In June 2019, I published a blog highlighting concerns with the SAP third-party application certification process for SAP S/4HANA. Over the months of July and August, ASUG conducted a research project to more fully understand this issue. ASUG surveyed SAP customers who are currently live on SAP S/4HANA, customers planning or actively engaged in an SAP S/4HANA implementation, and third-party certified solution partners.
Johnsonville’s SAP S/4HANA Upgrade Hurdles
Before we dig into the results of the survey, let me update you on my organization’s status as a current SAP S/4HANA customer. As I noted in my original blog on this topic, Johnsonville had to abandon an upgrade from 1610 to 1809 due to lack of certification for critical third-party solutions. In October 2019 we received final certification on our third-party solutions for 1809—more than a year after the initial release of 1809 and a month after the release of 1909. In December 2019, Johnsonville successfully upgraded our production instance to the 1809 release.
I do want to share that SAP has worked with Johnsonville to help move certifications along with several partners—one of our key solutions was certified in July 2019 with help from SAP.
ASUG Research on Third-Party Certifications
ASUG will be publishing its findings from this research via a variety of channels throughout 2020. Stay tuned for an executive summary of the research results in Q1 2020 and some interesting insights from both customers and partners. In the meantime, let me share a few key points from the research to whet your appetite for the summary.
First and foremost, the issues we experienced (and are continuing to experience) are not unique to Johnsonville. Almost half of all customers who are currently live on SAP S/4HANA (both greenfield and brownfield implementations) experienced issues with their project related to third-party solutions. One-third of all customers experienced project issues directly related to certification of those solutions.
SAP Customers at Risk of Upgrade Issues
Let’s look at customer plans for SAP S/4HANA adoption over the next few years. Sixty percent of customers who are currently in project planning or engaged in an implementation project intend to take a brownfield (upgrade or migration of an existing SAP ECC environment) approach to implementing SAP S/4HANA. Additionally, 67% of customers will continue using existing third-party solutions in their target SAP S/4HANA environment. This is the group of customers—those looking to migrate (versus a new install) and use existing third-party solutions—who will encounter the most significant issues with certified solutions.
A Hard Halt May Be Ahead
To reiterate the core of the issue here, for anything beyond a sandbox environment, the software update manager (SUM) process will physically halt if a third-party solution is found in the source system (SAP ECC or SAP S/4HANA) and is not certified in the target (SAP S/4HANA) system. There is no way to bypass this hard halt. There are options, such as uninstalling the solution, running the SUM process, and then reinstalling the solution. But that is not practical for most environments.
The most frightening statistic is that only “37% of future customers, or those at least in the planning phase, are aware of certification for third-party solutions.” That means two-thirds of the customers planning or in the early stages of an SAP S/4HANA implementation project are simply not aware of the real possibility of significant impacts on their project.
Partners Face Barriers to SAP Certifications
The last finding I would like to share is the mismatch between customer expectations and partners’ plans to get certified. Based on the research, 40% of customers expect partners to have solutions certified within 60 days of the general availability (GA) of each release. Yet, only 22% of partners expect to be certified within that same time period. The most concerning result of the survey is that nearly 20% of the partners are expecting it may take up to a year or more after GA to certify. Additionally, some partners do not plan on certifying for every release.
Time Is Not on Our Side
Based on these results, it seems most prudent for customers to plan a minimum of six months for most third-party solutions to get certified on the most current release. Obviously, every customer has a different mix of solutions and will have to plan accordingly to adapt to their partners’ certification schedules.
The partners who participated in the research study identified a host of concerns with the current certification process, including cost and complexity. Having to go through a difficult annual certification process takes resources away from their R&D activities or customer support efforts. Like every organization, partners must prioritize where they spend their scarce resources. Unfortunately, certifying for an SAP S/4HANA release with a relatively small customer base may not become a top priority.
No Silver Bullet Yet
As I stated in my original blog on this topic, I don’t have a silver bullet to solve this issue. Johnsonville will be forced to take an N-1 approach to our solution road map, and by the time we get 1809 implemented, it will be 14 months from the original GA date. Prior to moving to SAP S/4HANA, we consistently applied the latest enhancement packs to our SAP ECC environments on an annual basis—sometimes more frequently to support project requirements. This allowed us to take advantage of SAP enhancements and innovations in a more timely manner.
From a customer perspective, I believe two things need to occur. First, SAP needs to provide customers the ability to override the hard halt that happens when the SUM process encounters noncertified solutions. Second, the partners and SAP must identify a more effective and efficient process to certify existing solutions on the latest release of SAP S/4HANA.
For the past five years, SAP has focused on getting customers to move to SAP S/4HANA. At this point it is critical for SAP and partners to begin addressing the thousands of customers—especially early adopters—who have already moved to SAP S/4HANA and are preparing for their first upgrades, and those that will be required to stay on mainstream maintenance for SAP S/4HANA. For SAP S/4HANA 1610, according to the SAP Product Availability Matrix, mainstream maintenance ends on Dec. 31, 2021. For those on 1511, mainstream maintenance ends December of 2020. As customers look to upgrade, the most attractive path forward is to move to the latest release. Given the delay in partner certifications, however, this will not be a viable option for many customers.
For those interested in whether their partner solution is certified, SAP has provided a blog with links to verify certification status. The blog provides multiple links—I would suggest following the link specific to the SAP S/4HANA version you are interested in. For those interested in version 1909, note that fewer than 20 solutions are currently certified for the latest release—versus 80-90 solutions for prior releases.
ASUG has taken the first step to addressing this topic by assessing the magnitude of the issue from a customer and partner perspective. I look forward to working with SAP, ASUG, and the partner network to find ways to eliminate this barrier to adoption of SAP products and partner innovation. Please reach out to ASUGNews@asug.com if you are interested in sharing your experiences with this topic.
Register for “Your Move to SAP S/4HANA: Finding a Path that Fits” Pre-Conference Seminar at ASUG Annual Conference to hear lessons learned, value scenarios, and tips for building a business case from customers who are already live.