Enabling business transformation with SAP S/4HANA

14 January 2016

Mark Chalfen

Mark Chalfen

Former SAP S/4HANA Global Lead

SAP S/4HANA is an evolving solution which has received much publicity over the past year or so. Customers are now starting to dip their toe in the water to see what SAP S/4HANA means to them.

Perhaps the most common pre-conception is that SAP S/4HANA is the next “upgrade” to the old SAP Business Suite too which is coming into its tenth year. Due to the history of the extremely successful SAP R/3, customers, in the main, are content with the approach that every few years or so an upgrade will need to take place to improve stability and enable future functionality.

One of the first questions asked by the experienced SAP customer is “how long will it take to upgrade to SAP S/4HANA?”, followed by a question relating to the cost. Unfortunately that is the wrong question to ask. SAP S/4HANA brings the ability to re-shape and position for your IT systems within your business processes and therefore it is time to add more value and use it to provide transformation.

SAP S/4HANA provides a new way of working

There are a number of articles around the new functionality that is held within SAP S/4HANA. With the SAP Fiori front end and the inclusion of embedded analytics, the days of transaction codes are past. A business process from an IT point of view could currently be something like the diagram below:

Diagram: Sample business process

We have seven steps, four separate IT tools to perform them and the time to perform these tasks could be significant due to performance issues.

In the world of SAP S/4HANA, all of this can be done from a single SAP Fiori tile. A tile can represent many steps within a business process and the user can navigate to other tiles, some of which may be analytical and others data entry. All of the data is real time and the SAP Fiori screens provide a simple intuitive user experience that reduces the time spent performing basic tasks.

How to get to SAP S/4HANA from your current Business Suite solution

Assuming you are looking to move a single Business Suite solution to a single SAP S/4HANA solution, there are two possible approaches that you can take:

  1. System conversion
  2. New implementation

The system conversion aligns with the upgrade methodology that customers may be more familiar with. However, a system conversion will always require some form of functional changes as the current data needs to be converted to the new data models. In order to fully utilise the new functionality and approach within SAP S/4HANA, the system usage, within business processes, will need to be modified. Therefore, any move towards SAP S/4HANA cannot be seen as an IT project as previous SAP Business Suite upgrades have been. Instead, the move to SAP S/4HANA should be seen as a business-driven project to drive benefits both to processes and users.

70% of all SAP S/4HANA customers (live and in-flight projects) have followed the new implementation approach. The common reason for this choice is that customers want to remove unwanted code and bespoke processes and try to align to the new functionality within SAP S/4HANA. Starting with a clean and simple solution is a very attractive proposition for many customers. In some cases, the additional cost of the new implementation is not that significant when compared to a system conversion.

How do I get the value from SAP S/HANA?

This is one of the most common questions. However, there is no one size fits all answer. Each customer is unique and will have a number of interfaces in and out of SAP and therefore need to internally review SAP S/4HANA to see where benefits can be realised.

SAP provides free trials of SAP S/4HANA which offer a high level overview of the solution. However, most customers will require more detail above and beyond the generic processes within the trial. Therefore, some form of proof of concept or proof of value needs to be undertaken. These exercises can be slightly more expensive than customers may expect.

Performing a traditional upgrade proof of concept for a SAP Business Suite solution can take a few weeks, however an SAP S/4HANA proof of concept will take slightly longer. Once the system is up, various migration cycles will need to be performed to enable the system so business users can start to analyse the solution. Traditionally, the current test schedule would be run on the upgraded box to see if any issues occurred as part of the upgrade. Within SAP S/4HANA, you should not be looking for errors against the traditional transaction codes but investigation is required to see how the new functionality within SAP S/4HANA can be included into business processes to simplify the user experience and remove time and system dependence. This is a whole new skillset and, whilst it can be time-consuming and costly, it will help the customer understand the benefits they will gain from SAP S/4HANA and remove time in the next phases of the move to SAP S/4HANA.


Hopefully this insight has provided you with an insight into how you should approach your journey to SAP S/4HANA. Whichever approach you decide to take - system conversion or new implementation - be sure to use this move as an opportunity for significant business change. The objective of moving to SAP S/4HANA should be seen as a key step towards business transformation and not just a technical process to keep your system landscape fresh.


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About the author

Mark Chalfen

Former SAP S/4HANA Global Lead

Mark tells it straight - as an ex-boxer, what else would you expect?  Both his knowledge and experience of SAP products allow him to cut to the chase dispelling myths and hearsay.

As a result of working closely with various SAP Finance Product Management teams on product development, Mark understands these products inside out. This depth of understanding has led to him become a ‘thought leader’ in his field; after all, it is not often SAP consultants have helped shape and develop the very product they are selling.

Having such a strong relationship with SAP alongside being an SAP Mentor and Moderator means that Mark has an extensive network within SAP. For clients, this relationship proves to be a huge advantage and leads to configuration issues being resolved rapidly.

Mark has worked on short proof of concepts through to year-long multi-million pound global roll-outs. However, no matter how large or small the project, the true value Mark brings to his work is in the guidance he provides to senior stakeholders. In essence, he assists them to implement more effective processes and drive better behaviours within their finance teams.

Helping organisations transform their business with SAP S/4HANA is Mark’s current focus. The benefits of S/4HANA are numerous, including the simplification of tasks, embedded analytics and improved user engagement. Whilst the eventual move from SAP Business Suite into S/4HANA is inevitable, the journey to it is not always clear. Mark’s ability to understand an organisation’s needs coupled with his deep understanding of S/4HANA provides clarity and eases their transition.

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