In the world of SAP solutions, “evolution” is more than a buzzword; it’s a cornerstone of progress.

Amid recent updates to SAP Activate, a project implementation methodology used to plan and execute complex SAP solutions, ASUG sat down with Jan Musil, Chief Product Owner for SAP Activate, to discuss the six-phase approach, its recent evolution, and the recently published second edition of SAP Activate: Project Management for SAP S/4HANA and SAP S/4HANA Cloud, an SAP Press publication co-authored by Sven Denecken, SVP & Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer for SAP Industries & CX, SAP SE, and Srivatsan Santhanam, Vice President, Spend Engineering, Head of Concur R&D, SAP Labs India.

Diving into the SAP Activate methodology, our conversation illuminates the collaborative effort between more than 20 authors that made this book’s publication possible, offering insights into the shifting landscapes of ERP deployment, technological advancements, and the intelligent enterprise’s driving ethos.

Musil underlined his gratitude for the team effort that brought this second edition of SAP Activate to fruition, explaining that each of the collaborators contributed their expertise to ensure the publication would serve as a comprehensive guide to the methodology. In the first part of our conversation, Musil's insights offer a roadmap for enterprises navigating evolution, accentuating the necessity of embracing new paradigms while furthering one’s understanding of the fundamental pillars of success.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: For any readers not familiar with SAP Activate, could you provide some background on the methodology?

A: SAP Activate was built from the knowledge gained through previous efforts with Accelerated SAP (ASAP), a previous methodology that SAP Activate succeeded in 2015, around the time that SAP launched SAP S/4HANA. Our goal was to pull together all the content we had available on best practices, ready-to-run business processes, guided methodologies, and the tooling that our customers should use when deploying ERP solutions.

Since then, we've expanded SAP Activate to cover more than ERP. Now, it covers everything from SAP Integrated Business Planning to SAP Ariba, SAP SuccessFactors, and other solutions. It’s like having a cookbook that helps you deploy SAP software.

Q: That's a great metaphor. There are a lot of ingredients.

A: And there's a lot of skill represented within SAP Activate. Consider the chef of a five-star or Michelin-starred restaurant. There are a lot of people around that chef who make them successful. That's how SAP Activate is built.

Q: What necessitated this second edition?

A: It was interesting for everyone involved how quickly the first edition was picked up by readers. The initial print run sold out much sooner than expected. However, that wasn't the main reason for writing the second edition. SAP's introduction of RISE with SAP at the beginning of 2022 gave us a reason to update the first edition. We wanted to cover RISE with SAP comprehensively in this new edition. 

We noticed from the first edition the distinction made between “fit-to-standard" and “fit gap” for assessing requirements. “Fit gap” was used mostly in private cloud and on-premises spaces. With public cloud, “fit-to-standard" was the most popular approach: following the SAP standard as much as possible.

However, the advent of a cloud mindset and “clean-core” approach brought together more customers in considering “fit-to-standard,” moving to enable their businesses to run as close to standard functionally in SAP as possible, extending where needed to support their businesses but not overdoing it, because this limits customers’ ability to innovate and absorb SAP innovations through upgrades. We focused on making “fit-to-standard” a central theme for this second edition.

Honestly, I think it might have had something to do with everyone working from home during that period. Suddenly, everything became cloud-based, and we had to adapt to that environment. This led many businesses to reflect that, in their implementations, being flexible and responsive is crucial. This aligns with the theme of SAP Activate: adoption of agile techniques, leveraging fit-to-standard, using pre-delivered and pre-configured solutions, then building on top of that.

Q: I want to highlight the introduction by Megan Fuerst, Development Editor at SAP Press, in which she discusses the challenges of navigating transitions. What, in your opinion, are some elements contributing to these challenges when shifting in the SAP environment?

A: I really like Megan's analogy about unhelpful guidance from GPS systems, which sometimes insist on going the wrong way because their maps aren’t up to date. It's something that happens to many, I'm sure. Usually, it's because the GPS has outdated software or outdated logic. When developing SAP Activate, we thought of it as updating the GPS for the SAP ecosystem, moving away from the traditional notion of implementation via blueprinting and lengthy deployment cycles. We wanted to leverage the latest technology and harness the benefits of today's cloud, which is vastly different from eight years ago. 

Provisioning of initial systems or sandboxes used to take weeks: setting up hardware, operating systems, and everything an on-premises environment required. Now, provisioning a system in the cloud, it's available within an hour, ready to run. That's a huge time saver, and it's just one of the new technologies we've incorporated, leveraging the cloud and a cloud mindset. That's what we built SAP Activate to reflect.

It’s keeping our own GPS updated, consistently integrating new instructions. We've updated that GPS every single year. It's not just an annual update; specifically talking about ERP: with public cloud, SAP Activate gets updated every two weeks, ensuring it remains up to date. This isn't solely based on SAP changes but also on user feedback: customers who talk to us and ask questions. In the private cloud, updates range between two to four weeks. We were on a two-week cycle until late 2023; now, we've slowed a bit, because guidance evolution isn't as rapid on the private cloud side.

Q: The GPS metaphor works well because it encompasses not only software but also the landscape.

A: It is the landscape. And if you think about it, what's changed since we launched SAP Activate in 2015? The rapid acceleration of public and private cloud adoption. Back in 2015, many customers were starting with on-prem adoption of SAP S/4HANA. Now we have additional ingredients, such as SAP Signavio, coming into play, along with other solutions for our customers.

