insights
Delivering Innovation with Standardised SAP
Simon Ratcliffe, Principal Consultant, Advisory
Thursday, August 10, 2017

Legacy systems are often cited as a blocker to digital transformation within many organisations and core SAP systems are a common example of such legacy. 

These systems have been in place for years and have been customised significantly over that time to meet changing business requirements. Whilst these changes have been able to keep up with the fairly pedestrian pace of change in businesses until recently, this pace of change has now become a sprint. 

Digital transformation and the need for dramatic change to even keep up has driven a need for a pace of change in the underlying technology that is rapidly becoming unsustainable to many organisations.

In many cases, the SAP systems that were implemented over the last ten or fifteen years have changed from being an effective enabler of business change to the limiting factor. 

The high level of customisation that has emerged through the slower evolution of business processes is now preventing the more frequent and widespread changes that modern digital businesses require.  Successful digital transformation should be built upon a solution that is capable of delivering core business functionality quickly and efficiently. 

Many SAP systems have evolved into complex bespoke solutions not because the core operation of the business is unique but because the journey taken is different from business to business.

Organisations are facing the need to establish far simpler environments that allow rapid development and change to allow them to deliver new and different experiences to their customers. 

With many new organisations entering every market and with these new entrants not being limited by their legacy, existing organisations are facing a difficult decision.  Are they able to continue to evolve their business whilst maintaining the current complex evolution of their SAP system? Or should they look at adopting a new solution that effectively trades off a degree of standardisation against the ability to upgrade and change far more rapidly?

The latter approach can also drive a conversation on the location of the SAP environment.  Many cloud based SAP solutions not only offer more rapid upgrade but also more rapid adoption of emerging technology such as data analytics, artificial intelligence and the ability to scale on demand. 

Numerous SAP systems today are a result of repeated customisation in response to user requests but the paradigm shift driven by digital transformation means that success is often driven by driving changes in user behaviour towards more standard processes and investing change in the connection with the end user.

Implementing the core SAP system on a cloud platform allows organisations to rapidly establish a new, more standardised environment and migrate their existing operations across to this. 

Building parallel development environments that completely mimic the new production environment, adopting a blue green release approach for new functionality and allowing sandbox environments to allow rapid proofs of concept to be built and tested all enable organisations to safely operate their core, business critical environments but to implement an agile, modern approach to digital transformation.

The rate at which SAP are developing and releasing new functionality means that creating a core environment that is easily capable of being upgraded is becoming a critical factor in the operational efficiency of many organisations.  Whilst an organisation may seek to continue to operate with a bespoke and difficult to upgrade solution in the belief that this delivers competitive advantage, this advantage should be regularly and rigorously reviewed. 

Success in the digital world often depends on speed and agility in delivering new or enhanced functionality delivered either internally or by leveraging solution delivered either by the SAP vendor or third parties who invariably build solutions against standard environments. 

Creating a standard core environment with as much configuration as is required but with minimal customisation is an effective approach that enables an organisation to rapidly deliver more features and functionality. 

Rather than regarding the SAP environment as the container into which all features must be built, regard SAP as the core around which other features can be deployed.  A stable, standard core allows these features to be added, removed and developed far more effectively.  Adopting SAP as the core rather than the container also allows adoption of a wider range of technologies as an API and micro-service approach to creating an eco-system is less limiting than having to create all functionality within the core of the SAP environment.

Building a new SAP environment is sufficiently frightening to many organisations to not even attain agenda item status; but in a world of rapid and significant change where many of the old business rules have been torn up, the approach should merit at least serious discussion in every organisation that has not already adopted a new approach.

About the Author

An established thought leader and innovator, Simon served as a Virtual CIO, CIO Advisor and Leadership Mentor for a wide variety of organisations before joining Ensono as Principal Consultant. He is an IT evangelist capable of promoting the value of IT within organisations by developing a single strategic vision that unites business and the IT department. Simon holds a Master of Arts from University of Cambridge and is a trained psychologist and former finance director.