As the 2027 end-of-maintenance deadline approaches for SAP Business Suite 7—which includes SAP ERP Central Component (ECC) 6—organizations are moving with greater urgency to ensure these initiatives are top of mind for both IT and business leaders.

According to the 2024 ASUG Pulse of the SAP Customer Research, 48% of respondents indicated moving to SAP S/4HANA will be a priority focus for their organizations this coming year. And these initiatives, in many cases, are currently in progress; 47% of respondents said they are already live on the ERP platform or are preparing to migrate. 

As SAP S/4HANA digital transformation projects take on greater importance for our members, ASUG recently sat down with three of the co-authors of Migrating to SAP S/4HANA, a recent SAP Press bestseller. In conversation, Frank Finkbohner, SAP S/4HANA Cloud Data Migration Content Owner at SAP; Petra Kloess, SAP Senior Director of Central Business Configuration; and Boris Rubarth, Product Manager at SAP, shed light on crucial aspects and considerations for successful SAP S/4HANA migration projects.

The three authors emphasized the importance of strategic decision-making, technical guidance, and understanding the nuances between deployment models. Additionally, they highlighted the significance of trial systems in facilitating familiarity and testing processes, especially in SAP S/4HANA Cloud transitions, and discussed the advantages and limitations of brownfield approaches, stressing the need for structured planning and adoption of innovations in a step-by-step manner.

With their diverse expertise and collaborative efforts, the authors aim to provide SAP Press readers with comprehensive insights and practical guidance—both essential for navigating the complexities of data migration in SAP environments.

This interview was edited and condensed. 

ASUG: What do you hope readers will take away from reading Migrating to SAP S/4HANA? How do you envision it contributing to the success of SAP S/4HANA migration projects?  

Petra Kloess: Migration is often perceived as a very big, complex task. In our book, we guide various levels—including the technical level—from both migration and data perspectives. We also advise on how to decide which path is correct, exploring which arguments to use to ensure a successful migration throughout the complete lifecycle.  

Frank Finkbohner: We aim to provide readers with insights into effective data migration planning for successful outcomes. Typically, the main challenges with data migration involve inadequate planning, oversight of tasks, and lack of guidance. We offer comprehensive guidance on utilizing data migration tools to ensure successful implementation. This approach minimizes issues for customers or users, enhances their familiarity with the process and tools, and reduces the number of customer tickets.  

Boris Rubarth: The guidance at first sight looks quite complex. Migrating to SAP S/4HANA is not just an upgrade; it’s also changing to a new product line. On the other hand, there are various aspects where SAP is supporting those projects by providing guidance. It’s important to become familiar with this guidance.  

ASUG: Please elaborate on the three paths for using SAP S/4HANA: new implementation, system conversion, and selective data transition. What factors should organizations consider when choosing between these paths?  

Kloess: This question beautifully illustrates how we structured the book. The arguments here are twofold. Personally, I'm not a data migrator, which is why we have a diverse authoring team. My background lies in business configuration and change management. Customers must make strategic decisions not only on the technical aspects but also on what innovations they want and when. It's a customer's strategic decision not only technically what kind of data and what kind of process they want to take over but also how they want to innovate in a specific timeframe. A new implementation offers a chance to revamp processes compared to migrating a decade-old system. Financial investment is a factor, as well as company setup, industry, and future trajectory. This strategic perspective is pivotal for both business and configuration. Chapter nine, on SAP Activate, underscores this, guiding customers through crucial business processes. This strategic roadmap is vital for the technical side, and I defer to my experienced colleagues in that domain.  

Rubarth: The business aspect is crucial and provides a significant viewpoint. From a technical perspective, we can add that some approaches are only valid for specific targets. For example, system conversions don’t target SAP S/4HANA Cloud, while a new implementation can also be used for non-SAP source systems. These are technical considerations. However, apart from this guidance, I believe it's essential to consider what the business is looking ahead to in terms of project planning.  

Finkbohner: If you're leveraging a public cloud, you can only opt for the new implementation. You cannot choose the system conversion or selective data transfer. Those routes apply more to the private cloud and on-premises environments. First, you need to determine what product you have. If it's under a public cloud, then only the new implementation is an option. Other considerations from colleagues will come into play if it's a private cloud or on-premises setup.  

ASUG: In the introduction, it's noted that the book supports both on-premises and cloud deployments. Could you discuss the variances in migration processes for these two environments?  

Kloess: Let's talk about the company processes. For on-premises setups, the customer is accountable and manages their own landscape. They're responsible for determining the hardware used, setting timelines for upgrades and updates, and overseeing operations—whether handled internally or by a partner. Control of the landscape is in the customer's hands. Transitioning to SAP S/4HANA Cloud brings about not only innovation and business process changes but also a significant shift in landscape operations. In a cloud environment, whether private or public, part of this accountability and landscape management shifts to SAP or a partner, depending on your choice.  

It's a substantial change in accountability and business processes. When it comes to transitioning, this affects the whole area, altering how processes function. This transition is akin to the evolution we've witnessed in travel management, from manual record-keeping to streamlined solutions like SAP Concur on mobile devices. Just as with travel, we remember how we recorded travel in the 2000s and how you were reimbursed. Compare that with how SAP Concur on a mobile device allows you to record expenses while you travel. This is a change for the end user, so you need change management to prepare those end users. This aspect of transition is integral and shouldn't be overlooked. 

That's why this book isn't solely technical. From a technical standpoint, the transition largely depends on how much you're migrating from your old system. The book provides insights into this, including considerations for highly modified systems in unsupported releases, along with tools and checklists for navigating these challenges. Additionally, there's a chapter dedicated to central business configuration in new implementations, detailing how to scope and configure your SAP S/4HANA Cloud solution effectively. The book covers a wide range of areas, offering hints, examples, and guidance on building roadmaps and making informed decisions.  

ASUG: The first part of the book focuses on SAP S/4HANA basics. Please highlight some of the key concepts covered in this section that are crucial for decision-making. 

Kloess: On a functional level, these deployment models support different scopes, numbers of countries, and languages. They also support different user interface technologies (UI). These are just three technical elements you must consider: they have different upgrade models, update models, and licenses behind them. 

From a technical perspective, it involves licenses, scope, and accountability. There are huge differences between these different models that need to be considered when you make that decision matrix. 

From a product management perspective, the first thing that the customer always asks about is scope. That's the first thing that comes up because they are different. The second thing that comes up is what kind of effort is needed to extend or integrate it. And the third thing is separate licenses. This price is always an argument. They have different license models behind them, not just different pricing, but models behind the subscription versus on-premises. 

For more from the authors of SAP Press publication Migrating to SAP S/4HANA, read the second part of our conversation, and purchase the book on the SAP Press website.