How Siemens took its HR IT into the cloud

How Siemens took its HR IT into the cloud

Summary: Siemens shares the lessons learned on its human resources IT software-as-a-service journey.

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Like many large enterprises, Germany-based Siemens AG had been suffering from numerous complexities and inconsistencies with managing its gargantuan workforce across the world. Finally putting its German practicality to good use, the electronics engineering company decided to seek out a technological solution to its human resources (HR) management woes.

Siemens AG embarked on its HR software-as-a-service (SaaS) journey in 2008, and went hunting for a vendor to provide such an offering. The company's head of employee development, Juergen Siebel, had avoided involving himself in HR IT for a long time, but went along with the plan, anyway.

"After having gone into this, I'm quite grateful I was forced into it," Siebel said at the SAP Cloud SuccessConnect Event in Sydney.

With over 400,000 employees globally — 63,000 employees across Asia and Australia alone — Siemens was suffering the effects of having multiple offices across the globe, but no practical way to manage all of its employees in a cohesive manner. There were HR systems in place for human capital management, but their reach generally didn't stretch beyond their respective borders. Instead, different Siemens offices resorted to sending Microsoft Excel spreadsheets with employee data to each other. Data-entry fields on those spreadsheets were not standardised, either.

Standardising the terminologies and processes used to assess and keep track of Siemens workers across the globe was paramount for implementing an HR SaaS offering. The aim was to make access to that data seamless worldwide, so that business managers could gain insight to the whole organisation, regardless of which country they are based in.

"We need the data," Siebel said. "Without formal and standardised assessments, there would be no data for planning or organisational development."

Having the data in one place also means that Siemens can run analytics, which is helpful for making business decisions, he said.

Siemens chose the SuccessFactors platform, and decided against piloting the HR SaaS offering, opting instead for the "Big Bang" approach.

"We said no piloting — we'll move all employees onto this platform in one go, and we announced we would shut down some of the legacy systems shortly after having moved to SuccessFactors," Siebel said. "For us, it's a cultural thing ... If we pilot anything in Siemens, there is a high likelihood those that don't like this change will use the opportunity of the pilot to undermine everything.

"In pilots, things go wrong. Even during the Big Bang rollout, things went wrong, but if you have headquarters and boardroom backing, which we did, you can survive that."

The company created a "point of no return" scenario, so there was no going back once the SuccessFactors platform went live.

Siemens spent the next few years standardising everything and gradually rolling the HR SaaS out to each geographical region. Looking back, Siebel would have spent more time and energy on change management.

"We're an engineering company with 160 years' tradition of high-quality German engineering — we do everything by the book, and what we didn't reach out to was the hearts and the emotions of people," he said. "One of our errors as a company is that it's difficult for us to shed that engineering shell and become more emotional.

"That caused a few hiccups early on, because sometimes things don't go right the first time, and you need dedicated people to say 'it's worth it nonetheless'."

SuccessFactors was later acquired by SAP, and, by 2012, Siemens was ready to transition back to regular operations.

"The most important achievement for us is, for the first time in 160 years, we have all the performance data in one place," Siebel said.

This year, the company is looking to take the SuccessFactors platform to the next level, adding new features, including data analytics. Siemens is currently not using advanced analytics for the consolidated human resources data, but it is keen on this particular area.

"Analytics is one of the top things I want to advance for talent search and succession planning," Siebel said. "We are looking forward to more collaboration with SuccessFactors on that field."

While he acknowledged that taking the SaaS offering onto mobile devices is an interesting concept, other issues take precedent.

"One key area ... is enterprise readiness, and that comes before iPads," Siebel said. "All things have to move to mobile at some point, but some things, especially with the size of our organisation, needs to be very robust and secure.

"There's certain work we still have to do first, even if they're not as sexy as performance reviews on iPhones."

Topics: Enterprise Software, Australia, Cloud: How to Do SaaS Right

Spandas Lui

About Spandas Lui

Spandas forayed into tech journalism in 2009 as a fresh university graduate spurring her passion for all things tech. Based in Australia, Spandas covers enterprise and business IT.

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