Implementing enterprise software is more than just an exercise in turning on new process improvements and watching the magic happen. For SAP customers, specifically those with longstanding ECC—or even R/3—implementations, one of the biggest challenges is to ensure an SAP S/4HANA upgrade moves beyond old, tired, and irrelevant processes and methods.

Reimplementing old processes was particularly common when customers needed to perform technical upgrades to ECC as a precondition toward a more complex, functional upgrade. Because IT oversaw these upgrades and functional upgrades are complex, costly, time-consuming, and politically fraught, many organizations pursued technical upgrades and deferred the functional until later. The result? Technical debt, fortunately, was retired. Unfortunately, what is best thought of as process debt continued: Older, outmoded processes that act as anchors to success and innovation persisted.

A migration to the cloud, particularly from SAP ECC to S/4HANA, offers customers an opportunity, perhaps even an imperative, to cast off old processes, mainly custom-built ones, in favor of the new, “fit-to-standard” processes that are SAP S/4HANA hallmarks. Retiring process debt can be an important component of the ever-elusive SAP S/4HANA upgrade business case.

A Win-Win for SAP Customers

Additionally, retiring old processes offers an important win-win scenario for SAP customers. Retiring old processes in favor of new SAP S/4HANA processes (based on industry best practices) creates new efficiencies and "retires" custom code maintenance costs. Multiple studies show that maintaining custom processes is a primary reason IT department budgets skew towards keeping the lights on instead of driving business innovation.

The SAP acquisition of Signavio in 2021, and last year’s rebranding to SAP Signavio, were meant to heighten the visibility of these problems and take aim at solving them. As such, it’s been a successful SAP acquisition and strategy. In particular, SAP Signavio lets customers analyze existing processes across a variety of dimensions: Is the process actually being used? Is it running efficiently? And, most importantly, is there a “fit-to-standard” equivalent in SAP S/4HANA that would let the customer retire an older, custom process when the new implementation goes live?

The value of this analysis, which occurs within an early “fit-to-standard” phase in the SAP S/4HANA Activate implementation methodology, can’t be emphasized enough. The SAP customer base is rife with older processes implemented eons ago. Some old processes are hardly used, if at all. Others may still have value and be in but are widely inefficient because of poor design or initial implementation. Uncovering this waste and eliminating or remediating inefficiencies can more than justify the SAP Signavio expense.

What About Politically Fraught?

This kind of best-fit, best-practice, go-forward strategy can also have a significant cultural impact, hence the above comment about politically fraught issues behind functional upgrades. Business users often have emotional and political attachments to their custom processes. Indeed, outdated processes are often still due to resistance by individuals who contend a particular fit-to-standard process that “doesn’t fit our special way of doing business.”

SAP Signavio analyses can help persuade holdouts by showing them that existing processes deliver sub-par performance or don’t support best practices and that SAP S/4HANA can cover required functionality. SAP Signavio, in theory, provides the neutral, empirical analysis needed to tamp down users’ emotional ties to these older processes.

SAP Signavio can also provide value in the crucial lifecycle management of S/4HANA. Once the overall process configuration is chosen, SAP Signavio can hand off important configuration information to the SAP Cloud Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) solution. This tool, in turn, uses that configuration information to assure the customer and implementation partner that the specifications agreed to in the “fit-to-standard” workshop are manifested at implementation time. SAP Signavio process information also can be used to create training tools based on the new processes.

Taken as a whole, the potential impact of SAP Signavio with an SAP S/4HANA implementation can be significant. Process debt is a primary reason companies fail to achieve the expected return on investment from enterprise systems. Undoubtedly, replacing outmoded processes with new ones must be done carefully. Implementing a new process and imposing it on end-users without input is often a prescription for failure. That’s why SAP emphasizes these fit-to-standard workshops as part of its Activate methodology. End-users need to be a part of retiring process debt, or they will literally rebel against the new process and call into question the potential ROI of the project.

Using a tool like SAP Signavio, in conjunction with a workshop that encourages end-user input and acceptance, can help optimize the ROI of migration to SAP S/4HANA significantly. Retiring both process and technical debt can go a long way in the quest for productivity and competitiveness, which are the hallmarks of a successful company in today’s global economy.

The SAP community will learn more about SAP Signavio’s roles in successful S/4HANA implementations in sessions at the upcoming ASUG Best Practices: SAP S/4HANA and Business Technology Platform (BTP) Conference. More event information can be found here.

Joshua Greenbaum is Principal at Enterprise Application Consulting.

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