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I spent the first 20 years of my career working with SAP HR. I have spent the past 6 years working with SuccessFactors Employee Central.  So, it should be no surprise that I find something that marries these two systems together as something I really enjoy working with.  Enter, SAP Core Hybrid.  It’s like someone went off into a lab and built a product I could be knowledgeable about just by screwing up projects for 25+ years.  Thank you, SAP SuccessFactors for making my skillset relevant somehow. It is not easy.

With my background above, it should come as no surprise that I am a fanboy of the SAP Core Hybrid solution. SAP Core Hybrid is a landscape where you implement Employee Central and (using pre-built integration) connect with a customer’s existing SAP HR.  Sounds complicated, so why would anyone do that? Simple. SAP Payroll. SAP Payroll is still the reigning gold standard for payroll with global coverage.  Some of the largest companies in the world still run it. And until SAP comes out with a cloud, multitenant of Payroll (hint, hint) SAP Payroll is the safe choice.  But SAP HR? That is another matter. It’s VERY old. The core SAP GUI hasn’t changed since Windows 95 rolled out. Same with SAP Talent Management. It is not something anyone should be running, let alone implementing, in 2022.  Thus, Core Hybrid was born.  It allows companies to implement Employee Central with its mobile-friendly, business process enabling, flexible goodness and still get payroll out the door.

So how is this accomplished?  Very, very carefully.  To its credit, SAP SuccessFactors has invested a lot of time and engineering prowess in building out an architecture that can seamlessly take employee and organizational data from SuccessFactors and translate it to the 30 year-old SAP HR structures. Having spent a lot of time with the SAP replication, I can say it’s very well thought out and provides deep integration. My verdict is that if you have a stable, functional SAP HR payroll system, the Core Hybrid approach makes a lot of sense as a bridge to the eventual full cloud SuccessFactors payroll whenever it arrives (again, let's hurry that up!).

Now comes time for the rant.

I see a certain mentality prevailing in Core Hybrid implementations. Instead of focusing on what the next-generation HR, SuccessFactors Employee Central, needs to thrive, implementations minimize disruptions to the existing SAP HR solution at all costs. If that limits what Employee Central can do, so be it.

Why is this happening? I chalk this up to two factors:

  1. Project managers are trained to manage risks, not transform processes. When core hybrid projects get underway, the project manager mantra kicks in “let’s just get this running in the least disruptive way possible, then adjust things later.” Trouble is, I have yet to see “later” appear on any workplan.

  2. The Core Hybrid documentation does not go far enough to articulate what is at risk when you adjust Employee Central is adjusted rather than SAP HR. A perfect example is the help documentation covering the managerial relationships. Employee Central handles position to managing position relationships differently than SAP HR does.  Without bogging this blog down with a tedious explanation, here's a paraphrase of the Core Hybrid help documentation: “SuccessFactors does it this way. If you want to change Employee Central to the SAP way, here’s how to do it.” What that documentation doesn’t go on to say is “if you do it the SAP HR way, you’re going to cut off a lot of what Employee Central does.” So, unless you have an Employee Central consultant who can adequately explain what you’re giving up, you are likely going to go along with the “SAP Way”.

The implementation of Employee Central is an inflection point, and one that for most companies comes around once in a decade (or longer).  It is a chance to rethink how things work: how we organize our employees and our business using a Cloud architecture.  But too many projects see the Core Hybrid as an excuse to keep things the way they are. Like a snooze button, but for your HR processes. And since you are marrying a fully functional productive payroll system with a greenfield product, SuccessFactors Employee Central, the path of least resistance is to adjust Employee Central. Along the way, the business value in going to SuccessFactors can get lost. Far too often we end up with implementations where Employee Central ends up being a glorified front end for SAP HR. SAP HR is treated as sacrosanct and any adjustments to the way it works are off the table. Here are a couple of key examples I’ve seen:

  1. As alluded to above, positional reporting structure in Employee Central can get supplanted by a custom chief position relationship on the Department...because that's the way that it is in SAP HR today. The result is that the innovative way that SuccessFactors can send updates from the employee back to the position (one of my favorite improvements that Employee Central makes over SAP HR) is mostly unusable.

  2. SAP contains only Org Units which map closely to SuccessFactors Departments. SuccessFactors has two other parent objects, the Business Unit and the Division. In order to “keep things the way they are in SAP” some organizations will simply disable the SuccessFactors Business Unit and Division and use only the Department.  The loss of these two objects can cause issues throughout the entire SuccessFactors platform.

I’m reminded of the age-old phrase “New Technology + Old Process = Less Reliable, More Expensive Old Process”. Core Hybrid implementations can often prove-out this adage if the project direction is not clear from the start.

The Correct Mindset

What is the correct mindset? Simple! SuccessFactors Employee Central is your future, SAP HR is your past. Yes, we need to keep SAP Payroll around for a little while longer, but it’s on the way out.

I am not saying do not consider SAP HR requirements at all. In a lot of cases, adjustments can be made to SuccessFactors that won’t impact its usability, while still feeding SAP HR things in a way that is less disruptive.  You need an extra field so that it can be replicated down? Sure, no problem. Employee Central can add fields easily and likewise they can be mapped easily to the relevant SAP HR infotype. However, in cases where a design change would adversely impact how SuccessFactors in general or Employee Central in particular operate, design changes may need to be made to SAP HR. Project teams should be going in with a mindset that SAP HR is now an add-on, not the core. Nothing should be off the table: including enterprise structure changes. Yes, this may mean that there will be some added time to the implementation so that regression testing can be done to SAP HR, but the result should be an Employee Central system that is prepared for the day where it will entirely decoupled from SAP HR.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that there is another option available to customers today in Employee Central Payroll, which is a hosted version of SAP Payroll that has a lot of pre-built integrations. This can be a great way to get a fresh start on everything. However, even with this approach, you may still confront integration challenges with other SAP modules since often other SAP modules get fed their org structures from Employee Central. A nuanced discussion of ECP versus Core Hybrid is well beyond what I can cover in this blog. Maybe some other day.

In conclusion, a Core Hybrid implementation model will make sense for a lot of customers. It allows you to join a next-generation HR and talent platform with a myriad of advantages over SAP HR (check out my top 5 benefits of EC over SAP HR here) while still running your existing SAP Payroll. However, it is essential that customers and consultants go into these implementations with a mindset that is focused on Employee Central first and foremost. It is my contention that you can do this and still provide SAP Payroll what it needs.  But you must first think about guaranteeing the future first, then think about what you need to retain from the past.
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