SAP SuccessFactors Customers Share HR Transformation Stories at SAPPHIRE NOW

Crocs, Microsoft, Grupo Perez, and Royal Mail Group discussed their efforts to improve employee experience through HR process and technology change during the HR keynote at SAPPHIRE NOW.

When in-person, SAPPHIRE NOW is three consecutive days of sessions, meetings, and a firehose of information. At the virtual SAPPHIRE NOW 2021, the event is spread out over multiple weeks, allowing for SAP to highlight specific tracks and areas on individual days. On Wednesday, it was HR’s turn kicked off by SAP’s HR keynote. The hour-plus session transitioned between live and recorded speakers, showing off demos along with insights from customers, partners, and industry experts.

Adapting HR and employee experience to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic was the theme throughout the keynote, which began with Jill Popelka, SAP SuccessFactors president, declaring, “It isn’t technology alone that helped companies that advanced in the new world, it was people.”

Citing studies of large-scale job loss, which particularly impacted women, the risk of burnout from working remotely, and the driving force of creating diverse and equitable work environments, Popelka set the stage for the products and stories SAP would be highlighting during its HR event.

Before giving its customers the stage, SAP showed its own efforts to improve employee experience, pointing to its new flexible work initiative created from employee feedback and discussing its performance and goals transformation with SAP SuccessFactors. SAP says it now has aligned goals for 95% of 100,000 employees and is transitioning to Continuous Performance Management.

Crocs Implements ‘Progressive People Practices’

After SAP shared its HR transformation journey, Crocs Chief People Officer Shannon Sisler joined the program to discuss how the casual shoe purveyor has adjusted to the new normal of flexible work and HR transformation.

“We are passionate about progressive people practices,” said Sisler.

Those progressive practices include defined personas for each role within the company, in which the expectations around working from the office and travel are clearly stated. This transparency is for staff as well as prospective employees.

Crocs also created quarterly performance discussions, which it calls “pace checks.” These are employee-led rather than manager-led and emphasize listening to employees. Ratings have been eliminated, and “authentic conversations” are the goals. To bolster this effort, Sisler said Crocs is doing lots more listening to employees and utilizing “listening tools.”

Finally, to address burnout, Crocs has introduced “employee comfort days,” which are extra vacation days that encourage employees to take a break and “unplug” from work.

HR Transformation at Microsoft and Grupo Perez

In addition to Crocs, Microsoft and Grupo Perez also joined the show to discuss their experiences with SAP SuccessFactors and HR transformation. Microsoft Senior Director of HR Digital Transformation Prerna Ajmera appeared live and overcame a brief technical interruption to share that the software giant is running SAP SuccessFactors on—you guessed it—Azure.

She also emphasized a key point around getting buy-in for an HR technology project, suggesting that companies focus less on the cost of HR transformation and instead focus on the value of improving employee experience. The task for vendors like SAP will be providing the data on that value.

Later, Grupo Perez CHRO Pablo Maison said his company’s HR technology overhaul is driven by “simplifying processes, improving employee experience, and freeing up time in HR to focus on transformation and not transactions.” He notes that they have implemented SAP SuccessFactors, Qualtrics for employee listening and feedback, and a single HR interface for employees—this seemed to be a nod to the key elements of the newly announced Rise with SAP for HXM offering.

Royal Mail Group Implements SAP Work Zone for HR

The UK’s Royal Mail Group is also building a single HR interface for its employees with the help of SAP Work Zone for HR. Adam Walden, IT portfolio director at Royal Mail Group, said this company initiative is called “The Fridge.”

Royal Mail Group is using SAP Work Zone for HR to “bring people in one place for all HR requirements and for the apps and services they need,” explained Walden.

SAP also took time to demonstrate the capabilities of SAP Work Zone for HR, showing a theoretical example of how companies can use it to house the apps and services an employee needs in a single interface:


What Does This Mean for SAPinsiders?

