When SAP released the Business Suite on HANA in December 2012, it ran on the same codebase as the rest of the SAP Business Suite, which ran on just about any platform and database. Indeed, this was the original selling point of SAP R/3: the ability to run on whatever platform was modern at that point in time. Through the years, R/3 ran on all kinds of platforms, from Reliant and OS/390, to Informix, Oracle, and Microsoft SQL Server. It even ran on IBM’s Z/OS mainframes.
But as SAP tried to build more HANA-specific functionality into the Business Suite, it hit a brick wall: when you develop for all platforms, you have to develop to the lowest common multiple. It’s a serious issue in the Business Suite: for example, dates are stored as text, because one of the database platforms in the 90s didn’t support date data types. No kidding.
So in 2014, SAP took the plunge, (effectively) forked the Business Suite codebase, and created S/4HANA.This was great news, because the developers could finally use the full power of HANA, with its advanced analytics, graph engine and spatial capabilities. Applications could be refactored with simplified data structures, hundreds of thousands of lines of code were deleted, and structural improvements made.
Unfortunately SAP found itself with a cost issue: they had two separate ERPs to maintain. Some functionality could be ported back from S/4HANA to Business Suite, but there was a lot of redevelopment that had to occur to backport functionality into the main Business Suite codebase.
The next move was simple: announce the EOL of SAP Business Suite, alted for December 31st 2025. This gave customers over a decade to plan their move to S/4HANA, and migrate to the new platform. We are now six years out - what does this mean to customers?
Whilst Hasso Plattner, co-founder and chairman of the SAP Supervisory Board spoke to it in his keynote in SAPPHIRE this year, there is no guarantee that there will be extended maintenance, but the last major version of SAP that was recommissioned was R/3 4.6C. It was released in April 2000, mainstream maintenance ended in 2006, and extended maintenance ended in 2013. That’s right - six years of mainstream support and seven years of extended maintenance. ERPs have a very long half-life.
Put another way, while no formal announcement on extended maintenance has been made concerning the Business Suite (ECC), and I personally don’t expect to see one before SAPPHIRE 2020, it would be extremely surprising if there was not a significant grace period available, at an additional cost, as has been the practice in the past.
Of course your account reps will be putting on the pressure for you to sign up before 31st December, 2019. It is after all, trhe all-important Q4 for SAP.
Customer Specific Maintenance
I heard a story that SAP turned off its last R/2 internal systems this year. The last chemicals customer had decommissioned their final R/2 system, and stopped paying customer specific maintenance. Regardless of the specifics of this story, you can (in general) pay SAP to support whatever system you want, for as long as you want, if it is worth the price tag.
NetWeaver Java is dead
SAP’s current position on Java is tough - support for NetWeaver 7.5 on AS Java ends in 2024, and there will be no extended maintenance. All other Java editions, 7.1-7.3, will be desupported in 2020.
If you have Java applications, you should move to decommission them right away - especially if they’re on any version before 7.5.
Think about LoB applications carefully
If you have LoB applications like HR services, sales, service, marketing, procurement etc. then you would be well advised to work with your LoB leadership (CHRO, CRO, COO etc.) to see if a SaaS application works better for you. Vendors have done a very good job of solving security, maintenance and integration challenges and there are excellent choices from SAP and other vendors.
I’m not going to get into more detail here, because tomes have been written on this topic, and your business leaders will have strong opinions.
Come up with a plan
Six years might sound like a long time, but many organizations plan budgets a year in advance. This means if you didn’t budget for 2020, the earliest might be 2021. The project might take a year or more, which takes you to at least 2022. If you don’t start planning now, you could easily run against the 2025 deadline.
To add to this, many CIOs are concerned about the crunch of SI resources in the 2022-2025 timeline, so time is running out.
But first, decide if you want to be in the early majority (start planning now), in the late majority (wait a year, and plan to be in extended maintenance), or a laggard. Some customers will never make the switch to S/4HANA, and that is an acceptable approach. Some Business Suite systems just don’t have a planned life beyond 2030, and if I were in that position (for example in the printed news/magazine zombie market) then I would not consider upgrading to S/4HANA.
I found that many customers are afraid of the 2025 deadline, and many others are ignoring it altogether. Plenty has already been said about the difficulty in making the business case. My advice is simple: do not accept false deadlines, and plan to do what is right for your business.
But do not ignore the fact that many of these old Business Suite systems installed in the early 2000s have outdated, clunky business processes that do not represent where your business needs to be in the next 10-20 years. And since ERP is far from dead, you will need a new ERP which will get you through until 2040.