A global leader in audience insights, data, and analytics, Nielsen shapes the future of media by providing accurate measurements of what people listen to and watch.

Best known for its Nielsen ratings, which measure the audiences for television, radio, and newspapers in media markets, Nielsen measures viewership behavior across various channels and platforms, from streaming platforms like Netflix, Max, Peacock, Prime Video, and Disney+ to prime broadcast television networks like CBS, FOX, ABC, and NBC.

For years, Nielsen ratings have been a deciding factor in canceling and renewing television shows at television networks. Uncovering what audiences love and empowering its clients with trusted intelligence to fuel business actions is all in a day’s work for the media research firm, which is headquartered in New York City and has an innovation center in Tampa, Florida.

SAP at Nielsen

As a global leader in cross-platform media measurement, Nielsen—which operates in more than 55 countries—uses the SAP suite of products to ensure the success of its enterprise platform operations, according to Indrajit Roy, VP of Technology at Nielsen.

In 2021, after 15 years of running SAP ERP Central Component (ECC), Nielsen made the decision to move to SAP S/4HANA Cloud, private edition, approaching this upgrade as an overarching business transformation project. In doing so, Nielsen established “an ecosystem of digital tools to enable our desired culture of self-service and data trust, with a learn-it-all mentality,” Roy told ASUG in a recent interview.

Inside Project Cheetah

To enable a modern digital experience for Nielsen and support the company’s strategic imperatives, the scope of Nielsen’s 24-month SAP platform update project and related change management project (dubbed Project Cheetah) involved modernizing HR, finance, sales, and procurement systems.

To do so, Nielsen selected SAP Finance, SAP SuccessFactors, SAP Analytics Cloud, SAP Billing and Revenue Innovation Management (BRIM), and SAP Ariba for procure-to-pay, in addition to moving forward with its larger SAP S/4HANA upgrade. "Our ultimate end goal was to deliver what we called myDigital Experience (mDX), combining SAP S/4HANA and other online tools to ensure that all of our users were completely empowered for self-service,” Roy explained.

In addition to empowering Nielsen’s employees, mDX aimed to decrease their manual workload, increase data quality, and eliminate duplication. Other areas of focus for the project included: 

  • Driving consistency with industry best practices, workflow efficiencies, and automation
  • Creating comparability with a single source of product, client, financial, and employee data truth within SAP
  • Building a "growth culture" of empowerment, agility, and data integrity

Though the project was slightly delayed due to issues with data management and Nielsen's complicated contract migration load, mostly specific to meeting SAP BRIM’s data migration and management requirements, Nielsen successfully completed Project Cheetah within its anticipated 24-month target. 

How Nielsen Leverages SAP Business Technology Platform

In preparing Nielsen for future growth, its IT team seeks to drive innovation and stability simultaneously, via a bimodal IT approach that leverages SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) for the company’s SAP systems.

Adopting this bimodal strategy will keep Nielsen’s core SAP systems clean, leveraging SAP BTP for extensibility and customization. “At the core of SAP is the idea of the intelligent enterprise, which means that your system should have a stable core but also be agile,” Roy explained. “Your basic processes and functionalities can’t be compromised or at risk of breaking, but at the same time you should be nimble enough to cater to specific needs and changing market conditions.”

Keeping the core of Nielsen’s SAP landscape clean from customizations was a priority for Roy throughout Project Cheetah, to avoid accruing technical debt that will prevent Nielsen from further upgrading its systems.

“Doing this will make your life easier during further upgrades,” he said. “SAP BTP creates a parallel, cloud-based platform you can leverage to do all your customizations, enhancements, integrations, data and analytics, artificial intelligence, and so on, without touching the core or making complex modifications in the core systems itself.”

At the outset of Project Cheetah, Roy and his team were not familiar enough with SAP BTP to fully leverage its capabilities. As a result, the team continued to make enhancements in Nielsen’s core systems, Roy explained. But as they’ve learned more about the capabilities of SAP BTP for clean data, data-driven decision-making, continuous process automation, low-code extensibility, and application testing, Roy said Nielsen is committed to making enhancements in SAP BTP.

While Nielsen’s SAP S/4HANA upgrade project required Roy’s team to focus initially on ensuring that the enterprise’s data was clean, to allow for a smooth transformation, the team is now focused on leveraging SAP BTP for data-driven decision-making alongside SAP Analytics Cloud and SAP Datasphere, which Nielsen is running on SAP BTP. “We’re heavily leveraging SAP BTP right now to understand where we stand as a business and where our opportunities for improvement are,” he said.

Moving Toward a Clean Application State at Nielsen

Already, Nielsen has enabled SAP BTP services for advanced financial closing with its U.S. operations, the first within Nielsen to move to SAP S/4HANA Cloud, private edition. For this process, Nielsen leverages SAP S/4HANA Cloud for Advanced Financial Closing, integrating apps and processes into a streamlined process while enabling definition, processing, and monitoring of the financial close.

“Using the Advanced Financial Closing cockpit was a big help in terms of creating the templates, task list, approval flows, notifications, monitoring, and more, trying to automate it as much as possible,” Roy said, who expects to ultimately see a 50% improvement in this process. “This will be a massive improvement in our financial closing process once fully stabilized.

Additionally, Nielsen’s SAP Document Management System (DMS) app, to store employee HXM information, was developed using Business Application Studio within SAP BTP, and SAP BTP Integration Suite has been used to integrate various on-premises as well as cloud processes.

