EXCLUSIVE: SAP SuccessFactors SVP Product and Design Amy Wilson Discusses Their Approach to AI, Automation, and Human First Design
Amy Wilson, SAP SuccessFactors’ SVP of Product and Design joined George LaRocque on WorkTech to talk about how SuccessFactors is approaching Artificial Intelligence across its platform. She discusses the four […]

Amy Wilson, SAP SuccessFactors’ SVP of Product and Design joined George LaRocque on WorkTech to talk about how SuccessFactors is approaching Artificial Intelligence across its platform. She discusses the four categories of AI that SuccessFactors works with. She goes deep on the generative AI wave and how SAP has rapidly implemented that in the moments that matter most for its users. Amy stressed the strong tie to user experience and design for SAP.

We’ve been advising clients to revisit and double down on their platform strategies during this onslaught of AI, and Amy certainly makes a strong argument for having enterprise-grade design, development, security, and privacy. Don’t miss this discussion with one of the industry’s most influential product leaders.

The Work Tech category continues to outperform tech at large for global VC investment.  WorkTech Market Insiders can access insights and analysis of all of the deals in our H1 2023 report with a free membership.

Enjoy the discussion!

A full transcript can be found below.

Interview Transcripts Are Automatically Generated. Corrections have not been made.

George LaRocque: Hi, everyone. Welcome back to WorkTech. It’s me, George Laroc, and I’m particularly excited today for our guest Amy Wilson from SAP Success Factors. Before I ask Amy to introduce herself, if you’ve seen me or been listening to me in any of the webinars or speaking lately, I’ve been talking about how important the major platforms in our industry are, especially at this time with rapid innovation around generative AI and automation. So I’m thrilled to have Amy here to talk to us about SAP and what’s happening there. Amy, welcome.

Amy Wilson: Thanks so much, George. So happy to be well.

George LaRocque: I I’m not sure if I told everyone your title, but as the SVP of Product and Design, I was wondering if we could start with you for anybody who doesn’t know you telling them who you are. But also I love the design part of your title, and so I’d love to know more about what all that means for your role and your purview at SAP.

Amy Wilson: Oh, absolutely. Well, so I would say that within the R D area for SAP Success Factors, I and my team are responsible for figuring out what to build and why and then conceiving every portion of it. And we start the research from the very beginning, both behavioral science research as well as design research, ethnographic research, et cetera, to identify what it is that we should be building and why. And so there’s a big human factor element into all of that work that we do.

George LaRocque: I love that WorkTech. The name of this business was changed to that four years ago because we could see the change in HR tech and the categories sort of collapsing. A big part of that had to do with experience and it has to do with being human forward user, forward, front and back office. So candidates, employees, but let’s not forget about the people in the back office in HR. And we’ve had conversations about that once or twice. But before I go there so I love having that experience lens on this whole topic along with the platform lens. But as I mentioned, I’ve seen a lot of stuff out there and there have been a lot of conversations about SAP and generative AI and automation and innovation. And I was wondering if maybe we could start with just how SAP Success Factors is, thinking about that and how it’s coming to play in the platform.

Amy Wilson: Absolutely. Well, we are all in when it comes to AI, George. And we’re really looking at AI in four categories. So, of course there’s generative AI, as we’ve all been hot on for the last few weeks. There’s conversational AI. So that’s where we get the digital assistant chat bot. There’s deep learning AI, and that’s where we get into our talent, intelligence and skills ontology areas. And then the last one we like to call boring but important AI. Or the more appropriate term is intelligent process automation.

George LaRocque: Right.

Amy Wilson: So really applying AI to the really boring things that we need to get done.

George LaRocque: Yeah.

