In the SAP world, there’s a heavy focus on migrations and implementations—adding new products and platforms to existing technology stacks. But the day a new system goes live is really just the first step in the lifecycle of that application. Customers find the true value in these systems based on how they use and adapt them to their business needs over time—which is where service and support comes in.

SAP Digital Business Services (DBS) plays a role in both the implementation and the evolution of customer systems. This organization within SAP delivers support and customer success plans, along with advisory, implementation, and cloud services. SAP customers work with the organization to keep their technologies running at optimal levels and for help with future migrations.

ASUG caught up with two leaders of SAP Digital Business Services to find out what they have been developing for customers lately. SAP Executive Board member Michael Kleinemeier heads up the SAP Digital Business Services organization. We met with Kleinemeier and Andreas Heckmann, Executive Vice President, Head of Customer Success Services, to find out what customers can expect to see from this group.

Executive Board Member, SAP SE, Michael Kleinemeier

Ann Marie: What have you and your organization been focusing on over the past year?

Michael: We restructured our services because customers were asking us to give them advisory services—not more options. They were asking of us, “Tell me what I should do and not what I could do.” We also are moving to the cloud because business is moving into the cloud. Finally, we have focused on partner projects because our customers also think of these as SAP projects.

Ann Marie: Could you explain a bit more about how you’ve collaborated with partners and customers?

Michael: We offer SAP Value Assurance services that work with your IT team or system integrator on the design phase of your project. If customers choose, we can move on to the planning and safeguarding phase to help you define your implementation strategy.

Ann Marie: How do model companies come into play?

Michael: These are predefined or preconfigured solutions with an industry reference architecture designed to speed up SAP S/4HANA implementations. We also can combine model companies with industry models, which allows us to skip the blueprinting phase.

Ann Marie: What are some of the trends you’re seeing in customer projects?

Michael: It’s really about going back to standard through their transformations. More and more customers are done with customization, because it cost them a lot of money to build in the first place. Then whenever there is a release change, they have to test their specific environment, and this also costs a lot of money.

Ann Marie: I’ve heard from customers who are already live on SAP S/4HANA that they’re finding the most success because they decided to standardize. They used the transformation opportunity to get rid of their spaghetti custom code and set themselves up to adopt innovations.

Michael: Yes. It is also very important to look into the quality of your data and clean it before moving it over. If your data is in very bad shape and you try to put artificial intelligence on top of it, I would say the results will be more than limited.

Ann Marie: Right. The artificial intelligence will lead you to all the wrong conclusions.

Michael: This is the thing with artificial intelligence. You have to tell it what to do. And you need quality data that you can trust because otherwise the results will not make sense. If you look at moving from SAP ECC to SAP S/4HANA as a pure conversion, then it’s hard to calculate the value of the move to your business. Some customers are doing this, but then they need to go back and do a cleanup later on. This is like saying, I’ll clean my kitchen tomorrow because today I’m not in the right mood.

Ann Marie: I’ve been comparing the move to SAP S/4HANA to a move to a new house. If you just throw random items into boxes and bring it all over, your new house probably won’t look the way you want it to. It’s a good time to get rid of extra junk and redesign a system you can grow into.

Michael: Albemarle was one of the companies that we worked with on this.

Ann Marie: I had the chance to interview Patrick Thompson from Albemarle about their project.

Michael: We discussed whether Albemarle should do a system conversion and recommended that Patrick should rethink this with the business. When he came back to us, the business decided to do a greenfield implementation. This was the best decision.

Executive Vice President, Head of Customer Success Services, Andreas Heckmann

Ann Marie: What else is new for your organization?

Andreas: Another significant change was that we added a customer success organization to SAP Digital Business Services. We combined approximately 5,000 people in that organization with the aim to provide true end-to-end customer success. It contains all of the support units, escalation teams, and those responsible for developing application lifecycle management (ALM) tools for customers. The program covers everything from SAP Enterprise Support as the entry level option, all the way to our ultimate SAP MaxAttention service under one roof.

Ann Marie: Could you tell us a bit more about SAP MaxAttention?

Andreas: The original SAP MaxAttention was for customers who had a complicated on-premise landscape. It helped them answer how to run this landscape, how to optimize it, and how to continually improve its design. The new SAP MaxAttention is all about the cloud, hybrid systems, innovation, architecture, and core design.

Ann Marie: What is your organization doing behind the scenes to help customers architect and sustain an intelligent enterprise?

Michael: We are looking at the interfaces we need to build between various systems to connect them. When you move to SAP S/4HANA, you’re getting a clean system that can be your single source of truth. This is a prerequisite to becoming really intelligent and building intelligent technologies. We are working with customers to help them discuss issues like what does it mean if you’re moving into the cloud? On the consulting side, we are asking, how can we make these transformations happen? What kinds of tools are needed?

