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SAP HANA migration: 4 steps your team should take now

Malcolm Isaacs Senior Researcher, Micro Focus
Rebecca Wetherill Senior Product Manager, Application Lifecycle Management, Micro Focus

If your business relies on SAP R/3, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), ERP Central Component (ECC), or other older SAP platforms, now is the time to take action to migrate to SAP S/4HANA.

In 2014, SAP announced that maintenance for many key products will end in 2025, requiring all SAP customers to move to the vendor's new strategic platform built on top of its in-memory database, SAP HANA.

Moving to SAP S/4HANA is not simply a matter of running an upgrade utility on your current business processes and data. It requires a fundamental re-examination of your business processes, your data (and that of your customers), and your infrastructure. Then you'll need to re-implement it all on the new platform to fully realize the benefits that it will bring.

There are several business and technical challenges associated with SAP transformations, particularly around maintaining business continuity, which is critical to any organization dependent on SAP. (More on that below.)

If you haven’t yet started your journey to SAP S/4HANA, here are four steps that you can take to address these challenges as you prepare for your SAP transformation.

1. Re-evaluate your business needs

Your business interacts with SAP every day, either directly through an SAP user interface, or indirectly through services delivered by SAP to other applications. Migrating these interactions takes considerable effort, but this is an opportunity to look at your business processes to see what you actually need, and what has been carried around over the years but is never used anymore.

Part of any SAP transformation is evaluating which functionality will be migrated "as-is," what will be modified or updated as part of the transformation, and what will explicitly be left out of the migration project—because it's not necessary, it's obsolete, or it's being or been replaced with other functionality.

To minimize the risk of omitting critical functionality, include your users and business experts throughout the transformation process. Involve them in gathering and refining requirements, and in validating that the requirements have been met.

Testing is not to just to determine that the software works correctly; it is also to validate that it includes the correct functionality. Ensure full end-to-end traceability so that each requirement is mapped to the tests that report on its quality, and review them frequently so that working software is not affected by subsequent updates.

2. Take performance and security into account

While it's important that the functionality works as expected, the system's performance and security is no less critical. A new platform should improve both, but you can't take that for granted. A lot also depends on the architecture of the software that you build on top of it.

Include on your team staff members who have the necessary expertise in SAP S/4HANA, as well as trained performance engineers and security experts. Make them an integral part of the software lifecycle to ensure that requirements take performance and security into account, and validate throughout the delivery process to minimize the risk of downtime, slowdown, or security vulnerabilities.

3. Don't forget the broader ecosystem

SAP systems typically integrate with other systems, and if an integration breaks, it could compromise your organization's ability to do business.

Since SAP systems don't exist in isolation, testing must encompass the entire landscape, which includes the SAP systems, the systems they depend on, and the systems that depend on them.

To ensure that you're able to test effectively, incorporate test automation within your testing ecosystem that can simulate different application interfaces and interact with the many different technologies and protocols that comprise the landscape.

4. Roll out changes continuously

As with any large software project, there is always the possibility of underestimating the amount of work required to implement a given piece of functionality, and delivering it beyond the estimated time.

Minimize risk through DevOps and continuous delivery. Rather than waiting until all functionality is available, break the system down into small pieces and release them as soon as they are ready, to allow the team to get feedback quickly.

Leave the older system in place during the transition period to the new system so that people can still access functionality that has not yet been transferred to the new system. Although this might not mitigate the delay, you can minimize the effect it has on your business.

Eight challenges of SAP migration

Business and technical challenges with SAP transformations include maintaining business continuity. Expect to face these business and technical challenges.

Business issues

  • Unique requirements: Every SAP migration is a one-off, due to the many customizations that are applied and updated over time. There's no single upgrade mechanism you can apply to all SAP systems.

  • Lack of qualified and experienced staff: SAP experts are hard to find, and people with experience in SAP transformations are even harder to find.

  • SAP can’t be "turned off" during the migration: Many businesses depend on SAP for critical transactions, and any disruption to SAP service can leave an organization unable to operate.

  • Quality and security: Even if you maintain business continuity, any errors in data can quickly propagate inside and outside of the SAP system. At the same time, the data must be secure and comply with corporate and regulatory requirements throughout the transformation.

Technical difficulties

  • Traceability and governance: Many business that run on top of SAP are heavily regulated and must maintain end-to-end auditability, traceability, and governance.

  • SAP technologies: SAP incorporates many proprietary technologies—such as IDoc, RFC, SAP GUI, SAP UI5, SAP Fiori, and others—that require extensive technical knowledge to program and to test.

  • Complex dependencies: The SAP landscape involves multiple applications, with dependencies that can slow down the software delivery process.

  • Diverse platforms: SAP modernizations must run on a variety of platforms, such as cloud and mobile devices.

Migrate now, but use care

If you haven't started migrating over to the new SAP platforms, don't wait any longer. SAP transformations have significant challenges, but by taking the approaches described here, you should be able to overcome them.

You can deliver your organization's SAP modernization while continuing to deliver the services and performance that your business depends on.

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