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“My IT team has deployed SAP BI which is providing extensive reporting across our organization. However, I am also looking for an application that is designed for my HR team. Am I running the risk of paying twice for the same tools?”

I regularly get questions on how SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics (WFA) and SAP Business Intelligence (BI) solutions, specifically SAP BusinessObjects BI for Reporting and Analytics are related or different in the context of human resources (HR).  I want to take this opportunity to explain: why traditional BI is not enough, the analytics value chain, how SAP BI solutions and SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics align along the analytics value chain, how they can be compared and contrasted, and how you can use them together to your advantage.

So, Why Is Your HR Organization Struggling?

Like many large enterprise organizations, your company has probably made investments in enterprise business intelligence tools.  This could be SAP BusinessObjects BI, IBM Cognos, Oracle BI, or other.  Yet, many such HR organizations don’t get full benefits from the reporting and analytics capabilities of the BI tools being used elsewhere in the organization.

There are some typical barriers that inhibit HR’s ability to effectively deploy enterprise BI tools.  Some common workforce analytics and planning challenges cited by HR leaders are:

  • “Our data is all over the place – we use a Band-Aid to patch together systems”
  • “It takes 3 weeks to produce our workforce dashboard – it gets sent out and we start all over again”
  • “We want our analysts to be analysts, not building pivot tables or creating VLOOKUPs”
  • “We need to be better at telling the story – that starts with credible data and metrics”

In addition, when HR leaders need workforce analytics, reports or calculations, they have to wait behind the Finance, Operations, and Sales departments.

How much of your analyst or HR business partners’ time is spent taking manual “data dumps” from your disparate HR and talent systems into Excel, then cleaning the data and putting into PowerPoint? How does this compare with amount of time spent analyzing the results and telling a compelling story?  One goal of analytics tools should be to get the most out of people’s time, energy, and talents by shifting the percentage of time spent from data assembly and transformation work to higher value-add functions like interpreting information to improve data-driven decision support:

Not All Challenges Are Technical in Nature

Finance, sales and marketing typically have clear standards for measuring and managing their business functions.   In HR, we frequently encounter less consistent metric definitions and fewer standards than are used elsewhere in the organization. Often, HR struggles to identify key performance indicators  (KPI) to measure things that matter, and it ends up tracking metrics that don’t necessarily measure business outcomes.   This results from a lack of analytics mindset (see Analytics - from the World of Finance to the HR Organization) in the HR organization — but this is changing and HR is seeing the impact and the value very rapidly.

Once they do, the challenge becomes building in-house analytic skills and capabilities in the HR organization. Frustration with current technologies and processes often spurs the need for a best-of-breed approach to workforce analytics and planning.

Traditional BI is Not Enough

The product rationale behind SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics is that traditional BI is not enough to unlock full value from people-data.   BI technology alone isn’t enough to help determine:

  • Which data to analyze?
  • How to get/integrate it?
  • How to analyze it (metrics)?
  • How to interpret it?
  • How to react?

Along the Analytics Value Chain

I attended a great presentation by Brian Ong, people analytics manager at Google, at the 2012 Human Capital Institute (HCI) Workforce Planning and Analytics Conference on Case Studies by the Google People Analytics Team.  During this presentation, Brian presented a very simple view of the Analytics Value Chain:

I will use this depiction to position WFA and SAP business warehouse and BI solutions relative to how well they deliver on this analytics value chain out-of-the-box.

Functionality of Key BI Tools for HR

BI tools don’t need much introduction.  They are, according to Wikipedia, “generally designed to retrieve, analyze and report data. The tools read data that have been previously stored, often, though not necessarily, in a data warehouse or data mart.”  BI helps “transform raw data into meaningful and useful information for business purposes.”

Two important things to point out in these statements: 1) BI tools are generally designed, and 2) the tools by themselves are not smart enough to transform data into meaningful and useful information for business purposes without intervention from resources with expertise.

