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Friday
Sep082017

SuccessFactors Q3 Update: Jam and Mobile

The following blog post was originally posted to the ROC web site blog on 6 September 2017 as Exploring the Q3 2017 SuccessFactors Update B1708 (Part 9).

Every quarter SAP update their SuccessFactors product line and here is my review for the updates to the Jam (collaboration) module and the platform's mobile functionality.

Jam

SAP has obviously been hard at work on Jam recently as this quarter's release contains a bonanza of new features and improvements. These have predominantly been around four key areas which we'll look at in the sections below along with some additional news.

Jam currently has four different incremental versions each with more functionality than the last and not all changes apply to all versions. As a result I'll flag each change as follows:

[B] Applies to Basic, Advanced, Advanced Plus and Enterprise.

[A] Applies to Advanced, Advanced Plus and Enterprise.

[+] Applies to Advanced Plus and Enterprise.

[E] Applies to Enterprise only.

Content

Kicking off with group content there are quite a few nice updates for this release.

First off comes an option to speed up document downloads [B], achieved by caching documents on a content delivery network (CDN). This means there's more likely to be somewhere closer with high bandwidth that can provide the document. It's absolutely an opt-in feature so there's no risk to organisations that strictly manage physical document storage locations for regulatory and/or compliance purposes.

SAP have also introduced support for documents across multiple languages [+]. This allows a single document entry on a page to have links to different file versions, driven by the user's language preference option. The documents are not generated automatically from a source document; for a more automated approach it may be worth looking at SAP's Translation Hub service. SAP have also mentioned that similar support for knowledge base articles is also on the road map.

Company and group administrators will probably be delighted to hear that group content mirroring is now available [+] and allows sets of content to be automatically updated from a single source template to a set of groups based on that template. This has the potential to reduce maintenance overheads dramatically.

Lastly in the Q3 release SAP are also providing some new pre-built group templates [E] for Sales Enablement, Partner Enablement and Event Coordination. There's a bit of time saving here in terms of setting up groups for those organisations that would benefit from these types of groups.

User Interface

As with the rest of SuccessFactors, updated branding is available in the Jam module [A], but because Jam is managed through a separate admin interface the branding must be enabled separately. If you are using your own branding already then you can leave it as is but if you based it on the previous branding style you might want to consider refreshing based on the newer default styling.

Options for managing look and feel are also available on mobile devices as well as desktop. You can now tailor group overview pages to streamline them for viewing on a mobile device [A] as well as enabling quicker navigational access to group hierarchies [+] and group pinning [B] (effectively favourites/bookmarks) within the Jam app. This should help speed up use and encourage engagement by mobile users.

Group navigation has also had a revamp on the desktop browser [A]. The secondary menu that spans the page (like tabs) can now be configured with drop down (menu items). This means less scrolling, logical structuring for larger groups and more visibility bringing quicker access and better discoverability.

Discoverability continues with a change in the default search scope [A]. The search field now becomes context aware, by default constraining your search to the current area within Jam. It's a simple action to broaden the search scope, but this should lead to quicker results and an increased likelihood of relevancy based on the user's current location within Jam.

Finally the system now provides keyboard navigation between page buttons [B] and better screen reader support for dynamic content pages [B]. Again this should be a time saver and also improves support for accessible access provision.

Communications

The main communications based updates are around messages [A] and Presence [B].

"Messages" replaces private messaging functionality and is effectively an evolution of the system. It supports multi-user conversations with real-time synchronous updates - no more having to manually refresh a page to see updates; though neither does a user have to be online to receive a message. "Messages" also supports notifications on both the desktop browser (through browser notifications) and the SAP Jam mobile apps (via standard push notifications).

Notably SAP have highlighted that "Messages" has API support for chat bots. It's going to be really interesting to see what chat bot integrations might leverage SAP Jam as a channel over the course of the next few years. An interesting one to keep an eye on.

Presence, an indicator that someone is available for communication, is probably a familiar concept to those using enterprise-class real time communication tools and even for those who have not come across the term before you may have seen it in more consumer level communication tools. In Jam terms it relates predominantly to "Messages" and will display as a dot (green for available) on a user's profile, "Messages" avatar and hover card. Users with browser notifications enabled will show as online if they have they have a browser tab open for Jam. If a user's browser notifications are not enabled then the Jam browser tab must be the front-most/active tab.

Group e-mail notifications [B] get an improved structure, layout and overall look that should allow users to parse the content quicker and potentially be more engaged by the updates.

Knowledge Base

SAP knowledge base sees a lot of development in this release. Anyone using a SAP Jam knowledge base for their Employee Central Service Centre instance will be able to leverage many of the new features for that implementation too.