I'm sure your readers are aware of SAP Cloud Application Lifecycle Management (ALM), and you might be discussing it with your audience as they transition from SAP Solution Manager to SAP Cloud ALM. There are a lot of moving parts that need continuous updating. If we didn't update them, the result would be like Megan's experience, leading you down the wrong path and preventing you from reaching your destination.

Q: One thing I appreciate about this book is its flexibility, catering to both beginners and more advanced readers. What fundamental areas do you feel all readers should dive into?

A: We’ve intentionally designed the book structure to be flexible. As you mentioned, you have the flexibility to start anywhere. You can begin from the outset, learn the fundamentals of SAP S/4HANA, delve into the fundamentals of SAP Activate, and review the details of individual subject area groups—whether that involves designing configuration technology, organizational change management, or the agile methodology, which has a separate section in the book. You can enter from any side, and we've arranged it like that because the audience isn't as singular as “technical or functional” book readers. We're serving a wide range of stakeholders: project sponsors, project managers, functional consultants, and business users. Our scope is correspondingly broad. That’s why we've emphasized this.

I highly recommend everyone review the fundamentals of SAP Activate and not skip that section. You can update your knowledge if you're coming through ASAP blueprinting. You will really need to understand “fit-to-standard,” how it's done, why it’s done that way, and how we're changing the paradigm. The chapters progressively build knowledge, from fundamentals to more advanced topics, and to the specific path that you are selecting for transition, linking back to specific details, and cross-referencing other chapters. Even if you skip ahead, it'll loop you back in.

If you look at the later chapters, they're building on that knowledge from the earlier chapters around topics like data migration. Review all the steps because, as we cover each individual transition journey, we want to avoid repeating the same information four or five times. We want to gradually build upon it.

Q: Businesses are rapidly changing. They need to collaborate across different areas and leverage modern technologies like AI and big data to enhance decision-making. How do we gauge success in this new paradigm? What are the key decisions that drive success?

A: When businesses implement SAP solutions or their business solutions—because it's not always just SAP—they're implementing end-to-end business processes. We're covering these end-to-end processes, potentially implementing multiple solutions from SAP and other vendors simultaneously. Thus, we need to consider the integrated nature of this implementation. We've factored this into how we've designed SAP Activate. 

If you examine the methodology for SAP SuccessFactors, SAP S/4HANA Cloud, and SAP Ariba, you'll notice the same flow of steps intentionally. The structure of the information is designed to bring these elements together, constructing a roadmap for an intelligent enterprise that reflects its complete scope. This setup provides access to all necessary information, based on the implementation's scope. That's one aspect.

The second is crucial for leveraging new technologies. In the last year, we've incorporated extensive guidance for customers utilizing the SAP Business Technology Platform in their implementations, whether they're employing services for extensibility, integration, or any other function. There's more beyond those two examples. We've added guidance on machine learning (ML) and robotic process automation (RPA). We are continuously updating content as artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more visible and is used by more businesses.

Additionally, newly integrated for SAP Activate (and not in this edition of the book, as it was added more recently) is content for industry cloud applications. SAP offers industry cloud applications across its own offerings as well as the SAP partner ecosystem. In SAP Activate, we've included specific “hooks” (tasks akin to integration and extensibility tasks in solution documentation) for these applications. This fosters a holistic implementation, not solely focused on pure SAP components or products, but rather an integrated suite to effectively run businesses.

Q: Where could readers find this supplemental information?

A: As we emphasize in the book, the best path is to head to the SAP Community website and follow SAP Activate. My team and I, along with SAP Activate users, share our knowledge there. Additionally, we've initiated SAP Activate Minuteshort videos for you to watch at your convenience. We cover various topics like explaining SAP Activate basics or diving into aspects of governance. One of my team members also made a video about the industry cloud content I mentioned earlier.

We have truly shifted the paradigm in how we share information. Initially, we followed the traditional approach of sharing information through webinars. Now, we're focusing on specific topic areas and aiming to cover them effectively. Initially, we set a one-minute limit, but sometimes you can't cover everything in one minute. We've relaxed that standard. Now, you'll find SAP Activate Minute videos that might be two to three minutes long—but still short, concise, and to the point. They're not the typical 15-, 20-, 30-, or 45-minute videos. They're brief, enabling you to grasp what you need to learn quickly.

Q: I appreciate that content delivery system. The bite-sized minute format is invaluable. We often overestimate our ability to comprehend things, and having a minute's worth of information allows us the chance to digest and process it without feeling overwhelmed. It helps us understand how to integrate it into the vast amount of information we encounter daily.

A: That was really the purpose behind this effort. We have jokingly discussed creating TikToks about SAP Activate, although we haven't ventured into TikTok. However, we've embraced that approach of providing bite-sized information that people can quickly consume, whether it's between meetings or while waiting for a sandwich during lunch.

For more from Musil, check back next week for part two of our interview on SAP Activate. This SAP Press publication was a collaboration between industry leaders from SAP and more than 20 contributors, including Sven Denecken, SVP & Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer for SAP Industries & CX, SAP SE; Jan Musil, SAP Activate Chief Product Owner; and Srivatsan Santhanam, Vice President, Spend Engineering, Head of Concur R&D, SAP Labs India.

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