How to avoid lengthy SAP detours on your digital transformation roadmap

Profile picture for user Andreas Sulejewski By Andreas Grydeland Sulejewski January 21, 2019
Summary:
Your digital transformation roadmap can take a faster route than vendors like SAP might recommend, writes Neptune Software's CEO

Road closed barriers with detour sign © Carolyn Franks - shutterstock
Most enterprise software vendors want you to buy the latest technology they offer, suggesting that digital transformation is impossible without this investment. SAP is no different in this respect. The vendor is promoting innovative solutions through its SAP Leonardo initiative, a new approach to customer experience with C/4 HANA, and talks of enabling the intelligent enterprise on the SAP Cloud Platform.

But for many customers, these new offerings are far ahead of where their current business systems sit. To be frank, most IT departments are happy if their existing SAP landscape works at all. Their business users have grown accustomed to working with slow and bulky SAP systems. It barely occurs to them to think of demanding faster performance or a more digital approach.

Even the first step of upgrading the user experience and adding mobile access requires complex and expensive upgrades to the core system when following SAP’s recommended roadmap. As Christoph Garms, Pre-Sales Manager at Neptune Software Germany, wrote last year in E3 Magazine International, the path defined by SAP is unsuitable for many :

Digital transformation is a lengthy process that takes a lot of time and resources. The path defined by SAP for S/4 is clear, but for many SAP customers it is difficult to follow this path on a small scale (especially for on-premise customers).

Going mobile without back-end upgrades

Fortunately, there is an alternative – one that starts by addressing one of the most challenging aspects of digital transformation. This is not a technology issue, it is the change management aspect of allowing users to get used to new ways of mobile and digital working. Garms explains that it is possible to introduce the SAP Fiori user experience without having to upgrade core back-end systems. This means users can become familiar with the next-generation digital and mobile UI without first having to make the big jump to S/4 and SCP, he says:

Not having to make the big investment today but learning and transforming for the future – that’s what really leads to flexibility and simplicity.

He writes that it’s possible to develop UI5-based Fiori applications that connect to traditional Abap code, at the same time as connecting to other services via the oData protocol that SAP is adopting for newer systems:

Ideally, your IT architecture combines the best of both worlds. Use and reuse your company’s Abap-based processes, especially all customer-specific coding, and the right oData services for connection to third-party systems or the SAP gateway whenever it suits you. This approach ensures that the existing SAP business know-how of your Abap team remains the preferred interface and guarantees that applications are fully compatible with the slowly evolving S/4 world.

Delivering iOS apps for connected CRM

Many organizations have already taken this route to avoid the complex upgrades on SAP’s recommended roadmap. In an earlier article on Neptune’s website, Garms cites the example of an SAP customer from the German ‘Mittelstand’ that wanted to provide a more modern desktop and mobile CRM experience for its sales team. The world’s leading manufacturer of electric motors and fans, this company implemented a project to roll out iOS-based tablets to 120 field sales people and more than 400 customer service technicians. The Head of IT Business Solutions explains:

We needed to digitally transform the way our teams could access customer master data and create and commit multiple transactions while being onsite working with our clients.

A set of seven applications access CRM data as well as ECC master data from existing on-premise systems to ensure full-fledged CX when used on the client-side. The project was able to go ahead because it implemented the Fiori UX using the Neptune DX Platform, which can be installed locally on SAP NetWeaver ABAP servers. The modern UX also takes advantage of functions on the iOS devices to improve productivity and convenience for users, reports the manufacturer’s Head of SAP Business Solutions:

We can already see that with the new apps we’re creating, users can do more with less clicks – and we use new features like touch screen, fingerprint authentication, GPS and a direct camera interface to give users access to the practical tools they usually use on their smartphones.

This route provides a much faster path to an integrated customer experience platform than SAP’s plans for C/4 HANA, believes Garms:

Do not wait for C/4HANA and stop the digital transformation of your sales teams for years to come. Choosing a stable Fiori UX platform, enabling your developers to succeed and involving key users from the beginning will result in outstanding CX.

Find your roadmap to digital transformation

It’s a similar story with SAP Leonardo, Garms points out in a recent blog post. He cites the example of a CIO of an SAP customer exploring whether a blockchain solution will improve its order-to-cash processes running on an S/4HANA on-premise ERP. In such a case, Leonardo is little more than a bunch of connectors that route the solution through the SAP Cloud Platform, he says:

It turns out, the technical services provided on the platform are not solutions, but connectors to integrate emerging technologies from third-parties. This means that in order to integrate Ethereum smart-contracts, I am creating microservices on top of the SAP Cloud Platform (which most-likely runs on AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud) to access open API services which then connect to the RESTful APIs of the solutions we in fact want to leverage to pursue our technology-driven business growth.

He concludes that SAP has architected Leonardo to suit its own preferred roadmap, which is not necessarily appropriate for each individual customer’s situation:

The idea of SAP Leonardo to provide a structured but agile pathway towards emerging technologies is a great one but beware of a concept that is not open to giving you the platform and solutions that best support your specific Leonardo journey needs, but rather the journey they want you on.

And that’s the key message – don’t take the vendor’s roadmap as the only available route to digital transformation. Others may make for more sense for where your company needs to be today – and often require less investment and disruption to get you there.