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Integrating ServiceNow and ActiveControl for automated SAP change management

“Change… It is the only constant”

This is one of a few highly impactful statements that struck a chord with me when I first started my career in IT more than 20 years ago. Since then, change has only accelerated at an unbelievable pace. Technology has opened up new opportunities and IT teams have been at the forefront of enabling change in businesses.

While IT has been enabling change, managing change in IT itself has always been a challenge. In the early 2000s the formalization of the practice of IT Service Management (ITSM), popularized by the adoption of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), brought in much-needed standards and best practices for managing and governing change in IT.

ITSM also brought about a new generation of supporting technology from vendors like BMC, HP, IBM and more recently ServiceNow.

What is ServiceNow?

ServiceNow is a modern, cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendor that provides an Enterprise ITSM platform that is delivered completely over the internet. They are today the most popular Enterprise ITSM solution with a 51.1% market share in 2019 according to the Gartner Magic Quadrant for IT Service Management Tools in 2019.

What this means is that for many organizations out there, ServiceNow is the de-facto platform that business users use to raise support or change requests to IT departments.

It also means that IT teams themselves use the platform to manage and govern the process of approving, implementing, and releasing the changes arising from these requests.

While ServiceNow manages the lifecycle of the business change requests, it does not actually manage the technical implementation of those changes.

Take, for example, a change request from the business to add a new feature to a mobile application. The functional request may actually result in separate technical change requests – one for the mobile application and another for the backend system like SAP.

The implementation and deployment of these technical change requests is handled differently and is highly dependent on the technology that is being changed.

SAP Changes and ActiveControl

In SAP, technical changes are first implemented in the Development system, contained in SAP Change Requests, more commonly known as Transports, that are then promoted through the SAP system landscape (typically comprising of Development, Quality Assurance, Pre-Production and Production systems) following a pre-defined Transport Path.

Quality gates along the Transport Path ensure that proper reviews, testing and approvals are obtained before the Transports are allowed to leave one system and imported into the subsequent system on the path.

These quality gates, however, are enforced manually.

That means documentation about the Transports is typically maintained using Microsoft Word or Excel, and approvals are most often obtained through email.

Once approvals are obtained, hard-working Basis teams will manually copy the Transports from one system to the other and then, following the instructions documented in the Word documents or Excel worksheets provided by the Development team, import those transports in the right sequence into the target system.

Success or failure is largely dependent on the correctness of the documentation as well as the ability of the Basis team to accurately follow those instructions.

While this may sound straightforward, in reality, when there are many Transports to deploy and almost always to be done in a narrow time window, mistakes can happen and the outcomes can be painful.

As you can probably imagine, there must be a better way to do this…

ActiveControl from Basis Technologies provides the automation technology that can digitally enforce the quality gates and also automate the deployment of the Transports in the right order and sequence, ensuring that all dependencies are checked. This speeds up the process and at the same time reduces the risk commonly associated with change deployments in SAP.

Why is the integration between ServiceNow and ActiveControl important?

While ServiceNow is the platform that manages and governs the change request at the business and enterprise level, ActiveControl supports the actual implementation of that change request at the SAP level.

With different tools managing aspects of the same process, many Basis Technologies customers now choose to connect ActiveControl and ServiceNow to provide a single automated change management workflow. There are at least three important reasons why they do so…

First, governance.

SAP is the core system for many businesses and as such, any changes introduced to it will need to be regulated and auditable. Auditability means that every change introduced into the SAP system must be able to trace back to its original source (which in this case would be the change request that originated from the business).

Secondly, speed and accuracy.

An integration between ServiceNow and ActiveControl ensures that when a business change request is approved to be implemented, the SAP team immediately gets notified of that change request in ActiveControl. Integration ensures all the important information from the business change request in ServiceNow is now accurately replicated in ActiveControl, which is used by the SAP implementation team.

Thirdly, communication and customer experience

While a change is progressing in SAP, an integrated workflow removes the need for manual updates to keep the business change request status in ServiceNow current. That’s right – no more manual rekeying! As the change progresses past the various quality gates in the SAP landscape, ActiveControl automatically keeps the ServiceNow change request up-to-date and ensures that the business is kept appraised of the progress of the change they asked for.

How Does it Work?

The diagram below presents an overview of how the integration works and every step shown is described in greater detail in the segment below the diagram.

  1. The integration kicks in when a business change request has been approved in ServiceNow for implementation in SAP. When that happens, the ServiceNow-approved integration will effectively create a corresponding Business Task in ActiveControl.
  2. SAP developers start to implement the changes in SAP Transports. In ActiveControl, a rule can be turned on to enforce that the Transports must always be linked to the Business Task. Multiple Transports across multiple solutions can be linked to a single Business Task. For example, there could be one Transport for ECC and another related Transport for CRM. By doing so, ActiveControl is able to deploy those changes together as a single functional unit.
  3. SAP developers ensure their development is done and unit tested.
  4. One of the quality gates set up in ActiveControl enforces that unit testing must be completed before the Transport can be promoted into the next system. In addition, ActiveControl can also trigger an automated code quality analysis to highlight any potential development issues around standards, performance and security.
  5. Once unit testing has been done and the automated analysis results are accepted, ActiveControl enforces that a designated peer reviewer has to conduct peer review and give his or her approval before the Transport can be released to QA.
  6. Now, while all of this is happening in the SAP environment, your users need to be kept updated. ActiveControl updates the status in the ServiceNow change request so the business can see their request is now being peer reviewed.
  7. When peer review is done and approved, transports are automatically released from Development system and imported into the QA system. ActiveControl will ensure that this is done with the right sequence and dependencies. If there are multiple transports across different solutions, for example ECC and CRM, then ActiveControl will also ensure that those deployments are properly orchestrated and done as a unit of change.
  8. Once the changes are successfully imported into Quality Assurance system, ActiveControl will notify testers to commence testing.
  9. ActiveControl comes with a Test Impact Radar analyzer that can perform an automated impact analysis on the Transports and highlight the affected SAP touchpoints, for example, a program, function, transaction or even business process that has been impacted by that change. This allows the testers to quickly zero in on what they need to test for that particular change.
  10. When testing is done and completed, ActiveControl again updates ServiceNow so that your business users are kept in the know. The transports will now be waiting for Change Advisory Board (CAB) approval to be released into Production.
  11. The CAB approves the change in ActiveControl so that it can now be released into Production.
  12. ActiveControl automatically imports the approved Transports into Production.
  13. Finally, when deployment is successful, ActiveControl makes a last update to the business change request in ServiceNow. The ticket can now be closed in ServiceNow.

Conclusion

ServiceNow is arguably the most popular Enterprise ITSM solution today and ActiveControl is the number one change and release automation platform engineered specifically for SAP. It is therefore no surprise that this is one of the most popular integrations used by many of our customers.

The automation achieved through this integration means that our customers can now enjoy end-to-end traceability for every SAP-related IT change request, from the moment the change request is raised by business to the detailed implementation, testing and approvals involved in delivering that change in SAP.

Business users are happier because they are kept up-to-date with the progress made by IT, and IT is happier because the integration frees them from having to use two systems that must be manually updated. Best of all, SAP changes can be delivered faster and with less risk.

If you’d like to see the ActiveControl ServiceNow integration in action, take a look at this video. We’d love to talk to you about how a fully automated change management workflow could help your business.

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