SAP just changed the game if not the industry with their planned acquisition of SuccessFactors

Posted on December 6, 2011


I guess that it is true about Christmas being the time for miracles . . .

As you know readers I have been one of the most vociferous critics of traditional ERP players such as SAP over the years for a variety of reasons.

This includes the abundance of colossal failures of implementations in both the public and private sectors as was the case with the City of Houston and Kings County, as well as FoxMeyer Drug and Hewlett-Packard to name only a few.

But here’s the thing, problematic implementations and the apparent disconnect with the market that has some industry pundits predicting the demise of the company notwithstanding when they do something right they do it in a big way.

This is the case with the recent announcement that SAP is planning to acquire SuccessFactors.  Who is SuccessFactors you might be asking yourselves and why for the first time ever has this led to my writing a positive post about the Weinham, Germany giant – the equivalent of a Christmas miracle (or Festivus miracle for you Seinfeld fans).

While there are many facets to this answer, the linchpin epiphany is that with SuccessFactors SAP is finally acknowledging the fact that their technology alone is not the answer but is instead dependent on the client’s ability to execute as much as their own to achieve a successful implementation.

In short with SuccessFactors, SAP is going to force their clients to do their part in assuring the success of an SAP-based initiative without having the unpleasant task of telling them directly what they have to do.

Allow me to explain.

If you have ever sat in on a meeting with a software vendor and/or implementation organization such as an EDS or Hewlett-Packard you will quickly discover that beneath the superfluous technical jargon and countless JAD sessions a continual sales pitch is actual being made based on a can do attitude.

Now I am not saying that a positive we are up to the challenge mindset is a bad thing however, in the majority of these sessions and as a means of sustaining the necessary momentum to guarantee the perpetual revenue streams that is the lifeblood of the ERP business model, there is a leave the driving to us allusion that many responsibility abdicating clients are all to happy to accept.  The fact is that without the client’s active and knowledgeable involvement there are very few if any technologies that will be able to deliver to their maximum potential.  Hence the 85% implementation failure rate.

This is where the SuccessFactors acquisition comes into play, that can best be explained by the following excerpt from the company’s BizX web page:

Business Execution is the difference between planning for success and achieving success. Organizations around the globe dedicate countless hours and significant resources to developing comprehensive business strategies in pursuit of one singular goal: Success. Problems occur when companies have a brilliant strategy, but fail to execute.

There is not a single software vendor, business consultant, or integration firm that can make an end client execute on any strategy.  In other words, and no matter how experienced or accomplished any organization providing a solution and service may be, if you really look into the implementations that have succeeded you will find an actively involved customer at the helm.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of client companies to varying degrees struggle with execution.  They know it, the SAPs of the world know it and so does everyone else in the proverbial room know it.  Yet before the planned SAP acquisition of SuccessFactors, traditional ERP vendors at their own peril overlooked client execution capability shortcomings by glossing over it with their own technological might and know how.  Basically everybody, as IACCM’s Tim Cummins had once put it in a Commitment Matters blog post, around the executive table lies to one another and does so with alarming frequency.

Rather than perpetrating the cycle of deceit, with a SuccessFactors acquisition SAP is removing (if there ever was one), the need for stakeholders to lie about their respective capabilities and responsibilities.

To think, just in time for the holiday’s who would have thought that one of my big three stories of the year would involve SAP . . . let alone a positive piece.  And while I still have reservations about the ERP company’s traditional business model, coupled with a lingering too little, too late sentiment based on the significant inroads made by SaaS players such as Coupa, Rosslyn and SourceOne whose applications do not require a SuccessFactors level of integrative know how, I will nonetheless watch SAP through a more generous lens in 2012 than in years past.

Now where is my Festivus pole?

Is SuccessFactors the piece SAP has been missing . . .