“SAP Runs SAP”: How one team rose to the challenge of moving from a highly customized on-premise ERP system to highly standardized cloud solution. Meet the HR finalist for this years’ Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award.

It’s August 2018 and the first large-scale enterprise is migrating its HR processes to SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central running on SAP HANA. It’s the moment of truth in a mammoth project that will affect some 95,000 employees in 74 countries. Who is this customer? None other than SAP.

The goal of the project is to drive SAP’s own digital transformation and pave the way for the HR organization to play its full part in the Intelligent Enterprise. As part of this effort, the team was able to redefine and standardize more than 70 HR processes.

SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central does more than simply expand on the features already available to SAP employees. It makes processes simpler for employees and managers alike, and it’s a powerful showcase for potential external customers.

Roadblocks Large and Small

It has not been an easy ride for the project team. But setbacks are part of the process, parcel of innovation, and part of projects of this scale — “especially if your project is the largest of its kind to date and you have no-one else’s experience to draw on,” says Claudia Heneka, HR project manager for HR Goes Cloud in HR Core.

Andreas Kahlen, IT project manager for HR Goes Cloud in HR Core, agrees: “This is a highly complex implementation because of the many different countries involved, their local and legal entities, the sheer size of the workforce, and the scale of processes and data volumes that inevitably result from that. What we’re doing here is replacing internal processes that SAP has developed and honed over two decades. This poses challenges at many levels.”

For example, one of the unforeseeable challenges that took a while to sort out occurred with data migration and data validation. Some roadblocks slowed progress more than expected and meant that the project schedule had to be both fluid and flexible.

Optimization: Customer First

The team puts a positive slant on challenges like this. “If we can identify and smooth out the bumps at SAP first, then our external customers won’t experience them down the line,” says Ralph Schneider, program manager for HR Goes Cloud.

By running the software in a real working environment, the team was able to solve issues and refine processes from the start, thereby relieving customers of tedious maintenance work later on. “That’s why Formula One cars are tested on real race tracks before they compete in a Grand Prix. In effect, we are all test drivers for SAP,” adds Schneider.

Teamwork at its Best

The team working on this major project is a highly virtual one, with members spread across more than 19 locations worldwide. Many of them will meet face to face for the first time when the winner of the Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award is announced. “We needed a broad range of skills for this project. And it was only by working with diverse SAP talent all over the world that we were able to get the result we wanted,” says Schneider.

So how — despite the challenges — did the team succeed in implementing the project on time? Heneka’s response speaks to pure perseverance: “Giving up wasn’t an option. We were all part of one team. We never lost sight of our goal, and we remained disciplined and focused. If something didn’t work, we looked for a solution and just kept on going.”

What’s Next?

Since the go-live, more potential improvements have been identified. Armed with feedback from their colleagues, the project team is now focusing on continuous optimization, thus ensuring that that there will be scope for more simplification and innovation in the future.

The Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award is the highest employee recognition at SAP, awarded annually by the CEO to an individual or a team.