Amy Wilson: So specifically, with regards to generative AI, I think we have tried to catch the wave in a rapid fashion, just like how we saw Chat TPT come out and change things so fast. What we did was with our Sapphire conference, which was in May, we introduced a couple of concepts in terms of applying generative AI to the recruiting space. We showed those on stage. And then now, just a few months later, coming up on our Success Connect conference, which is in October, we will actually be launching these into production live. And so just being able to narrow that kind of innovation time span has been really important.

George LaRocque: Yeah, it’s impressive. And I think there’s so much hype in the market, specifically around generative AI, that we forget that we’ve had AI in our space for a long time. And I think lately I’ve been saying we purposely haven’t talked about it because it was a very complicated topic. And you might talk about it when you’re having a deep product conversation, but it wasn’t something that with users or HR leaders, you weren’t getting into the intricacies. But now generative AI has brought the possibilities right front and center. So it’s not just about generative, it’s about all those other three types. So that’s really important for you to point out.

Amy Wilson: Yeah. And it’s so intertwined to your point from earlier, it’s so intertwined with the user experience too.

George LaRocque: Right.

Amy Wilson: Whereas maybe a lot of the AI that we’ve thought about in the past, it was going on behind the scenes and it was solving kind of big existential problems. But now with generative AI and some other things that we’re doing as well in terms of recommendations and so on, it’s much more about enabling the end user to be faster, smarter, more productive, that sort of thing. It’s much easier to consume and understand.

George LaRocque: Yeah, 100%. And another aspect to this. Given the size of your customer base, the global reach, the amount of data, even for one of your larger customers, one enterprise grade customer, the sort of data set that you have access to, that this AI feeds on, and also having the enterprise grade security and privacy, I think that’s so critical to me. And there’s so many apps. Like every app that I use on my desk, I feel like I can go in and use Chat GPT or whatever they’re using on the back end to help me do things. But I’m a little hesitant because I don’t know where this is going. I could upload one of my reports, but I’m not really sure what’s happening to that once it’s up there. And that’s a very simple example. But if I’m in HR and I’m using this for comp or something, or I’m using it for something sensitive, I need to be concerned. And is that while all these things are flying at buyers right now it feels like overnight in November, Chat GPT launched and it was like before the end of November there were apps flying, announcements coming and I think you’re taking the time to look at those issues. Just knowing SAP is that yeah, absolutely.

Amy Wilson: As you can imagine, SAP has a very strong data privacy machinery behind that’s. That’s be to be quite honest, the first couple of use cases that we’re going to market with are pretty safe. Right. While we sort out how we can actually do things that are more sensitive and whether we can do things that are more sensitive, So the first couple of use cases that we’re introducing with recruiting are first of all, help with creating a job description and then the second is helping to create job interview questions. I love this particular use case, George, because it brings together work tech and generative AI and so on. And so basically the scenario is that you are just about to have an interview. Microsoft Teams, our Success Factors chatbot in Microsoft Teams alerts you to the fact that it’s upcoming. It gives you the ability to check out the person’s resume, it also gives you the ability to generate some interview questions through generative AI and then it also gives you access to the assessment right there within Microsoft Teams so that you can have that right up there. And then once you complete that, bring that back to Success Factors. Now the generative AI component of that experience that we’ve built is limited, to be honest. So it’s looking at the job description, looking at all of the job requirements and so on and generating the questions from there. Now what we would love to do is overlay that with the specific candidate, their resume, information about them, but that’s where we start to get into some tricky territory with regards to PII and so on. And so this is where we are putting a very strong ethical and privacy lens on everything. And so we plan to get there, but we want to make sure that we’re doing it in a way that everyone is comfortable, whether it’s SAP, it’s our customers, it’s the candidate, it’s the manager, et cetera, everyone is comfortable with what’s happening. And so as a part of all of that, even with these simple use cases that aren’t particularly sensitive, we are addressing one of the things that you brought up, which is how do I know, how do I know what I’m doing is okay? Bringing into the user experience some of that consent and acknowledgment without overloading the end user. But really having that design pattern, that design element to make sure that everyone is on board and feels comfortable and knows what’s happening with data behind the.

George LaRocque: That’S that’s and to know that experience through Microsoft teams that’s you’re right in the flow of work, you’re meeting the user where they are, they’re not leaving to log in to SAP and the whole interaction is happening there. That’s key. So we have these six core tenets of work tech and one of them is being in the flow of work in a meaningful way, right, where the fact that the experience and the transactions technical term are happening in teams. That’s exactly what we mean by that. The other thing is participating. One of the other three of six, I should say, is the ecosystem participating in it wholeheartedly. And you’ve got a partner in Microsoft and a teams collaborative tool that you’re integrating through. But if I step back and think long term, that’s something that I hear about every platform’s ecosystem all the time from users and other partners. And I hear really good things about SAP and I won’t say anything about anyone else, but I don’t hear really good things about many other platforms. So I would imagine that as you’re thinking about where this is going, that you’re also thinking about all your partners are introducing some of this and you have a data set and workflow that triggers them and that they can benefit from and vice versa. So there’s a lot to unpack there and part of it is the advantage for the user and part of it is the security and trust that you bring your customers. I imagine that’s so complex thinking about the ecosystem, but so exciting at the same time.

Amy Wilson: Right? Yeah, absolutely. It’s complicated. Like you said, George, and we have a number of different partners that we’re working know microsoft, Google, and then some of the newer ones as well, anthropic and Cohere and so on. And each of them has a different purpose, a different capabilities. And so we’re looking at using those all under the COVID So it’s SaaS. So our customers don’t necessarily need to know what we’re using for any particular use case. But for these initial kind of what I would call writing assistant use cases, we are using OpenAI from Microsoft behind the scenes to do that. But there’s lots of other use cases that we are getting started on and will be coming out with in 2024. And we may be using other technologies behind the scenes, but all of those have been vetted and are being looked at by SAP broadly, not just success.

George LaRocque: Right, right, that makes sense. And when you thinking about success factors and that’s the world that I’m living in, or in this market. You’ve told us about some recruiting use cases and what’s going live. I guess a couple of questions. You can take it however you’d like. Are there particular things that you’re excited about, about the impact beyond those use cases or are there things that are coming that you can point to? I know you can’t point to everything, but that may be interesting or exciting to you that are maybe coming out after those recruiting launches.

Amy Wilson: Yeah, so we showed two things at Sapphire a few months ago and so in addition to those that are being launched upcoming, we’ve added a couple more, which is around performance and goals. So, again, assisted writing of goals, assisted writing of performance feedback, and so on. So those are also coming very quickly. And then we have a whole long list of other things which include getting support help all the way from that angle to more assisted screening within recruiting and everything in between.

George LaRocque: Okay, that’s exciting. And one of the last conversation you and I had like this, where we did a podcast type thing, was we were talking about culture and largely experience. And I’m curious, you were so passionate about putting, and I know it reflects SAP’s passion as well, but you in particular were very passionate about the experience of know every employee period. And how is this new onslaught of AI innovation impacting that? In what ways? Or how do you feel about it?

Amy Wilson: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think what we’ve learned is that generative AI is really helpful in terms of helping people get over writer’s block, in terms of helping people refine and their already existing thoughts, et cetera.

George LaRocque: Right.

Amy Wilson: So it’s not a replacement of people or what they’re capable of.

George LaRocque: Right.