Ann Marie: You mentioned consulting. We’ve discovered through our customer research that having access to consultants and internal talent to move to SAP S/4HANA is a major resource constraint. Those planning to go live are underestimating the resources that they’ll need. And those who are already live say the biggest issue you’re going to have will be finding the right people to help you through your project.

Michael: Yes, if everybody starts their move to SAP S/4HANA in 2023, I would say it will be busy. But we are asking the question—how can we make these moves faster? What can we do that’s remote or automated? We must learn to approach these transformations in a more industrialized way. And deliver tools to our customers and partners that will help them change how they accomplish them.

Ann Marie: That goes back to what you said earlier, Michael, about customers asking SAP to tell them not what they could do, but what they should do. Customers want to know what technology will work for their specific business case and that will help them go where they want to be in the next two to five years.

Michael: This was a big part of the restructuring we did in this organization. The old way of thinking is, “I’m the supplier, you’re the customer, and you tell me what you want.” We are structured now to act more as advisors.

Ann Marie: In your opinion, what does exceptional support look like for customers today?

Andreas: First I would say that no one in the industry today has what I would define as "exceptional support." We have taken traditional support as far as we can go because it’s in real time. As we stretch ourselves, now we’re moving to a phase where we actually preempt or anticipate the problem, so customers no longer need to reach out to us first.

Michael already mentioned cloud lifecycle management. We are anticipating the needs of the intelligent enterprise, which consists of cloud-based applications supporting processes that span over multiple products. The customer doesn’t need to install or configure anything. Even the application lifecycle management (ALM) tool is cloud-based. Customers will see how their data is flowing and how their interfaces are working—that’s an element that will reside with the customer even after moving to the cloud. It will allow them to govern their core processes and functions. That is what will make an exceptional experience. And that’s what we are working on right now.

Ann Marie: It’s predictive service, right?

Andreas: It is predictive and preemptive. We’re already using AI-infused processes today. In a cloud-based world, we can identify whether other customers have a similar setup and have experienced similar issues. We can identify the issue as something likely to happen again. And we already know the solution. Then the next logical step is to fix it before it even happens. That’s where exceptional service comes together in my opinion.

Ann Marie: One of the challenges for customers that comes up regularly is the overwhelming amounts of data they have and how to come to terms with this prior to an SAP S/4HANA migration. What support or tools do you offer to help customers deal with their data cleanup?

Michael: We have been running our SAP S/4HANA Adoption Starter program. This is a virtual classroom-type program that brings together 20 or so people who are working to plan their SAP S/4HANA transitions. Some of the biggest questions customers are asking are around building their business case, deciding on a migration methodology, and explaining to the business why they are taking that approach.

From my point of view, data cleansing is one of the most important things to do ahead of a migration. It is hard work and quite a big task, but I recommend to customers that they clean up their data now before putting it into their new systems.

We have the SAP Readiness Check tool that will help you understand what is going on with your current data and processes. Let’s say you have five years of purchase orders in your system, and 20% of them have not been delivered. The tool will help you determine this in advance and clear the system before you start your move. Let’s ask, what should we archive? It’s better to do this when you have downtime. Big data doesn’t make your company wise—only smart data will.

Ann Marie: That’s true. Sometimes data volume is actually a disadvantage. One last question: You both meet with SAP customers around the world regularly. What have you observed that SAP customers have in common?

Michael: I think they’re all struggling with the question of digitalization. And if you speak today with the CEO, they would say, “Fine, I have to digitalize.” But what do you want to make digital? Where do you start? Customers are asking how they can be agile. How can we all get ready for change—and for fast change? And if you go to countries like China or Malaysia, technology is changing so fast.

Andreas: I totally agree. I remember years ago the discussion was always that we have great ideas, but the technology is not ready yet. Today it’s vice versa. Now you can literally do whatever you want, but where is the fantasy? Where is the vision? Companies are struggling to grasp this.

Michael: Imagination is the issue today. I can connect everything and I can store as much data as I want and deliver it at a high speed. Then the question is, what can we do with all of that? I think if you’re in Europe and sometimes in North America, failure is perceived as not good because someone could blame you for it. In Asia, we see customers testing things and if they’re not worthwhile, they kill projects very fast. It’s a lot of trial and error.

Ann Marie: As you’re talking about this, it also makes me think that digital transformation should start with a forward-looking business model and then build the technology to connect it. It’s not about taking an old business model and forcing new technology into it.

Andreas: That’s what we’re addressing with the new SAP MaxAttention. We’re engaging with customers and moderating the discussions between business and IT through design thinking sessions and other techniques. Maybe a worker in the finance department has a brilliant idea how to innovate the way the company functions. We work to get these visions out of the heads of our customers.

Ann Marie: Thank you, Michael and Andreas, for updating us on what’s going on within your organization.

Join us at one of our ASUG Executive Exchange events to network with other executives looking to get more value from their SAP systems. ASUG also has a guide to SAP S/4HANA resources and tools available to help you plan your migration