SAP is positioned as a leader in 2013 Gartner Business Intelligence and Analytics Magic Quadrant and I cannot do justice in this blog to cover even a fraction of its capabilities and benefits it can provide.  Organizations with a strong analytics mindset can utilize the power of BI tools to drive advantage. However, BI tools are not specific to HR, which puts the HR department behind the curve relative to other departments whose needs are better supported.

  • Data: HR departments, with the help of IT, can choose to build their own data warehouse or they can deploy a standard business warehouse, such as SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW) or third party warehouse, as the foundation for the data model and then extend this to meet their needs.  If leveraging SAP NetWeaver BW, integrations to SAP for HR and SuccessFactors for Talent Management are available.

  • Metrics: HR departments are typically left on their own, or can solicit help from consultants, to identify KPIs that are important to its organizations.  Once identified, they need to get agreement from all stakeholders on the definitions of these metrics, and then use IT resources to build and roll out the metrics.  To get a jump start, SAP has made available a rapid deployment solution for Executive HR Reporting, which delivers a foundation for visualization leveraging SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards and including over 40 KPIs across HR and talent management processes.

  • Analysis:  The SAP BI solutions provide various tools to enable the analysis process.  SAP has released a framework for HR analysis via a rapid-deploymentsolution for Advanced HR Analysis based on SAP BusinessObjects Analysis edition for OLAP to enable HR analysts and HR Business Partners to explore and assess data visually, drill down to identify the root causes, answer questions, and validate hunches quickly. This solution contains predefined content around headcount, mobility and cost, recruitment, and talent management.

  • Viewers of workforce data are left to their own devices to interpret the information they see and draw their own Insights and determine suitable Actions.  

Functionality of SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics for HR

With SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics, HR and business leaders can take advantage of a solution that specifically provides the strategic and tactical insights derived from workforce analytics without having to become data or IT specialists, or having to impart deep HR experience to their IT teams who support the BI environment.  So what does this mean and how is it different from BI?

WFA comes delivered with libraries of predefined content relevant to HR:

  • Data: WFA provides target maps and integrations to bring in raw data into its warehouse in the cloud from any HR and talent management system, whether from the cloud or on-premise.  It can further take in data from other systems including sales, financials, and even external surveys providers.


    Behind the scenes, the WFA transformation engine manages exceptions, fills in logical gaps, and handles organization changes to elevate the quality and credibility of the data that is later used in analysis.   The broad experience in integrating with large enterprise HR systems including SAP, PeopleSoft, and others helps to bring the application up and running in as little as
    100 days.

  • Metrics: WFA comes delivered with a library of roughly 2000 predefined metrics focused on topics such as: workforce demographics and diversity, movement into and out of organizations – internal and external,  absence management, career and development planning, compensation planning, employee relations, financial, goals management, health and safety, HR service delivery, learning management, leave accrual, payroll and benefits, performance management, recruitment, succession management, and surveys.

    Every measure and metric in WFA is comes with a clear definition, formula for how it is calculated, and its purpose to ensure a standard and mutual understanding across all users, as shown in the screenshot above. Each metric definition is complemented with a list of related measures that can assist in providing a more comprehensive view of the situation, and prompt logical next steps for analysis.  This knowledgebase reflects more than 600 person-years of practical and field experience spanning all regions and industries, enabling HR practitioners to learn experientially by simply using the solution.

  • Analysis: WFA provides multiple ways of delivering guided analysis of your workforce to help you discover what questions to ask, find out why they matter, and get answers.  One is Issue Focused Series, where WFA brings together related metrics and focus on very specific issues that are of high interest to organizations. Examples of issues include Aging Workforce, Diversity & Inclusion, Low Tenure Terminations, Internal Mobility, and Workforce Generations.  Another example is Critical Human Capital Questions, where WFA uses question-driven analytics to help answer common and critical human capital questions across HR and talent management topics, with capability to drill down to understand the root cause of trends, hotspots, or inefficiencies. Sample questions include “Do we have a pay-for-performance culture?” or “Are we building a high performance workforce?”

