Operation Cloud: The Europe Problem


Italian-born Angela Mazza lives in Switzerland, but she hasn’t been home for two weeks. The SAP Forum for Personnel Management, held recently in Karlsruhe, Germany, was just one stop on the journey she has undertaken to push cloud technology into the big time, primarily in the area of human resources. Mazza, who worked at J. D. Edwards and PeopleSoft before joining SAP nearly 10 years ago, took on responsibility for SAP’s global cloud business at the beginning of 2013.  Not surprisingly, given her new role, her home is wherever she happens to be. We caught up with her in Karlsruhe and asked her:

How the market is evolving

What the HR tools can do

Why the focus is on Europe

How SAP is using the cloud

Next page: How the market is evolving

Foto: Privat
Photo: Private

SAP.info: With the takeover of SuccessFactors, SAP has pitched itself firmly on the HR cloud market. Did the decision to acquire come at the right time?

Angela Mazza: It was important for us to take a decisive step in the direction of the cloud. SAP is the clear market leader in on-premise solutions for the HR environment, but Gartner studies confirm that the topic of cloud computing is moving steadily up the corporate agenda. So, by 2015, we want to be garnering 75% of new HR sales revenue from cloud applications – and from talent management in particular. The success of niche vendors in the cloud space shows that the market is shifting. Consequently, SAP is striving to extend its market leadership in on-premise solutions to cloud solutions as well.

What can talent management do?

Talent management is all about identifying employees and job applicants with exceptional skills and taking those skills to the next level. Its added value lies in its ability to pinpoint skills and match them to the tasks to which they are ideally suited. After all, it’s vital to onboard the right employee at the right time. Talent management also helps with planning employees’ quantitative and qualitative development in alignment with the overall corporate strategy.

When you have colleagues who are over 60, it can be hard to forget that their days at the company are numbered. And everyone in the department knows when someone is close to retirement. Is it actually necessary to include these employees in IT-based talent management?

The focus of IT-based talent management is more on particular skills and talents than on age or gender. This means that an employee’s talents are nurtured and put to productive use right up until they retire. Talent management helps managers bring together team members of different ages and with varying experience and skills to match the task at hand in the best possible way. Challenging processes like these can only be handled at the speed that is required today if they are IT-based. Cloud solutions in particular – with their immense flexibility and short implementation times – offer a massive advantage. In fact, in a global world where large numbers of teams work together virtually, talent management is nigh on impossible without efficient IT support.

Next page: What the HR tools can do

The job application process at large corporations is generally pretty torturous. Applicants are required to enter their data in various forms and systems according to a set procedure and specifications. “Simplicity” is certainly not the word that springs to mind in this context. In fact, for highly qualified job applicants who have grown up with easy-to-use Internet applications, the whole experience comes as something of a shock…

The younger generation is used to handling all kinds of processes quickly and easily on their PC or mobile device. We need to provide recruiting tools that fit the kind of experience they’re used to.

How do these tools improve the user experience?

Interested applicants can register online via the application portal. General and job-specific filters are then used to match possible candidates to tasks, thus enabling the HR department to draw up a short-list and suggest other suitable positions. So, in effect, the recruiting tool and talent management fuse into one, efficient solution.

Any how do they make HR tasks easier?

Let’s take the example of employee performance appraisals. Managers assess the performance of their teams and make the individual appraisals available on the online portal for other authorized managers to view either directly or on request. If a manager has a specific position to fill, he or she can use the information on the portal to short-list candidates who offer the appropriate skills.

Tools can also be a great help in supporting career and professional development. Companies regularly conduct “potential assessments” for their employees. What is their current status? What particular skills do they have? What are the next possible steps in their career or professional development? How can we foster and deploy the employee most effectively? Is there an opportunity for him or her to take up an international assignment? Information like this is mapped in the tools to make the process of formulating and realizing career development options significantly easier.
If, during a performance appraisal meeting, the manager sees that a team member needs to do a training course in communication, the system automatically suggests suitable courses that are tailored to the needs and current skill level of the employee concerned. These IT-based processes guarantee a competitive edge – not just for large corporations.

Various studies show that only one tenth of companies are contemplating using cloud in their HR operations. Why the reluctance?

The degree of reluctance varies from region to region. While the North American market shows the highest level of cloud adoption, other regions are still taking a more cautious stance. The reasons for this are partly cultural, but they also stem from the legal regulations that apply in individual countries. For example, employee protection rights and data protection regulations differ considerably from country to country. SAP therefore operates data centers in Europe.

To meet the compliance regulations that apply in European countries?

Precisely. And this will provide us with a foundation for strong growth in Europe.

Next page: Why the focus is on Europe

What makes you so sure that the cloud market will grow strongly in Europe too?

Cloud applications can be implemented and deployed very quickly. Companies all over the world are under immense pressure to acquire talented people, but many of them do not have IT-based processes to help them. Today, you need to identify talented people fast to keep pace with the market. This is simply not possible without IT-driven processes.

Who are your main competitors?

There are some very interesting smaller cloud competitors on the market. SuccessFactors, as the market leader in talent management, is one of the strongest players. By acquiring SuccessFactors, SAP has leapfrogged its rivals to take a commanding lead at the head of the field.

It seems that the cloud adoption rate among SMEs is particularly high …

I don’t think you can really generalize here. There are many examples of large companies in the United States and Europe that have implemented cloud solutions.

Next page: How SAP is using the cloud

How is SAP using the cloud?

To take one example, SAP has adopted the talent management cloud applications in its own HR operations. As a company, we have to keep working to stay ahead of our competitors and maintain our position as market leader. To do that, we have to make sure we use highly efficient, IT-driven process systems.

Bearing in mind that new software always causes a certain amount of upheaval, how frustrated are users right now?

New software always ushers in a new wave of innovation and progress. I would say that the benefits easily outweigh the effort required for SAP users to re-learn certain tasks.

You’ve been responsible for global HR software sales for five years, and you’re now responsible for the global SAP Cloud portfolio too. Has the acquisition of SuccessFactors provided extra momentum?

The on-premise market leader has joined forces with the market leader in cloud talent. That’s bound to create enormous momentum. We can now align the HR processes to match our customers’ HR and IT strategies: on premise, in the cloud, or in hybrid scenarios.

Leading analysts confirm that the acquisition of SuccessFactors has extended our lead over our rivals. We feel that we’re ideally equipped to tackle future challenges and make “Operation Cloud” a resounding success.