As the 2027 end-of-maintenance deadline approaches for SAP Business Suite 7—which includes SAP ERP Central Component (ECC) 6—organizations are moving with greater urgency to ensure these initiatives are top of mind for both IT and business leaders.

According to the 2024 ASUG Pulse of the SAP Customer Research, 48% of respondents indicated moving to SAP S/4HANA will be a priority focus for their organizations this coming year. And these initiatives, in many cases, are currently in progress; 47% of respondents said they are already live on the ERP platform or are preparing to migrate.

As SAP S/4HANA digital transformation projects take on greater importance for our members, ASUG recently sat down with three of the co-authors of Migrating to SAP S/4HANA, a recent SAP Press bestseller. In conversation, Frank Finkbohner, SAP S/4HANA Cloud Data Migration Content Owner at SAP; Petra Kloess, SAP Senior Director of Central Business Configuration; and Boris Rubarth, Product Manager at SAP, shed light on crucial aspects and considerations for successful SAP S/4HANA migration projects.

In the second half of our conversation, we focused on the importance of deployment models, the utility of trial systems, and the authors’ advice for brownfield implementation strategies.   

This conversation was edited and condensed.

ASUG: Chapter three of Migrating to SAP S/4HANA focuses on deployment models, including public cloud, private cloud, on-premises, and hybrid. How can organizations decide on the best deployment model based on their specific operational needs?      

Petra Kloess: I recommend following a roadmap. Consider creating a decision matrix, prioritizing criteria, and making management decisions based on the most important arguments. We have covered this in various chapters, including chapters two, three, and five. Specifically, chapter five provides an example of such a matrix. Additionally, chapters three and four contain numerous tables with detailed information for both customers and partners. These tables include examples that can help you determine if a particular argument is valid for your situation.

For instance, consider whether it's important for your system to always be available, or if staying up to date is more critical. This is significant because SAP S/4HANA Cloud receives updates every two weeks. While this ensures you remain current, it also means you'll experience brief periods of system unavailability during upgrades. However, with on-premises systems, you have the flexibility to define when you perform upgrades yourself.      

ASUG: How do trial systems assist in the migration process? What advantages do they offer for understanding the requirements of migration?   

Frank Finkbohner: Trial systems offer a good opportunity to become familiar with the systems, especially if you’re coming from a non-SAP system or an old ERP system like SAP ERP Central Component (ECC). Trial systems allow you to become familiar with the new concepts of the SAP Launchpad, spaces, and pages. It's not just an SAP GUI anymore; it's now an SAP Fiori Launchpad. You can become familiar with the apps' new look and function, along with how they interconnect. You can compare how things looked in your old system versus how they look now. So, it's more than just getting familiar; it's also about testing out processes to see how they work and how they compare with your current workflow. It's a nice sandbox to try out things, learn, and then apply that knowledge. You can access the documentation and all the necessary resources to get a complete feel for your new system that you can then use in the future once it's implemented.       

Boris Rubarth: Apart from those trial systems, some of us have contributed to the openSAP courses. There, the SAP Cloud Appliance Library—a library of systems—provides ERP source systems so that users can even try out the conversion step as one of the possible scenarios in our trial environment. This is helpful because our virtual machines don't contain customers’ data. However, they allow users to get familiar with the process and learn which aspects are relevant.       

Kloess: Additionally, a little specialty in the whole thing is that S/4HANA Cloud uses content as a starting point for your processes. It speeds up the process significantly. This enables users to understand the content and their starting value. The trial systems are essential. When you go into the central business configuration, you not only pick the business processes, but you also manage your implementation with this content as a starting point. This speeds up the process and results in a highly standardized system, which is easier and faster to maintain. A lot of advantages come out of it, so we thought it was an essential part of the book.      

ASUG: It sounds like a gift.       

Kloess: Customers love it.       

ASUG: It makes me wish that life came with a trial system.       

[Everyone laughs.]       

ASUG: What are the advantages and limitations of a brownfield migration strategy, particularly for on-premises SAP S/4HANA environments?       

Kloess: It comes down to the fact that migration is not an easy, quick process that happens within a day. Migration is a project that needs to be carefully thought-through and planned. It requires customers to take several steps. The starting step is converting what you have to the new landscape, enabling you to adopt these innovations piece by piece. This enables the customer to go down the path in a structured and controlled way. System conversions are a clear enabler to get the customers into this world of SAP S/4HANA Cloud in a new way.   

Rubarth: In addition to what Petra has laid out, a brownfield approach—or system conversion—will take one ERP source and convert it completely, even historical data is still present afterward. And then you can take further steps to create more innovations. That is, in most cases, the ideal procedure. But if you take everything with you, then everything will be affected by the necessary system downtime. The first question to ask is how long the downtime will be. If you must convert the complete source system, it may take longer to get through downtime. There are ways to reduce the downtime, including archiving part of the source system. We also have technical means of reducing downtime with advanced features.

ASUG: How much of the content in this book is considered evergreen, and how much do you anticipate that it will remain relevant as SAP S/4HANA evolves?

Kloess: The book’s core is evergreen, because the arguments themselves center on organizational innovation, how a company can be set up in a way that promotes innovation, and using different migration options to stay ahead of the curve. These will always be evergreen. Customers need to innovate. The arguments behind that detail actual tools that will evolve with time. That is why we need regular tool updates. But I believe the book’s core is evergreen and will remain so, as long as SAP is the leading ERP provider, which is why we are on the fourth edition of the book. 

For more from the authors of SAP Press publication Migrating to SAP S/4HANA, read the first part of our conversation, and purchase the book on the SAP Press website.

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