As members of the ASUG community know all too well, digital transformation—including, for many SAP customers, migration from on-premises environments to the cloud—is no simple task. Progress toward technology modernization initiatives requires careful planning, dedicated resources, and expertise in orchestrating complex solutions to achieve mission-critical objectives.

It's with this knowledge that SAP launched its RISE with SAP program in early 2021, designed to help customers transition their on-premises ERP software, including SAP ERP Central Component (ECC) and SAP S/4HANA, to the cloud at their own pace by leveraging a set of cloud solutions, best practices, and services. Since its debut, RISE has been adopted by nearly 5,000 SAP customers.

To learn more about how the RISE program has evolved since its inception and to gain insights into its trajectory, ASUG sat down with David Robinson, who was appointed president of RISE in July of 2023. Prior to his current global position, Robinson spent nearly 20 years at SAP in various roles, including in leadership capacities for the organization’s public service and customer success areas.

In this second installment of our conversation with Robinson (read the first half here), we explore the role that RISE can play in future-proofing organizations, the importance of embracing a "clean core" philosophy—keeping ERP systems as close as possible to standard, decoupling customizations, adopting inner extension methods, and remaining aware of customization footprintsand why cloud-native architectures are the key to achieving a "persistent state of innovation."

This interview has been edited and condensed.

ASUG: SAP talks a lot about “clean core,” in the context of modernization in general and SAP S/4HANA in particular. As companies leverage RISE to support migration to cloud-native environments, why is it essential to embrace a clean core philosophy?

David Robinson: We stress the importance of not just getting to a clean core, but the importance of maintaining a clean core to maximize the value opportunity that cloud—and an enterprise estate that’s delivered as a cloud service—provides.

While that’s an easy statement to make, a lot of customers will say, “I do that today. I already have governance. I have policies.” Unfortunately, there’s a lot of evidence that a significant percentage of governance and policy models today do not always work effectively, because of the rigidity introduced by enterprise application customization.

This makes executing governance and policy decisions difficult, because customization creates friction in realizing change management, creating a gap between the organization's needs and IT's ability to respond to and meet them.

Organizations enforcing a clean core outcome as part of their architecture greatly enhance their own ability to execute effective service delivery strategies. It’s a much more efficient way to protect—and improve—the value proposition of cloud-delivered estate, rather than simply relying on good governance and policies. When business and technology executives make "clean core" a part of the service delivery model, strategy execution becomes much more efficient.

To this end, we’ve been offering our cloud ERP clean core dashboard for customers and their GSSP partners, to provide insight into core operating environments and examine the degrees of modifications or customizations. The dashboard allows leaders to better judge and assess how close they are to a clean core operating model, determine areas for improvement, and identify if modified applications within their core still meet SAP's standards, as we develop the core product and provide capability to the core.

This is important because not all modifications or customizations to the core are necessarily bad as long as they adhere to those architectural standards that don't introduce rigidity or technical debt to the core.

ASUG: As you survey SAP's RISE customer base, what trends regarding customer size are you seeing?

Robinson: Anecdotally, a significant proportion of net new customers sit within the mid-market segment. These companies have a propensity to lean toward implementing greenfield solutions, which immediately puts them in the clean core camp. They tend to have less legacy to unwind and, therefore, their focus is on acceleration to what I call a "persistent innovative state."

They also tend—on day one—to integrate SAP Business Process Insights (BPI) into their architecture, and they often leverage SAP Signavio as they adopt SAP Business Technology Platform to achieve extensibility. They end up with an "innovation architecture" that accelerates the delivery of services to support existing and emerging processes. It's about accelerating time to value, a common theme among those adopting a greenfield strategy.

Our installed base also features large enterprises. In many cases, these companies have legacy IT operating models that feature a proliferation of different systems and architectures. While it's nice to talk about acceleration and achieving a "persistent innovative state," for many of these organizations, the main priority revolves around maintaining current business cases while providing a value realization along a multi-stage transformation journey. This is where tooling, best practices, and a clear understanding of IT economics are critical. We work with customers and their GSSPs to help them at every stage of their transition to ensure that costs and risks are appropriately managed.

