Do SAP customers really need in-memory Strategic Workforce Planning?

Amid the fanfare surrounding SAP’s in-memory technology, some analysts and consultants wonder if the first application built on the technology is worth the hype.

The idea behind SAP’s BusinessObjects Strategic Workforce Planning application has merit, according to analysts and consultants. They just have doubts as to whether SAP needed to marry the application with in-memory computing, especially given the added cost of the technology.

SAP unveiled the human resources application last December as the first software to run on top of HANA, its new high-speed, in-memory business analytics appliance. In short, the application lets users strategically model how their workforce will look -- or should look -- in the months and years ahead based on their specific strategic plan and other factors. Because it runs on HANA, companies can update the models in seconds.

“There may be a business case for some organizations,” said Jarret Pazahanick, an SAP human capital management (HCM) consultant with EIC Experts, a Houston-based IT consulting firm. “But how many organizations are that dynamic? They don’t need that information on a minute-to-minute basis.”

Paul Hamerman, an analyst with the Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., had the same concern. “[It’s] hard to say why it was built to run on in-memory.”

The business case for Strategic Workforce Planning

For its part, SAP feels that being able to do scenario planning and “what-if” analysis with immediate results is something companies will need to help them plan for the years ahead. 

“It’s a matter of how, and how fast, where we really make a difference,” said Dawn Crew, vice president of SAP HR solution management said about the application.

At this point, there’s nothing like Strategic Workforce Planning within human resource management or in the marketplace, Crew said. Companies either have to do that kind of analysis in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or develop a customized application, which can be expensive and can produce inaccurate results.

The speed, Crew says, reflects a need for companies to respond to business conditions that change faster than ever. To work the way that companies will work in the future, Crew said, they’ll need Strategic Workforce Planning.

While admitting that some potential clients have questioned the need for the in-memory “firepower,” Crew said that Strategic Workforce Planning would be especially valuable to industries that require employees with a high degree of training and education, such as the oil and gas industry, or pharmaceuticals.

Using Strategic Workforce Planning will help companies make sure they have the right skills for the right job in order to complete mission-critical tasks, according to Kouros Behzad, a manager in SAP’s human resources line of business solutions. In addition, if companies plan right, SAP says companies will have a better chance of reaching their business goals than organizations that go about it in a more “ad hoc” way. 

‘I would love to see a company with that kind of rigor in its HR department’

The addition of in-memory technology makes perfect sense, according to Steve Bogner, a consultant and managing partner of Insight Consulting Partners in Cincinnati. He said the application is less about human resources operations than it is about giving companies a strategic advantage. Companies will benefit from having the speed associated with in-memory analytics, he said.

Bogner did express “healthy amount of skepticism” over how well the application will be received because of the amount of data needed to make the application work.

To achieve the goals promised by Strategic Workforce Planning, he said companies need to have a dizzying amount of information on their human resources operations, including what skills and qualifications are required for each job, compared with the skills people in those positions actually have.  Companies will have to map that data against data ranging from what departments will grow, and by how much, and what the company has planned in the way of acquisitions and divestitures.

“I would love to see a company with that kind of rigor in its HR department, but I just haven’t seen that,” Bogner said.

Will SAP customers adopt Strategic Workforce Planning?

Just who will use the application and how much it costs remains unclear -- at least to many outside of SAP’s corporate walls.

While HRM consultant Pazahanick said that he’s currently got one customer interested in learning more about the software, neither he nor Bogner knows of any companies testing or deploying the technology.  It’s also been curious that Hilti Corp., a tool manufacturer that SAP touted late last year as one of the first companies experimenting with the application, had been using it for another purpose -- to crunch customer records, Bogner noted.

SAP reports that “hundreds” of companies are currently interested in the application, Crew said, but nobody’s running it live – in part because it was just released last December. SAP is now working with “dozens” of companies it feels has the resources to support the technology and want to make an investment in multiple in-memory applications, she said.

SAP currently doesn’t use the application itself, but it has plans to deploy it sometime in the first half of 2011, according to Oliver Bussmann, the company’s chief information officer.

While SAP would not disclose how much HANA and Strategic Workforce Planning cost, Pazahanick said he was pretty sure neither are cheap.

“There’s definitely a push to get more customers,” Pazahanick said of SAP’s marketing efforts around in-memory. “And a large push usually means large dollar amounts.”

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