“We removed all our PI/PO systems and all our other integration software completely, so we are exclusively using SAP BTP Integration Suite for our integrations,” Roy said. “The idea was to make it cohesive with our SAP S/4HANA moves, and it fit our requirements very well.”

Nielsen’s landscape includes around 40 external systems, connected through SAP BTP Integration Suite, and more than 150 integrations that connect not only external systems but internal ones as well for master data governance, SAP S/4HANA, SAP ECC, cloud-based systems like SAP SuccessFactors, and platforms like Salesforce. “The advantage of SAP BTP Integration Suite is that it has a lot of pre-built interfaces, which are really helpful,” Roy said. “It could be easily copied over for us to make custom changes when required.”

A Constant Focus on Change Management

Roy credits robust change management initiatives at Nielsen with the project’s overall success. Given the two-year window allotted to the project’s completion, leadership had time to become involved, provide feedback, and receive information in a reliable manner.

“The information flow was constant,” Roy explained. “At first, we provided leadership with the information that change was coming. As we moved forward, we measured specific changes incrementally, trying to design the most suitable way to handle them and making sure we understood which groups would be impacted, as well as how best to address that with those groups through training and special development programs.”

In Nielsen’s procure-to-pay operations, for example, the entire user base, comprising more than 10,000 people, had to be trained in the new ERP system while adopting it. Despite the project’s scope, Nielsen’s transformation was received well internally, and the organization faced few challenges in adoption of new systems, applications, and processes.

“People were receptive to the system,” Roy recalled. Nielsen still experiences what he calls “teething” challenges, which he acknowledged are not uncommon in large-scale business transformation projects, but system and user adoption has been strong thus far. To address challenges along the way, Nielsen engages SAP MaxAttention for hands-on support, which Roy said has been a positive experience.

“Wherever we face any issues, they're with us in trying to get into the core of the problems, to solve or at least find out the root cause of the issue, then giving us suggestions so that we can act accordingly to make sure that problem is eliminated,” he said. 

Key Lessons Learned from Nielsen's Transformation

“Anybody who’s embarking on an SAP S/4HANA journey must understand the capabilities of SAP BTP,” Roy said, reflecting on overall takeaways from the success of Project Cheetah and Nielsen’s business transformation.

To succeed in an SAP business process transformation, understanding the SAP product innovation roadmap—particularly the rationale for its clean-core strategy—is non-negotiable, Roy added. Though all organizations tend to think of their business processes and technology usage as unique and differentiating, this is less often the case than many believe, Roy said, adding that the question of how to overcome this obstacle is where SAP BTP comes into the picture. “SAP BTP should be front and center of the transformations now taking place across the SAP landscape,” he said.

That’s not to say that SAP BTP is a “magic bullet” for all process improvements at the modern enterprise, and understanding the platform’s capabilities are key to effectively leveraging it, Roy added. For example, SAP BTP requires manual configuration of all connection parameters (such as certificates, public keys, encryption keys, and basic credentials) in all environments.

However, connectivity to the cloud is easier in SAP BTP than in on-premises landscapes, he said, and SAP BTP offers pre-built business content for line-of-business and industry use cases while equipping organizations with customization capabilities based on their needs.

“All we have to do is take prebuilt content, copy them, and then customize based on your specific needs,” he said. “That’s a huge help; you don’t have to start the development from scratch. You can use built-in content, customize it, and make it usable for you, which makes the enhancement lifecycle much quicker.”

What's Next for Nielsen's SAP BTP Journey

Nielsen is currently considering where to take its usage of SAP BTP. Next up for its overall technology roadmap: side-by-side enhancements in SAP BTP to keep Nielsen’s core SAP systems clean. “Once we stabilize our system completely, that’s where we’re going: moving toward a clean application state, keeping the core clean, and improving our operations with side-by-side enhancements.”

Further ahead, Roy hopes that Nielsen can explore continuous process automation and simplify processes by establishing easier workflows through SAP BTP, empowering its users to make low-code/no-code extensions based on specific workflows. Application and automation testing will come later down the road, but SAP BTP will be essential there as well, Roy said.

Additionally, Nielsen is considering SAP BTP for automated invoice processing, intelligent expense management, HR process automation, contract lifecycle management, and real-time data integration and analytics for future SAP BTP usage. “Of course, we also want to leverage SAP Datasphere and SAP Analytics Cloud, as well as our internal SAP S/4HANA-based analytics platform, to make sure we have better and more robust analytics overall, to continually check our processes,” Roy said.

Overall, at Nielsen, “we're looking to see how SAP BTP can help us improve our processes and make it even easier to eventually serve the end goal of empowering our employees to self-serve their requirements,” he added.

Reflecting on the transformation journey at Nielsen, Roy expressed satisfaction with the overall results of Project Cheetah. “It’s been a long journey, with so many different people, teams, and areas of expertise,” he said. “And it’s been tough, with a lot of hard work for our people, but we eventually reached where we wanted to reach. We’re not fully there yet. There are still challenges. But we're working toward making sure that we can solve those issues as well. Overall, it’s progress in the right direction."

This customer story from Nielsen was first presented at the ASUG Florida Chapter Meeting on Feb. 23, 2024. For additional information, review Indrajit Roy's presentation here.

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