Firstly those on the higher level versions of SAP Jam will have access to a new rich text editor [+] for creating and maintaining articles. This should allow better structuring and formatting of articles as well as being able to include images inline.

Custom templates for knowledge base articles can now also be created [E]. The templates support a wide variety of field types (text, numbers, dates, radio buttons …) and dynamic visibility allows field access to be restricted to group admins, authors and editors. Templates can be copied between groups facilitating re-use across groups with minimal effort.

Knowledge base articles also now have a categorisation option available [+]. Administrators can create up to 15 categories and, as might be expected and similarly to tags, articles can belong to multiple categories. In that sense there's little difference between them. Since they are predefined categories are more of a taxonomy rather than the tag based folksonomy but within the user interface it is possible to quickly and easily filter based on categories.

The new knowledge base article widget [+]can be used to highlight and improve discoverability of articles from a group overview page. It also includes options to filter on both tags and categories which then provides the benefit of more granular filtering. Overall though categorisation does provide a more formal organisation and that structure can make management and organisation quicker and easier.

Articles can now also be time-framed [+] such that articles can be set to publish and to expire. Group admins can thereby control information releases ensuring that documentation is always up to date.

Users can also provide rating based feedback on articles [+] bringing parity with other knowledge base platforms. Such feedback can then be used to drive search results and improve content. Comments elaborating on ratings could be captured as article comments, or for confidentiality via feedback email. Such explanatory comments play an important role in terms of continuous improvement of the content.

Additional

In addition to these broad areas of development there are a couple of other areas worthy of attention.

First is the inclusion of SAP Jam in SAP's API Business Hub. Whilst I couldn't find an entry at the time of writing this will presumably relate to things such as the API for integration with messaging functionality. The API Hub provides lots of information for getting started with particular SAP APIs including sample code and test frameworks.

Change sometimes sweeps out the old to make way for the new and there are a number of features being deprecated in this release. As we've already noted, chat functionality has obviously been dropped in favour of messages.

Dynamic content widgets within blogs and wikis are flagged for future removal, as are group overview pages created with the old wiki editor. Group admins should take note and begin looking at migrating them; ideally using the inbuilt page layout migration tool [A].

Mobile

The iOS (Apple) and Android (Google) mobile client applications have seen a number of updates in preparation for the Q3 2017 release and this time around Android is definitely seeing a big improvement.

Android

The July update for Android sports a fully Material design aligning it to Google's design philosophy and providing a bold modern interface with a look and feel that is aligned to many other leading Android applications. Its feature set has also reached parity with the iOS client in terms of its online features; however offline parity is not quite there just yet and complete parity is pencilled in for later in 2017.

The biggest news is almost certainly around the inclusion of a new native interface for the learning functionality. This sees a shift away from the previous hybrid implementation and as of this release users will have to use this new client so this is absolutely something you need to be aware of if you have a mobile deployment base that includes Android devices.

Another improvement that initially seems quite small but is actually fairly significant is a mechanism to view PDFs within the SuccessFactors application. Previously many third party apps had issues in trying to open PDFs from SuccessFactors due to the stringent security provisions in place. By making this a native client feature this issue is fully addressed and with it a lot of frustration for end users is eliminated.

There are a couple of other useful additions to the Android client that are worthy of mention.. The first is that you can now add attachments (such as medical certificates) to time off requests. The second is that you can add comments to candidate assessment ratings in recruitment. The former gives mobile users the advantage of being able to do this on the go (rather than reverting to a laptop or desktop browser) and the latter provides that extra context for justifying ratings or noting additional relevancy.

iOS

The July iOS client update also gets an update in terms of the interface. The new interface revisions make it more device responsive in that it will reflow (could you use a better word here?) to any of the existing iOS display sizes or orientations. In addition feature parity across devices has also been attained. Together I'm sure this will please those sporting larger devices and those who use both an iPhone and an iPad.

For those with iPhone 6S(+) or beyond you may also be interested to know that the new client supports peeks into Continuous Performance Management (CPM) activity via 3D touch. Your activities are now only ever a thumb press away.

Finally the CPM activity to goal linking issue has now been resolved and matches the browser access approach in that only the default goal plan is available.

Conclusion

The big updates in mobile for this release can be viewed as foundational. Modern design principles are being adopted across the board, feature parity being applied and rationalisation of interfaces is exercised. There may not be lots of exciting new features being delivered, but the changes to the interface are certainly something that you can expect your mobile users to notice and appreciate. This kind of development is actually really good. It shows a maturity in product and approach, providing a great platform for more balanced mobile platform development in 2018.

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