‘That’s just how SAP works’. ‘You can’t do it like that in SAP’. ‘But we’ve always done it this way’.
SAP is big, complicated and in many ways, unique. That seems to breed a certain level of unquestioned consensus about how SAP systems can – let alone should – be used and managed. There’s a lot of ‘that’s just how it works’ going about.
That’s certainly true when it comes to management of change. It’s surprising how many companies struggle to update their SAP systems safely and effectively, but have never considered automating the process. I’m always amazed to hear about multi-billion dollar firms who use spreadsheets to plan and deliver change to business-critical systems.
So to help all those people who never thought about it, here’s a quick ten-step primer on why every company should be automating SAP change.
1. Release your team
Your SAP basis team will certainly thank you for automating SAP change but they’re not the only ones. Everyone involved in the process – all the analysts, developers, testers and functional experts, and more – will be happier.
Change automation releases everyone from the drudgery and manual grind involved in software development and delivery. No more e-mail approval chains. No more manually-created build lists to avoid sequencing issues. No more test failures because of missing dependencies. No more chasing to find out when the change you need will be live. No. More. Spreadsheets.
In our experience, automation software can remove more than 80% of the manual effort involved in SAP change. Imagine all the value-adding work that could be done in that time. One Basis Technologies customer recently claimed to have eliminated fully 96% of their previous manual effort. They now need just 0.5 FTEs to run a 12-system landscape, which means they have far more resources available to help grow their business.
2. Keep the business safe
You could say that delivering change in SAP is a bit like flying a commercial airliner. How? Well, human error is attributed as the cause of between 50 and 80 percent of aircraft accidents, depending on which source you read. We don’t have comparable statistics for SAP but many people would agree there’s a similar pattern.
That means eliminating manual effort from your SAP change and release process will go an awful long way towards eliminating the errors, incidents and outages that occur all too often in SAP production systems. Obviously that means you’ll also get rid of all the associated downside for the business, too. Automation can also provide the means to recover from failure faster on those rare occasions when issues occur.
A 70% reduction in production incidents and downtime is a fairly common outcome among our customers. Some even claim to have eliminated production outages and serious incidents entirely after adopting change automation.
3. Move faster and be more agile
Like it or not, we live in a world of digital disruption. New technologies have eliminated barriers to entry and opened up a range of new business models, in the process transforming customer expectations. More than a third of UK bank branches have closed since 2015, for example, as customers have switched to digital services and new online-only ‘challenger banks’. This change in personal behavior is even affecting what we expect from employers and suppliers in our professional lives.
Firms simply have to be able to move more quickly in order to survive, let alone compete. Delivering change to your SAP systems once a quarter or once a month simply won’t cut it, especially if – as is likely – other systems depend on those changes. Automation enables agile development and a ‘release when ready’ deployment approach, removing the opportunity cost of software inventory that is ready but can’t be rolled out. Many of our customers now safely deliver SAP change on a weekly or even daily basis.
4. Save money
There’s no getting away from it: time is money. It’s a boring cliché but that doesn’t make it any less true, especially in fields like SAP development that still rely heavily on human input and manual processes. If your projects take longer, the wage bill will be higher. If your competitors get to market quicker, you’ll lose out on revenue. If your teams can’t work efficiently, their productivity will be lower. And so on.
Automating the delivery of new features and functionality can dramatically reduce both the cost of running your SAP systems, and the opportunity cost of not being able to change them easily. Direct cost savings result from the reduction in manual effort and increase in quality that allow BAU changes to be delivered more frequently and project timelines to be dramatically shortened. A 50% reduction in the cost of change is not unusual for our customers. Indirect financial benefits include being able to deliver more without increased headcount, greater revenue from new products and services, and more efficient internal teams and processes, to name but a few.
5. Enable multi-track development
OK, so this is a technical point but it’s one that ultimately helps to deliver a number of other benefits. Many companies that run SAP would prefer to employ a ‘multi-track’ (or ‘N+N’) approach, rather than a single development environment, to help them deliver major developments more quickly, efficiently and safely.
