The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, is known for its humanitarian work in aiding victims of war and internal violence around the world. The organization employs more than 16,000 people in more than 80 countries. Although the nature of the work it does can prove to be complex and difficult, managing its workforce shouldn’t be.

The ICRC was working with more than 150 databases on two different on-premise solutions—one for Swiss employees and the other for employees recruited locally in other countries. Its workforce consists of 15% Swiss citizens working abroad and 85% of employees recruited around the world. ICRC identified the need to digitally transform its global HR processes and implemented SAP SuccessFactors solutions for its human capital management needs.

ASUG met with Nicolas Aeschimann, HR process manager, ICRC, to discuss why the organization chose SAP, how the team did it, and what benefits it has seen since the move.

Sharon: What were you looking to change or improve with how you managed HR and payroll?

Nicolas: We were using different systems and we had a very fragmented landscape. We wanted to consolidate all our employee data into one single platform and gain visibility into the entire workforce. We wanted to know who was where, as well as each person’s competencies so that we could effectively distribute services when and where they were needed. We also wanted to provide all our employees an easier way to manage their performance and goals development, succession planning, and so on.

Sharon: Why did you decide on the SAP SuccessFactors HCM suite? How did it meet your needs?

Nicolas: We wanted to find a global platform that could handle all our HR needs, and we wanted it to be a cloud solution. In the past, we over-customized our products and they weren’t maintainable anymore. They couldn’t keep up with evolving needs. So, ICRC needed to move away from that mindset and a cloud solution can offer that flexibility.

Before deciding on SAP SuccessFactors, we held a request for proposal with three different providers—SAP, Oracle, and PeopleNet, which was at that time one of our on-premise providers.

SAP SuccessFactors was the clear choice for a couple of reasons. First, it offered key functionalities—in particular, the recruitment and staffing functionality. As I mentioned before, our workforce is 15% expatriates and 85% locally recruited, but beyond that, we manage between 2,000 and 3,000 rotations per year. Some people go for a two-week mission, while others go for a two-year mission, and we have everything in between. We have a lot of internal mobility and recruitment to manage, in addition to external recruitment. SAP SuccessFactors came up on top as far as being able to provide that functionality.

The second reason was that within its proposal, SAP offered an experienced and highly regarded integration partner in the European market—Arago Consulting. We were pleased with their expertise and decided to move forward with the project.

Sharon: Which modules with SAP SuccessFactors did you implement?

Nicolas: The first phase was to implement the SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central, SAP SuccessFactors Recruiting, and SAP SuccessFactors Performance and Goals modules. We're currently launching the SAP SuccessFactors Succession and Development, as well as the SAP SuccessFactors Compensation modules. One of the modules that was under review was SAP SuccessFactors Onboarding, but we haven’t yet set out a plan for that.

Sharon: How did you identify gaps between your processes and the capabilities within the modules you adopted? How did you close those gaps?

Nicolas: SAP SuccessFactors is very configurable, so you have a lot of different options. When we did workshops to compare our existing process to our future processes, it was at times challenging to know what was possible. We also needed to have a better understanding of the potential impacts of process changes. So, for example, sometimes you can use a different configuration option and get almost the same results, but it may affect a different functionality completely. Ultimately, identifying gaps and optimizing the processes is an ongoing process itself. At times it requires a review and change after the implementation is completed.

Sharon: Do you do your payroll on-premise or use a third-party provider? How did this affect integration with SAP SuccessFactors HCM?

Nicolas: We do our payroll on-premise using two different third-party providers. As for the integration part, we use SAP SuccessFactors as the master tool for all employment data. We simply migrated all the employee data from the on-premise systems into SAP SuccessFactors, which is where we create and modify records, but payroll remains on-premise within each location.

Sharon: How did you plan and prepare for the implementation? Who was at the table during the planning phase? Who was involved in the implementation phase?

Nicolas: So, let’s start with who was on the team. IT was integral in planning and implementing, but so were the HR managers. Both departments were represented throughout the entire planning and implementation of SAP SuccessFactors. We had HR business partners from all the different countries at the table along with individuals who were identified to be key users in the old systems. It was important to include both so that we could know how to manage, clean, and migrate the data.

As far as preparing for the implementation, we built a community of HR officers and managers from each delegation and we kept them all involved in training and testing.

Sharon: How did you address change management? What challenges did you encounter? How did you communicate across the enterprise?

Nicolas: We had two things to consider when it came to change management. The core HR implementation and migration was relatively well-managed. It was made easier by the fact that our interlocutors reported to the same HR director who was the sponsor of the project. This allowed for smoother communication and adoption.

The performance and goals implementation, however, was a little bit more difficult to manage. It was more difficult to convince the organization why we had to invent a new performance and goal process. In the past, our employees did not have individual objectives or goals. It was just a review of their performance based on activities and competencies. That was a big change that was difficult to explain.

At the same time, we completely reviewed the job grading and reward system within the organization. This added to the complexity because when a change is touching your wallet, it’s more sensitive and more difficult to move forward.

We implemented a lot of modules in a relatively short period of time, and it was difficult to explain the ROI to managers and employees. We had to have a communication plan in place that would speak to everyone, in one voice, regardless of their individual role within the organization. It’s an ongoing process that doesn’t stop at go-live. We need to continue to communicate to encourage adoption.

Sharon: How did you handle the initial employee training? Do you have a plan in place to address it on an ongoing basis?

Nicolas: We’ve had a rolling training program from day one. We also, at one point, provided complex training materials, which weren’t very well-received or used. So, instead, we created a whole new team that addresses ongoing training and provides 24-hour live support. Training is an ongoing thing, so we need to treat it that way.

Sharon: What were your lessons learned through this implementation?

Nicolas: The first one is around change management and the importance of having a global message. This is key. Beyond the global message, you need to understand your business processes and what you want to change. It was very difficult to try to do a system implementation when our business processes were not clear and our maturity in some areas was quite low. Using the Agile methodology for the implementation made this even more difficult. If you know exactly what you want and you have a quick decision-making process, it's okay to do very short iterations. But when it's not the case, it can make things more complicated than if you just use the classical approach where you blueprint everything before starting implementation.

Another lesson learned has to do with the difficulty we had, and still have, adapting to the cloud. So, during implementation, I’d say to take your blinders off and pay attention to the road map. It can get easy to have tunnel vision and focus on the implementation itself and the testing. But if you’re in project mode for three years, then things start to look a lot different once you go live. Sometimes functionalities, such as the SAP Fiori interface, are just forced on you and you need to be prepared for them.

Sharon: What advice would you give other organizations looking to implement SAP SuccessFactors?

Nicolas: If you really want to get maximum advantage out of using the SAP SuccessFactors suite, challenge your system integrator when it comes to configuration. The system is so configurable that if your integration partner is used to doing it a certain way, you may lose the opportunity to configure it differently. Ask SAP to do a quality check on the configuration, as it may help you optimize or find other options. I think that was something important for us, because we were working with a third-party implementation partner.

The last thing I’ll say is that the system, just like any system, is not perfect. But I think it's quite powerful. If you also are looking for only one platform, I think it's one of the best solutions that will cover all your HR needs.

If you missed our employee experience and HR sessions at ASUGFORWARD, you can catch up by viewing them on demand. ASUG members will have unlimited access to all of the week’s sessions on-demand, while nonmember registrants can view them until Sunday, June 28 at 11:59 p.m. CT/Monday, June 29 at 12:59 a.m. ET.

Photo credit: ICRC

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