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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 operational 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 was only introduce 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 blueprint
  • Realization
  • Final preparation
  • Go 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.

Do You Need To Use A Guide?

An SAP Implementation Guide is an optional, but recommended deliverable in an SAP implementation. We recommend it for all of our clients. It doesn’t have to be a big document. The high-level guide sets out the basic goals of the implementation. It lets people know what’s expected of them, role by role. The guide is also a place to communicate the project calendar. This is useful for stakeholders. Letting people know about deadlines and critical points in the implementation process avoids headaches like accidentally planning for a major review when key people are out on vacation. The guide lets people know when they’re expected to perform certain tasks. For example, if someone has to order SAP licenses, a process that can take some time, it pays to give that person enough advance notice so the licensing doesn’t hold the implementation back.

Don’t Underestimate The Importance of SAP Basis

SAP implementation requires expertise in SAP Basis. Anyone you work with on SAP implementation must have proven experience in Basis. The right implementation partner will understand SAP Basis in order to ensure that each element of the SAP landscape functions properly once the implementation is complete. This includes access controls, backups and restores, performance tuning, batch job management and so forth.

SAP Implementation Methodology and Partners

SAP implementation has a standard methodology, known as Accelerated SAP or “ASAP.” Today, a new methodology called SAP Activate is starting to overtake ASAP as the standard. The partner you select to help with your SAP implementation ought to be well-versed in ASAP or Activate. This competency encompasses the technical and project management expertise required, but it really goes well beyond that.

The provider is your partner through the SAP implementation process. They can make a big difference in the subjective, organizational aspects of the process, such as bringing stakeholders together and facilitating discussions about business priorities for the new landscape. These tasks can be challenging for in-house teams due to political constraints, hierarchies and so forth.

Successful SAP implementations take investment and time. You want it done right. Having worked with some of the world’s largest and most demanding SAP enterprises, we are able to implement SAP according to best practices. We enable your organization to achieve maximum benefit from SAP while benefiting from a streamlined implementation process.

Dave Hall, Director of Professional Services

Dave Hall is the Director of Professional Services at Symmetry where he is responsible for on-boarding and managing many of Symmetry’s key and most complex Clients. Dave has been in the information technology business for over 30 years - managing teams responsible for everything from international systems implementations, SAP data center migrations and Basis managed services. Dave leverages his diverse experience to provide superior customer service to Symmetry Clients from the initial on-boarding process through ongoing steady state managed services.