What comes to mind when hearing “Clean Core solutions?” My guess is that 90% think “code optimization.”
When IBM launched the Clean Core conversation with SAP almost three years ago, here’s where we started: how to move away from the over-dependence on classical ABAP extensions to the core and move towards the utopian vision of a cloud-native paradigm.
However, we quickly realized that for many of our customers the technical debt—ERP system content that can slow down the pace of change and results in slower, more costly change cycles, and with all the additional regression testing—was not just about the millions of lines of code. It was also about challenges in data consistency, as well as the real lack of process harmonization.
We saw the impacts of this technical debt when using the IBM HANA Impact Assessment (HIA) on our customers’ SAP environments. This performs a micro-analysis to provide the right set of recommendations for the move to SAP S/4HANA. Prior to the Clean Core conversation, the answer for customers was more than likely to start again with a Greenfield approach. The pain of having to remediate the data, code, and process challenges was seen as just too, well, painful.
Fast forward to today, we still run HIA, now with embedded Data & Process Mining, and we still see the same challenges. However, through our Clean Core solutions, working with our partner ecosystems like SAP, smartShift, Syniti, SNP, Celonis, SAP Signavio, and more, we could address the modernization challenges in code, process, and data in new ways, that ultimately simplify, expedite, and lessen the cost in the move to SAP S/4HANA. Indeed, today, the hybrid or Bluefield approaches enabled by IBM Rapid Move have become our predominant migration approach.
Why Should We Care About Clean Core Solutions?
Taking a look at the 2022 ASUG Pulse of the SAP Customer research, respondents reported  issues along the SAP S/4HANA journey: challenges with Tech Updates, Data Issues, Integration, and Funding.
Let’s start with the easy one: funding challenges.
We have many conversations with customers who have dollar estimates for the SAP S/4HANA transformation—a cost in excess of affordability. For some, the reaction is to do nothing—just park the problem for now. For others, it’s looking at alternatives, and for the vast majority, that’s the right advice on their options, not just the default Greenfield.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you are starting again, versus re-using those parts of the system that still are relevant for your future operations, then it doesn’t just cost more, it also takes more time, and consumes more resources from your business. Hence Bluefield approaches using IBM Rapid Move can go a long way to address funding and the war for talent concerns today.
Likewise, we seem to all understand technical updates. The more non-standard the system, the more challenges we have to continuously keep it current. Last year around 68% of the ASUG survey participants confirmed this point 
Data & Integration Issues
But what are the data and integration issues? We see more customers embracing more hybrid application architectures, shifting from ERP-centric landscapes to balancing the power of SAP with best-of-breed cloud-native solutions like Salesforce, Blue Yonder, Kinaxis, and more.
These solutions don’t just introduce different data needs, but they challenge the way we integrate, as well as necessitate new federated data governance approaches, where the mastering of customer, material, supplier and more is being outside of SAP. SAP becomes the consumer, not the master data origination source.
With IBM Clean Core solutions, we address all the challenges, addressing funding, integration, and technical innovation/updates by focusing on how we resolve the technical debt and modernization challenges in code, data, and process, whilst keeping some of your original investments.
In engineering this more modern approach to SAP transformation, the role of data cannot be underestimated. It supports transactional efficiency, and powers the advanced analytics and insights that orientate the solutions toward intelligent sustainable outcomes.
This is why we invest in our partnerships with our data ecosystem partners, e.g. Syniti, SNP, and in our own offerings, EnterpriseHub.
It isn’t just about data migration, it’s about having the right data engineering foundation, not just for SAP, but to support the extended hybrid application landscape. Addressing data quality, not just completeness, but data accuracy, aligning the data quality with business insights—e.g. impact on payment terms with DSO, to optimize Cash Flow benefits, creating the unifying data or Conceptual model for data that can be used to simplify the integration across SAP and the new investments in best-of-breed cloud-native applications. (I’ll discuss this more in the follow-up article when we do a deep dive with Syniti on the role of Data and Clean Core.)
Lastly, from the ASUG Pulse study this year, some of the key focus areas were around Process Modernization—with about 50% looking at Getting Back to Standard, 50% in using more Automation, and 36% answering around shifting from Manual to Digitized Processes. Automation shouldn’t be applied in isolation of process modernization.
Today our solutions are shifting beyond the classical adoption of SAP to a more experience-led approach, focusing on the user journey and the future of work. This starts with our partnerships with Celonis and SAP Signavio to drive this deep process mining to establish those areas of opportunity. Then we define those moments that matter where the process can be simplified and enhanced through insights to enable more productive and effective process outcomes, improving the overall experience.
Additionally, through our Evolution Partnership with SAP, in embracing the power of SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP), we are using process automation to drive process orchestration across end-to-end process workflows. We leverage automation to make SAP simpler, but also use Data-Driven Advanced Analytics and AI/ML to make SAP smarter.
In summary, when an enterprise shapes its future transformation, consider how to get the system future ready. Think beyond migration, with a focus on modernization. Employ Clean Core as an architectural philosophy, principle, and set of foundational solutions that can—and continue to—ensure the business has the right data, process, and system engineering to become a more adaptive, intelligent, and sustainable enterprise.
Allan Coulter is an IBM Distinguished Engineer and Global CTO for SAP and IBM Consulting.
 Source ”SAP Custom Code and Digital Transformation” Research by ASUG and Pillir, 2021