Managing an Increasingly Complex SAP Product Portfolio
By Len Landale, VP, ERP and Applications Hosting, Secure-24 and Sean Donaldson, CTO, Secure-24
The SAP portfolio has changed and grown significantly over the last 10 years. This has accelerated in the last few years with SAP's acquisition of new products and technologies that move to the SAP HANA platform and SAP S4/HANA. It is important to understand the introduction of Suite on HANA and S4/HANA.
S4/HANA is the most significant change to how the SAP platform operates in over a decade. This change entails an entirely new in-memory database platform called HANA along with SAP Finance and a number of modules, written to only utilize the HANA platform. In addition to new products, SAP has constantly added new functionality to the product stack.
This constant change challenges IT organizations to balance keeping pace with running an SAP landscape, educating themselves on all of the product changes and functionality, and planning for future functionality to support the business.
"Enterprises must look for a provider that is agile and flexible to their unique business challenges"
Modern IT organizations are constantly tasked to do more with less, maintain legacy systems and provide the newest technology to help accelerate business growth. With the evolving SAP landscape and the business demand for newer functionality, the largest impact is that organizations must choose to prioritize one thing over the other. Something will suffer-whether it is maintenance of existing systems, deployment, or upgrades to new systems, or acquiring the knowledge necessary for success in the changing world of IT.
Further, SAP is evolving to keep up with business expectations. As a result, SAP is not only adding new features to their existing product, but the company is creating a new product and database. This leaves IT organizations strained to keep pace with this rapid advancement. While the business pushes for the increased functional capabilities SAP HANA, S4/HANA and SAP Fiori can provide. IT struggles to rapidly learn these new technologies without compromising stability, performance, or compliance. In many cases, they must manage these new applications, in addition to existing legacy applications.
Many IT organizations struggle to rapidly adopt new technologies, not through a lack of desire, but simply by having a finite amount of time. When a new technology is introduced, and more specifically one that runs the most critical systems of a business, an IT team understands the importance to the business. The thoughts that go through an IT Director or Manager’s mind are generally:
• Will I get the budget to train my staff? If I get the money, will they have time to attend training?
• How can I ensure production stability, reliable backups, application level monitoring (I should know about an issue before the CFO calls me)?
• How can I guarantee we have a working disaster recovery plan? There is over $1 million dollars per hour of loss if the system is not running.
• How do I ensure this new system remains secure? "Above the fold" news about a security break could cost millions of dollars in compliance penalties and reputation.
To achieve success, IT organizations must change and adopt new models. Using cloud-based services that free up resources to focus on more value-added, strategic tasks is critical. Consolidating legacy platforms to a hosted environment where the care and feeding can be taken over so that energy can be put into conversion to modern and upgraded systems. Further leveraging the scale of a provider allows IT organizations to have a partner, who is constantly training on the latest technology and focused on process improvements to keep systems up-to-date.
This also speaks to the evolving role of the IT Director. The IT director role is growing more towards portfolio management. Choosing and managing an enterprise hosting and managed services organization is a critical role. The team who is running a company’s ERP system should truly be a partner and an extension of the IT staff. A mature managed hosting provider has the capability to consistently evaluate new technologies, has multiple certified resources (e.g. HANA certified), and acts as an advisor to the client IT Director. This allows an IT Director to translate business requirements to the correct SAP functional capabilities without fear of how the IT team can maintain.
The most important technology emerging in the SAP product stack is the SAP HANA platform. As SAP releases new products and business functionality, they will leverage HANA more and more. It is critical that an organization has the knowledge to upgrade to the new product stack to take advantage of new functions like Simple Finance and Simple Logistics. With potential future consolidation of the SAP product portfolio onto this platform, current training, and technology are vital.
Critical differentiators that enterprises should look for are the ability to scale, the depth, and breadth of experience with the entire SAP stack, along with HANA knowledge. Another key area is other service offerings that can be added to a core SAP solution.SAP running a business will always have other needs for ancillary systems and robust security controls. The ability to leverage a provider with experience in these other areas is key to a lasting partnership. Partnership is a key aspect of the service provider one chooses to run their most critical business applications. The provider must have the capability to be trusted advisor and to truly operate as an extension of the company’s IT staff. While SAP and IT leadership are important, other areas should be considered.
In today's world, enterprises must look for a provider that is agile and flexible to their unique business challenges, but one who can also support this agility with well-defined, auditable processes, and procedures. A strong SAP practice and competency is a given, but the value in having a vast breadth of services should not be overlooked-whether there are bolt-on applications to SAP that must be managed or simply other systems that can take advantage of secure and compliant managed services under a single provider.