The year 2027 looms large for many State of Illinois agencies because they—along with customers around the globe—face the end of SAP ECC support and necessary transition to run the business on SAP S/4HANA.

Though it may seem like—and there are—several years between now and then, for Tara Kessler, ERP program director in the state’s Department of Innovation and Technology (DOIT), the balancing act is well underway. She divides her days, weeks, and months between an S/4HANA learning curve and shifting more state agencies on the existing SAP platform and solutions.

“We’re learning more about S/4HANA and Cloud—and potentially the RISE for SAP solution—because of SAP sunsetting the ECC 6.0 solution,” she said, characterizing the discovery activities as “tiptoeing now” and focusing on evaluating S/4HANA’s value, through workshops and contacts gained through ASUG. There’s currently no timetable set for initial planning or project initiation.

Out With Legacy Systems and Customizations

Kessler’s awareness and understanding of RISE, S/4HANA, and Cloud keep expanding. She moves forward daily to extend ECC’s capabilities especially integrated finance, human resource, and procurement solutions across agency groups, or “clusters.” That work began in October 2016 with three pilot agencies. The goals at the time, and to this day, are to focus on streamlined, standardized administrative functions; efficient operations; disparate legacy system replacement; and reducing the many customizations that have cropped up.

“Our business drivers included improving the efficiency of administrative and citizen-facing services; to enable transparency, access to information, and data-driven decision-making,” Kessler said, adding her office wants to “be a catalyst for statewide transformation of administrative services.”

Those catalyst aspirations have come true for some. DOIT last month hit 73 agencies supported on ECC and its associated solution set. A notable difference from a handful of agencies integrated into the system in the last decade. By the end of next year, the ECC-based system will serve more than 90 agencies. With these numbers and regularly changing administrations and political interests, diplomatic maneuvers across competing priorities and interests can be in demand.

A Few Kick-offs

“The program kicked off a few times prior to the most current version,” Kessler recalled. “It was difficult to get alignment—it is a large scope and requires functional, technical and project management support.”

She said DOIT’s approach and continued progress has involved “an incredibly broad set of stakeholders across agencies, constitutional offices, and other state leadership teams.” Design and implementation stages involve system end users and leadership teams from agencies clustered for each implementation.

“There was always good leadership buy-in to the vision of this program,” Kessler explained. Execution was another matter. “Implementation requires heavy lifting on the agency side, and most of the agencies have been massively busy, particularly in the last two years—given the pandemic—and moving away from customized legacy systems to a standardized system is a big change,” she said.

Change Management Dedication

In addition to a dedicated change management workstream in each project, Kessler said the teams tailor change activities to stakeholders and the user base; lessons learned from each cluster go-live are applied to improve follow-on experiences; better, more timely, and informative communications are shared with all stakeholders and functional users; monthly user group meetings and weekly calls are held to keep agency CFOs apprised of developments—and results.

Kessler, her team, and agency constituencies are reaping benefits with improved, standardized financial information access and reporting; budgeting and procurement; Human Capital Management solutions such as recruiting and payroll; and more across most agencies.

“We’ve built reconciliation reports, workflow reports, a budget dashboard, and we’re expanding that scope to a procurement dashboard. Users are excited to be able to use data from the system to make decisions,” she said.

Good for Agencies, Audit and More

There’s still more to do, and results to achieve, before S/4HANA enters the picture. “The standardized system allows for agency personnel to move to different agencies and leverage the SAP knowledge without learning a different system and different processes,” Kessler said. “Another long-term goal is to help support annual financial reporting—through both timeliness and appropriate documentation for agency submission and auditor analyses.”

“The State of Illinois should be able to leverage mass volumes of data across agencies to drive analytics and strategic decision-making,” she added. “Not only can we make better decisions now regarding the utilization of state funds, but we can ensure we are providing better working experiences for the state’s employees.”

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