One of the inherent characteristics of Software as a Service (SaaS) software has been that's it's not overly customizable, and SuccessFactors cloud-based HR software is no different. After all, the multi-tenant nature of SaaS means that a single, reliable codebase is required to enable customers to get the latest version with every release and retain a stable system. The advantage of not customizing means the software can be deployed faster and more simply, as well as have regular updates applied to all tenants without disrupting the stability of each client. But that has a downside, too, for any company who needs to customize the software to accommodate unique business processes. In the last year, SAP and SuccessFactors made steps to change that with two extensibility options: the Metadata Framework and the SuccessFactors Employee Central extension package for the SAP HANA Cloud Platform.
Extensibility refers to the ability to expand or add upon a program's existing capabilities.
The Metadata Framework (MDF) is an extensibility framework that allows administrators to create custom objects, screens and business rules in the SuccessFactors system without custom code. A single set of reusable objects exist in the SuccessFactors system whose behavior is controlled by metadata object configuration. This essentially means that objects are not affected by system upgrades and retain performance and configurability. The framework is so flexible that SuccessFactors uses it for new functionality released into Employee Central, such as Time Off and Global Benefits. Although the framework is only fully available in Employee Central -- it is partially available in other modules -- it is planned to roll it out across the SuccessFactors HCM suite over time.
These objects, called Generic Objects, can be created for a number of purposes and can be added to their own screens in Employee Central. For example, you may wish to create and administer a company asset scheme or enable employees to manage work centers. This could be handled by creating one or more Generic Objects and screens for these objects. Employees or administrators can then access these screens to manage the objects as if they were just standard portlets in the system.
One of the more powerful parts of the MDF is the rules engine. The rules engine allows custom business rules to be created for objects or for fields on objects. Rules can be created and used simply for data propagations or generating employee ID numbers, or for more complex activities such as creating contract expiry reminders or data calculations. Rules can be applied to different events in the system and for both standard objects and Generic Objects.
Employee Central extension package
In October 2013 SAP and SuccessFactors announced its first extensibility package for the SAP HANA Cloud Platform, the Employee Central extension package. This package enables customers and partners to build custom applications for SuccessFactors Employee Central on the SAP HANA Cloud Platform. The SAP HANA Cloud Platform is SAP's Platform as a Service (PaaS) application development platform.
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Applications created using the extension package are created and run on the SAP HANA Cloud Platform, but because they sit within the SuccessFactors UI and leverage the theme, data, permissions and Metadata Framework objects in the Employee Central system, from an end-user perspective, the applications are -- for all intents and purposes -- part of Employee Central. This seamless user experience is one of the key facets of ensuring adoption of custom functionality.
The extension package solves one of the many challenges that customers had with Employee Central: building their unique functionality in the system. Although the Metadata Framework provides robust and comprehensive extensibility functionality within SuccessFactors, it doesn't have the ability to perform such activities as generating documents or creating maps of all manufacturing plants in a particular Geo Zone using data from the Employee Central system.
But why would a company need the extension package if SuccessFactors' product management is listening to customers and building out functionality in Employee Central itself? Well, SuccessFactors is going to cover the major features required by customers -- such as contingent workforce management or document management -- but when it comes to local, vertical or industry-specific requirements that don't justify R&D development, this is where the real value of the extension package comes to the fore. In particular verticals like healthcare, there are many unique requirements that are not found in other verticals or industries and thus are unlikely to become part of the core Employee Central product. However, through extensibility, customers and partners can build out this functionality. Partners in particular can carve a niche within certain verticals or industries.
Overall, the major challenges of meeting unique core HR business requirements are becoming less of a barrier to adoption of Employee Central as the core HRIS of enterprises. SAP and SuccessFactors have worked hard to bring out cutting-edge extensibility functionality that is a real differentiator compared to competitor core HRIS systems. User experience is key for adoption and both the MDF and Employee Central extension package enable and support a seamless and easy user experience, no matter what activity a user is performing.