We live in troubled times. They call for principled leadership, standing up for values, and for ignoring our darker angels. Whether that was the intention of SuccessConnect or not, I certainly walked away from the event with that message.
Rob Enslin, President of SAP’s Cloud Business Group kicked off the event with a focus on philanthropy – Houston hurricane relief, Africa Code Week and SAP’s initiative to hire a large number of autistic candidates. No mention of software. Oprah Winfrey delivered a keynote (see my post here) which was about giving human goodness a platform. No political angles in her talk. Frances Frei, tenured prof at Harvard Business School making a transition to a senior position at Uber, engaged the audience in exercises focused on authenticity and trust. No discussion of the turmoil at Uber.
There were visible signs of focus on wellness – wearables as swag, cold pressed juices with kale and other exotic vitamins as nourishment. The breakouts focused on contentious issues like diversity in the workforce. I had to pinch myself a couple of times – am I at a weekend retreat with Deepak Chopra and Tony Robbins?
What was less on display was the software. The sessions were long on slides and words, less on demos. Given that it was my first SuccessConnect, I asked a few “regulars” – analysts who come to the event every year. To a person, they used the word “transition”. SuccessFactors is being transitioned to leverage SAP’s assets. The HCM chatbots are leveraging the CoPilot digital assistant SAP discussed at SapphireNow earlier this year. The planned Workforce Insights functionality will combine employee data from SF and contractor data from Fieldglass, another SAP cloud acquisition. SF will be available on HANA next year. The data centers should be able to leverage SAP’s still evolving cloud infrastructure plans. SF will leverage SAP’s field assets even more than it has in the last few years of success selling global deals. The leadership like the new President, Greg Tomb, will bring more legacy SAP pedigree. There will be tighter coordination with ASUG and other SAP user groups. In a Q&A, Jana Kanyadan, CIO at Mohawk Industries gave an impassioned endorsement for SF as an integral part of the SAP portfolio he had come to depend on.
Will this tighter embrace by SAP help SuccessFactors with the HRO buying center? Historically, SAP (and other broader ERP vendors) has not been able to “out-Dave Dave” in this demographic. That’s Dave as in Duffield who is legendary in that community with successes like PeopleSoft and Workday.
I look forward to seeing if this event was an exception or more of a statement of direction. The themes of leadership and values from this conference give it the potential to come at this market from more of an emotional and humanitarian angle. That even more than SAP’s formidable development and sales assets may give SF more of a competitive differentiation.