SAP HCM Cloud Migration: Why You Need to Understand Your Starting Point – part 1

What the Armed Forces Taught me About SAP HCM Cloud Migration 

Executive Summary

As with any journey, transformational or otherwise, knowing your starting point is crucial for your HR Cloud migration journey. It seems this holds particularly true for organisations starting with an SAP HCM solution, mainly because the typical(!) SAP HCM customer is very different from a typical(!) first generation cloud customer (SuccessFactors or others). Being used to a very comprehensive system like SAP HCM that allows customers huge flexibility (often more than is good for them) creates a peculiar starting position regarding the level of automation, process variation, tolerance for exceptions, data complexity as well as expectations and mindsets.

Applying experience mainly based on customers coming from very simple solutions to this scenario has created a lot of frustration and left customers disappointed despite having chosen excellent solutions (SAP SuccessFactors in most cases) and very experienced consultants. The most important points of failure are data migration, integration, payroll and different expectations about “simplification”. Whilst SAP SuccessFactors offers better tools for integration and migration than others, there’s just as much disappointment, as expectations are also higher and the tools don’t help, if the implementation team doesn’t understand the starting point.

However, those customers, who don’t trust cloud consultants and use old methodologies with old school consultants, usually fail even bigger, so you certainly need to understand the goal as well as the starting point to plan and make the journey.

As many consultants with an SAP HCM background have by now qualified as SuccessFactors consultants and gained significant experience, there should be quite a few suitable implementation partners. For other target solutions than SAP SuccessFactors, this is still a big issue and customers should shun implementation partners, who are too proud to take experts in the legacy solution on board for the journey.

What’s got army Service to do with Cloud HR and SuccessFactors? 

Ok, it’s an unlikely headline. Not only do very few conscripts in Germany ever admit that army service actually teaches some useful skills, but in 1988/89, when I did my compulsory service in the Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces), “cloud” was something you expected to hear on the weather forecast, rather than in a discussion about IT and “SuccessFactors” would have earned you a malus point in an English spelling test. So, what could I possibly have learned back then?

Well, some more pleasant activities in the army were hiking (though they called it endurance marching) and orienteering. The first time you are thrown out of a truck, handed a map and a compass, and told “get to Baumholder village centre” you realise that you’ll have no idea which way to turn, unless you’ve identified your current position on the map. This (unsurprising) insight was driven home by our group leader, a very nice chap completely hopeless at reading maps. The day we found ourselves 15km away from our destination just before midnight (we started 12km from the destination) we decided to never let him touch a map again…

Fast forward 30 years: how does this lesson apply to the implementation of SAP SuccessFactors or other cloud HR solutions? Well, it was a number of conversations with customers that made me remember it: these customers have all been using SAP HCM, usually including payroll, for a long time, so the solution had a decade or more to mature. They are now migrating to cloud HR, mostly to SAP SuccessFactors, but also to Workday. They are all using implementation partners with a long track record in Cloud HR, but none of them is very happy with the implementation project.

Why experienced cloud HR consultants can still fail

So, I was wondering “If these experienced consultants can’t make it work for their customers, does this mean the solution is no good fit for them?”. Discussing further, it turns out that the Cloud HCM solution usually is perfectly fine. Sure, there are some cases, where the scale of expectations raised doesn’t quite match the scope and budget eventually agreed, but that as well as most of the unhappiness with the implementation results to a very large extend from one point: the consultants don’t understand the starting points of the customer journeys and the customers don’t know the destination well enough. Even worse than that: most consultants don’t even appreciate the importance of understanding the legacy HR on-premise solution. Just going on about “you need a cloud mindset” or “this is how things are done in the modern world – forget that old, outdated stuff” doesn’t help. Facilitating change is about joining the customer on their journey across the river and pointing out the stepping stones – not standing on the other side shouting “Just Jump!” Sure, there is always a point where some “Just Jump” attitude is needed, but on its own, it’s not enough to succeed.

