Why Sovanta moved S/4HANA to the Google Cloud Platform, with Data Custodian up next


At SAP TechEd Barcelona, we spoke with one of the first customers to move S/4HANA to the Google Cloud Platform. Bonus: Sovanta also told us about being a pilot user of the SAP-Google Data Custodian offering.

Löckelt of Sovanta at SAP TechEd

At Sapphire Now 2017, we shot a video with Sovanta on why they moved their S/4HANA instance to the Google Cloud Platform.

At SAP TechEd 2017, we took a deeper dive into their project with a small group of bloggers and miscreants influencers.

Given SAP’s expanded cloud partnership with Google – a major news emphasis during the fall TechEd season – it was apropos to hear more from the first company I know of that moved S/4HANA to the Google Cloud. Especially since they are now an early adopter of the well-received SAP/Google Data Custodian partnership.

On deck was Sovanta’s Michael Löckelt, who explained the rationale behind the Google Cloud Platform move. The basics:

  • Sovanta moved to S/4HANA on January 1, 2016 – this was their first internal ERP-style financial application – though they already had a track record in as an SAP consulting partner based in Germany.
  • At Google Next in March of 2017, Sovanta learned of the opportunity to run S/4HANA on the Google Cloud Platform.
  • Four weeks after the green light, they were live on the Google Cloud – “an amazing project,” Sovanta’s Michael Kern told us at Sapphire Now.

The first benefit Sovanta derived from their initial go-live was a core benefit of modern ERP: data visibility. They also saved themselves the headaches of communicating their reporting needs to a third party firm. As Kern said at Sapphire Now:

Before we made the decision to go on SAP S/4HANA, we had been working with an external financial consultancy. Whenever we needed something, we had to ask, we had to wait before we got the information. That was one of the key benefits that we got from moving on S/4HANA. Now, we have all the information that we need available at our fingertips. For us this is really important because we need a solid operation of our core financial processes.

Starting to quantify the S/4HANA cloud benefits

But Sovanta always intended to move S/4HANA to the cloud. Once they learned about the Google option, they moved quickly. During our session in Barcelona, we focused on the technical challenges/benefits of the 2017 cloud move. Löckelt says the infrastructure shift has made a difference, even though they still administer internal sandboxes:

We are quite happy to be out of infrastructure operating topic. As a company [focused on] consulting with our customers, we really try to focus our efforts on the customers and not in maintaining our own IT infrastructure. So we are quite happy that all systems which are running in-house are now not critical.

Sovanta has grown quickly from a smaller team that could get away with adhoc financials to 150+ employees. Thus the need for a financials system that can grow with the business – without the internal IT headaches.

There will be a bigger cost/benefits assessment once they hit the one year mark on the Google Cloud Platform:

At the end of the year we will do a comparison, so we will really check what happened after one year on the Google Cloud Platform. We would like to compare it to [our S/4HANA on-premise costs] and really try to calculate it.

Don’t lump Löckelt in with those who assume that cloud reduces IT costs. He plans to measure that carefully in their end of year comparison. But for now, he likes what he sees:

We are more flexible now, we can scale up and down as we want, so that’s a little advantage of being in the cloud.

Löckelt’s team has made a point of staying close to current on versioning. Since their initial go-live, they made the move to version 1610. Has he taken advantage of cloud scaling possibilities? So far, no – no need.

Sovanta is growing, but we’re not a big company at the moment, so this is just not necessary at the moment. We are quite stable in intensity, so there is no scaling based on usage. We are fine with one configuration. It’s stable, so I think this is really working good.

Löckelt has found Google to be a reliable platform:

We haven’t had an S3 outage in the last year, so that’s okay. We are fine with this.

Early reactions to Sovanta’s Data Custodian pilot

There’s more news: Sovanta has now become a pilot user of Data Custodian, the cloud GRC/security partnership from SAP and Google. The Data Custodian demo was one of the best demos at SAP TechEd. It obviously made an impression on Löckelt as well:

I think you learned in yesterday’s keynote that there is something going on with this Data Custodian stuff. Because Sovanta was a pilot customer for the GCP stuff, somehow it feels like the logical next step also being pilot customer for the Data Custodian. I think this is somehow also pointing to what you guys mentioned about more transparency.

Big question: why do the early adopter thing with Data Custodian when Sovanta is already well-versed in the SAP Cloud Platform. Can’t they just use the SAP Cloud Platform Cockpit?

You could also do this is in the Cloud Cockpit. The Cloud Cockpit, I think, is better than AWS, but it’s not visual. With Data Custodian, we really have a map. We can see where we are using which kind of resources, and who is accessing these resources from which part of the world. This is, for us, the logical step.

A dashboarding and alerts system will ease the tracking:

As soon as some violation is detected, then we raise an alert. It goes into the dashboard, and then we can precisely see if this access is made from the Google side or from the customer side or wherever. Then we can really resolve that because the Data Custodian is integrated into couple of their systems, like the support system.

The wrap – GDPR, tougher data regulations, and what’s next

With tougher data regulations like GDPR on the horizon, Löckelt believes Data Custodian can play a key role for Sovanta. Löckelt anticipates more work with Data Custodian as it matures. The first Data Custodian release is more about access transparency. More functions around control of access will follow.

Data Custodian will also be expanded from Infrastructure-level Google service to other Google applications. On the SAP side, application-level monitoring of S/4HANA, etc is coming also.

During the Q/A, some of the bloggers who are also partners asked Löckelt if there were any downtime issues as there were in the early days of the SAP Cloud Platform. He responded by recommending a check of the online SAP cloud status:

You can see it publicly, what is happening there, and if you compare with an AWS, you can make your own opinion on it.

As for S/4HANA, Löckelt is eager to push beyond financials.

We are currently discussing which processes we will now add to our S/4HANA. You know we do financials, and there is so much more. HR we can think about. Inventory we can think about… but at the moment, it’s financial, and this is flying, so that’s really fine.

I expect Löckelt to see more business results around data visibility as they get more data analysis into play. When they get closer to one year from go-live on the Google cloud, Löckelt says they’ll have a better idea of the true costs and business gains. I look forward to picking up the conversation again after that.

Update, 8:00 am UK time: the prior version of this piece also referred to a Data Console. I double-checked my recording to confirm that we were only talking of the Data Custodian, so that has been corrected. I was provided with an incorrect spelling of Löckelt’s name; that has since been corrected also.

Image credit - Photo of Michael Löckelt of Sovanta by Jon Reed.

Disclosure - SAP paid the bulk of my travel expenses to attend SAP TechEd Barcelona. SAP is a diginomica premier partner.