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In this 2-part Q&A, I was delighted to speak to heike.kolar, Business Development Manager – hr expertise at inside Unternehmensberatung GmbH to discuss some of the common questions and challenges about implementing and using Employee Central. Heike was previously with SAP Product Management for Employee Central. Part was posted here.

Thanks for joining me Heike. Many people will know you from your days at SAP in the role of a solution manager for Employee Central and related integration topics. You recently moved over to inside Unternehmensberatung GmbH. Can you give us a little background about yourself and your role?

For sure. As you said I worked for SAP, actually 16 years I worked at SAP SE in various roles. I started my career with SAP back in 1998 as technical writer for the personnel management applications, including Manager Self-Services (MSS), changed in 2002 to a product management role for the portal applications SAP was offering at that time for employees and line managers, so knew these products from my time as a technical writer. Until 2006, I dealt with all the HR applications around the shared services and decentralized HR working mode, which – beyond the portal solutions for employees and line managers – included HCM Processes and Forms and the employee interaction center / shared services solutions. As of 2006, I took over more and more business development activities, supported the portfolio planning for SAP HCM, created business cases and the like. In 2010, SAP decided to move on with the cloud path for SAP HCM and I got pulled into that as well, so cloud solutions for the HR area is something I am involved with for over four years now.

With the acquisition of SuccessFactors, I was part of the technical integration team, responsible for the business cases and go-to-market for the integration between the on-premises and cloud solutions for SAP HCM, so first supported the integration between SAP HCM on-premise and SuccessFactors Talent Solutions, then the integration between SuccessFactors Employee Central and SAP ERP. I left SAP when we just close before delivering the first integration for what is called the side-by-side deployment model.

While you’re here, can you let us know a bit about what inside Unternehmensberatung GmbH does? inside Unternehmensberatung GmbH just celebrated their 25th anniversary this year. inside is a partner of SAP ever since it has been founded by Jürgen Schulz who still acts as the CEO of the company. We do business consulting, implementations and have products complementing the SAP offering and which are dedicated to the German market as well midsize companies. Just recently we added a strategic HR consulting business line, hr expertise, which is led by René Schumann, a previous SAP employee, who has a high reputation and is well known in the German SAP HCM community.

Our product offering includes pre-configured HCM systems – the so called HR Starters – our add-ons and our inside HCM Cloud solution. This SaaS offering we have since 2004 includes a complete offering for HR processes, so it also includes time and attendance. Based on its modular design, customers can easily add additional functionality such as personnel cost planning, or include our various partner solutions such as an organizational charting tool, a digital file solution, or a tool that help them to generate employee statements.

inside is a one-stop-shop for companies in the mid-market segment for a complete HR solution, regardless if they run this on-premises or by leveraging the inside HCM Cloud.

What are the common things you hear from customers? Has much changed since you moved from SAP?

Actually nothing has changed if I compare what I heard as an SAP employee from customers compared with what I hear now. With my change to inside I can now focus on dedicated markets, the German and DACH markets, and help driving success for the cloud adoption here.

We have already talked about the concerns around data security in that market segment. That brings along another requirement or topic that customers want to have guidance on, namely how to deal best with their workers’ councils and how to tackle the whole change management.

It’s also important to see the considerations about cloud investments in the total investment context and to consider where companies are at the moment with their HR implementations. To give an example, I hear very often that a typical German company – if it is not a big company group with a big IT team – is way behind of the adoption of the latest and greatest SAP HCM can offer them, such as simply the self-services or HCM Processes and Forms. Especially when it comes to on-premise SAP HCM, German customers have told me in the various user group meetings they need more than a year in advance to get an IT project team staffed and that all after the business case work they have to do before. So, for example, to adopt HR Renewal, the reason why we see only a few customers running it already is not because customers do not like the functionality, but to get the project approved and the time it takes until then are the reasons why we do not see it more often among German customers yet.

Another feedback I get is that customers are hammered by the information of the SAP HCM solution portfolio but miss someone who could help them individually with identifying the right path to go forward. So it is a clear call for guidance. Although SAP and the partner eco-system do a high-quality job here, it is more a question of scaling that service towards the high demand which is definitely there.

What advice would you give to customers thinking about moving to SuccessFactors Employee Central from SAP HCM on-premise? Any tips?

