As SAP customers contemplate an SAP S/4HANA migration, they have to work through big questions like what infrastructure it will run on and how to handle business processes. One of the keys to a successful S/4HANA migration will be which part of the organization sets the project parameters, IT or business.
SAP expert Ekrem Hatip, senior solution architect at Syntax Systems, advises that because an S/4HANA migration is a fundamentally different project than a normal system upgrade, such as from SAP R/3 to SAP ECC, organizations must approach it differently. In this Q&A, Hatip discusses some of the issues that organizations need to consider as they embark on an S/4HANA journey.
Syntax Systems is based in Montreal and provides managed services for SAP systems, including hosting SAP systems in Syntax Systems data centers and running SAP systems on public cloud provider infrastructures.
How are Syntax customers approaching a possible S/4HANA migration? Is it on their minds?
Ekrem Hatip: Over the last few years we have brought up the S/4HANA topic even if the customer doesn’t show immediate interest in doing that. We discuss with them what S/4HANA is, what are the advantages, and what are the innovations that S/4HANA introduces. We look at the customers’ existing landscape and discuss the possible migration paths from their system to an S/4HANA system. We talk about the business requirements, because an S/4HANA conversion is not a technical upgrade — it’s not a technical conversion from one database to another. It touches every aspect of their business processes, and we want to make sure that customers are aware that it is a sizable project.
Are customers eager to move or are they holding back now?
Hatip: Most customers are happy with what they have right now — with their SAP implementation. It satisfies their current needs and they don’t see an immediate reason to go to S/4HANA other than the fact that SAP has put the 2025 date in front of them [when SAP will end support for SAP ECC]. We can help our customers to understand what is ahead of them.
So educating them on what to expect is the first step of an S/4HANA migration?
Hatip: Absolutely. Most people don’t know much about SAP HANA let alone S/4HANA. Their expectation is, just like when they upgraded from R/3 to ECC, they will go ahead and just upgrade their system over one weekend. Then come Monday morning, they will continue running as they used to run on a shiny new system. We have to make sure that they understand this is not the case. Most of their business processes will be touched and most of the business processes might need to be modified or dropped. I also tell customers — especially if they’re going with a greenfield implementation — to keep their customizations at minimum. Everything seems to be going into cloud and S/4HANA Cloud is out there. So, I tell them if they can limit their customizations, they’ll be able to go to S/4HANA Cloud for the true SaaS experience.
Are customers considering any other systems as an alternative to an S/4HANA migration?
Hatip: For many customers SAP is the core of their business operations, and I haven’t yet seen any customers who are considering going to other solutions than SAP for their core business. So, it’s more likely they’re considering if they want to remain on ECC for as long as they can before moving to S/4HANA. With that said, I have seen that some customers are now considering alternatives to some of the peripheral systems offered by SAP. For example, one customer who was using BOB-J [SAP BusinessObjects BI] for its reporting is now considering using Microsoft Power BI on Azure. Do I know whether this is driven by the fact that they need to go to S/4HANA or not? I don’t know, but my observation is that some customers are considering alternatives for the systems surrounding their core SAP environment.
What are the most critical issues to consider as you make the S/4HANA decision?
Hatip: Unlike the previous conversions or upgrades, an S/4HANA conversion is not an IT-driven decision. It should definitely be a business-driven decision. It should be coming from the top and presented to the IT department, as opposed to the IT department going back and saying, this operating system is going out of support or that database is going out of support, so we have to upgrade. It should definitely be coming from the business side. Therefore, not only should the CIO be convinced to go to S/4HANA, at the same time CEOs and COOs should also be in the decision-making process. An S/4HANA conversion is a lengthy and fairly complex project, but at the same time it allows customers to clean up their existing legacy systems. Customers can use the opportunity to clean up data and review hardware or server requirements, or they can definitely leverage the public cloud offerings when they decide to go to S/4HANA. Finally, CIOs and the IT department should try to keep their customizations at a minimum in order to future-proof their environment.
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