  • Insight: Most HR and IT organizations face complexity in assembling and communicating insight.  Managers are time poor and need advice, not more data.BI-based analytics often prompt follow-on questions that are hard to address in a timely manner.  With its latest feature, Headlines, WFA continually mines HR and talent data across the organization and behind the scenes, finds pain points and hot spots that matter to each manager, and presents custom alerts to individual managers in common language, to highlight specific areas of concern. This is a very different tact from pushing dashboards, however sophisticated, and leaving the audience to its own device to read and interpret the charts and graphs.

    Headlines takes this further to describe what could be contributing to the condition, other related items that should be given consideration, recommendations on how to address the situation, as well as predictive analytics to identify who else may be at risk.  Headlines (
    video) is clearly a differentiator from typical BI tools as it helps managers understand the situation as it is happening, pre-empts questions, provides advice and guidance, and focuses and facilitates dialog to address issues.

    WFA also enables you to benchmark yourself against your peers to identify gaps, build business cases, and take action.  Benchmarks are available across metrics and topic areas for all users of the application, and can provide comparisons within your organization, as well as to others using the WFA solution.  This is typically a service that is only offered by third party providers.

  • Action:  Where relevant, WFA provides recommendations for action from the best practice “strategy bank,” which is based on years of field research and domain expertise.   WFA also provides quick links and actions where it makes sense from employee-level detail to navigate directly to relevant areas in the SuccessFactors suite to take action.

Comparison of SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics with SAP BI Solutions

There are other ways of comparing and contrasting the solutions as outlined below:

SAP Business Intelligence SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics

Multi-purpose business intelligence tool set which can cover HR and other needs, but all content needs to be built out from scratch

Purpose-built application delivering deep and broad embedded content to address HR analytics requirements specifically

Deployed on-premise

Deployed from the cloud

One unified and complete BI suite addressing the full spectrum of BI needs across the enterprise

Solution optimized for decisions involving human capital, designed to enhance HR’s role as advisor to the business

Comprised of advanced business intelligence and analytics tools ranging from Extract-Transform-Load (ETL), query and reporting, dashboards, exploration and discovery, and predictive

Has embedded tools for query and reporting, dashboards, exploration and discovery, and basic predictive

Very flexible and powerful in terms of how the tools are configured and deployed by IT for use throughout the organization

Flexibility to rapidly enable HR and line of business users to define and perform own human capital-related metrics and

Data source agnostic; can connect to any transaction or warehouse

Cloud-based specialty data warehouse optimized for human capital-related data sources and metrics

Once your data is loaded into business warehouse or connection is made to the data source, the work just begins for building queries, metrics, dashboards, and analysis using the appropriate BI tool

Once data is loaded, the application is ready to use and draw value from immediately

Requires IT resources with knowledge of technology and data models to support HR in generating reports and output

Intuitive and designed for the HR professional and line of business users

Primarily helps IT resources and selected HR power-users up-skill and learn new technologies

Helps users from HR and line of business up-skill and learn how to apply analytics for better decisions

How SAP BusinessObjects BI Solutions and SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics Work Together

Now that we’ve talked about how they’re different, let’s briefly talk about how WFA fits together with other analytic solutions:

In a side-by-side deployment, you can extend utilization of HR metrics from SuccessFactors WFA by allowing consolidation with cross enterprise reporting, to be presented via enterprise scorecards and dashboards to increases visibility into workforce trends, risks, and opportunities.

This can help accelerate the correlation and analysis of workforce characteristics against data from other parts of enterprise, and gain insights into how investments in talent are impacting business outcomes.

When talking about SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics, note the emphasis and attention on HR and content delivered out-of-the-box, as opposed to technology talk.  While many of the WFA capabilities can be replicated on top of an enterprise BI platform, doing so comes with a very long implementation timeframe and at a very high cost.

So, in answer to the question, “WFA or BI?”, I say— SAP BusinessObjects BI Solutions and SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics.