Storytelling about SAP Fieldglass with Vish Baliga

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 127. This week we have storytelling about SAP Fieldglass with Vish Baliga. During this episode, Vish and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Fieldglass.

Vish is an expert in all things engineering and consulting. His passion for helping to transform how companies find, engage and manage external talent and contingent workforces really comes through during the podcast.

Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.

Thanks, William

Show length: 28 minutes


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William:  00:25
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today, we have Vish on from SAP Fieldglass and we’re going to be learning all about SAP Fieldglass. So, I’m really excited. I worked with Fieldglass 180 years ago, and I’m sure things have changed since then. So I’m actually looking forward to both the update and also to get to talk to Vish about what they’re doing now as well. So, without any further ado, Vish, would you do us a favor, the audience a favor and introduce yourself and SAP Fieldglass?

Vish:  00:58
Okay. Thank you, William, for having me on this call.

William:  01:02

Vish:  01:03
My background is I have engineering and a master’s degree in engineering from India, and it was interestingly in mechanical engineering, bachelor’s. In the master’s, I went into computer-aided design. So, that’s my first foray into computers. This is way back in early mid ’80s. So, I got into the computer side of the house with my first job in India, which was writing some software for IBM, so picked up things on there. One thing led to another.

I was on the system side more, but then found it more attractive to be dealing with applications. So, that’s where I went. To cut a long story short, did a number of changes, which gave me exposure to what consulting really is and contract labor is. I was both a consultant. I sat on these. Obviously, it was represented by a supplier, so understood that part. And then last but not least, also got to be on the buy side of things and how customers procured contract labor.

Vish:  02:19
Along the way, made some connections and met up with the founder of Fieldglass back in ’99 when Jai had just registered the company. I knew him. So, he asked me to come in and run engineering for him. So, I showed up, I lived in Atlanta. I switched and went to Chicago in 2000 and was employee two.

There was me and then Sean Chou was ahead of me, and then Jai, and of course, the others. From the sales side, we had Chris Mortenson, but from the engineering side, it was Sean and me. We started writing Fieldglass as a product back then. Without knowing what it was going to be called, we made it… Always started up as a cloud product, software as a service, didn’t even have the term back then, software as a service, but that’s what we did.

Vish:  03:12
Over the years, it’s progressed really well up till 2014 when we were acquired by SAP. And then we have entered into more opportunities and more interesting avenues that as a standalone Fieldglass, we really did not have access to. So, that’s the journey which has led to some of the things we will discuss on what we do now and what I see as emerging new markets for us.

William:  03:38
Well, it was a great fit. The acquisition made a lot of sense at the time and still does because it was the best-of-breed product in that category. I think y’all went up against IQNavigator, Beeline, or some of those other players, but y’all were the best in class. This is just a great fit for SAP for their customers as well and also for y’all’s customers.

So, it’s just good fit. For folks that probably don’t know the category as well as maybe they should, what category… Back then, we would call it VMS, right? I’m sure things have changed a bit, but what category of software do you put Fieldglass in right now?

Vish:  04:21
Yeah. For whatever reason, we were called VMS or vendor management solutions. It wasn’t more about managing the vendor, but it was more about… The way I like to think of it is a company needs to get work done by primarily two sets of people, human labor, right? One is the employees, and everything else that is the non-employee pool.

Within the non-employee, there are, obviously, variants, such as the contingent workers or temporarily you augment or you bring in people that are either backfilling somebody out on some kind of a leave of absence, or you have a short burst of something that you need that you don’t want to bring in a permanent worker, but you bring in somebody to get the work done, or it’s specialized and you get that done.

Vish:  05:11
The other category is when you have what I call the outsource services or project-based work, where you engage with a supplier to deliver some project, or it could be a project. It could be anything that is done by the supplier completely and is usually delivered as an outcome. You ask them to complete something and you pay them on it.

So I like to think of it as managing the non-employee requisition to payment work that the company does. Unfortunately, there is no good term that I’ve seen with those. You have seen contingent. You have seen external workers. You have seen external workforce and procurement. You have seen [crosstalk 00:05:53].

William:  05:53
Gigs, freelancers.

Vish:  05:56
Yeah, it’s a wide variety, but hopefully, the context gives some meaning to what we do.

William:  06:00
Yeah. Yeah. There’s a way for HR and recruiters to interact with full-time, maybe part-time, and even seasonal talent. I think they conceptually have gotten that. For years, they understand that. It’s the way people want to work now, and the way that work needs to get done has changed. And so, how do you manage that?

I think all the way to also how you manage staffing firms. If you’ve historically rolled up staffing firms and said, “Okay. I want the staffing firm to go and hire this group of people.” And the staffing firm, “Well, you need a way to manage that because you’ve got a bunch of outflow.” Again, based on that spend, but also based on the requirements and the jobs and people starting, you need to be able to manage all of that stuff.

William:  06:52
A great solution like y’all’s is also tied to other solutions that’s tied internally to other HR function. That’s why it also makes sense for SAP because it can be tied to payroll and benefits if needs to be, at least payroll or procurement. If it needs to be tied to there, it can be tied to that. So I think from a workflow perspective, having a solution like this, it makes sense.

I think for the audience, I think building a use case or business case, at what point… Because you’ve been doing this for a long time. You’ve interacted with these companies in a lot of ways for a long period of time. At what point do they need a solution like this?

Vish:  07:38
Primarily, I think you need to have enough volume for this to become a issue. So it’s out of the box, the small and mid-sized businesses. It’s a difficult upsell because it’s a fairly large, robust product that takes quite a bit of doing and introducing all kinds of changes.

So the volume needs to be something big enough when you’re managing lots of contractors and service providers, that it makes sense to bring some tool like us in. I want at highest level to say that. And the next thing that primarily that we see happening is there has to be some external impetus for a customer to really consider this. This would come in some unfortunate ways as well.

Vish:  08:27
I remember distinctly, one of the reasons we saw a big boom was after 9/11. The simple question of who did I have at this location when something went wrong, right? It’s a very difficult question for many companies to answer if they did not have a tool like ours. It is because their employees are well tracked, who is at which location.

Non-employees are usually managed on spreadsheets or someone from [inaudible 00:08:58]. It’s not an easy thing for a company to figure out where that is. That’s one incident. Maybe other ones where somebody ends up suing the company for a full-time job because they have spent a lot of time at the company and want now to be treated as an employee and get all the benefits as an employee.

Vish:  09:19
Those are the unfortunate ones, but then there are other areas, where HR gets a little more and more. Primarily, this has been in the early days, been treated as a procurement problem, but then HR has to get involved because they might see that why are we spending so much on external workforce for a specific skill?

Is that something that our company needs that is not being planned from a future upskilling or upskilling the existing workforce? And so, they need to know what’s going on. Why are we having so many of these contractors who are doing something that maybe better for us to hold onto the IP that they’re working on internally, right? HR gets involved there.

Vish:  10:05
So I would say it’s primarily those kinds of factors when either there’s an interest from within or there’s an external impetus, like I talked about. And then, of course, when there’s a downturn in the economic, then when you have to right-size the company, work still needs to get done. So maybe there’s a rightsizing of the employee base, but somewhere you want to continue some pieces of work. So consultants and third party comes in.

If the economic starts turning around, then you really don’t want to just jump into hiring employees right away. You might want to dabble in external workforce for a bit, see how things hold up, and then maybe go into your planning on what employees to add. So those are the things that I believe will push a company into saying, “I need the visibility and the tracking and the management of who we have. How do we use that to then make some of our strategic decisions?”

William:  11:03
I love that you brought skills into this, because it’s thinking about skills from an HR and recruiting perspective and saying, “In this particular skills area, where we have a deficit internally.” It’s too hard to find a full-time. There’s scarcity there, but we can go about this. We can bring these skills to bear, but we have to think about it differently.

Again, you probably won’t remember this, but when we worked together at Fieldglass, there was a concept that we created called talent portfolio management. It’s, again, 180 years ago. But ironic, but we’re talking about it now, in so far as HR leaders, chief people officers, and even talent acquisition leaders looking at talent like a portfolio stock and thinking of it in those ways, not just full-time, part-time, et cetera, but thinking about, “Okay. We’ve got interns. We’ve got gig workers. We’ve got offshore, nearshore. We’ve got in-source. We’ve got all kinds of different things, but there’s a better way of managing all that.”

William:  12:10
I liked that you brought in… Yeah, you can see some of the reasons that you want to manage this could have negative. There’s a reason that you want to manage it and I’m glad you brought both of those examples up. I liked that there also is just a visionary way of looking at talent and saying, “Let’s just break talent down into skills and think about the skills that you need. You need certain skills to bring to bear. How do you bring them to bear?”

Vish:  12:42
Yep. Yeah. So I liked that because it also is leads into something that we try to work with, which is not only do you have to know where in my company, as a planning manager, as a portfolio manager or the project manager, where can I get this work done, right? Where do I have these skills? Now, maybe that is a little less relevant now in the IT and those kinds of things, but we also deal with, let’s say, manufacturing, plant maintenance, et cetera, right?

So people and where they are based, or which country they’re based, which location they’re based, what is their time zone they can be available, all of those are very interesting factors that help somebody plan how to get something done, how to get your work done is become relevant. So you need the skills to say, “Where can I find the skill? And then does that really work for me? Is it in a zone that I can leverage for something?” which leads to, I would say, a value add to the customers in terms of savings.

Vish:  13:47
So, one of the things we set out to do as we got more and more data into the system was the following. If a manager, for simplicity, let’s take an IT project manager trying to get something done, and let’s, for argument’s sake, say they have a company and they have to pick locations in the U.S. and one is in the Valley in San Francisco, and maybe they have something going on in Atlanta as an example. As the manager tries to get something created, the recommendation that you may have…

Let’s say the manager is based in California, and primarily, their initial reaction is to say, “Hey, I wish to be close to my team so I’m going to put it in San Francisco.” But as they create it, the ability to recommend that the same skillset is available through other vendors and maybe even your internal employees in Atlanta, which might be a cost-saving and not only a cost-saving, but it’s also available at an earlier time to fill them in California.

William:  14:49
Oh, wow.

Vish:  14:50
So those, to me, is what makes this exciting, because you can leverage the data. You can leverage the supplier ability to share what they’re going through, leverage the historical previous three months, what’s it look like, et cetera, to make recommendations to the manager, which without a solution like this, even though it’s within their own company, they would have no access to.

So being able to pull that and push that upfront as they’re creating the requisition to say, “Have you thought about this?” It’s by no means a forced position, but a suggestion to say, “Have you considered this?” which is, to me, what makes us really appealing and where we hope to add more and more value using such examples.

William:  15:33
Yeah. It’s beautiful. It’s surplus and scarcity, right? It’s allowing TA and HR to then make data-driven decisions. So instead of just making those decisions blindly, “I want to be at San Francisco. I want to be near-ish to the office,” et cetera, now they can look into something. They can serve up recommendations based on the skills that they need and say, “Hey, there’s five different ways that you can solve this.”

There’s pros and cons to all of them, but now you have options. Well, as a leader, you’ve just made my life a lot easier, but also it’s based in data, which, again, I think is just smart. I know listeners will eventually ask at one point, because you were acquired by SAP. Obviously, you’re fully integrated with SAP. Do you only work with SAP clients or can Fieldglass be bespoke or can it work independently with folks that aren’t in the SAP family?

Vish:  16:38
No, I think we want to work and we build it in a way that… Product has been built in such a way that we know we are not alone out there. We have an ecosystem we have to connect to. We have to generally connect to a procurement solution, generally to a HR solution, and of course, to a finance and payment solution, right? So what we have done is right from the get-go, we were very open. Fortunately, we built our solution in such a way that we have a large number of robust APIs that we can tap into anywhere.