It depends on how deeply these customers are using on-premise SAP HCM already today. Let’s assume we have a company leveraging the latest release, and self-services on the latest technology. The decision to go cloud may nevertheless be a right one although recent investments have been made. Cloud can mean a lot of chances. Chances, such as to harmonize and standardize HR processes. I have seen companies that with the on-premises model need to handle too many different processes in different countries and different business units and that is not caused by the necessary localization and compliance rules they need to follow, but just by how it has grown over the time. Moving to cloud can tremendously help these companies to drive standardization.

A second advice I would provide customers considering cloud is to look at functionality. SuccessFactors Employee Central was designed consciously to create the next generation of a personnel management solution in both ways, functional-wise as well as by having it designed as a cloud solution. I especially want to emphasize on the functional design that considers modern aspects such as to just have one solution that serves all roles that need to have access to HR processes, so employees, line managers and the various HR roles. Only authorization determines what a user can see. Other aspects like cross-role processes, collaboration, social media like user experience and the like are just other aspects to mention and that support user experience positively.

One important conceptual aspect that puts SuccessFactors Employee Central into a position to create the future solution is the possibility to manage all kinds of workers, employees paid by the company, contractors, and contingent workforce, for example. So it can be the answer to manage the modern workforce. SAP still is adding more functionality to this. I just recently spoke to a Swiss company where this was one of the convincing arguments to go for Employee Central.

Are there any particular types of customers that should consider moving to Employee Central? And likewise, that should probably consider staying with their existing SAP ERP HCM landscape?

On the one hand, customers who have stopped investments for whatever reasons into on-premise SAP HCM might be good candidates, assumed the get the buy-in for a cloud strategy. With one investment step they can then completely modernize their HR process offering.

Then we can take all the arguments from our previous advice section.

And let me add another aspect. Due to the fast changing economy companies more and more grow inorganically, they acquire other companies or sell parts again, HR system landscapes are very heterogeneous if not totally scattered and which results in non-efficient and error-prone processes. It often preludes a central control of HR data and high-quality headcount reporting, to mention only one example. Employee Central could also then be a good answer; just last month (August) SAP provided the option to use Employee Central as a data hub, as a consolidation layer for all HR master data. Next releases will follow to expand the features here. This really is a unique value SAP can offer.

One could argue that then customers who just recently invested heavily in on-premise SAP HCM may want to wait for the cloud move. However, the reality I see at customers is different. A lot of companies decide differently for their headquarters than for their subsidiaries. Whereas typically the big monster implementations were done in the headquarters, often in the subsidiaries the situation is different. Typically there might be no software solution implemented at all, or the various subsidiaries use different solutions. Then it may make sense to start with the subsidiaries to harmonize them one solution, which Employee Central can be the one they decide for. Subsidiaries typically do not have a lot of separate local IT staff other than what is essentially necessary – that is why cloud fits well here. And exactly this mix of cloud and on-premise HCM master data systems is what SAP supports. So it is not an either cloud or on-premise decision companies, especially the big ones with global operations, take. With SAP they can combine cloud and on-premise. And this enables an overall smooth transition into the cloud for them.

Then let’s look at the midsize enterprises. Today, a typical midsize company is characterized by operating in some countries, so you could argue from an overall company structure perspective there are similarities with the big international company groups. However, medium-size enterprises by far do not operate in as many countries as the large ones, and their whole IT strategy looks different. They often do have only one overall small IT team that hardly can cope with all the new technical features HCM products include today. This we see with analytics, mobile and all the social topics. Nevertheless, also these companies need to be able to offer this kind of features and processes to satisfy the CEO with HR key figures and to be able to be attractive for a young workforce. Especially the medium-size companies suffer from the skills shortage and need to have good answers, including appealing HCM solutions to win their workforce and to overall compete in the market. And they need this fast. This is where cloud wins. Companies can build on best-practices coming along with the cloud solutions and do not need to have extra experts for each and every topic. Also an advantage cloud offers.

Given what I just said, midsize companies tend to either decide fully for on-premise or fully for cloud. The more companies realize how powerful HR can support company success, I am sure, will see soon more and more mid-size companies going cloud.

Thank you very much for your time Heike it was a pleasure to speak with you.

Thanks Luke. Answering your questions was a great pleasure for me.

Heike can be followed on Twitter with her handle @hkolar and on LinkedIn. You can find me via @lukemarson. For the latest and greatest in SuccessFactors join the SAP and SuccessFactors LinkedIn group.