  • Use the knowledge and experience of the past year to improve your organization. SAP and Crocs talked about how their organizations adapt to a new reality of remote work and the expectations that come from that, which drives them to create new policies and adopt new technologies. Later, industry analyst Josh Greenbaum pointed out that many of the interruptions associated with remote work—kids and pets—were “actually okay” and that companies have learned there is value in flexible work and adapting to new HR processes. Your organization likely learned a lot about flexibility in the past year—don’t let that go to waste. We hypothesize that the rise of remote work has driven companies to change in our study on The State of Human Experience in the Workplace. Please take this survey and let us know how your company is addressing employee experience.
  • Improving employee experience is essential to HR Transformation. For all of these organizations, the motivation for transforming HR processes and technologies was to make themselves a better place to work. This involved updating performance and goals processes, creating more transparent job roles and flexible work arrangements, and implementing technology that makes it easy for employees to interact with HR and go through their daily work.
  • Make sure your company changes at its optimal pace. Sometimes at these events, it can feel like every company is adopting the latest and greatest technology all the time. However, if you take a step back, you’ll realize that SAP itself only recently updated its performance processes with Continuous Performance Management—a product it announced years ago. Analyst Jon Reed said during the keynote that “These are long term goals, transformation. It’s important to break them down and make it manageable; otherwise, people are overwhelmed with this concept.” There are legitimate drivers for HR transformation, but ensure your changes fit your company’s needs and goals at a pace that your people can handle.
  • Discover what happier, more engaged employees would mean. The advice from Microsoft’s Ajmera stands out: You need to frame any HR spend in the context of the impact of improving employee experience. For example, if employees are happier and more engaged with their work, how will that affect retention and absenteeism? Or how will it impact your company’s reputation? If your workers are more aware of their performance related to their goals and company goals, how will that affect the company’s performance overall? These are the conversations that can turn the discussion of HR transformation from a cost to an investment.


Craig Powers Senior Research Editor, SAPinsider
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Craig is an HCM analyst and editor for SAPinsider. He has covered the SAP technology ecosystem, including an emphasis in SAP SuccessFactors, for more than eight years. In that time he has forged important relationships throughout the industry, worked with customers and vendors to optimize investments in enterprise technology, and helped to tell the important stories along the way. Follow Craig on LinkedIn and Twitter for more HCM and GRC insights.

SAP Announces RISE with SAP for HXM at SAPPHIRE NOW

The RISE with SAP program has now expanded to include SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central and the rest of SAP's HXM suite.

by Craig Powers, Senior Research Editor, SAPinsider

SAP kicked off its most prominent event last Wednesday morning, and for the second straight year, SAPPHIRE NOW is virtual. The HR-focused keynote is scheduled for June 9, and the newly announced RISE with SAP for Human Experience Management (HXM) offering is sure to be discussed. I spoke with Jill Popelka, President of SAP SuccessFactors, about the new program.

“RISE with SAP is all about helping our customers and their journey from on-premise to the cloud,” said Popelka. “We recognized as we were developing the RISE with SAP offering that every business transformation is a people transformation, and you have to really focus on the people element for your business to be successful.”

Three Options for RISE with SAP for HXM

RISE with SAP is a program that offers subscription bundles of cloud offerings, so it makes sense that the cloud-based SAP SuccessFactors and the rest of SAP’s HXM suite join the RISE party with the SAPPHIRE NOW announcement of the expanded RISE with SAP program. SAP will offer three different HXM bundles, all of which include at least SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central, SAP Work Zone for HR, and Qualtrics XM for IT.

The base HXM bundle aims to build a foundation for improving employee experience by offering core HR capabilities and an employee system of record, a customizable interface for employees to access their applications, and a means for measuring and analyzing employee experience.

Beyond that, companies can also choose one of two paths: a skills-focused package that includes SAP SuccessFactors Learning and Skillsoft content or an operations-focused offering that brings in SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central Payroll and Time Tracking.

Rise with SAP for HXM packages
(via SAP)

Here’s a rundown of the products included in the various RISE with SAP for HXM packages:

  • SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central is a cloud core HR solution (all three packages).
  • SAP Work Zone for HR was released in the last half of 2020 and is an integrated launchpad for all the apps an employee will use (all three).
  • Qualtrics XM for IT is an experience management solution for employee feedback and sentiment analysis (all three).
  • SAP SuccessFactors Learning is the SAP SuccessFactors training and learning module (Reskill to Innovate).
  • SAP Content Stream by Skillsoft is a catalog of pre-built learning content (Reskill to Innovate).
  • SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central Payroll is SAP’s cloud payroll offering. It shares many similarities with SAP on-premise payroll but without the need for on-site hosting (Operationally Transform).
  • SAP SuccessFactors Time Tracking, announced back in January, brings expanded time and attendance capabilities to the SAP SuccessFactors suite (Operationally Transform).

SAP SuccessFactors has many Talent Management and HR modules, including capabilities in performance management, recruiting, calibration, succession, and more. So, why is Learning specifically the talent module to be included in the RISE with SAP offering? Popelka said it comes down to what is vital to a business aiming to transform.

“With any transformation, there are generally skills that are needed to help along the path of that transformation,” said Popelka. “We also recognize that over the course of the past year, we’ve had a 30% increase in uptake of our Learning solution”.

Popelka also noted that Qualtrics is included to allow companies to get feedback on their employees’ processes while using SAP SuccessFactors. The feedback capabilities have now been embedded throughout SAP SuccessFactors modules.

What Does This Mean for SAPinsiders?

