SAP Continuous Retrofit: Wave Goodbye to Change Freezes and Cutover Risk

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, an SAP Basis team had a very big spreadsheet, and a very big project to deliver…

There’s a big SAP project on the horizon. It could be something technical, like a version upgrade. Or perhaps there’s a big operational change, like splitting a business unit. Maybe it’s time to bite the bullet and finally start the move to S/4HANA.

But traditional change management is already hard. Even without the complexity of a major project, there’s usually a big spreadsheet that defines what needs to go where, when, in what order. And maintaining that sheet is a long way from quick or easy. Even getting everyday changes into Production without risk takes a lot of work.

That leaves your SAP team with a dilemma when it comes to delivering a major project.

We’re going to need a bigger spreadsheet…

Some projects simply cannot be managed within a traditional single track landscape. Technical upgrades and even some major projects will require a separate development system so that you can keep the ability to apply critical fixes or SAP notes from a system that remains on the same level as Production. Widespread change to master data or configuration can also make separate development and test systems essential. Such situations lead to a dual-track, or N+1, scenario.

Whilst logical, and sometimes even essential, dual-track landscapes create a new challenge, even if they’re only temporary in nature. Now we need to keep the two landscapes aligned so that project cutover doesn’t destroy months or years of accumulated other changes, with all the related disruption that would ensue. One approach to minimize the risk or complexity would be to enter a moratorium (AKA a change freeze) which restricts change in the non-project landscape to a minimum until your project is complete. Obviously nowadays this is something which most businesses could not condone or accept, especially if the project will last months or even years.

So what can you do? How can this dual track alignment be managed?

Well, the big spreadsheet can help, of course. But it will need to get even bigger and more complicated. It will take more time to manage and you’ll probably need to involve more people. And there’s no getting away from the fact that all the extra complexity means the risk of problems in Production after a deployment increases. After all, making sure everyone’s using the same version of an Excel file can be tough enough to start with, never mind the content!

To illustrate the point, a typical S/4HANA migration might involve up to 2,000 transports per month containing up to 10,000 objects. Imagine trying to identify how BAU ECC changes fit into that.

There is a way

This is where the idea of continuous retrofit comes in. It’s a powerful feature of SAP DevOps automation like ActiveControl that allows you to stop worrying about how to align code and configuration across different landscapes – even when they’re technically different.

Continuous retrofit ensures that any changes made in your SAP systems are automatically reflected in parallel development tracks according to the rules and workflow you’ve defined – perhaps even on a daily basis. Typically that means merging back from Production into other Development systems, but the concept is powerful and extremely flexible.

An effective continuous retrofit system relies on powerful analysis that determines which changes can be merged without conflict or error, and proactively flags potential issues for dev teams to resolve. Basis Technologies’ customers have reported that over 90% of changes deployed into Production systems can be automatically retrofitted back into project tracks with minimal (or even no) user intervention.

A true continuous retrofit system also allows you to operate without cross-system object locking thanks to dynamic conflict detection, so that development teams can work truly independently and in parallel for even greater time and efficiency benefits.

Some companies with ActiveControl in place have even been known to use it to successfully and automatically synchronize changes across N+10 landscapes (yes, you read that right – production support plus ten other concurrent development systems!).

How does it work?

Let’s take a look at a quick example.

The following diagram shows a pretty typical scenario during project development, particularly for non-technical project tracks.

Figure 1: A common N+1 continuous retrofit scenario, ensuring project development stays in sync with production support

Here changes that have been deployed to Production in the production support track (labelled BAU, or Business As Usual) get automatically merged into the project Development system afterwards. That keeps the project as clean as possible by excluding BAU work that hasn’t been (or won’t be) delivered. Even the retrofit can be selective – perhaps there are things you want to supersede with your project work, for example, so prefer not to merge back. Or there may be technical differences you need to take account of.

Then after cutover you can also use the retrofit process to update your production support landscape (assuming you don’t want to just turn the project track into the new production support).

Figure 2: Using continuous retrofit to update production support after project cutover

What could this look like in real life? Basis Technologies’ customer Vistaprint used exactly this concept to support the build and cutover to S/4HANA as part of their brownfield migration project. Continuous retrofit helped them to accelerate the migration process by reducing transport management effort and lowering the risk of their ‘big bang’ cutover when S/4 went live to replace ECC.

Figure 3: Vistaprint employed continuous retrofit to support an S/4HANA migration project

One concept, many configurations

That’s just one example of the many ways in which continuous retrofit can be used to support SAP project development.

Perhaps you’ve got a second concurrent project to manage, for example, and as well as keeping that in sync you’re happy to push changes from the first project through to Production on an incremental basis. It’s unusual, but we’ve seen it:

Figure 4: Continuous retrofit across more than 1 project track, with incremental project delivery

Or maybe, like one BTI customer, you’re facing the challenge of a multi-year S/4HANA Dual Maintenance project where both ECC and S/4HANA systems are live at the same time, and you need to not only align but synchronize deployment of changes to both Production systems:

Figure 5: Continuous retrofit supporting automated Dual Maintenance during an extended S/4HANA transition

Got an SAP project? DevOps automation can help

Many of the SAP customers we work with around the world choose to use the power and flexibility of ActiveControl’s continuous retrofit capability – and all the other advanced features that surround it – to help them deliver major SAP projects more quickly and efficiently, without putting a block on day-to-day innovation.

Why not get in touch with our team of SAP experts to talk about how ActiveControl could help your business?

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