So, back to our initial picture, these consultants behave like orienteering coaches, who only ever started their journeys from Denmark. So, when they needed to get to any place in, say, Germany, going South was generally not a bad start. But for them, working with SAP HCM customers to migrate to, say, SAP SuccessFactors seems to be the equivalent of starting in Italy: going South will take you to Germany eventually, if you stick to a straight line beyond the South Pole, but the journey is neither fast nor pleasant. The ways they were used to, did’t do the trick anymore. That doesn’t make the consultants stupid. They do, what senior implementation consultants are meant to do: applying their experience from many successful projects – unfortunately that experience is only partially relevant in that particular context. Interestingly enough, this is exactly, what we consultants like to accuse customers of: sticking to the ways that worked in the past…

What makes SAP HCM so special as a Starting Point for SuccessFactors or other Cloud Migration HR solutions?

To begin with, from a general perspective, SAP HCM is a very mature solution with a broad set of features. It also allows customers an enormous scope of freedom to amend and extend the system (at a cost!) and, if they choose so, customers can be very independent. This attracts a type of customers, who value these things. They are now, rather late, opting for cloud, because they start seeing options in the cloud, which their on-premise solution can’t keep up with anymore, and because they see the trend.

Compare this to another type of organisations: the cloud early adopters, who I like to call “First generation cloud customers” (as opposed to the “Second generation” described above). I’ve seen my first implementation of a major Cloud HR vendor in 2010/2011. That customer literally started on a green field. Every change the new system demanded, was good, because everything is better than nothing. They had nothing to give up. They had no internal capability in managing their own HR system. They had no legacy payroll to integrate with (though integration in general and with outsourced payroll in particular was still a big challenge). Most other first-generation cloud HR customers also came from rather basic – or sometimes broken – solutions.

1st Generation Cloud HR customers usually came from rather simple solutions

So, how does it help, if the starting point is a rather simple or immature solution? Well, there are a number of points:

  • There are very few complex processes or unusual data fields a cloud solution can’t cover
  • The data structure is simple
  • Few, if any, 3rd party integrations are needed
  • But most notably: the customer expectation regarding the scope is low, so it’s easy to achieve an improvement with a lean first wave implementation and then evolve over time. Giving up a lot of features and automations to do the same, when starting from a more mature solution, is much more difficult to sell and often doesn’t make business sense either

Or to find a nice picture: you can argue that a Porsche Sports car is faster, slicker and more agile as long as you want – many people would still prefer their Bentley or an SUV. But talk to someone driving an East German Trabant, and they’ll take the Porsche any time.

Coming from SAP HCM doesn’t give you an excuse to break all the Cloud rules

SAP HCM Cloud Migration breaking cloud rulesThis is not judging, what is right or wrong. Different types of organisation pick different IT systems and different IT solutions let organisations evolve in a different way. It is certainly always a good idea to use a technology change as an opportunity to simplify, but you can’t always expect the same outcome for customers coming from very different starting points. I appreciate it as much as the next person, if a customer is prepared to simplify and would also drive simplification in any SAP SuccessFactors implementation, but they also need to be realistic. On the other hand, coming from a complex and feature-rich legacy solution mustn’t be used as an excuse for not using standards and for not simplifying or for using an on-premise implementation methodology to deploy cloud solutions. Therefore, strong cloud experience on top of SAP HCM knowledge, and a consultant, who insists on certain cloud methodologies and best practices, are also crucial for success.

Moving from SAP HCM to Cloud HR Solutions like SuccessFactors requires a dedicated strategy

So, in most cases, having a mature SAP HCM system as a starting point leads to

  • a much higher expectation for the outcome of the initial implementation project than the average customer has
  • a different transformation and communication path

In part 2, I’ll explore some particular points, Cloud HR implementation Teams should keep in mind, when migrating from SAP HCM.

Helping customers to plan their cloud transformation RoadMap is one of my big passions. So, please reach out to, if you want to discuss this or other topics related to Digital HR.

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Adessa Group was founded in 2005 as a specialised, pan-European Human Resources service provider. The company was founded with the vision of supplying sustainable computer solutions through the development of an international network of subsidiaries, close to their customers and with the aim of growing organically. This vision was translated through the values that shaped Adessa’s corporate culture.   You can follow us on LinkedIn by clicking here.