SAP reported having over 4,000 SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central customers back in October. While that’s a big number, it still is likely much less than half the number of total on-premise SAP ERP HCM clients. So SAP is hoping RISE with SAP for HXM can help transition those to Employee Central in the cloud while also bringing in new business from organizations on non-SAP HCM systems. What does this mean for you as an SAPinsider?

  • Identify the HR needs of your organization. If you are considering a move to the cloud for HCM with Employee Central, figure out your needs and goals of transformation. Is employee experience central to your potential transformation? Is employee learning a need? Is access to the necessary applications a pain point for employees? What about operational processes such as payroll and time and attendance? These are important questions to determine if a RISE with SAP for HXM package works for your organization. If your needs align with a RISE package, then there is potential to save some headaches around managing multiple SLAs — those should be bunched together in a single account with RISE.
  • Ask potential HCM implementation partners if they are offering RISE packages. Popelka said that SAP SuccessFactors will provide implementation services for RISE, but partners are also crafting their own offerings that align with the Rise packages. If you are interested in pursuing the RISE route, it is worth seeing what the ecosystem offers.
  • If you are already an Employee Central customer, the RISE program isn’t for you, but it might provide some insight into SAP’s HCM (or HXM) future. RISE with SAP is about bringing new core HR customers into the cloud — so if you’ve already made that move, this is not relevant. However, what you can glean from this is SAP’s overall strategy for HR transformation — including sentiment analysis, integrated digital workspaces across applications, upskilling, and lifting operational functions into the cloud. Knowing this can help your team build its HR process and technology roadmaps.
  • This is one more option for those looking to make a move before SAP’s maintenance deadline. The end of mainstream maintenance still looms. If you are an SAP ERP HCM customer, you probably know by now that SAP is ending mainstream maintenance for that solution in 2027, with an option to extend maintenance for an extra fee to 2030. This RISE with SAP for HXM program offers another avenue with added features in employee experience if you choose to move core HR to the cloud with Employee Central before mainstream maintenance for your on-premise system goes away.


Craig Powers Senior Research Editor, SAPinsider
Read More

Craig is an HCM analyst and editor for SAPinsider. He has covered the SAP technology ecosystem, including an emphasis in SAP SuccessFactors, for more than eight years. In that time he has forged important relationships throughout the industry, worked with customers and vendors to optimize investments in enterprise technology, and helped to tell the important stories along the way. Follow Craig on LinkedIn and Twitter for more HCM and GRC insights.

Enterprise Artificial Intelligence

An Introduction to SAP’s AI Strategy

By Dr. Feiyu Xu, Global Head of Artificial Intelligence, SAP and Maximilian Herrmann, Project Consultant Artificial Intelligence, SAP

Leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to add business value is no longer a vision of the future for enterprises. Applying AI — and applying it in the right way — is necessary for businesses that want to predict and shape future outcomes, empower their employees to perform higher-value work, and automate and optimize business processes, decisions, and experiences today. Companies that have not invested in an AI strategy of their own are in danger of missing out on opportunities that their competitors are already taking advantage of, such as improving their products, innovating new products, increasing revenue, improving profit margins, and reducing risks.

Organizations across various industries use AI as a catalyst for business process agility, digital transformation, and accelerated innovation. If AI is used and applied correctly, it can offer transformational possibilities for SAP customers, businesses, and overall society. Consider, for example, an article published in late 2020 by Jana Wuerth and Ivona Crnoja from the SAP AI team, which demonstrates how AI business services fit into a comprehensive digital process automation strategy and how these processes can help SAP customers drive end-to-end process automation.

SAP AI strategy author headshot

SAP AI Strategy Author bio

While many organizations are still investing in creating their own AI models to support their unique needs, most organizations will experience the need for AI as functionality that gets embedded within a packaged application. However, adopting AI doesn’t come without challenges. Research conducted by O’Reilly Media in 2019, for example, examined the following question: what is the main bottleneck holding back further AI adoption? The results showed that most respondents (23%) think the bottleneck lies in a company culture that does not yet recognize the needs for AI. Other respondents identified lack of data or data quality issues (19%), lack of skilled people (18%), and difficulties in identifying appropriate business use cases (17%) as the main challenge holding adoption back.

These are just a few of the challenges that companies face while implementing AI. Nonetheless, enterprises need AI applications to ensure integrated processes across all lines of business (LOB), and to keep pace with a growing AI market. According to a study conducted by the International Data Corporation (IDC), worldwide revenues for the AI market, including software, hardware, and services, are forecast to grow 16.4% year over year in 2021 to $327.5 billion. By 2024, the market is expected to break the $500 billion mark with a five-year compound annual growth rate of 17.5%. According to the same study, worldwide revenues for the AI software market alone reached $248.36 billion in 2020 and are forecast to grow with a five-year compound annual growth rate of 17.3%. Furthermore, most major software vendors invest aggressively in integrating AI into their applications and consider AI to be the core architectural application infrastructure.

