Earlier this week, ASUG and SAP hosted the ASUG Next-Generation SAP Center of Excellence virtual conference. Across three days, this event not only focused on helping attendees establish their own SAP-centric center of excellence (CoE) to help marshal and maintain solutions, but also offered practical advice on how organizations should approach the implementation and maintenance of SAP solutions such as SAP S/4HANA.

This is a topic of particular interest to SAP customers. According to the ASUG 2021 Pulse of the SAP Customer survey, 46% of respondents are making more investments into SAP, while another 49% are keeping the level of SAP investments the same. To make the most of existing SAP technology, it’s vital to establish an SAP-centric CoE to make sure you are getting the most out of the solution.

“It is time to rethink, renovate, and renew your SAP customer CoE to evolve into a next-generation SAP CoE,” said Paul Kurchina, ASUG evangelist and the host of the conference. “It is time to operate off a new playbook for the 2020s and beyond to achieve greater success with SAP.”

The Case for a CoE

The first step in developing any new addition to your organization—whether it’s developing a CoE or implementing a new solution—is identifying the value this addition will bring your organization. Many of the speakers and experts presenting on the first day of the conference helped attendees make the case for forming a CoE.

Jeff Schwartz, author and principal at Deloitte Consulting, gave the first presentation of the event, focusing on how work has changed over the past year. According to Schwartz, COVID-19 quickly sped the rate at which some innovations in the business world take. He said that many organizations are using old “maps” to navigate the future before them. This can be a detriment to deploying fasting-changing solutions, where constant learning and monitoring are necessary.

“In 2020 we all became futurists when we experienced shifts in how and where we work in days and weeks—not years,” Schwartz said. “The question going forward is what we learned as we pivoted and adapted, and most importantly, what choices we make as individuals, business leaders, and communities.”

He encouraged organizations to look at three values when it comes to implementing new practices into an organization: cost, value, and meaning. An SAP-centric CoE not only will help with keeping up with the updates SAP solutions go through, but it will also help a company ensure that a technology solution always is a benefit to helping organizations lower costs, increase the value of options and opportunities, and increase the impact a solution will have on an organization.

Advice for Developing a CoE

John Gibson, head of global CoE in the SAP platform and technology group, hosted a session that gave practical advice to attendees on how to create an effective CoE. Gibson and his team run their own CoE serving SAP customers.

He encouraged attendees to think about the technical skills necessary for running an effective CoE: experts on data management, UX, AI, ML, and business intelligence—to name a few. Once an organization figures out which technical-skill experts are vital to its CoE, it can then use that expertise to drive value in the organization.

Another important part of developing a CoE is figuring out its specialization and defining which problems and topics it will and will not cover. According to Gibson, a CoE should do two things: generate innovation and help get infrastructure and processes put into place quickly. Defining the scope and context of a CoE is vital to its success.

In a later session, Doug Shuptar, principal of business transformation consulting at SAP America, gave attendees some advice to “rethink, renovate, and renew,” their CoEs for the cloud.

“The SAP Center of Excellence continues to play an important role as hybrid environments are becoming the new reality,” Shuptar said. “Foundational principles of a clearly articulated vision, clarity of services provided, and a solid governance structure are even more critical to having an effective, value-generating CoE.”

Shuptar said that with traditional, on-premises IT landscapes, SAP customers often focus on operational aspects of their CoEs, while cloud environments demand them to have a different focus: managing services. Among other things, he encouraged attendees to adopt this services-focused mindset, transition to a DevOps structure, and shift to Agile development.

Tips for Implementing a New Solution

Implementing a new solution is also an important part of developing an effective CoE. James Senecal, VP of customer success management at Tricentis, gave a presentation on the importance of adopting an Agile development and DevOps structure to new solutions. Customers leveraging an Agile development evolve their solutions and business requirements through a “collaborative effort” across an organization and its many teams and end users. On the other hand, DevOps (development operations) helps “deliver features, fixes, and updates frequently based on business requirements.”

Senecal discussed how advances in technology and the SAP ecosystem have made both Agile development and DevOps structure more important. This is because the speed of development has increased, meaning that customers need to be able to react faster and test their new solutions more frequently as SAP increases the number of releases. Similarly, Senecal said that moving SAP projects to Agile development also helps customers keep up with the speed and frequency of new updates and releases.

Another important theme throughout the conference was the importance of keeping the skill set of an organization’s employees up to date, which can be a tall order today.

“Change is coming faster than ever,” Simone Saar, COO of SAP Learning, said in a session on building skills and knowledge. She laid out how the old world of multi-year implementation and one-off training sessions are gone, and customers have to configure and develop solutions on demand while embedding digital training into solutions. Saar also emphasized the importance of maintaining consistent training and development among workforces.

“Learning enables us to do jobs better and faster,” she said.

Building Your CoE to Support ML and AI in SAP S/4HANA

The final day of the conference featured a series of breakout sessions focused on application lifecycle management, enterprise support, SAP for Me, and thrive after SAP S/4HANA go-live. In a session focused on leveraging a CoE to assist the AI and ML capabilities of SAP S/4HANA, Andreas Welsch, VP and head of intelligent processes of SAP S/4HANA product management at SAP, walked attendees through the ways certain intelligent technology solutions can be used by an organization’s CoE team.

Welsch laid out these three main technologies can be leveraged: situation handling, ML, and intelligent scenario lifecycle management (ISLM). Situation handling is a “great way to get started with automation and intelligence, is a low-complexity tool, and only takes 30 to 45 minutes to develop a template. The feature alerts business owners to certain actions and changes in data and gives recommendations on how the end user should proceed. When it comes to ML, development is a little more complex, taking about two to three days to complete. The solution can learn from end-user behavior and actions to recognize patterns and “help automate repetitive tasks.” Finally, ISLM is a tool of medium complexity that could take about one to two days to implement, depending on the effort. Welsch said this layer is vital for AI capabilities and can be used to maintain and manage ML models.

It’s that time of year again! ASUGFORWARD is right around the corner. ASUG members can join us online for executive programming on June 15‒17. Later, on June 21‒24, be sure to tune in for sessions from SAP customers and experts. Register now for the virtual event.

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