Dynamic teams, an ontology of skills and a lot of HR feet in the field

Amy Wilson, Executive at SAP SuccessFactors

A few days ago, SAP SuccessFactors held its user conference, SuccessConnect, in Las Vegas. The event took place the same week as the HR Technology Conference and Workday Rising shows. As a result, news from SuccessFactors may have competed with news from these other conferences. I will try to fix it with this piece.

Who is SuccessFactors?

SuccessFactors was founded by Lars Dalgaard in 2001. The company went public in 2007 and bought a few companies along the way. It acquired the Plateau learning management system (LMS) and the Jobs2Web site.

In February 2012, SuccessFactors was acquired by SAP for approximately $3.4 billion. 2012 was a busy year for SAP as they also acquired the Ariba procurement solution in September of the same year. HR agreements were important in 2012 with the acquisition of Taleo by Oracle and the acquisition of Kenexa by IBM.

A SAP spokesperson said SuccessFactors now has more than 9,000 customers.

SAP SuccessFactors offers a full suite of HCM products with functionality for core human resource management system, talent acquisition, learning management, payroll, performance management, succession planning, and more. . The payroll part is interesting because users can use the Employee Central solution – a product with significant global market penetration.

Overall SuccessConnect event

First, SuccessFactors had all of its senior executives present. It’s great to hear product news from the people at the top. Secondly, the customers present were very eager to hear about the new improvements made to the suite. I captured some of the content from the product roadmap sessions and watched those stand-up sessions delight customers. You know what kind of session I’m talking about: it was difficult to see the presentation screens because all the clients had their smartphones in the air to take snapshots of the slides.

In an interview I did with TechTarget during the show, I noted:

“It’s not enough to have a transaction processing HR system,” he (Sommer) said. “Post-pandemic business issues are very different from pre-pandemic. So they are trying to bring additional capabilities to make the solution more relevant for employers in today’s extremely challenging job market.

HR professionals are looking for apps that not only find and onboard talent, but also better manage the talent they already have, Sommer said. SuccessFactors HXM’s new Dynamic Teams feature is well suited to this and has been very well received by SuccessConnect.

“They had a monster crowd, and getting into some rooms was tough because everyone wanted to hear everything,” he said. “The audience was eager, hungry and generally very positive and seemed eager to bring the information back to share with their colleagues.”

SuccessFactors announcements

SuccessFactors made three major announcements at the show and some other news. One of them involves “dynamic teams”. According to SAP:

Dynamic teams is a new capability that enables organizations to create, track, measure and optimize the results of teams that exist beyond traditional hierarchies. Organizations that use SAP SuccessFactors Performance and Goals can add objective key results (OKR) to Dynamic teams to track progress and measure success. Additionally, employees and dynamic teams are matched based on what people know, not who they know, using machine learning and AI within SAP SuccessFactors Opportunity Marketplace to make personal growth more equitable.

The key word in all of this is ‘dynamic‘. Dynamic teams include more than just formal organizational structures. A dynamic team might be a fast-paced ad hoc group that faces a short-term fire drill. This new ability can help people connect other people together and form groups that should be more successful. Groupings can range from informal, short-term efforts to formal, large-scale projects.

The engine behind the matching uses cutting-edge technology and a skills ontology (see below) that does more than just match a few words to someone’s CV. In theory, this tool can help companies build winning teams and manage their results. And, the word “team” may actually be too restrictive because companies might use it to help mentoring relationships, customer pursuit teams, and other assignments.

Looking at offerings from other companies in this space, the challenges have been accessing a data store where a person’s total skills inventory, soft skills, project skills and more are present. . You can get bits of it in a performance management tool, an ATS database, or a human resource management system, but it’s likely to leave you and your employees wanting more.

Some products will underperform because they lack real intelligence or rely on limited data. These products simply match keywords and are as abysmal in their results as ATS technology for recruiting. Some tools only take into account “hard facts” such as university degrees and workplaces. They don’t even try to understand the real, unstated nature of a person (e.g., that person took over a failing project, rebuilt team morale, and helped several team members become the the company’s most important reference persons on several occasions). key concepts).

Buyers of such tools should be aware of potential issues such as:

  • Does our business have enough data to provide a meaningful contribution to AI/ML tools? The best AI tools often need a lot of data to draw valuable conclusions. Small businesses might not get the great results they want.
  • Does our company have personnel who can determine if the AI ​​algorithms are biased or if there is bias in the datasets that feed them?
  • Can the tool withstand a legal challenge? Can you explain how the AI ​​works?

Buyers should resist the urge to use these tools for whole new uses, like identifying people the company might want to fire/lay off or identifying employees to promote (see Cath Everett’s caveat on this ). While it might be tempting to wonder why certain people aren’t chosen for teams, that doesn’t mean they don’t contribute greatly to the company’s success. Using AI-based results for an unintended use case is discouraged.

skills ontology & growth portfolio

SuccessFactors announced two other new technologies: Skills Ontology and Growth Portfolio. According to SAP:

Skills ontology uses machine learning and automation to continuously identify an employee’s skills based on their role, responsibilities, experiences and accomplishments, providing a holistic view of skills from organization to organization global scale.

Growth Portfolio is a dynamic library of employee attributes, including skills, strengths, work styles, passions and aspirations – bringing the together model of self live.

These tools can provide part of the data store for the dynamic teams tool described above.

Buyers need to probe the “how” behind the people of a person’s skill inventory. Keep in mind that some long-serving employees might have been with the company for ten or more years and all of the information about their skills that resides in an HRMS solution might be extremely outdated or materially incomplete. A tool that infers skills based on job descriptions, roles, special assignments, and more. can be a great starting point, but it may not be complete or completely accurate.

Likewise, asking the employee to fill in the gaps or verify information may not work because people might take advantage of it to exaggerate their skills.

And don’t bother asking the person’s supervisor to validate and complete the information because that person may have left the company a while ago.

Finally, skills, like many assets, can depreciate over time. For example, while I’m confident I can resurrect my aging COBOL skills, it may take a while for that to happen. So, is my dated COBOL programming skill relevant or shouldn’t it be a factor in a current skill inventory?

SuccessFactors seeks to tie all of these personal abilities and characteristics into a unified, singular view of an employee. This is certainly an admirable goal and I can see them developing this concept over the next few years/releases.

SuccessFactors will also deepen the integration of these new features with other SAP applications such as SAP S/4, Fieldglass, Ariba, Qualtrics and many more.

These new capabilities also enable an extension of SuccessFactors talent management functionality (see image below). These features are now part of the SAP SuccessFactors HXM (Human Capital Management) suite.


my catch

The main messages on this show were all about new features that will change the employee experience for SuccessFactors customers. But, perhaps the real star of the show, for many participating customers, was the sheer number of product enhancements articulated in various breakout sessions.

Customers were hungry for new features that make SuccessFactors core solutions buzz. Days later, I’m still amazed at how eager customers are to watch the new payroll enhancements being announced, whether the solution is for: SAP ERP HCM on-premises payroll; SAP S/4Hana Private Cloud; SAP SuccessFactors central employee payroll; Partner-managed, cloud-based SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central Payroll; or, the new Next-Gen public cloud payroll project that will come to the UK and US markets first. These nuggets were definitely a crowd pleaser.

It may be because this conference attracted a lot of people post-pandemic event that generated so much interest among customers. Customers there were in a feeding frenzy for news. Some even got excited about some pretty minor things, but I’m sure they also went back to their employers with the headlines. Regarding the results of the conference, it is a good thing. People left knowing, in a directional way, where SuccessFactors is and where it’s going. Now SuccessFactors needs to start working on next year’s news and announcements.