, either as partners or customers. What I like most about the SAP Alumni Network is its global reach,” said Rietzke. “There are so many people I’ve worked with worldwide, and the platform gave me the ability to connect with ex-colleagues I may not have stayed in touch with because they’re in other countries.”

Brand advocacy for companies

The SAP Alumni Network is a good example of how cloud-based platforms are changing what alumni communities can do for ex-employees and the organizations in their circles – past, present and future. For instance, 87 percent of surveyed companies in Conenza’s 2015 Corporate Alumni Benchmarking Study said that brand advocacy was the main business driver behind their alumni networks.

“When employees leave, the company wants them to tell family members, colleagues, partners and others that it’s a great company to work for or to buy products and services from,” said Tony Audino, CEO and founder of Conenza. “What alumni say about a company is probably as important or more than your own employees because they’re viewed as more credible.”  He added that approximately 11 percent of companies are using online platforms as a cost-effective way to build and maintain relationships with ex-employees.

Margret Klein-Magar, Head of SAP Alumni Relations, agreed that the human aspect is most important. “All of the alumni who have joined our network have a burning desire to stay in touch with a company they still love,” she said. “People are excited about the ability to connect with and learn from each other. They are still part of the SAP family.”

Ongoing knowledge sharing shows companies care

According to Audino, alumni networks demonstrate corporate support for employees even after they leave the company. Jeremy Coote, another SAP veteran who recently joined that company’s network, extolled the benefits of connecting with smart, like-minded ex-colleagues. Previously president of SAP North America, Coote now leads a smaller supply chain company.

“SAP has always had world-class talent on the payroll. The alumni network is an opportunity to connect with a group of experts you have instant camaraderie with because of your shared experience,” said Coote. “If you’re based in the United States, you have the chance to hear from people in Europe or Asia, gaining perspectives you might not otherwise be exposed to.”

Registration to the SAP Alumni Network requires verification from a current SAP employee. Members have full access to alumni profiles (imported from LinkedIn), and a searchable directory by employers past and present, employment dates, role, industry, line of business, education and skills. Members can find current job openings at SAP, send messages to anyone in the database, and read alumni interviews. They can also attend in-person events on industry topics sponsored by SAP.

“Many SAP events take place locally, and the platform provides a way of letting people know when something is happening in their city so they can participate to gain knowledge about how innovations like SAP HANA can benefit their career or current employer,” said Rietzke.  

Talent management

James Sinclair, Principal at EnterpriseJungle, the partner that built the SAP Alumni Network on the SAP HANA Cloud Platform, said the ability to integrate information from across SAP results in a vibrant talent community. “Seventy percent of alumni signing up for the SAP Alumni Network indicate a willingness to do contingent or contract work for SAP,” he said. “Connecting that information with SAP SuccessFactors and SAP Fieldglass to create another searchable labor pool is one of the business benefits that comes from serving alumni.”

Klein-Magar said SAP will pilot a Mentoring Marketplace in 2016. This reflects another finding from this year’s Conenza study, which found access to intellectual capital shot up 23 percent as a driver for alumni networks. “There are young entrepreneurs who may have left to start their own company, and we hear all the time from experienced alumni who learned a lot and would like to give back,” she said.

Alumni organizations have always provided the opportunity for alumni to feel good about their shared heritage while pursuing new ventures. Cloud-based technology is fueling a new engagement model aligned with how digital business operates – collaboratively and long-term across a company’s entire network.

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