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Common pitfalls in the digitization of SAP processes

As Thomas Edison once famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Or, to put it another way, great things come to those who wait. However, if, as a CIO or CDO, you have neither the time nor the money to spare for such trial and error, you can save yourself some missteps. In our experience, there are a few typical stumbling blocks that customers regular encounter that can greatly hinder a digital transformation. In the following – highly subjective – list, we explain the most common pitfalls and misconceptions. 

Pitfall 1: Producing a high-level vision for the digitization process that uses all the latest buzzwords, but lacks specificity and leads to development confusion.
Problem: Employees have no clue about what they actually have to do or what the vision means for them. Result: best case, nothing gets done; worst case, lots of money, motivation and credibility is lost on futile initiatives.

Pitfall 2: Deciding to completely reorganize the enterprise as part of the digitization strategy and changing all the team names and job titles in the process.
Problem: The IT organization has no option but to focus on itself for the next few months, meaning that the actual digitization process is put on a back burner and zero progress is made.


Who plans the project – business or IT?

Pitfall 3: Defining purely long-term goals and no short-term ones.
Problem: Every employee remains focused on their day-to-day tasks and fails to work towards the long-term goals. After all, the goals are far in the future and will most likely change with the new management anyway.

Pitfall 4: Defining a highly detailed, long-term implementation plan up to 2031.
Problem: This gives the management a false sense of security, but does not reflect reality.

Pitfall 5: Having a digitization plan that is created by a business unit, rather than IT and then expecting IT to implement it.
Problem: First, business departments tend to lack the necessary IT knowledge, and second, the business department’s planning is not likely to be consistent with the IT strategy.

Pitfall 6: Assuming that, because plan-build-run worked great for R/3, it also makes sense to use the tried-and-tested ‘waterfall’ approach for digitization too.
The problem is that these approaches only work in rigidly predictable situations, which is definitively not the case with digitization.

Some companies produce a high-level vision that uses all the latest buzzwords, but lacks specificity and leads to development confusion.
Karsten Kötter
Consulting Director

Pitfall 7: Attempting to digitize integrated end-to-end processes without involving the SAP team.
The problem is that SAP systems probably account for 80 percent of the company’s revenue (if not, they’re off the hook). Digitization of end-to-end processes without SAP will most likely involve lightweight, superficial apps that are more suited to ordering a coffee. Do you want to use digitization to boost your company success or sell coffee?

Pitfall 8: Believing that an S/4HANA-first strategy means transferring absolutely everything over from R/3 haphazardly and as quickly as possible without prior reflection so as not to leave anything behind. After all, the new S/4 system is the digital core and will sort itself out in the end, right?
Problem: You only get out what you put in. If you simply transfer all the old processes, it will not magically become an intelligent enterprise! Your new S/4 system will be no different from your old R/3 system, except it will look prettier with Fiori Apps.

Pitfall 9: Implementing a greenfield S/4HANA project and not having an enhancement concept because you want to ‘remain in the standard’.
Problem: Although a greenfield implementation with the SAP standard is good, ideally you also want to switch consistently to the S/4HANA public cloud right away. For everyone else, the following applies: No one remains in the SAP standard. If you don’t have a modern S/4 enhancement concept, you’ll fall back into the R/3 age sooner than you think.


The process chaos remains


Pitfall 10: Starting an S/4 project at the same time as implementing the new Business Technology Platform (formerly SAP Cloud Platform). On the BTP, the enhancements to S/4 should then be developed according to SAP / DSAG / ASUG recommendation, and the S/4 should become a ‘Clean & Lean Digital Core’.
Problem: Correct in theory. However, upon commencing an S/4 project, an organization already has more than enough to do with S/4, leaving no time to focus seriously on the new topic of BTP. Result: No experience with BTP, the S/4 project is implemented by copy & paste due to increasing pressure. Result: Millions invested, but still an old-fashioned system.

Pitfall 11: Doing everything on premise because of the mistaken belief that keeping everything in the cloud is unsafe.
Problem: Ever done a serious penetration test of your data center? No? Then give it a try. I could go on for quite a long list of companies that have had or are having serious problems with hackers in their data center. In the cloud, at least real professionals take care of security.

Pitfall 12: Once we have lots of mobile apps, the process chaos in the backend systems will somehow be resolved.
Problem: The process chaos remains, it just looks fancier with apps.

Pitfall 13: If we go to the cloud, we will be able to leave our chaotic master data behind.
Problem: The problems with the master data remain, even in the cloud.

Pitfall 14: The Windows program SAPGUI runs great, so I don’t need Fiori at all.
Problem: SAPGUI compared to Fiori is like a landline compared to a smartphone. Who still makes phone calls via landline? And have you ever tried to open a SAPGUI transaction on a mobile device? Check it out for yourself.

Do any of the above sound familiar? No problem, you are not alone. And the list could go on. After all, we encounter these common misconceptions time and again. But perhaps now is the time for some critical reflection.

Dr. Karsten Kötter
Head of Cloud Platform Business Unit