LAS VEGAS – Mike Ettling, the president of German enterprise software firm SAP SE’s SuccessFactors product line, might have called his first appearance at the company’s two-day SuccessConnect 2016 conference an “un-keynote,” but that didn’t stop him from sharing four key announcements with the audience yesterday.
Welcomed to the stage by SAP online video host and Fox News contributor Meagan Meany, Ettling outlined three new features that SAP recently added to its flagship human capital management (HCM) platform – a managed payroll system, bias reduction algorithms, and an app store – along with a new award that, starting next year, will be given to the industry’s most innovative HR leaders.
He also said that in the future, the company is going to begin shifting the elements it focuses on while developing its four annual releases.
“We currently do four releases, and we’re still going to do four releases,” Ettling told the audience. “But two releases are going to be focused on the platform, scale and stability, while two releases are going to be focused on peer innovation.”
“We believe that’s the best way to keep the right balance,” he continued. “To keep innovating, and not to fall behind the pace of innovation, but also to allow our larger enterprise customers time to absorb some of the platform changes we’ll be putting out.”
The Learning Marketplace – an App Store for SAP users
The most important announcement for members of the channel, of course, was the future release of SAP’s SuccessFactors Learning Marketplace, an undertaking that Ettling framed as an opportunity for customers to learn from external communities, partners, and each other, though he admitted the net result was very similar to the App Store.
Using the foundation provided by SuccessFactors’ own Learning Management System (LMS) and its sister customer engagement and commerce technologies released by SAP Hybris, the Marketplace will likely help companies by making it easier for employees to train outside their offices, he said.
“The whole idea is to allow innovation to come forth,” Ettling said. “Five years ago the idea of a bring-your-own-app world was a nightmare for a CIOs, with different people in the company often wanting to use different apps.”
“But we think the future of HR tech is shifting to a platform and app-based world,” he continued, “and what that means is core activities like onboarding, recruiting, core HR, and learning will be the base platform where all of your core processes are kept.”
Business Beyond Bias
During the “un-keynote,” which took the form of a morning program called “The Simply Human Show,” host Meany unveiled a clip showcasing some of SAP’s more unconventional faces, including a man in a wheelchair, an Indian immigrant from one of the country’s poorer regions, a lesbian, and a man on the autism spectrum.
That type of diversity didn’t come about by accident, Ettling said: It was the result of clear goals and careful planning, and received a nudge from an in-house, machine-learning based system the company is now pleased to share with its partners.
“Our hypothesis was that if we can identify the origins of bias… then we can start using technology to help eliminate bias at that point in time,” he said. “I don’t think the bias we see within organizations is malicious, but I do think it’s unconscious, and the technology we’ve developed is designed to help minimize that unconscious.”
Though not yet fully completed, SAP’s bias-minimizing features are meant to both optimize existing solutions and include new functions: For example, one upcoming feature will analyze job descriptions for potentially biased language and also recommend alternate words that are gender-neutral.
“When we write jobs, we tend to write, say, nurse job requirements biased to a female, and welder job requirements biased to males,” he said. “And it’s from the unconscious way we string words together that we’re creating that.”
Lifting payroll to the cloud
Another of Ettling’s announcements was SuccessFactors’ new managed payroll feature, which the company designed to complement the platform’s existing cloud-based solution.
Essentially, the new feature allows customers with on-premise SAP payroll solutions to have them “lifted and shifted” to the cloud, as Ettling put it.
“This is what US customers have been asking us for with payroll,” he said. “SAP Payroll, our on-premise solution, is really, really robust… the best solution on the planet for global payroll.”
“It’s actually the only global payroll solution on the planet,” Ettling added. “And I think once companies have implemented it and it’s up and running, the last thing they want during their HR transformation journey is to rip out payroll and go through all of that pain and emotion again.”
Klaus Tschira innovation award
German entrepreneur Klaus Tschira not only cofounded SAP in 1972, he created the company’s HR solutions division – and was as well known for his philanthropic efforts as for his professional achievements, making him the perfect namesake for an innovation award, Ettling said.
“Klaus Tschira died last year, but we wanted to keep his memory going by creating this award,” he said.
The company is now seeking examples of innovation, both from SAP and the broader HR community. The award will be granted to an individual or team’s SuccessFactors-powered HR solution, with submissions judged based on how well the HCM software or application simplified an organization’s HR operations, or created a “new and unique” outcome.
Applications are open, and the inaugural winner, who will receive $10,000 to give to a charity of their choice, will be revealed next year.
So what’s next?
As for what comes next, Ettling casually mentioned that SAP planned to incorporate live chat into its support environment sometime during “the next few weeks,” and that the company was committed to implementing a customer service channel capable of fulfilling all non-engineering inquiries within two days by the end of 2016.
He also said the company planned to personalize its community more, connecting customers with similar products and similar customer journeys with each other by essentially acting as a matchmaker for businesses.
SAP’s managed payroll solution is available now. A limited number of diversity-boosting features have also been released, while the app store, known as the Learning Marketplace, is expected to be released sometime in the fourth quarter.