SAP CHRO Stefan Ries Shares Top Lessons Learned in HR Transformation: Big Data is Smart Data

Digitalization is a golden opportunity for Human Resource professionals to assume their rightful place in the business supporting strategic growth. This is how Stefan Ries, Chief Human Resource Officer and member of the Executive Board at SAP, summed up the colossal impact of cloud computing on high-performance organizations.

Stefan Ries, Chief Human Resource Officer and member of the Executive Board at SAP, keynoted at SuccessConnect London, where he shared SAP’s HR Transformation journey. Image via SAP.

“Cloud-based computing is the chance for HR to emerge from backend, transactional processes like payroll and administration to make a difference in the business with real-time and predictive data-driven analytics,” said Ries. “HR needs to realize that digitalization is their friend, and the entire C-Suite needs to understand the new value HR delivers, which has changed significantly.”

Ries also had a specific message for the whole leadership team. “HR needs to run digital, leaders need to work together integrating data across finance, business departments and HR processes, and we must never forget the H in HR,” he said.

SAP has undergone its own major HR transformation, and Ries, who keynotes this week at the SuccessConnect London event, shared his perspectives with me. He held up the company as a prime case study. The details are in a just-released white paper entitled, “Success is Simple Human: Insights on SAP’s HR Digital Transformation.” Here’s a sampling of lessons learned.

People still matter most

Ries saw SAP’s HR transformation using SAP SuccessFactors as emblematic of the company’s mission.

“Just as SAP is a cloud company powered by HANA, so is our own HR organization. We run on SAP HANA using SAP SuccessFactors in the cloud,” he said. “We’ve applied over 90 percent of the end-to-end HR processes we deliver to our customers to our own organization. It’s a consumer-driven approach centered on bringing employees the best experience. Our consumers are job candidates, employees, managers and alumni.”

Data doesn’t negate value of people

Technologies like AI and machine learning don’t cancel out the human touch. On the contrary, data illuminates behavior and its impact.

“We can predict individual and collective behavior in the future. This is how you make HR leaders strong,” said Ries. “For example, the SAP HANA in-memory database provides real-time information supporting business decisions. In the past, we’ve been jealous of our colleagues in finance because they had the precise numbers. Now HR has the data, as well as the human aspect, to back up decisions. Big data translated into smart data makes the difference.”

Communicate all the time

There’s a reason why almost 90 percent of SAP employees are extremely happy with the company’s decision to replace annual reviews with ongoing conversations with their managers. Continuous dialogue generates results. The same goes for convenient, online learning.

“The latest generation of workers demand the same experience they have in their lives as consumers, so we are delivering the mobile experience employees asked for with an easy, intuitive user interface,” said Ries. “Also, people hate email that pushes information at them. They want pull mechanisms using social media, and SAP JAM perfectly fits that need.”

Over 90 percent of employees use SAP Jam daily (I can attest to its benefits). Last year employees accessed 1.3 million learning activities online, available at their convenience, including on mobile devices.

To be sure, fundamental changes like this demand both patience and pragmatism. “You need to be patient, giving people time to change their behavior,” said Ries. “You also have to choose your battles wisely. Whether you go with pilots or a big bang, make sure your approach aligns with the culture and business situation. We decided to deliver quick wins initially to build trust, then go big.”

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Top image via Shutterstock.