SAP global head of engineering and cloud operations James Harvey, left, and global head of products Amy Wilson, right, discuss the latest mobile features for SAP's SuccessFactors platform during the company's SuccessConnect conference in Las Vegas on Aug. 30, 2017. Courtesy SAP.

Published: August 31st, 2017

LAS VEGAS, NV. – Mobile technology, illustrated by a recent Apple Inc.-assisted redesign of its signature SuccessFactors platform, will be integral to SAP SE’s efforts to digitally transform human resources going forward, one of the company’s top executives said Wednesday.

“We’re seeing a huge opportunity to increase the utilization of our [HR] services… through mobile devices,” James Harvey, SAP’s global head of engineering and cloud operations, told a group of reporters and analysts during the SAP SuccessConnect 2017 conference in Las Vegas on Aug. 30.

“Frankly, it’s the future,” he said. “HR works hard to build fantastic services for employees, and mobile devices remove all the friction. If your services can be designed in a way that makes using them a fun experience, that’s how you’re going to get people invested from now on.”

The design component is especially crucial, Harvey said, which is why earlier this year the Walldorf, Germany-based SAP and Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple announced a design partnership, including the opening of a joint facility in northern California, with SAP developing native iOS apps using Apple’s Swift programming language and Apple offering its design expertise to the mobile version of SuccessFactors.

The resulting product was released in June and has been a hit with customers, Harvey said.

“We partnered with Apple because it was so critical to get [the design component] right,” he said. “You get one shot with mobile, and if people have a bad experience… they’re gone, and your odds of getting re-downloaded are not very high.”

To maintain its edge since then, SAP’s 100-person-strong design team has continued to develop and release enhancements for the mobile version of SuccessFactors every 30 days, Harvey said, on both iOS and Android.

For example, one of the current features in development is a machine-learning-powered virtual assistant aimed at helping new employees feel welcome after being hired by an SAP customer.

“I remember my first day at SAP, which was only 13 weeks ago, and think about the amount of information that was coming at me,” Harvey told ITBusiness.ca. (Before arriving at SAP in May, Harvey held similar roles at CA Technologies for almost three years; and before that, Oracle acquisition Taleo for two years; and Oracle itself for one.)

“If your boss is at a meeting, you don’t know anyone, and you have some downtime, it’s nice being able to ask your phone questions around who to connect with, or who you need to visit to fill out certain forms,” he said.

One of the more important lessons SAP has learned from Apple is the importance of “first-use experience” – that is, the speed at which end-users form an opinion after their first interaction with a technology, Harvey said. With that principle in mind, the virtual assistant has been designed to interact with users in a voice-based manner, rather than through text.

“Having a conversation with the platform the way we’re having a conversation right now is much more human and helpful to an employee than a text-based approach,” he said. “Candidates form a very quick opinion based on the first interaction they have with their employer, and we think this could be a great tool for making that experience a much better one.”

Constellation Research co-founder and principal analyst Ray Wang said that he thinks SAP is doing a good job of integrating mobile into its operations, and that Apple’s collaboration with SAP, which powers the majority of its human capital management software, isn’t as surprising as you might think.

“It’s a strategic relationship, because Apple wants to have a larger presence in the enterprise so they can sell more iOS devices – not necessarily iPhones, but iPads,” he said. “SAP wants to have that coolness factor, while also penetrating other organizations with Apple-style user experience. It’s a win-win relationship.”

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