Amy Wilson: But it’s really about augmenting and accelerating what they’re trying to accomplish. So I think from that perspective, we can massively improve the experience. Now, on the flip side is all of the risk and fear and truthfully, it’s not just FUD concerns over is what generative AI coming out with. Is it appropriate, is it true, is it factual, is it right? All of these things. And so the experience of making sure that people feel comfortable with the content is really important. So first, with the writing assistant, we need to make sure it’s appropriate. Right? So what we’re putting out into the world from a job posting perspective, is it biased, is it going to attract the right people, et cetera? From a performance feedback perspective, are we putting bias into that or putting inappropriate things into that feedback, et cetera? Those elements are really important for that part. That’s something that we all need to work on. And generative AI in itself isn’t going to solve that. So we need other tools, other mechanisms to make sure of that. Right. The other side is starting to use generative AI for things where we need it to be accurate, right. So instead of augmenting stuff, we already know if we wanted to use generative AI for something like an implementation guide or like, here’s how you do X. That’s getting into a territory where is it true and is it complete is really important. And so just leaving that to the generative AI Borg is not going to work. Right? So that’s where we need to start bringing the data close and having a more monitored kind of service.

George LaRocque: Yeah. This whole conversation, to me, really underscores the need to and this is counter to what a lot of my peers say. It’s start with the platform and build out from there. Just the way you introduced your role, the level of effort that goes into deciding if you should build it, how you should build it, why you’re building it, who it’s for, how you research it, what you take into account. And those have been the themes through this whole conversation, is the privacy security experience. And I think that in and of itself, I was just in Nashville and know, urging the audience it was HR and talent, so everybody wants to talk about AI and I was urging them to start with your platform and understand what’s coming and what they’re doing. And there are always going to be some apps at play, but you have a real opportunity to minimize that now and just from a security and privacy perspective. So I really appreciate everything you’ve said. Is there anything stepping back or up a little bit, sort of 30,000ft thinking about those HR leaders and talent leaders and even the work tech industry at large? Any insights that you would share about this? I think some of what you just said is key, but anything else you would have them keep in mind as they’re thinking about this?

Amy Wilson: Yeah, there’s a couple of things, George. One thing is just like we’ve been talking about throughout the last few minutes is this big pendulum between all the possibility and all of the risk. Right. I think it’s important that HR leaders are not on either full end of the pendulum.

George LaRocque: Right.

Amy Wilson: First of all, I think it’s really important to have a mindset of curiosity of what is possible and what could we do and what could work with a healthy level of skepticism and risk. Right. So being able to kind of poke holes in things. But I would start with curiosity and possibility before going to the end of no, we can’t do any of that because it’s too scary. The other thing that I would say, and this probably goes without saying, but you never know. It’s so important for HR leaders and their teams to try out stuff like Chat GPT, just kind of separately and see what it can do and what it can’t do, what it’s good at. Just really experiment. And it’s free, it’s easy. I went into a service that was doing visualizations and I tried to come up with a candidate visualization on some platform and it was just horrendous. Right, so you get a sense of where are the boundaries, what are the possibilities. So I think it’s really important that everyone just experiments and learns what they can.

George LaRocque: Yeah, those are great points and my sense is that I would say everybody’s aware of it, but I think people do need to hear that. I think there’s still some fear or that unknown and I would probably say more than half have only taken a quick look at it and haven’t really dove in and it is illuminating when I’m using it a lot, and it really highlights where the strengths are and where the weaknesses are. To your point. So how can folks best learn more about anything SAP or any of what we talked about?

Amy Wilson: Yeah, well, we do have our Success Connect conference coming up really soon. So it’s the week of October 2 in Las Vegas at the Venetian. We also have an online component and so there will be a bunch of information coming out before that, blogs and press releases and all that kind of stuff to learn more about what we’re talking about. And of course, we’re launching all sorts of things and announcing all sorts of things and AI is a big part of it, but also work know how we’re bringing success factors to Microsoft teams, how we’re leveraging conversational AI to enable people to get their work done without going into traditional navigational methods et. So lots of news coming.

George LaRocque: I will I’ll link to that in the notes. And I really appreciate your time, Amy. This was great. I learned a lot and thank you so much.

Amy Wilson: Thank you so much. Really appreciate it, George. It was really fun.

George LaRocque: Yeah. And for everyone, if you’re watching or listening, thank you for your time and until next time, great.

Amy Wilson: See you soon.

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