Considering this steady growth and SAP’s investment in AI technology, this article aims to help enterprises drive their AI strategy, beginning with a deep dive into the key aspects of SAP’s own AI strategy. This explanation is followed by two examples of how companies can leverage AI that SAP has already embed- ded into some of its enterprise applications and other functionality that SAP has to offer.

Understanding SAP’s AI Strategy

When implementing AI, SAP customers often face high effort and failure rates due to complex custom development projects. Successfully implementing AI is more complicated than simply implementing a single traditional application or use case — and yet, customer needs are precise: They want AI to be part of their portfolio, and SAP’s vision to offer a holistic solution portfolio for every industry and across all end-to-end processes covering lead-to-cash, design-to-operate, source-to-pay, and recruit-to-retire — and injecting AI into all of these applications and business processes — is a step forward to help companies become an intelligent enterprise.

SAP offers products and services for multiple lines of business (LOB) and various industries to support the different business processes that keep enterprises running. SAP has been working on enterprise AI solutions for many years and has now infused AI directly into its business processes, enabling customers to use AI functionality natively in SAP solutions as part of their standard applications.

How does SAP embed AI into all these processes and applications, and how do we develop ready-to-use AI functionalities internally?

The internal AI Factory approach — an efficient and holistic development approach created at SAP (Figure 1) — covers the entire development process from ideation and innovation to productization, go-to-market (GTM), and continuous improvement (Figure 2). Our goal: make the transformation to an intelligent company as easy as possible for our customers. Every relevant stakeholder is involved in this process.

With this approach, SAP supports various LOBs and industries to help them understand, contextualize, and apply AI capabilities at scale. Our internal AI Factory approach consists of assets, tools, and a holistic collaboration model. The internal technology component that provides our AI infrastructure is called the AI foundation. Additionally, SAP sees AI functions pro- viding centralized development and management of data corpora, AI general, and business functions (i.e., application program interfaces, pipelines, and models) and common key performance indicators (KPI).

The goal of SAP’s AI technology is to bring value to SAP customers, such as cost savings, efficiency improvement, and better human-machine interaction. However, the past has shown that realizing business value from AI does not happen automatically — it is reliant on an interplay of many complex factors. Therefore, SAP’s AI strategy is an integral part of SAP’s product strategy that ensures technologies, applications, adaptions, GTM, legal framework, collaboration with partners, technology providers, data providers, and the academic community come together in one joint collaboration process to embed AI into SAP’s portfolio.

SAP AI Strategy Figure 1
Figure 1: SAP’s holistic approach to putting AI into production: AI Factory, AI-supporting functions, and AI ecosystem
SAP AI Strategy Figure 2
Figure 2: SAP’s internal AI Factory approach covers the entire development process from ideation and innovation to productization, GTM, and continuous improvement

In summary:

■ SAP is embedding AI into its applications and injects AI into business processes in a scalable way.

■ The internal AI Factory approach at SAP is a scalable AI application development approach pro- viding assets, tools, and a collaboration model. This approach enables SAP to put AI into production covering all steps of efficient application development and all relevant stakeholders.

■ Also, SAP exposes AI capabilities via the SAP Business Technology Platform, so customers can create their own extensions.

■ SAP does not compete in general-purpose AI services and platforms. Our AI services and platforms are close to SAP solutions and customer business processes.

■ SAP offers a true evolution of enterprise AI.

What Does Embedded AI Mean?

The term embedded AI refers to the use of machine and deep learning capabilities that exist inside (or are embedded within) a software product. AI functionality is embedded in many SAP solutions as part of the standard application in the form of pre-trained models, like ExpenseIt in SAP Concur, or models that are trained using customer data, like SAP Cash Application. SAP also offers a broad and deep portfolio of enterprise applications that enable customers and business users to run their business processes with embedded AI and configure and adopt AI as part of their standard workflow.

SAP Conversational AI and SAP AI Business Services are part of the AI Factory and are well-integrated into the intelligent suite. SAP Conversational AI is SAP’s low-code no-code chatbot building platform to optimize customer service in conversation-driven interactions with end-customers. It offers a powerful language technology, an end-to-end platform to train, build, and monitor chatbots.

SAP AI Business Services provides strategic AI capabilities that automate and optimize business processes to enrich the customer experience across the intelligent suite. They are provided as reusable services and applications that are optimized for SAP solutions on the SAP Business Technology Platform Core Extension Suite. Using SAP’s Artificial Intelligence Business Services, customers benefit from innovations developed within SAP’s ecosystem. They can identify and elaborate new use cases, extract and prepare data for analysis, and integrate SAP’s business services into their business processes.

SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation and SAP Data Intelligence are also some of the building blocks integrated into the intelligent suite. Combining these intelligent technologies helps SAP to embed AI into its integrated business processes and allows customers to extend the intelligent applications suite with new intelligence or create new intelligent solutions.

You may have noticed that AI is already in the core of enterprise software (Figure 3). For example, machine learning, analytics, and data intelligence functionalities are currently part of SAP HANA and SAP S/4HANA products. SAP is now accelerating and broadening its AI efforts across all product portfolios. AI at SAP has a solid infrastructure for training and inferencing and lifecycle management, continuing with various core machine learning technologies such as AutoML, explainable AI, then business-driven natural language processing and yielding in applications for analytics, prediction, optimization, digital assistants via chatbot, and dialogue technologies.

Examples of AI-powered SAP applications include:

SAP Service Cloud: Helps each agent save up to 40 minutes per day by automating 70% of the ticket management process. Combines ticket classification, automated answering, and natural language processing.

Sales Order Processing: Saving approximately 18 million euros per year (350 FTE) for one customer by automating filling of 12 million fields per year where rule-based approaches failed. The processing uses SAP Data Attribute Recommendation service.

Document Information Extraction (SAP S/4HANA, CX, Concur): Can result in a decrease of time spent on invoice processing by approximately 35%. Can also process various other documents, e.g., automatically process payables and payment notes and ensure that invoices and payables match.

SAP AI Strategy Figure 3
Figure 3: SAP embeds AI in standard SAP applications and offers enterprise-specific AI solutions and services to extend and integrate business processes
SAP AI Strategy Figure 4
Figure 4: SME Document Processing — Invoice Scanning: Example of efficient collaboration and timely market introduction and adoption

SAP’s embedded AI can add value to various LOBs and industries. The following example drills down into how embedded AI can add value to businesses’ invoice processes specifically.

Using Embedded AI to Increase Efficiency Around Supplier Invoice Processing

Entering supplier invoices can be a time-consuming job, especially when massive data must be captured manually from a paper invoice or multiple PDF documents. With embedded AI, business users can take advantage of advanced capabilities — like scanning PDF documents using SAP’s intelligent document information extraction service — to process supplier invoices more efficiently and accurately. Figure 4 illustrates a positive example of how SAP applies the internal AI Factory approach to intelligent supplier invoice scanning for small businesses and medium enterprises (SME). Demonstrated in Figure 4 is a classic invoice scanning scenario in ByDesign for which SAP Document Information Extraction is being used. Customers upload invoices, and SAP’s service automatically extracts key information and pre-fills the relevant fields in ByDesign.

The SME and the Technology & Innovation (T&I) board’s AI team partnered together to build this application. From ideation over productization to delivery, it took only six months in total, and in September, it already had more than 135 customers. However, what made this scenario successful is that the SME has the overall ownership and focuses on the identification of the use cases, customers, market size, proof-of-concept, productization, delivery, and GTM. In the GTM phase, they leverage onboarding automation tools to ensure a timely adoption. The AI team supports reusable technologies, AI Business services, adaptation to SME needs, and lifecycle management.


SAP is committed to helping businesses inject AI into their business processes in a scalable way to help them realize business value. Learn more about AI and ML at SAP by visiting the SAP Community Page and read more about how AI solutions from SAP can help enterprises solve complex business challenges. You can also find out more about SAP AI Ethics and how SAP is supporting AI for the good. For more information about how SAP is engaging in active AI research, visit SAP AI Research.

The authors of this article would like to acknowledge Joelle Eline Weber, T&I AI Operations, and the support she provided to create this article.

Realizing Value from your Cloud & SAP Journeys

By Joe Mullich, Contributing Writer, SAPinsider

If poet John Donne were alive today, his famous line might read, “No data is an island.” While SAP systems contain some of the most valuable information available to an enterprise today, increasingly the true value of that data is realized by combining it with other information stores.

“Companies want to unleash the value of their data, and the value of their analytics,” says Daniel Yu, Senior Director Products — Azure Data and Artificial Intelligence at Microsoft.

“Companies want to marry all their data that exists in all the different places, from Internet of Things (IoT) devices to the back office to the web systems they manage,” Yu says. “Bringing together data in your campaign management system running in the cloud with your supply chain data requires you to bring together data in near real time. In this way, you can not only make decisions faster — you can make decisions before your competitors do.”

There is no end of ways that companies can benefit from blending SAP ERP data with non-SAP source data.

For example, most companies with SAP also use Salesforce for customer relationship management (CRM). At some point, the order data history in SAP converges with the CRM data in Salesforce.