The difference with SAP might be that they are probably better productized and can integrate cleanly without too much effort into our sister companies, Ariba, S4 Procurement and SuccessFactors, and of course, from there on, into S4. So that those are things that we get a little better with SAP, but that is by no means that we cannot connect. I don’t have the exact stats now, but I know we are at least 40% non-SAP ERP customers.

William:  17:45
Yeah. Obviously, if you’re an SAP customer, it makes sense. You just turn it on and let’s get this moving. But if you’re a non-SAP client, you can look at Fieldglass as a solution to this. Again, independently, you can look at this. I love it. What’s your favorite function? In the functionality right now, what’s tracking for you in terms of things that you just really, really… When you look at Fieldglass, because you’ve been here a while, so you’ve seen a lot of functionality come and go, but what are you in love with right now?

Vish:  18:23
Maybe if I can talk about two things, one is completely internal to Fieldglass and one that is shared with other sister companies we have. So the first one is, as you may know or your listeners may or may not know is we have primarily two large modules that make up Fieldglass.

One, we call the contingent worker, which is where you bring in somebody for a specific skills for a specific period and you are expecting them to work on that specific project or work that you want to bring them in. And then we have something called the services or statement of work module, which is where you engage with a vendor to get a piece of work done. They may, behind it, use a large number of people to deliver the work. Those were our two primary modules.

Vish:  19:14
Now, both of these come with a fair amount of rigidity, which is very much required because there is a contract. There’s a work order, where you agree to terms and conditions. The scope of the work is clearly defined and so on, right? And so, it’s very structured and somewhat rigid.

Within SAP, after we were here in for a year or two, we discovered that there is a third kind, which is especially prevalent in large energy and extraction companies and maybe in some utilities and manufacturing companies, where the procurement or the sourcing of the individual is not as critical as having somebody available and being able to assign them quickly to different work, which means that in the same week or may sometimes even the same day, an individual may be asked to work on completely different projects, reporting into completely different managers or supervisors from the company.

In an extreme case, they’re sometimes even paid differently based on what they do.

Vish:  20:22
So you might have a skilled tradesman that can do a couple or maybe two or three different things. They may be asked to do welding in the morning. And in the afternoon, they’re doing something else, which is not welding. So even the way they are paid and the way the customer is charged would vary. This calls for immense flexibility, which is saying, “How do I have a resource that I need not go through a recruiting exercise? They’re available from a particular vendor at a particular plant or location.

I, as the customer manager, can simply take from this pool and get this piece of work done and get that piece of work done very flexibly.” As you can imagine, this creates immense issues, because how does the company and the supplier keep track of what all the individual has been doing?

Vish:  21:13
So, we went and sought those. We learned about this. And about two years ago, we started the journey of creating something we now call the assignment management, where there’s a resource, and as job or work orders come in, be able to pick from a poll and assign work. And that assignment of work can be done either by the customer or by the vendor. The individual no longer books time into a predefined purchase order, which is the case with other two modules, instead we create something called a time journal.

So they can log what they did in the morning, afternoon, whatever it is during the week. And then at the back end of it, we can then split that work out to the appropriate cost centers, appropriate fields that may be generated after the work is complete. So it’s use the massive flexibility. We are down that path quite a bit. This is exciting because it is making it fairly simple in these situations, where this kind of flexibility is much required.

William:  22:15
Well, it’s interesting because it’s also going to make a lot of accountants very happy because if you’re doing activity-based costing, you’ve got to be able to charge that back to whomever or whatever. So, on one level, you want to know what people are doing. So you want some visibility and insight into activities, which is great. There’s a need for that, but the cost side of it, which is where the accountants and finance play, they want to know who to charge.

Vish:  22:46
Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Yeah.

William:  22:48
So, I can see it being very exciting for them.

Vish:  22:51
Yeah, it’s awesome. Multitude of problems and it makes using our product much simpler, in the absence of that, to create a new requisition, new work orders, new POs, and all kinds of things, which they can now back into.

