Oct 1

When you think SAP, think submarines

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When you think SAP, think submarines. They have a lot in common. Submarines pack a lot of functionality into a notoriously tight space. They’re also complicated to sail, with millions of tons of unforgiving seawater waiting to flood in if something goes wrong. Submariners live by the motto, “We have room for everything but a mistake.” This could be a good slogan for your SAP implementation, though the stakes (hopefully) don’t involve life and death.


SAP implementations do have a lot riding on them, though. Mistakes are costly. A poor SAP implementation can result in brand damage, loss of revenue, negative customer experience, excessive IT and business operating expenses and frustrated employees. With a focus on excellence, SAP implementation has thus evolved into a strict, professional discipline.

What is an SAP Implementation?

SAP implementation is a collection of practices and workflows intended to design, build and tune an SAP landscape. SAP landscapes are all unique, so SAP implementations are seldom the same. Each has its own organization-specific requirements based on distinctive SAP configurations, customizations, and combinations of SAP and third-party modules. Unique adaptations aside, an SAP implementation is always about taking a vision for SAP in the business and turning it into a reality. It’s a multi-step process, with distinct phases.

Installation vs. Migration vs. Upgrades

SAP implementation work arises in three main settings. The first is installation, such as with a product like SAP S/4HANA. New or old customers need installations. With an existing customer, the implementation may occur because the customer has such an extensively customized landscape that it’s better in the long-run to build a new system from scratch.

Migrations, in contrast, involve moving an SAP product between hosted environments. A migration might also mean moving SAP from one database to another. Migrations usually occur in multiple phases. They are by nature, complex and require frequent testing. An SAP upgrade is an implementation project that moves an SAP instance to a newer version. This could be something relatively simple, like adding enhancement packs. Some upgrades are challenging, however, requiring a great deal of planning and testing to successfully implement.

Types of SAP Implementation

In our experience, we see two main types of SAP implementation. Generally, you can either build an SAP landscape from scratch, known as a “greenfield” project or modify an existing one, in a “brownfield” scenario. A new business is always a greenfield, while brownfield migrations usually occur when your SAP landscape is out of date. In some cases, though, it’s more efficient to skip the brownfield and start from scratch. This may be advised when your data has been corrupted, for example.

Lifecycle vs. Steps vs. Phases

In discussing an SAP implementation, it’s easy to get mixed up by a couple of similar-sounding terms that SAP consultants use to describe the work. These include “lifecycle,” “steps” and “phases.” They’re related concepts, but each has a different meaning. When we talk about lifecycle, we’re talking about the “age” of an SAP product. SAP product age is not measured in years. Rather, a new product is at the start of its lifecycle. One that is being retired is referred to as “End of Life” or EOL, even if it only introduced a few years earlier. Many SAP implementation projects arise because a product is approaching EOL and needs to be replaced.

An SAP implementation has five basic steps:

Project preparation business blueprintRealizationFinal preparation Live support

In Project Preparation, you get ready to implement by identifying objectives, priorities, and scope. During this initial planning phase, you work on gaining stakeholder support while lining up resources. Business Blueprinting is about defining the business processes your landscape will address. Realization is where the implementation team takes the business blueprint as the starting point to build, test and refine the landscape. Up until this point, the process has been headed up by the functional team, who are primarily concerned with what the system does. In realization, the technical team starts to take a bigger role. In Final Preparation, your team prepares for migration and go-live. Go Live Support means flipping the switch and then looking after the newly-implemented SAP landscape.

The phases of an SAP implementation occur in parallel with the steps described above. They include Onsite Initiation, which is an initial kickoff with the technical team and key stakeholders. Data Center and Network Setup involves provisioning and then configuring whatever on-premises infrastructure is needed, including Disaster Recovery (DR).  SAP General Activities cover other preliminaries and getting ready for implementation by downloading software, etc. Sandbox Migration is where you migrate the SAP landscape incrementally in advance of production migration. Development Migration comprises working out issues that inevitably arise in the implementation process. The Production Migration itself is the final phase.

Costs of an implementation

What does an SAP implementation cost? Unfortunately, there is no straight answer, but in general, is not an inexpensive process. Each implementation is different in terms of scope, length of time and required resources. Thus, the budgets vary accordingly. However, what we’ve found is that good planning helps keep projects as economical as possible. And, an investment early on in detailing the requirements review and scoping will pay dividends in lower costs over time. Hiring the right project managers similarly keeps the process under control, in terms of cost.

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