SAP SuccessFactors Gets Human over Digital HR
Automation technologies are the current darlings of the tech zone. Driven by Machine Learning (ML)-powered Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data analytics, if a process task or service can be defined, mapped, compartmentalized and defined as a discrete component, then in theory it can be automated by software.
So if we can digitize every aspect of business and life, then why not digitize us ourselves as humans? Okay, perhaps not our living tissue as such (although fully blown implanted bio-intelligence will surely be next), but our human needs in the workplace… that thing we call Human Resources (HR) or Human Capital Management (HCM).
Digitized HR conundrum
But as we automate and digitize into HR, which way does the balance shift -- that is, does digital Human Resources force firms to become more digital, or does it in fact give them the opportunity to become more human?
German data software company SAP bought SuccessFactors at the back end of 2011 and has kept the company name to describe its HR applications and tools division. With new forays into Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and a history steeped in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, bringing the ‘personnel’ software factor into its stack at the start of this decade was a logical enough thing to do.
Given the opportunity to now digitally capture and empower many more staff actions in the workplace, SAP’s wider play is one that sees employee information channelled into a total proposition that it likes to brand as the Intelligent Enterprise (CAPS deliberate). The firm insists that it can make digital HR a more human-focused thing and it has recently expanded its SAP SuccessFactors software toolset with that specific strategic aim in mind.
Digital HR help for humans
The latest product developments from the SAP SuccessFactors camp now see the firm offering a new digital HR assistant. Currently in beta (pre-launch) form with a number of test-case customers, this is software designed to guide and recommend worker actions based on verbal and/or written questions or commands. SAP makes much of the Machine Learning (ML) element in its SAP Leonardo ‘design thinking’ brand and ML is highlighted here as a key function to allow the software to ‘learn’ more about what kinds of HR requests a user might make as it goes along.
This new digital assistant is built using the SAP Co-pilot bot framework and SAP Leonardo machine learning to create a conversational experience. It is also integrated with collaboration platforms including Slack and Microsoft Teams.
According to Andrea Waisgluss, user experience content strategist for SAP SE, users can chat asks questions and give commands to these chatbots just as they would a regular person. “The user's informal and unstructured speech [is] then contextualized, analyzed and used to execute actions and present the user with business objects, options and other relevant data in a simple and conversational way,” she said.
Talent metrics – a means to measure humans
In terms of background intelligence to drive this new app and to help direct the machine learning engine in the new digital assistant, SAP SuccessFactors global head of marketing Kirsten Allegri Williams has explained that SAP has a catalogue of more than 2,000 ‘talent metrics’ (along with guidance on how to interpret the information) as the basis to accelerating the analysis of workforce and business issues.
"[These metrics include data focused on areas including] hire and hiring, learning, mobility through the organization and 'span of control', demographics and diversity, absence, performance, payroll, compensation, career paths, leadership and succession, through to retention and turnover... and ultimately, metrics related to business outcomes in terms of growth, revenue and profitability," said Allegri Williams.
SAP CEO Bill McDermott has said that back when he was a teenager running a corner deli store, his CRM system used to be the front window pane and his HCM system was a hug [from a happy customer]. McDermott has also said that it’s really important that enterprises do not run their businesses based on the dissemination of emails to stipulate adherence to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
“Somehow we have to make these big companies feel like small companies again,” said McDermott.
Of course, there is another conundrum here. SAP makes the bulk of its money selling business analytics software that helps customers track what’s happening in their operational models down to a fine degree. We can perhaps safely assume that he would suggest we work with a reasonable mix of both humanity and digitization.
Ultimately, actually, digital HR might actually be a necessity. SAP SuccessFactors president Greg Tomb has noted that as much as 44% of company workforce spend today is channelled towards and spent on external workforce elements. Tomb also notes that the workforce is no longer a narrowly defined group of people. For most organizations, the workforce is a diverse, globally dispersed, mobile collection of individuals who are often disengaged from the enterprises they work for.
As part of extended product news, SAP has announced the creation of a new ‘open community’ intended to create purpose-built HR applications. The company hopes that small start-ups and larger established enterprises will come together to ‘co-create’ what could be large-scale applications or smaller ‘micro-apps’ (pieces of software with more limited specific functions) based around six initial pillars The new community is organised around apps that fall into six initial pillars: well-being; pay equity; real-time feedback; unbiased recruiting; predictive performance; and internal mobility.
“We believe this wave of innovation will result in a ‘human revolution’ that will allow businesses to focus time, talent and energy on the thing that really matters: the people that lead to business outcomes. With this community, we can help assemble a complementary set of solutions for our customers’ diverse needs. And, if they don’t exist yet, we can co-create them together,” said Tomb.
Digital HR humanity
So is there are a real difference between old school HR and new age digital HCM – and, back to our original question, does digital Human Resources negatively force firms to be more digital, or in fact allow them to become more human?
The answer lies in the fact that digital HR 'should' make companies more human if it is embraced and implemented correctly in a holistically connected way with multiple channels of access. If we apply it carefully, digital HR can help us identify bias, inequality in the workplace and also help us focus on human well-being, because we'll know more about what people are actually doing in the roles they are assigned to.
Humans are obviously an integral part of so-called digital transformation on the road to cloud, web-scale business and ubiquitous connectivity, let’s just hope we can keep the human factor on the upper surface as we go forward.
Source: All the above opinions are personal perspective on the basis of information provided by Forbes and contributor Adrian Bridgwater.