William:  23:07

Vish:  23:08
And that should be a-

William:  23:09
A lot of law firms could probably use that as well for clients if they ever go down that route because they need to do the same type of costing.

Vish:  23:16
Yeah. Funny you ask about that because there’s a few… We run something called… It used to be called an executive advisory board, but now we have compass, which is our equal end of talking to a big customer CPOs and getting some ideas. In the last one we ran, they now said, “When are you going to find looking at legal stuff?”

William:  23:39

Vish:  23:40
Sorry, I had one more, which I said, which is across our sister companies, and that is about the combined analytics. So we had categorize this thing ourselves as a spend management solution. So we are trying to say spend can come in the form of external labor. It can come in terms of expense and travel, and of course, what Ariba does well, materials and MRO kind of thing, right? So we are now coming together to offer analytics that are aggregated at this level.

No matter where you spend, you can do reporting by supplier, by cost center, by IO codes or whatever you need, and that excites me because that is finally bringing the power of all these modules together.

William:  24:25
That’s right. Procurement especially loves that because then they can do an apples to apples comparison. Let’s say for staffing firms, if you’ve got a staffing firm that’s charging you X, you got another one charging you Y, you can start to look at why that’s happening. Some of it might be legit, and some of it might just be we didn’t have visibility insight into it before.

So, I love both of those. Last thing before we go out, and you’ve got probably a million of these to pull from, but just a customer story anonymized, of course, where they’ve just done something really, really, really innovative with SAP Fieldglass that you just go, “Wow. I hadn’t thought of that. Glad they did that. Now, we’re probably going to roll that out to all of our customers.”

Vish:  25:17
Okay. I have a great example here. So in the mining industry, of course, without naming the customer, in the mining industry, there has been research done. From studies and statistically, it’s proven that about 72 to 75% of the incidents that occur safety and health-related happened because of external labor. So because, A, they’re not trained to be on the job, doing what they’re doing and there’s a highly, highly high risk jobs, dealing with dynamite or dealing with heavy equipment and all that.

What became quite interesting is the leveraging of an onboarding of worker. Company employee may go through for these critical positions. And when you bring in a third party, how do you get the same level of onboarding expertise and the training and the certification?

Vish:  26:11
So the companies are looking to leverage APIs from Fieldglass, APIs from SuccessFactors, APIs into learning management solutions, and saying, “As this individual comes in, as a worker, let’s see which role they are in. What do we expect the employee to do? Let us put them to the same level of training.”

So ability to track how they’re coming in and be able to do. It’s really fascinating to leverage components from across SAP products and getting the training for these individuals with a goal of minimizing these incidents, I find is really, really valuable because these are truly life-threatening kind of situations. If you can leverage a software like ours, which I never dreamt would be saving lives or helping save lives, bringing that together is really something that is mind boggling and exciting to see come.

William:  27:09
I love that. The last time I was in Singapore, I looked at a product that was for mining actually. It was a breathalyzer tied to facial recognition, tied to time and attendance. So before someone could-

Vish:  27:25

William:  27:26
Right. Before they could enter, they had to breathe into a tube and it looked at their face and then it clocked him in if they were-

Vish:  27:35
It’s beautiful.

William:  27:36

Vish:  27:37

William:  27:37
So it’s like you don’t even think about these things with knowledge workers.

Vish:  27:40

William:  27:41
We probably should-

Vish:  27:42
We should. Yes.

William:  27:44
… but we don’t. With forklift drivers or mining and some of those things where safety is so critical, I love that. What a great example. Vish, we could obviously talk forever. Thank you so much for coming on the Use Case Podcasts and explaining what’s going on with SAP Fieldglass, but also giving the audience a little bit of an update as well.

Vish:  28:07
Thank you very much, William. Thank you for having me here.

William:  28:09
Absolutely. Everyone, thanks for listening to the Use Case Podcast. Until next time.

The Use Case Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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