Or, consider a beer company running a Superbowl ad that needs to combine its SAP data with social media data, says Matthew Hayes, Vice President of SAP Business at Qlik, a leader in real-time data integration and analytics. “The company might benefit by measuring the marketing return on investment (ROI) of the Superbowl ad and different targeting strategies by combining real-time social media data with online sales orders. Marrying customer sentiment to SAP creates more insights.”

Order-to-cash — a critical but complex process that spans multiple functions, teams, and systems — is also ripe for combining SAP and non-SAP data. Companies want to collect payment as soon as possible after an order is booked. However, collecting payment depends on how fast an order is fulfilled, how quickly the bill

is sent, and how well accounts receivables are managed. If the systems are different and disconnected, the inevitable result is inefficiencies in collecting payments leading to higher operating and working capital costs.

To help organizations optimize order-to-cash operations and working capital, Qlik recently introduced solution accelerators for order-to-cash analytics. Qlik provides a blueprint for SAP data integration with modern analytics projects as well as pre-built data integration and analytics components — the accelerators — that work hand-in-hand with cloud technology partner offerings from Snowflake, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud to speed delivery of business solutions and data modernization projects. The accelerators save time and costs in the effort and configuration required to fit into a customer’s SAP deployment.

The order-to-cash accelerators extract and upload SAP data in real-time to the cloud platform of choice, allowing the data to be applied to cloud analytics and consumed by users more easily. As a result, companies can improve sales order booking and fulfillment, optimize days outstanding, manage working capital better, and increase efficiency with insights into billing errors, order returns, and bills processed per hour.

Choose Architectural Direction Carefully

Qlik’s end-to-end platform enables companies to make use of the analytics capabilities of different cloud vendors. “The analytics journey is evolving rapidly, and can materially impact your business,” Hayes says. “The irony is that SAP data becomes more valuable if you expand it with related data from other sources.”

Hayes says SAP has provided valuable software to its customers over the years, especially related to transactional processes. And when it comes to next generation business intelligence (BI) or analytics, customers have a plethora of options that they should explore. “A lot of ERP software is fantastic,” he says, “and it can be enhanced using solutions that are strong in IoT, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and analytics capabilities.”

Matthew Hayes Qlik quote

According to Hayes, companies need flexibility and autonomy in choosing their architecture direction in order to advance a specific analytics project or their overall analytics journey, based on a vision that includes both SAP data and non-SAP data.

“If you run SAP on-premise, that technology can allow you to leverage all the resources you need,” Hayes says. “But the minute you go outside that box, and make use of cloud-based services and other tools, you’re now bringing in other options. That means you have the power of SAP as a vendor, and you’ve got the power of the cloud solutions.”

“With cloud applications, you have access to thousands of machines in the cloud so you can run massive calculations for forecasting or inventory management across all your subsidiaries and only pay for the capacity that you use without paying to buy the machines,” Yu says. “You can immediately turn that information into predictive models, BI reports, actions, and share that information with vendors or partners. The rate of innovation for models and new capabilities that are happening in the cloud is simply faster.”

In the past, getting SAP data into a cloud environment was challenging because of the inherent complexity and proprietary nature of SAP applications and respective data models and systems.

The Qlik Data Integration platform removes the business and technical challenges of complexity, time, and cost. Yu explains how this works in tandem with Microsoft: With its proprietary technology, Qlik Data Integration quickly maps SAP business processes and effortlessly creates Azure Synapse schemas and calculations. This enables organizations to go from raw data to quickly discovering actionable insights in Azure Synapse, an integrated analytics service that accelerates time to insight across data warehouses and big data systems.

In addition, Qlik Replicate provides change data capture (CDC) capabilities that move data in real-time through a simple graphical interface which completely automates end-to-end replication. As a result, data engineers can easily set up, control, and monitor data pipelines with ease, keeping records in real-time, and in constant sync between SAP and the cloud environment. Qlik Compose automatically transforms SAP processes and apps that Azure Synapse can instantly understand, allowing the SAP data to be used quickly and easily for analytics insights.

“The cloud and SAP journeys are complementary on the usage but orthogonal on the architecture,” Yu says. “SAP systems are really good at managing transactions you need to run your business. Analytics is best when you try to map different data from different sources, connecting your own data with your partner’s data, with data from a third-party system to make predictions about inventory. That requires a different type of software, from BI to data lakes tools.”

Building Trust Throughout the Enterprise

Despite such technical advances, Hayes says he often encounters analytics project teams being dissuaded from taking data out of the SAP solutions by the SAP technical team in their company. “They’re really skeptical of third-party technology, or they really want us to use SAP tools to access the data,” he says. “So we have to build trust between the analytics project team and the SAP team.”

