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May 1, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 11:22am

SAP’s Mike Ettling on the future of cloud HR

CBR speaks to SAP's new HR tech head about workforce management.

By Joe Curtis

ERP cloud giant SAP further signalled its cloud ambitions in March by hiring the former CEO of NGA Human Resources as its head of Cloud for HR.

Mike Ettling made a fast start, acquiring cloud-based workforce management firm Fieldglass in late March. With customers including American Airlines and VMWare, the company specialised in providing support for contingent labour workforces (temporary employees).

As it happens, that’s one of Ettling’s priorities, and the start of an interview with CBR in which he talks about everything from workforce management to LinkedIn and the to do list every HR director should have on his or her desk.

Let’s start with the reasons behind the acquisition of Fieldglass

For HR departments to remain successful they need a comprehensive overview of both the permanent and contingent [temporary] labour workforce. This is due to contingent labour being the fastest growing labour segment – it’s not only restricted to blue collar workers but is growing rapidly in the professional and executive ranks.

This is the reason why we announced the intent to acquire Fieldglass, as it uniquely straddles our HR solutions and our procurement (Ariba) solutions, providing a service to our customers that is currently not offered by any other company.

HR leaders are able to gain a single view of the entire workforce and also enables companies to access many more talent pulls through driving the sourcing of the labour through our Ariba networks. This unique differentiation for our customers will not only enable better management of the workforce, but we will also give them access to more diverse talent pools and sourcing options for contingent labour.

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How has HR’s ‘to do’ list changed recently, and what do you see as the main challenges to come?

With five generations of workers to cater for now, HR departments have significant challenges to ensure all generations of the workforce are adequately engaged. The introduction of mobile working and social media policies are just a couple of examples of changes which have been introduced, driven by the demands of millennials [people born from the mid-1980s onwards].

One of the main challenges is to embrace and implement innovative technologies to automate old ways of recruiting, payroll, time tracking and expenses. Not only will this increase efficiency, but also engage the vast workforce we are now faced with. Companies need solutions that enable new processes to motivate and align employees with business goals to drive outcomes.

How is SAP responding to the growing use of tablets to access cloud services within businesses?

SAP is a cloud company and mobile is the access point to the cloud. Everyone carries mobile devices in their pocket, and these rely on data that is in the cloud, as businesses run in the cloud and applications run in the cloud.

We deliver excellent user experiences across all mobile devices within the enterprise, including the development of applications, the security of devices, data, content and applications, and provide the best platform for mobilising applications. ‘Mobile first’ is the guiding principle behind all our solutions and applications running on premise or in the cloud and powered by SAP HANA.

We also lead by example – we have one of the largest enterprise deployments of iPads globally, with 25,000 iPads across our company.

How important has social media integration – e.g. LinkedIn – become as a tool for HR recruiters to find potential employees? Is there any possibility there of HR checking employee behaviour online?

The workforce of the future means social media integration needs to be a core part of the recruitment process, whether this is to discpver potential new employees or better understand a candidate. For example, LinkedIn is an essential tool for job seekers to research and engage with recruiters and potential future colleagues. Likewise for HR departments when recruiting, they are able to connect with and compare in coming applicants.

Without engaging via social media, organisations risk missing out on a pool of talent and skills that may otherwise not be reached through traditional recruitment methods.

What dangers do on-premise customers face in migrating to the cloud, and how is SAP helping existing customers do that?

Typically, organisations feel anxious about any potential down-time for operations and security threats when migrating to the cloud.

However, while this is the case, HR departments are well aware of the major benefits that switching to cloud-based HR solutions can bring

A major pull for customers is innovation and access to innovation. The cloud products SuccessFactors [SAP’s human capital management company] offer can push innovation to our customers quarterly. Particularly in the talent space where the ability to access new innovations quickly and frequently could mean the difference between differentiating talent on your team or not – this creates competitive advantage.

Naturally there are the technological and commercial benefits of cloud-based HR solutions, but ultimately it is the business benefits above this which create huge value and significant business cases for the customer.

What trends do you see dominating HR cloud in the coming years?

For the past few decades, HR has been the least standardised back office function within businesses. Until recently HR departments have only been exposed to standard practices and blueprints meaning attempts to create standard bodies for HR have failed.

Because of this, the HR landscape today is highly diverse, unstandardised and, as a result, expensive to operate. We now see highly customisable, on-premise HR solutions, which have helped institutionalise the lack of standards.

This is a trend that will only increase.

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