SuccessFactors Customers on Process, Challenges of Adopting Quarterly Software Updates

September 02, 2016 by Craig Powers

In the on-premise enterprise technology world, when a vendor updates its software, a customer will typically need to undergo a project that involves development, updating code to make sure the upgrades fit. In the cloud world, updates come more often, and are delivered straight to the software. In software-as-a-service (SaaS) products such as SuccessFactors, enabling those upgrades is often the matter of a click of a button.

But as many SAP customers and ASUG members know, there is more to consider when updating SuccessFactors than the new functionality. There is change management—employees have to be trained on how to use the new functions. There are also still customizations to consider, those with Boomi and potentially HANA Cloud Platform, to ensure these upgrades don’t conflict or create unnecessary and confusing redundancies.

While attending SuccessConnect, SAP’s SuccessFactors and HR-focused conference, this week, I asked two SuccessFactors customers just how they go about dealing with the quarterly updates that are sent their way. It seems it is a matter of budget, as well as willingness to be an early adopter, which impacts how companies update—not so different from the on-premise world.

I asked Justin Watras, director of talent management and organizational effectiveness at Brooks Brothers, and Marc Farrugia, VP of HR at Sun Communities, if quarterly SuccessFactors updates ever present a major challenge in their organizations.

“What I say to other reference customers is that we’ve never had the experience of waking up after a release and the world has changed,” says Watras.  “Generally, the automatic updates have subtle change—they might change look and feel.”

Watras and Brooks Brothers aren’t surprised in large part because they keep up with the information that SuccessFactors provides on upcoming releases. That’s a major point for Farrugia and Sun Communities as well.

“One of the things that helps is that I am passionate about the application,” says Farrugia. “I am waiting for the release updates to come out—I share them with managers, we get together at the end of the week and decide what we want to try out.”

Farrugia says the process of deciding which SuccessFactors updates to adopt is less formal at Sun Communities than other organizations he has spoken with. “There’s no formal governance committee—and I wouldn’t want to work in that environment,” explains Farrugia. “We are rogue, and because of that, we are way ahead of other departments [technologically] in the company.”

For example, Sun Communities has been one of the leading companies in adopting SuccessFactors Intelligent Services functionality, machine-learning driven set of features that were introduced at SuccessConnect 2015.

Brooks Brothers will play with new features and test them out in its production instance before turning them on—but even if something is desired, there is always the matter of time and money to consider. “So many aspects of the releases that have significant user impact are opt-in,” says Watras. “We aren’t opting in to everything—especially if you don’t have the resources that month.”

Beyond the production testing, Brooks Brothers also has a vetting process. It takes the SuccessFactors roadmap and squares it up against release highlights that the vendor provides. Those changes that are easier to acclimate are given priority. They’ll also identify areas that get specific attention each release. For example, onboarding will be prioritized one quarter while compensation is tabled for another time.

This formal process is important for Brooks Brothers in not overwhelming its employees with change, but it does mean at times its SuccessFactors users are not equipped with the latest software. “It does have the consequence of a lot of things sitting in the upgrade center we haven’t had time to fully vet.”

SuccessFactors Roadmap Changes—The Customer View

For both Sun Communities and Brooks Brothers, roadmaps are an important piece in deciding which new features to adopt. SuccessFactors made a promise at SuccessConnect in 2015 to improve roadmaps for customers, and I was curious if Watras and Farrugia had seen any changes.

“I’d say the roadmaps are slightly more detailed,” says Watras. “They haven’t become markedly better—a little more robust, not radically improved.”

Even if roadmaps improve, the skeptical approach Watras takes is a prudent one. “I still have a believe-it-when-I-see-it mentality.”

Farrugia says it’s the content of the roadmaps that have really changed—hinting at SAP’s overall shift in focus with SuccessFactors. “I’ve definitely noticed more focus on the platform and behind the scenes things,” he explains. “There haven’t been as many pretty bells and whistles.”

That aligns with SAP’s messaging—it said during each of its SuccessConnect keynotes this week that the focus will be two “foundational” releases—the platform—and two “functional”—the bells and whistles—releases per year. That certainly should help customers like Brooks Brothers, who may be dealing with that backlog of features to vet and adopt.

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