Without such trust, he says the SAP team might simply default to solutions that they’re familiar with rather than considering which solution is the best fit for the company. “When that happens, you run the risk of complicating the architecture and creating two points of failure,” Hayes says. “It’s important to not have the knee jerk reaction of saying we have to use SAP stack solutions. Sometimes, it’s better to put the project needs and requirements first, then select the best technology to meet those requirements.”

Avoiding such issues depends, in no small measure, on coordinating technology initiatives as well as mindsets within the enterprise. At most companies, cloud directives are usually driven at the CIO level. Hayes notes that the digital transformation strategy around SAP is typically run by an SAP program manager or officer. As SAP workloads move to the cloud, Hayes says that companies should see those initiatives as the same thing, or at least complementary, rather than as separate projects.

“If you keep them separate, you run the risk of people making decisions that are at odds with each other,” he says. “You may have an SAP initiative pushing an SAP cloud solution. Meanwhile, you may have a CIO being courted by other cloud-centric vendors or hyperscalers to use their cloud offerings. By the time

you figure out that you’ve made decisions that are at odds with one another, you could be pretty far down the path.”

Companies can help avoid these disconnects by developing a concrete vision for the analytics program. Hayes points to a poultry manufacturer that spent $3 billion a year on corn. By optimizing its supply chain and mining micro-efficiencies, it realized it could save $150 million on the bottom line. With that goal in mind, the company could select the right technology architecture to support it, and it achieved the targeted cost savings. Not every company starts with such a clear vision, but most have a similar goal.

As companies consider their cloud journey and their SAP digital transformation journey, they should begin with firm objectives in mind. It’s critical to ask specific questions: Do you want to lower costs? Increase revenue? Improve business efficiency? Gain more market share and create a competitive advantage?

Without knowing where you want to get to, it’s hard to choose the right path.

Making the Leap

By having this firm focus, companies can advance their SAP journey and their analytics journey. The biggest leap is the initial leap from traditional reporting to meaningful dashboards that provide a flexible way to visualize and drill down into data. “That’s the first bridge that needs to be crossed. From there, you can expand capabilities depending on the solution you’ve selected,” says Hayes. And those capabilities can be extensive, such as alerting capabilities and conversational analytics.

Hayes explains how a deeper approach can turn into real-world business benefits. “A sales rep that hasn’t seen a customer in two years could benefit from pulling out his tablet and typing ‘what revenue did Acme Chemical do with us in the last three years?’ If the rep sees that the customer has increased its spend by 40%, that’s really valuable information. It changes the flow of the conversation from what it would be if the spend had gone down.”

The key to achieving benefits is real-time reporting, so decisions are made not just by looking back at past events. “The expectations today are much broader than just give me a dashboard — dashboards are easy,” Yu says. “That’s just an aggregation of the past. They want real-time data that can shape the future. Supply chains organizations, who are probably the biggest consumers of analytics, feel like they don’t have enough analytics. They know how much inventory turnover they have, but there is no detail, and they can’t see the reasons for turnover. They need to bring together human data, with sensor data, with partner data, to get that detail in real time. That allows them to not only predict, but to change the way they do business.”

Daniel Yu quote Qlik thought leadership

These abilities must be spread widely throughout the organization. “You should treat data as you treat money,” Yu says. “You wouldn’t hire a supply chain manager that doesn’t understand just in time concepts or an accountant who didn’t understand modern revenue principles. In the 21st century, data is as important as those skill sets. Companies need a curriculum to help employees understand analytics concepts.”

In a time when data stockpiles are exploding, as are cloud, analytics, and technology options, it can be tempting to cling to historic approaches and notions. However, increasing competitive pressures mandate that companies think more broadly and break down silos — and not only silos of their data — but silos of perceptions and individual teams within the organization.

“One of Qlik’s core missions is to create a data-literate world,” Hayes says. “This means helping companies understand the best way to interpret data.”

Hayes shares an analogy to a baseball fan drafting his fantasy team. He has access to a tantalizing amount of information, but as the draft date approaches, having quick access to the best, most concise information is what’s needed. “When it’s crunch time, it doesn’t help you to have a bunch of data that you don’t know what to do with,” he says.

From an enterprise standpoint, this means having data that is organized and presented in a way that provides immediate, valuable insights. However, it also means being open to using the vast amount of technology options, and choosing the option that meets your specific challenge. “In the end, it’s your data and choosing how you want to leverage that data can be transformational.”

To learn more about Qlik Solutions, visit their Partner Showcase.

Automating Closing Processes at The Comfort Group

Deloitte Implements SAP S/4HANA Cloud for advanced financial closing to improve business-process efficiency, accuracy, and speed.