Unfortunately, the nature of SAP’s architecture means that multi-track development is a very tricky business. It’s so hard to get right (managing conflicts and dependencies is a particular challenge, especially across two or more development systems) that many firms simply don’t even try. It’s an area where even some automation software has a bad reputation. Luckily for Basis Technologies’ customers, our ActiveControl tool includes a highly effective, fully automated multi-track Merge function. One firm used ActiveControl to successfully manage an N+6 configuration across multiple landscapes, while another employed up to an N+10 setup to enable a Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) pipeline.
6. CI/CD and DevOps
More and more SAP teams are now moving towards adoption of CI/CD and DevOps, not least because the benefits have already been proven in other IT applications, often within the same organization.
To put it simply, whether you’re looking for the means to deliver change more quickly and often, or you’re going for a full-blown DevOps approach with the associated cultural changes, you’re going to need automation.
Automation is a fundamental requirement for effective CI/CD and DevOps, enabling the speed, quality, integration and delivery of small units of work that are fundamental to these approaches. At Basis Technologies we can certainly speak from experience in this area, having pioneered DevOps for SAP over the past few years. Global brands like IPG have successfully adopted our automation software for that very reason.
7. Tool chain integration
Much as SAP might prefer you to think otherwise, companies do use software from other vendors to run their business. In fact, it’s increasingly common for companies to employ a bewildering array of specific tools that are each somehow ‘best in class’ in their specific area. Put together, these different products comprise an integrated IT tool chain where different tools communicate automatically via open APIs. When this communication can’t occur, duplication of effort is required, and errors easily ensue.
Unfortunately SAP is often left out of the loop. How often have you had to copy the details of a service ticket into SAP, for example, and manually maintain the status in two separate systems? The best SAP change automation integrates with a range of other common tools, from ITSM products like BMC Helix (Remedy) and ServiceNow, to CI/CD tools like GitLab and Jenkins.
8. Keep SAP up to date
Upgrading and updating SAP software can be difficult, slow and expensive, so many firms simply don’t bother if they feel the version they currently have meets their needs. We still occasionally come across the odd live instance of R/3. It’s not very common, I’ll grant you, but instances of ECC that are ten years old or more are certainly not as unusual as perhaps you might think. At SAPPHIRE NOW this year Hasso Plattner guesstimated that the average company is 6 years behind on ECC updates.
For many of the reasons I’ve already listed – like taking out the manual effort and making N+1 a practical option – automating SAP change makes it much easier, faster and less risky to implement SAP upgrades, so that your firm can make the most of your investment by benefitting from all the associated security enhancements and new functionality. At TechEd 2019 one of our customers shared the story of how they use ActiveControl to deliver updates to up to 28 different SAP products every year via N+1 projects.
9. Make the move to S/4HANA
The big one. The elephant in the room. Should we do it? Can we do it? How should we do it? How hard will it be? What will it cost?
Most firms don’t know the answers to these questions yet, that much is clear not only from our conversations with SAP users but from numerous surveys. But equally, most organizations still seem to be assuming that they will move to S/4HANA at some point, even if not necessarily before the 2025 deadline.
That means they’re going to need to be ready to make the move, and that they will need the ability to safely maintain and update both ECC and S/4 systems in parallel for at least some time (for years in some cases). The ability to update and upgrade S/4HANA systems will also be essential. Once again, automation – there’s a theme to this post – should definitely be part of your thinking. It’s a big subject so I’m not going to get into more details here, but why not check out our other blogs on Considerations when moving to S/4HANA?
10. It’s not just the big players who benefit
Perhaps a strange way to finish but this is an important point to make. Any organization, however small, can benefit from automating SAP change.
You might think you don’t move enough transports, or just don’t need to deliver change frequently enough. But what if you could automate 96% of the work that is needed, and deploy those infrequent changes with virtually zero risk of problems and associated rework? Sometimes a limited time saving in a small team can have far more impact than saving dozens of hours across many staff.
Numerous long-term Basis Technologies’ customers use our ActiveControl solution to manage just one or two SAP systems, simply because it’s worth their while to do so. And it’s not a big lift to get started – some are up and running in as little as a week.
It’s obviously no surprise that here at Basis Technologies we believe everyone should be automating their SAP change. Hopefully this piece has provided some food for thought as to why. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits that change and release automation could deliver for your company, you can request a free demo of ActiveControl or check out some of our online webinars and resources.