SAP technical upgrades offer little value...right? Wrong!

5 July 2012

Jaime Wood

Jaime Wood


I've just project managed a successful SAP ERP upgrade at SThree, a global recruitment organisation employing 2500 staff, operating in 60 offices across 20 countries and with a 2011 turnover of £550m. As my first upgrade project, it's been a pretty interesting one for me and very different to what I'd expected.  And in this blog I want to share why! 

A bit of background to the project first

This was a functional equivalence upgrade, focussing purely on moving the SAP ERP platform from SAP ECC5 to SAP ECC6 Enhancement Pack 5. The goal was purely a technical upgrade with no focus on exploiting additional functionality enabled by the latest release. Well, at least not as a part of the upgrade itself - but the upgrade has been very much driven by the future opportunity it enables, opportunity partly identified by the SAP Business Function Predictor - mentioned briefly in Mark Chalfen's blog Why customers should look at solutions and not systems

Are upgrade projects boring?

Some people think that upgrade projects are boring, offer little challenge for those working on them and are an investment purely in the technology platform. Admittedly, I used to think this way however since working on this project, my view has changed completely. Having facilitated the project from conception to go-live I now firmly believe that upgrades also offer an excellent opportunity for an organisation to demonstrate investment in their staff, and exploit the collective business knowledge made available to the project.

Employee investment & team collaboration

SThree has  a sizeable internal SAP support team covering technical aspects from ABAP and PI through to SAP functional capability from Finance through core Logistics. Such teams typically work on various internal projects break/fix to continuous improvement, but very rarely do they all work on the same initiative. As the upgrade project progressed I really sensed a growing collective team spirit amongst those involved in the project. The shared goal, process led testing, and collective responsibility struck me as an overall environment which enhanced relationships within the team but importantly also drove a wider overall understanding of the organisation and the end to end processes involved within it.

Pete Wells, SAP Delivery Manager at SThree, commented himself that one of the additional benefits of the upgrade was the opportunity to build a sense of togetherness across the SThree business and technical teams, gained from working towards a common goal and realising success together.

Exploiting business knowledge

The other significant legacy left over from the project is a comprehensive repository documenting the entire set of business processes that represent the organisation. These are all documented in the form of the "Process Hierarchy" within SAP Solution Manager, one of the eleven ALM components.This comprehensive and detailed repository consists of all the steps contained within a given process, the associated transaction codes , bespoke programs, process documents, SOP's, and test scripts. It took a fair amount of effort for the business and IT teams to collaborate in pulling this together, but the benefit was two fold - short and long term.

In the short term, the SAP Solution Manager Process Hierarchy formed the basis of all test coordination. Test packages were generated using the SAP Solution Manager Test Manager ALM component. This test manager tool then enabled the customers test manager to track and coordinate all the test activity. Bugs, issues and problems were all logged using SAP Solution Manager Issue Management - this provided a comprehensive toolset to ensure all issues were coordinated towards resolution whilst ensuring the project managers were always kept abreast of any threats to the milestones.

Longer term the content of this process hierarchy can be measured automatically against any proposed upgrades - whether support pack or version related. A list of key focus areas can be generated which facilitates detailed assessments of such changes to the SAP landscape.

What upgrade?

One of the parting remarks two weeks after project go-live, again from Peter Wells, when asked how the upgrade had gone was simply, "what upgrade?". For me this  summed up the success of the methodology Bluefin Solutions provided me with when running the project. Having a Proof-of- Concept (PoC) as a core part of the strategy proved to be significant in early identification and resolution of issues which left UAT almost as a formality.


It was clear that  that internal IT as well as Business and IT relationships can be significantly enhanced, employees can benefit from up-skill and a sense of investment, and the organisation can be left with a record of their processes against which all future systems changes can be assessed at the touch of a button.

March 2013 is a significant milestone in the expiry of SAP CRM 2007, SAP ECC 5, SAP XI 3.0 and countless other products from mainstream SAP support. Bring on the next project !


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