There is also a growing category of organizations that have developed a pretty healthy understanding of brownfield deployments. [EDITORIAL NOTE: Brownfield deployments involve upgrading an existing SAP landscape and continuing to use some legacy components.]

All those permutations have to be very well understood and evaluated on the merits of the trade-offs.

ASUG: What do you tell customers asking why they should embrace RISE if their systems are currently sufficient and working for their business processes?

Robinson: It's a great question because it is top of mind for every CIO and CFO. They want to know, "What will I get from this that I don't already have today?” They need a clear business case that justifies the investment. I also get this question from executives dealing with a long series of disruptions.

A lot of people in these organizations are experiencing "change fatigue." The last thing IT wants to do is show up with a new project or program that does not have very clear merit and very clear value outcome.

What we're doing here with RISE with SAP is helping our customers refactor their IT operating model to support cloud-native environments and move them away from an IT operating model based on rigid on-premises software and application architectures that require a tremendous amount of care and feeding. These legacy environments consume a lot of day-to-day resources and do not provide a clear view that offers a comprehensive understanding of how operating systems, databases, and other essential infrastructure elements interact to enable optimal planning and capacity allocation.

RISE is a tremendous opportunity for customers to drive their business transformation agenda. RISE is a catalyst to IT transformation because it helps customers cost- and risk-manage their journey to a future-state IT operating model that allows them to better respond to constantly changing market conditions. An operating model based on cloud-delivered resources will enable IT to refactor or reset the resources they have today on work and activities that deliver higher value and return on technology investments.

RISE offers a path to future-proofing organizations in constantly changing business landscapes. There is an ever-growing talent shortage at all levels of the stack. That’s why most IT modernization and transformation initiatives focus on extensibility and innovation to address their customers' always-evolving needs.

These dynamics are also why conversations around artificial intelligence (AI) have been so pervasive. However, securing the benefits of AI in the enterprise has some crucial prerequisites. For instance, AI requires compute elasticity and an architecture that enables access to services, large datasets, and other important resources across the enterprise.

While these requirements are difficult to meet with conventional on-premises architecture, they match up nicely with the value proposition of cloud-based enterprise architectures.

What we’re trying to do is simplify and expand access to—and accelerate the value realization of—AI services applied to business and industry processes. To this end, SAP is weaving AI into all aspects of its application and service delivery strategy, so that customers are not forced to build the context and connectivity needed to leverage AI services into their applications.

ASUG: As the new president of RISE, what are your key priorities within your team?

Robinson: Priority one is to simplify—as much as we can—how we communicate the value proposition of RISE. We have to synthesize our message in a more consumable way for our customers and their strategic partners to make effective decisions that reduce the costs and risks they face while improving performance and enabling that "persistent innovative state."

RISE is a transformation enabler and accelerator. It unifies solutions, best practices, and engagement to change the way IT applications are delivered and consumed. There is a fundamental difference between running S/4 on an infrastructure and consuming S/4 as a cloud-delivered service.

The reason we've created RISE is to be a catalyst, a facilitator for that transition by unifying solutions such as SAP S/4HANA cloud with BTP and Signavio, along with all the other baseline applications and solutions that make the foundation strong. RISE is also about identifying and implementing best practices, methodologies, and tools that manage the costs and risks associated with that transition through a cloud-oriented engagement model.

Second priority is demonstrating the value proposition of RISE with clear, objective, and compelling evidence. There is a growing body of experience and evidence based on qualitative case studies and references. Our 5,000+ early adopters have provided all of us an important, quantitative story to tell. We’re gathering this evidence of success in realizing value and sharing it with our community and the market.

The third priority is around focus. This is based on a larger mission for SAP to create world-class engagement and experiences for customers. This is why cloud-based resources and strategies are so necessary. Stakeholder interactions with the cloud are much more intimate and collaborative than those based on legacy on-prem infrastructures.

This requires me—and my entire team—to focus on customers' interaction with us and our operating service delivery. We must make that interaction with our customers as simple, efficient—and, most importantly—meaningful as possible.

For more from David Robinson, read the first half of our interview here.

Patricia Brown is Editorial Director at ASUG.

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