At our upcoming ASUG Best Practices: SAP S/4HANA—Chicago event, Jamie Burgin, director of enterprise applications at Abiomed, will give a keynote address focused on the medical technology company’s transition to SAP S/4HANA. ASUG caught up with Jamie before her address to discuss the implementation project.

ASUG: Jamie, can you kick off things by telling us about Abiomed and giving us an overview of your role there?

Jamie: Abiomed is a publicly traded medical device company that develops and manufactures the world’s smallest heart pump. The Impella pump is a temporary support that enables the heart to recover after certain types of heart attacks. In addition to the Impella line of products, the company also owns Breath, which offers extracorporeal membrane oxygenation devices. As Director of Enterprise Applications, I am responsible for providing feasible, timely, cost-effective, secure, compliant, and maximum-quality software solutions to support Abiomed operations.

ASUG: Why did Abiomed decide to implement SAP S/4HANA in the first place? What prompted the start of this project?

Jamie: Abiomed has always been a bit conservative in its SAP deployments. In 2006, we implemented SAP ECC5.0 after SAP ECC6.0 had been released. In 2016, a year after the initial release of SAP S/4HANA, we upgraded to SAP ECC6.0. SAP is our mission-critical software. We knew we needed it to support the company’s future growth.

ASUG: How did you build your business case? What were some lessons you learned from that project stage that you’d pass on to organizations thinking about implementing the solution?

Jamie: The most important lesson is that SAP implementation is a people project. Once we selected our implementation partner, we moved into the prep project stage, where we initiated a companywide business analysis and evaluated transition scenarios. I can’t stress enough how valuable the relatively long preparation phase was for our organization. We needed this time to create buy in, overcome obstacles, and identify issues.

ASUG: Which version did you go live on?

Jamie: SAP S/4HANA 2019

ASUG: How long did it take for you to go live? When did it start and end?

Jamie: We kicked off the implementation project in June 2019 and went live on November 2, 2020.

ASUG: How big was your implementation project team?

Jamie: The main team consisted of 40 people across 10 business areas.

  • 16 business process leads
  • 10 functional consultants (implementation partner)
  • Testing lead
  • Data migration lead
  • 2 project managers

We had around 30 consultants from external vendors to support hosting, basis, and security service providers instrumental to successful project completion. There were also more than 150 people in the down, lateral, and up lines, combined with external resources.

ASUG: You decided to go with a greenfield implementation. Why was that the best option for Abiomed and its IT landscape?

Jamie: We gave careful thought to the approach and chose Greenfield for two reasons.

First, we had 15 years of legacy data—this legacy data needed to be cleaned up, in some cases restructured, and brought in line with the current needs of our business.

Second, we knew that a technical upgrade without engaging in business transformation would deliver only marginal benefits to Abiomed. We understood that opportunities like this don’t come often. So, we drilled deep into our operations across all departments, working with the mindset of identifying how our business processes should function for the next decade. And, to better position us for future growth.

ASUG: What did you consider when you were choosing your system integrator and other partners involved with this project?

Jamie: We followed the Abiomed vendor selection process of identifying critical-to-quality attributes. We considered company size and SAP S/4HANA experience—which was hard as most companies had only one or two implementations in their portfolio. We also considered presence in other countries—in our case, Germany and Japan. And we reviewed industry experience, as well as previous experience with Abiomed.

ASUG: Can you discuss some of the hurdles you had to overcome during this project? How did you and your team overcome them?

Jamie: As we were moving into the third quarter of FY2020, we were about to face a dramatic and unexpected setback. COVID-19! If it had not been for the fact that I was based in Germany, I think our ability to manage the added complexity of COVID-19 would have forced us to significantly delay the project timeline. We had to contend with scope creep. In the middle of Realize stage, two new modules were approved. We also had to deal with data migration and validation. Business users did not have experience with data validation. We ultimately hired a data migration lead.

ASUG: Talk us through your change management strategy. How did you put it together?

Jamie: Organizational change management was one of our biggest challenges. We did not have a centralized and coherent change management department. We managed organizational expectations on a very high level. Every business area was responsible for training and managing their end-user expectations. As you can imagine, not all of them prioritized the time to do so. And we could really see some gaps during the go live.

ASUG: What were some resources you used during this project that you would recommend to other SAP customers?

Jamie: SAP S/4HANA Readiness Check and SAP Business Scenario Recommendation were very helpful tools that let us create buy in and build the business case. We stood up a sandbox with Abiomed data on SAP S/4HANA. This was extremely useful during our prep project, where we were evaluating Transition scenarios with various business areas. We could demonstrate the “future” using Abiomed data.

ASUG: What advice would you give other organizations that are about to embark on their own SAP S/4HANA journey?

Jamie: Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had nine hours to cut down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my axe.” Preparing the organizational soil, planting seeds, watering, fertilizing relationships, and removing weeds are all critical to the success of your projects.

In fact, the human dimension of our work is by far the most important, and the hardest to get right.

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