By Matt Gillespie, Contributing Writer, SAPinsider

As a fourth-generation family-owned firm, The Comfort Group has developed into the largest bed and foam manufacturer in Australasia. The company has grown dramatically over the past decade, both organically and through acquisitions. In the process of that growth cycle, The Comfort Group, which runs multiple ERP systems, has made great strides in terms of modernization, standardization, and automation of its business and technology processes. In order to align its financial close procedure with this ongoing effort – a critical step forward, considering all of the organization’s financial data gets consolidated on SAP S/4HANA – The Comfort Group implemented SAP S/4HANA Cloud for advanced financial closing with help from its implementation partner, Deloitte. The solution orchestrates the full spectrum of planning, processing, monitoring, and analysis tasks associated with financial close at The Comfort Group.

The Comfort Group Company Info

Discovery and Initial Configuration

A key challenge that arose during the initial planning stage was to conceive of the implementation of SAP S/4HANA Cloud for advanced financial closing within the Agile framework of two-week sprints. That requirement permeated the entire process as The Comfort Group’s business users worked with Deloitte’s project team to discover and document the existing close procedure. As is the case for many companies, that information existed in both formal and informal modes.

The team began with central sources such as process documentation and cheat sheets, then built a more complete picture using user interviews, emails, and other informal sources. Discovery activities thoroughly documented the processes themselves, the systems used, and the users involved (as well as their individual roles and privilege levels).

With an understanding of the current close processes in hand, the implementation team next analyzed the processes in terms of efficiency and to identify potential process areas that could be improved by means of automation. To create month-end workflows, they began with the closing Task List Models based on SAP’s Best Practices and tailored it to fit The Comfort Group’s individual needs.

Based on this pre-delivered template, the group added several required external tasks and then fine-tuned the task sequence and dependencies. Additional configurations included settings for regulatory considerations, such as regional data privacy requirements and Sarbanes–Oxley (SOX) Act compliance. Finally, the team set up status notifications and built uploads of attachments with work instructions and links into the tasks, so that everything a user needs to complete a given task is conveniently available to them, right in the task itself.

Demonstration and User Acceptance Testing

Having established its core build for the Month-End Template, The Comfort Group and Deloitte next prepared to demonstrate it to key decision makers, subject matter experts (SMEs), and other stakeholders. Part of that preparation was to define user groups, authorization settings, and the closing tasks themselves. The team also uploaded useful documentation such as cheat sheets, procedures, and notes and then applied common automation techniques such as embedded workflows and automated chains of closing jobs like the fixed asset depreciation or foreign currency valuation runs.

Building on The Comfort Group’s agile process, an iterative demonstration and testing process was established, incorporating input from stakeholders as the project continued. For example, a business SME might identify a process document that should be included, or a contingent process may be called for, under certain circumstances. As the team involved more experts, the set of month-end tasks became more automated, more complete, and more sophisticated.

Further investigation continued to reveal offline processes — such as email communication and status checks — that were involved in the month-end workflow but not included in the Month-End Template of the system. Over the course of the demonstration and user acceptance testing stage, many such offline

processes were formalized and incorporated into the Template by means such as notes and web application links. The Comfort Group found that approach to be essential in encouraging users to use the system for all aspects of the month-end workflow.

The delivery model used by The Comfort Group to implement SAP S/4HANA Cloud for advanced financial closing based user acceptance criteria on the user stories developed at the outset of the project. Meeting all those criteria successfully demonstrated that the implementation objectives had been met. End-user training made available beginning in this stage was a key means to improve the efficiency of user onboarding, including resources available through the SAP Help Portal’s Finance Video Library.

Solution Adoption, Ongoing Improvements, and Take-Aways

As The Comfort Group and Deloitte prepared to hand over the solution to production, they recognized that supporting the first month-end close to ensure that it went smoothly was vital to overall successful adoption. Advance planning included coordinating schedules and events with key business users, so they were prepared to receive and follow through on task notifications via email. Support resources were also strategically assigned for the close itself.

On a daily basis during initial adoption, the team held check-in meetings to monitor progress, share expertise and lessons learned, and address any issues that users were having. These meetings served as the hub for encouraging full user adoption, including the use of online processes and collaboration in place of informal workarounds or undocumented task knowledge. They also set the pattern for ongoing improvements to the integrity of the month-end process and to user experience and efficiency.

The success of this project shows conclusively that the Agile framework can be applied to the delivery model of SAP S/4HANA Cloud for advanced financial closing. In the future, SAP S/4HANA Cloud for advanced financial closing holds the potential to serve as a cloud closing hub for The Comfort Group across multiple ERP systems, with a goal of supporting integration to on-premise financial systems and enabling the company to conduct the closing process in a remote environment.