The impact of platform as a service (PaaS) on HCM cloud solutions

Posted by Gary Cole on August 2, 2018.

One aspect of HCM cloud solutions that attracted early adopters was the promise of a “controlled” environment that forced organizations to adopt standardized business processes and data. This standardization certainly is a benefit to moving to a software as a service (SaaS) model; however, one reason for touting the benefits of a controlled environment was because that’s what the solutions were initially. Over time, these systems have evolved and now give customers the ability to extend functionality through platform as a service (PaaS) capabilities. Oracle and SAP SuccessFactors already offer PaaS options to their HCM customers, and Workday is in the process of releasing its PaaS solution to the market. Here’s what you should know.

What PaaS is…
PaaS is a cloud-based development environment that enables you to build extensions to (but not customize) your cloud-based HCM solution. It’s an environment that is maintained by your solution provider and often includes tools for integrating your creations into the delivered HCM solutions.

What PaaS is not…
It’s not magic. PaaS extensions to your HCM solution must be designed, developed, tested, integrated, and maintained. Though the PaaS environments provide you with development tools and integration libraries, it is still real development work that requires the right skill sets. Anything you build in PaaS must also be maintained and updated as the solutions with which they integrate evolve. Your cloud provider will maintain the actual development environment, but you must maintain anything you have built in that environment. That means that your IT/HRIS teams will need to have the right capabilities and experience to maintain these custom-built extensions.

Configuration, Customization, and Extension – what’s the difference?
To understand the potential impacts of PaaS, we must first define the different options of changing or expanding an HCM software solution.

  • Configuration is building your business processes, logic, data, and other key aspects into the delivered software solution and applies to on-premises and cloud-based solutions.
  • Customization is changing the delivered software solution to include new functionality, features, or data elements (those that cannot be configured). This was the cornerstone of on-premises solutions that allowed organizations to change the software to meet their specific needs. Incidentally, it’s also what made on-premises solutions difficult to maintain and upgrade. Cloud-based solutions do not support customization.
  • Extension is the introduction of add-on functionality or components that integrate with the delivered solution but don’t substantially change the delivered solution. This method was used heavily by many on-premises customers who used products like PeopleTools to build custom modules that integrated with their HCM solutions. This also now applies to cloud-based solutions with the emergence of PaaS.

Our take
PaaS can be a way to extend your HCM cloud solution, but it should be done with careful consideration. When using PaaS to extend your capabilities, challenge yourself and your organization with the following:

  • Does this extension help us differentiate from our competition or does it help us provide a unique capability or service to our employees?
  • Don’t fall into the trap of building capability just because it exists today. Challenge the value it is adding to the organization and exhaust other ways of accomplishing the objectives.
  • Focus on the employee/user experience, not on the impact a change has on HR. Employing design thinking will help you keep the focus on your diverse set of employees but it will likely make some processes more challenging for those in HR and operations.
  • Does the extension positively impact the user experience by providing a seamless process flow or does it degrade the experience by taking the user out of the delivered core product?
  • Understand how the extension will look and feel to a user who is using the core functionality regularly. Account for all types of users coming in from all possible channels (web, mobile, etc.).
  • Is the desired functionality on our solution vendor’s road map? If so, can we wait for that functionality to become available by putting in temporary processes to bridge the gap?
  • Do we REALLY need to build it or can the delivered functionality suffice for some period of time? If none of the tools we considered provide the functionality, does it make sense to do it at all?
  • If we extend the delivered solution, could it slow our ability to consume new functionality as it is released?

PaaS is worth getting excited about, as it can improve the ability to make the HCM cloud solutions meet an organization’s complex requirements and blend in functionality. However, organizations must be careful to not build PaaS extensions that detract from the capabilities of the delivered solution or that may over-extend their ability to maintain and support the extensions.

Gary Cole is a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP and leads Deloitte’s HR Technology Strategy practice. He is an active speaker and blogger on HR-related technology trends, and has deep industry experience in financial services.

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