For more than 10 years, GP Strategies has helped clients implement the full SAP SuccessFactors HCM suite, guiding our clients in what best practices to use and which standards to follow. We are fully committed to the idea of helping clients standardize as they make the move to the cloud. We help them achieve new performance benchmarks, reduce operating costs, and have an HR system that is continuously evolving.
During this time we have also seen our fair share of situations where clients did not 100% fit into the standard. Having to fit in a “one box fits all” system results in some transitional and operational pain points. The core of the problem is that you need to extend the functionality provided by the cloud, but still want to support your organization from the cloud. The solution lies in the SAP Cloud Platform.
Having been the lead implementation consultant on multiple global Employee Central implementations for clients coming from SAP on premise or customized solutions, I have often wished for the opportunity to customize the system to the client needs. This is why I find it so satisfying to finally be able to provide clients with a real alternative when they cannot fit in the box—not because their requirements are not reasonable. They are just not ordinary due to a requirement not anticipated by SAP, and this no longer has to be a showstopper for moving fully to the cloud. No need for those Lotus Notes databases or SharePoint forms that might close the gap but give a bad user experience and nightmares for the IT department.
In this article I will briefly explain:
- What the SAP Cloud Platform is
- When you should consider this as an option
- How it works with SuccessFactors and other systems
What is SAP Cloud Platform?
The SAP Cloud Platform is a Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering that enables clients to host a custom-developed solution, allowing you to extend SuccessFactors in areas where your organization is not happy or able to use the standard solutions offered by SAP. In fact, it can be used to extend any system with API capabilities.
The platform supports a range of programming technologies, but most commonly extensions are built as HTML5 applications. The SAPUI5 framework ensures that your extensions are supported and responsive across browsers and devices.
SaaS vs PaaS
As a SuccessFactors client, you are already familiar with Software as a Service (SaaS), a full system hosted and maintained by SAP, taking away most of the operational responsibility of keeping your HR system up to date and bug free.
With the SAP Cloud Platform, you move to a lower tier in the cloud offering in terms of service, but gain in flexibility. In the PaaS model, SAP still provides the servers that your solution is hosted on, but the solution is tailored to your company and processes. In essence, you gain control over the Application and the Data layers from the SaaS model.
Does this not raise cost?
Well yes, moving from SaaS to PaaS definitely has a cost implication. This is also why not all use cases are suitable to be solved via a SAP Cloud Platform application.
When should you consider an extension?
GP Strategies does not advocate that you built a custom UI layer on top of the entire SuccessFactors suite. For the vast majority of your HR processes, the SuccessFactors suite will support your needs, just as it has for thousands of other clients. With the Metadata Framework (MDF) you can further extend the system for use cases where SAP has not delivered a standard solution. For example, you would like to be able to capture and store employee grievances or have a simple way to manage assets provided such as laptops or phones.
When should you make use of extensions?
- You need to support a complex process that cannot be simplified.
- You have higher than normal requirements to the user interface due to the target audience.
- You want to optimize a critical process that has high volume and cannot be implemented efficiently in SuccessFactors.
- You want to pull data from multiple systems into one overview/form/action.
In essence, you should use an extension when you have complex requirements that cannot be fulfilled with SuccessFactors-provided tools on a critical process. An example is the recently announced standard SAPUI5 based extension “SAP SuccessFactors Visa and Permits Management.” Intended to close the functional gap for visa application processes in the Middle East, it is an example of a complex and multi-stepped process that involves multiple roles, a scenario that is hard to fulfill with the workflow framework in SuccessFactors Employee Central.
Complex and regular data transformation beyond what the Rule Engine in Employee Central provides can also be accomplished via an extension. This can be covered by Java-based extensions that allow for server-side scheduling and execution of jobs in which you need to pull data stored in SuccessFactors, transform it, and either share with third parties or store in SuccessFactors for reporting needs. We have seen use cases in this domain related to clients moving from SAP on premise and having custom BADIs set up to calculate key inputs to their compensation or bonus process.
How does it work with SuccessFactors?
A SAP Cloud Platform extension will be hosted on either your own SAP Cloud Platform account or your service provider’s account in case you leverage a standard solution. Just as with SuccessFactors, the cloud is located in multiple SAP locations, and depending on your contract with SAP, it would still be in Amsterdam or St. Leon-Rot if you choose a European location. For full detail check the below link:
The architecture of a Cloud Platform extension can change, greatly depending on the use case. The example below illustrates how an extension might be used to enable SuccessFactors users to access data stored in MDF in a tailored UI. Outputs of the extension could be sent to SAP or third party system. Your imagination is the limit when it comes to what you can create.
The integration with SuccessFactors is, in the above case, twofold:
1. Security: The security part between SuccessFactors and the SAP Cloud Platform enables a seamless user experience by automatically authenticating the user. By using the built-in SAML authentication between SuccessFactors and the SAP Cloud Platform, the end user will not even notice that the extension is not a standard part of SuccessFactors.
2. Connectivity: Data can be retrieved over the REST OData APIs in SuccessFactors BizX, LMS, and JAM. It can, of course, also be retrieved from other SAP products that expose APIs like Concur, Fieldglass, or Ariba and non-SAP products that you might have in your IT landscape.
Where is the data stored?
This is your decision, and something that you should of course consider carefully if you are a European-based organization or operate within the EU, considering the new GDPR regulation.
The SAP Cloud Platform provides the ability to create custom databases that you can store data in and expose via your custom extensions.
In most cases, we have however opted for storing data in the SuccessFactors Metadata Framework, as this has several benefits:
- No license implications on data storage are needed as long as you still have available custom objects in SuccessFactors.
- Data can easily be reported on via ORD.
- With the SuccessFactors Q2 release, data can be scheduled to be deleted after defined retention times.
- This option allows your SuccessFactors system administrators to easily access and correct the data without the need for SAP Cloud Platform training.
- No potentially sensitive or confidential data will be stored in the SAP Cloud Platform, giving you one less database to worry about.
- Make use of the built-in Audit features in SuccessFactors MDF.
Real-life use case
An example of a real-life use case is our MIMIR extension, which enables a more comprehensive employee feedback process, beyond what badges allows for in SuccessFactors standard. The simple badge feature is an option that many of our clients have been interested in, but never used as it had too many limitations in SuccessFactors.
As you can see from the above video, the user experience is not impacted because you have functionality supported by an extension. Authentication between SuccessFactors and the SAP Cloud Platform automatically logs in the user and gives them the right access based on the configuration in SuccessFactors RBP framework.
Let us help you extend your cloud
At GP Strategies, we are ready to help you design, develop, and deploy extensions for your every business need. We are also continuously working on closing any open gaps we might see in the existing functionality.
Do you have gaps you would like us to help you close? Contact us today.
GP Strategies is a long-time trusted partner of SAP and has more than 550 SuccessFactors implementations behind us and 150 live clients being supported. Contact us for expert guidance on any SAP SuccessFactors topic, SAP Cloud Platform, SAP Cloud Integration, and Dell Boomi.