Finding the Right Partner for your SAP SuccessFactors Implementation

The HR2014 conference has come and gone, and there was a lot to learn.  The biggest learning for me was that the current landscape of SAP and SuccessFactors partners has customers in a state of confusion and distress.  I heard many stories of failed or unnecessarily painful implementations from a number of customers.  I heard stories of many partners who try to treat cloud implementations like just another on-premise implementation.  I heard customers who are struggling while looking for partners, but don’t know what to look for in what one of my colleagues dubbed “The Wild West of SuccessFactors“.   I’d like to give a little bit of advice in finding the right partner for your organization, based on over 8 years of implementing SuccessFactors solutions.  (Note: My use of partner throughout this blog is referring to SAP Consulting and Implementation Partners.)

1) Know what kind of partner you want

There are a lot of service levels and offerings partners can provide, so you need to need to have an idea going in of what kind of services you are looking for. Are you looking for a pure implementation partner, who just needs to get the configuration in the system?  Do you need process consulting to make sure your design fits your organizational needs?  Do you need content to help support your processes?  Do you need extra training or testing support?  Do you need readiness and change management services?  Do you need extra help on design of your reporting and analytics?  Do you have complex integration needs?  Some partners are pure implementers, and some are strong in areas of the other services, but not as experienced in the actual implementation.  You need to be ready to talk to the partners about what they can offer in the services most important to you, and the experience they have in those areas.

2) Cloud implementations are not on-premise implementations

I find it unbelievable that if I want to go find a partner for cloud solutions on the SAP site, it asks me for my ZIP code, and then tells me there are no partners in my area (Memphis, TN).  This is a virtual world, and the cloud is a virtual solution. If you are basing your decisions on proximity, you are already putting yourself at a great disadvantage.  Cloud implementations should be happening mostly virtually, with onsite visits at key points to help ensure success of the project.  How much onsite time is needed or recommended will vary by the complexity of the client and project, as well as what services are built-in… However, if you are thinking in terms of FTE’s that are going to be setting up shop in one of your cubicles, then you are still thinking on-premise, notcloud.  If the partner is trying to sell to you that way, they are having the same issue (and are still thinking in terms of billing you for FTEs as well). 

Most SAP partners are partners from the on-premise world.  They are good at what they do, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve adjusted to the cloud.  A lot of partners have had real struggles adjusting to the cloud world, and has resulted in a lot of painful projects for customers. Companies with great reputations, credentials, and references with on-premise and more general process consulting have had issues with SuccessFactors engagements.  Some partners have been on the SuccessFactors side for a long time, and have a good understanding of how cloud projects work, and some (but not all) consultants with on-premise background have adapted quickly.

3) Know what a “certified consultant” is                            

Customers didn’t know enough about certifications for partners and consultants already, and I believe the new certification structure simply made it more difficult for them to follow.  First, certifications aren’t the end all and be all when selecting a partner… However, they can be a valuable starting point.  SAP has a lot of certifications available.  Prior to recent changes by SAP, there was one level of certification, so you were either certified, or you weren’t.  Now, there are two levels, with the “Certified Professional” being the equivalent of the older “Certified”, which lets you know the consultant not only took SuccessFactors training on the module, but they have completed leading two projects.  The difficulty is, there is now a “Certified Associate” level, which only says the consultant took a training class on the product.  Any time you see this certification, you can be sure that the consultant has zero or at most one completed project led.  Unfortunately, this describes most consultants at most partners out there.  Be sure to ask about certifications of consultants being placed on your product, and remember to make sure the certifications are relevant to the products you are having implemented.  All certified professionals and associates receive an actual certification document from SAP, so you can ask actually ask to see the certifications for any consultant who will be leading your project.  If you are dealing with “Certified Associates” make sure the partner has a mitigation plan with oversight for the consultant by “Certified Professionals” or ask for another consultant.

At this time, there is unfortunately not a “Certified Master” level for SuccessFactors, although I hope that will be offered sometime in the future to really allow customers to find the experts on the system.

While learning about your consultant’s certifications, it’s definitely worth checking their LinkedIn profile as well.  If they don’t have one, that may be another red flag.

4) Check references

References are important.  The right references are more important.  Are you getting references showing experience in the
SuccessFactors modules most important to you?  Are you getting references for the types of services you are contracting for?  Are you getting references relating to the particular consultants on your projects?  References for SAP on-premise implementations aren’t really going to help you here.  Even the biggest and most well-known players in the SAP world don’t necessarily have the ability to give you the best SuccessFactors project experience.  And don’t be scared to do a reference check with the customer in question.  In fact, following up with references is a must.  It has not been unknown for a reference to not be as accurate as suggested.  And last but not least, ensure that any references are not just for an internal implementation at the partner you are in talks with. If, say, 5 of a partner’s 6 projects were internal implementations then they probably don’t have the experience that you need.

5) Make sure that your partner is your partner

A good partner is someone who can be there for you for a long time.  Talk to them about your strategic challenges.  Talk to them about how to get the most out of your SuccessFactors system.  Talk to them about quick wins vs. long term value.  Talk to them about your company culture.  Talk to them about your vision. The best partners out there will be able to help you avoid landmines and obstacles that could put your implementations at risk.  They can help you set realistic budgets, timelines, and articulate what you will be able to get back out of the system at each milestone.  They should be able to tell you the risks of doing too much too quickly, and what kind of resources you will need to execute aggressive implementation plans.  In short, find a trusted advisor who is looking out for you and not just trying to install some software before moving on to the next project.

To close, I’d say don’t rush your decision.  Finding the right partner can make or break the success of your SuccessFactors implementation.  Do your due diligence, and make sure you find the partner (or group of partners) that can best deliver what you need to be successful.  You don’t want to be the training ground for a freshly trained consultant.  Getting it right will save you a lot of frustration so do what you can to make the first big decision of your SuccessFactors project the right one.

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