IT leaders are under extreme pressure to deliver innovation at a rapid pace to support the needs of the business. But when it comes to delivering change in SAP environments – a critical part of most large enterprises – teams often face project bottlenecks and delays, which leads to increased costs and lost market opportunities. One significant cause of these project delays is the need to manage multiple development tracks and attempting to do so manually.
Managing parallel SAP landscapes is difficult and often complex, especially in major transformation projects like an S/4HANA migration. In order to avoid business disruption, these parallel systems must be kept in sync. This requires making relevant changes twice across both systems (or more depending on the number of landscapes) which is known as dual maintenance. Maintaining multiple systems manually instead of using automation is what causes delays and adds risk.
In the first blog of this series, I’ll look at automated dual maintenance for SAP and explain why it’s vital for delivering innovation quickly and safely.
What is dual maintenance in SAP?
In the simplest terms, dual maintenance in SAP is when you have a landscape with multiple development systems delivering into a single Production environment, commonly known as an “N+1” landscape. Also, “N+n” landscape if there is more than 1 additional track. Dual maintenance has many names – landscape synchronization, merge/retrofit, multi-track development, parallel development, etc. – but they all describe the same thing.
There are three ‘flavors’ of dual maintenance when it comes to SAP systems:
- Continuous merge with a permanent maintenance track and project track
- Dual maintenance for a set period during an upgrade or ERP deployment
- Dual maintenance for an extended period during a Brownfield or Hybrid transformation to S/4HANA (more on that later)
Typically, these systems would all be on one platform like ECC, but there are also scenarios where they could be on different platforms as is the case when moving from ECC to S/4HANA. In this case, during the migration, you’ll need to have legacy systems running, likely for years, while the new S/4 systems are built. Many long-time SAP users know well the frustrations, risk, time, and resources that come with manually managing changes between systems.
Most of the challenges of maintaining multiple SAP systems come from the way SAP works. For instance:
- Manually duplicating changes increases time, cost, and risk – When changes are made in one system, they must be reflected in the other development systems. This means the team working in the business-as-usual (BAU) system supporting the daily needs of the business must regularly recreate their changes in the project landscape to ensure business continuity and vice versa. This creates a substantial amount of work to be done requiring significant time and resources and creating a lot of opportunity for error.
- The inability to manage overlapping changes creates bottlenecks – Changes in SAP cannot be made to the same object at the same time (until the transport has been released) and in most cases, users don’t know when objects they’re working on are also being worked on in a different system/path. Without this visibility, there can be significant risk of business disruption and rework required if changes are deployed “over the top” in a parallel track or out of sequence within the same track. Not only that, if objects are “locked” in parallel tracks, it can significantly slow down delivery.
- Manually ensuring proper sequencing slows down business agility – Transport sequencing is important in order to ensure consistency and avoid scenarios like a downgrade. This means that when teams are building changes, they must continually refer to endless spreadsheets and email chains to ensure transports are deployed in the correct order and include any changes that might have been made previously. All of this leads to a much slower cadence of change delivery.
- Manually checking for compatible changes across systems creates delays – This applies particularly when migrating to S/4HANA. While many objects from ECC will be compatible with the new systems, some will require manual retrofit. Each transport must be checked to ensure that ECC objects not compatible with S/4HANA are removed before being deployed or managed in a separate transport.
Why do you need automated dual maintenance in SAP?
There are three main reasons why automated dual maintenance is important for SAP enterprises:
Avoid Change Freeze
As you can see, manually managing multiple landscapes adds a great deal of time, manual effort and delays to delivering business-critical change. One way companies are significantly impacted when relying on manual methods is the need to implement change freezes. Many companies don’t have the substantial time and resources required to manually keep multiple systems in sync, so they are forced to pause regular updates until special project work is complete. This puts companies at a disadvantage, keeping them from making the changes they need to meet the demands of the business.
UCT, a global device and semiconductor organization came to us for help with this exact issue. Their critical project list grew exponentially as the company expanded and acquired companies, but they struggled to deliver them in parallel with regular S/4HANA updates. As a result, UCT had to freeze business-as-usual (BAU) updates every time they needed to apply an S/4HANA upgrade. You can read the case study here to learn how automation helped them solve this problem.
Avoid cutover issues
This is often caused by not having reliable and automated deployment synchronization. If your business has been operating with a new configuration or different custom solutions, having these transports out of sync will cause issues once you cutover to the new system.
Avoid project delays
Missing synchronizations can cause delays during projects whilst they are identified and remediated or in extreme cases if too much change has been missed, the restart of the Development system build could require the project to reset.
But it’s not just about supporting the daily needs of the business and S/4 upgrades. As the 2027 ECC end-of-life deadline approaches, moving to S/4HANA will become a high priority and my estimates are that around 89% of firms have yet to make the transition. A large, complex, inherently risky undertaking is nearly impossible without dual maintenance automation.
Moving to S/4HANA will take months, at best, but likely at least a year – 10 years in the case of Procter & Gamble – and businesses can’t afford to put a halt on innovation during that time. BAU updates must continue while new landscapes are built and deployed. And while automated dual maintenance is still the best way to accelerate and streamline the process, S/4 presents some unique challenges:
- Different data models – ECC and S/4 are built on different systems so not all changes can be transported between them. Automated code remediation from SAP automation experts like smartShift can automatically detect and remediate any code the needs to go from ECC to S/4HANA.
- Deployment synchronization – sometimes changes need to progress from Development to Production simultaneously. For example, when going to S/4 Central Finance and replicating accounting documents while a portion of the business is still on ECC. Automation can synchronize the move transports across landscapes, ensuring everything is deployed to the right place at the right time.
- Template protection – in some cases, it may be important to ensure changes can’t be made to the same set of configurations in both ECC and S/4HANA. By configuring template protection, you can ensure changes can only be mastered in one of the selected environments ensuring that the two sets of configuration do not diverge.
- Phased migration – if you choose a phased migration approach, dual maintenance may need to be adapted to support the different migration waves. With automation, you can manage different phases and rules associated with each wave of dual maintenance.
- Simplification items/HANA as a database – some changes made in S/4 may need to be refactored for the HANA database. Every time this object is changed in ECC, the two changes must be merged. Change automation automatically detects, remediates, and merges and code that needs to be refactored.
Crucially, the most important benefit of automated dual maintenance is that it helps eliminate risk, project delays, and increased costs, particularly during major transformations like migrating to S/4HANA.
In the next blog in this series, I’ll explore the best way to approach dual maintenance for SAP and how automation can accelerate and de-risk the entire process.