SAP S/4HANA: Real World Experiences

Tuesday, 14 Nov, 2017   /   Carl McGowan

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SAP has been extolling the virtue of S/4HANA for a number of years and incentivising their customer base to migrate or implement their new product. This review is for those of you that are interested to know more about why you should make the move to S/4HANA.

As an SAP reseller and Systems Integrator, Soltius has been working with our customers to implement these latest products. We’re now at the point after many new installs and upgrades to take an objective look back, and assess if the benefits we thought we were going to get have eventuated. Given our experience what can we confirm and would add to the list of benefits that S/4HANA brings are as follows:

SIMPLIFICATION:

With the introduction of S/4HANA, SAP claims that the data structures and architecture can be simplified. This includes the removal of summary or intermediate tables as well as the promise to merge additional systems such as Business Warehouse (BW), Extended Warehouse Management, Supplier Relationship Management and many other products into the core.

Effectively they have rewritten some of the core code and simplified the overall architecture. The aim of making these changes was to simplify development for SAP, enable functions that were never possible with complex data structures and reduce the cost / complexity of implementation and operations. SAP has had a promising start with this goal but there’s still much to do.

The process that was initially introduced to simplify data structures for finance has now been extended to enable simplified and more powerful reporting and reconciliation processes. As part of this process, major changes have been seen by our customers in the finance, logistics and sales modules. Development is required in the asset management and projects space.

In our initial implementations the biggest and one of the most welcome changes has been the ability to do reporting without having to deploy BW. The resulting simplification in reporting by removing the traditional extract and transform processes has been significant. Benefits we have seen include the ability to remove the historical 24-hour lag for BW reporting, as well as being able to use rich UI tools with embedded reports. The integration of GIS functions within the HANA database has also been used by many Soltius customers. Interestingly this has not removed the requirement for BW which is now used to pull in data from external systems such as SCADA or cloud products.

Although we see the benefits of absorbing products such as warehouse management, supplier relationship management, transportation management etc. our existing deployments have not used these functions yet to enable us to tell you about our experiences. I’ll update this blog over the next 6-12 months as we deploy these functions.

Mark: 9/10

SAP has significantly simplified integration by pulling satellite products into the core. Removal of summary tables supports new, faster and simpler processes.

PERFORMANCE:

SAP claims that the HANA database provides extraordinary performance.

In our experience we can confirm their claims; but in many cases from a business perspective not much changes. That is, the performance has a large impact on some specific processes and transactions, but gains are not necessarily seen by the user.

In a complex system such as S/4HANA, performance as judged by a user is a combination of many factors and components. Of this only one of the components is the database. For functions such as summing large groups of numbers or querying to find information from large datasets, HANA does indeed make a noticeable difference. However, in many of the cases where a user is just interacting with a single or a few records HANA doesn’t make a significant difference.

In some cases users have complained about slow system response. When analysed, this complaint is a result of SAP’s new User Interface “Fiori”. This interface utilises additional layers and protocols which result in slower performance as experienced by the user due to sluggish screen rendering compared to older user interfaces.

Don’t despair however, this interface does bring other specific benefits as described below in “user interface”

Feedback from our customers on processes that are influenced by database performance include:

  • 2-hour reporting now takes 2 minutes
  • Background transaction processes are running 75% faster

 

Mark: 8/10

SAP has delivered on providing a much faster database. Most of the system interactions are quicker and only the slow rendering of Fiori transactions prevented us giving a score of 10. Unless you have specific reporting or long running jobs with a lot of data, the HANA speed may not be a highly significant business benefit.

USER INTERFACE:

SAP has introduced their new user interface ‘Fiori’, designed to be simple, mobile and modern. Once again SAP has delivered on most of its objectives. The user interface is simple to use and provides a modern design that works equally well on desktop and mobile devices.

In initial versions of S/4, the number and coverage of Fiori transactions was limited resulting in users mostly interacting with the old-style transactions. Even with the latest versions, though most of the common functions are covered we are finding nearly all users will still require use of traditional SAP GUI transactions for some of their interactions with the system.

Further, in implementing the new Fiori transactions we often found that users could get frustrated with the simplifying of transactions; with the removal of a crucial piece of functionality that was available in the old user interface. This means the standard Fiori transactions either need to be extended or the traditional/ older interface used. Soltius has extended standard functionality into the Fiori transactions although there are always technical limits. There was also an expectation from some of our customers that these functions should have been supplied out of the box.

For newer users this change may not be significant, but for those looking for the full range of function, it could prove otherwise. Soltius can work with users to decide on which interface works best for them; the newer, simpler interface or the older product with maximum functionality.

Mark 7/10

Customer feedback is that the Fiori interface is simpler to use, does work on mobile devices and provides a pleasant modern user interface. Comments we received from early adopters and later adopters is vastly different due to the tremendous progress SAP has made in extending the coverage of the Fiori transactions. Feedback also notes that due to the sheer number of functions, and size the of the SAP solution, there’s still work for SAP to cover the less frequently used functions in Fiori.

PLATFORM FOR THE FUTURE:

SAP touts S/4HANA as the platform to take SAP into the future to enable them to implement the latest new technological trends such as AI and machine learning. SAP’s version of these future technologies has recently been branded as SAP Leonardo.

There’s no doubt that SAP is moving with pace into this world, but the jury is still out on whether this is being powered by the move to S/4HANA. Many major new products and innovations are being developed in the Cloud which are then integrated into the core S/4HANA system. There are some they are embedding in S/4HANA such as the AI for invoice matching.

Our experience is that integrating the cloud products will work just as well with R/3 as it does with S/4HANA. We’re confident that over time SAP will preferentially only develop integration for its newest versions of software, but for now, you may not have to move to take advantage of the latest cloud technologies.

Mark: 6/10

You will eventually move to S/4HANA to get the latest technologies as they embed them more and more into the core platform but right now these are limited to a few very discrete scenarios.

 

SUMMING UP

Our experience with S/4HANA has been extremely positive and customers that have made the move have expressed no regrets. Our customers overall have seen business benefits from the move.

Early adopters of S/4HANA versions such as 1503 expressed disappointment that in some areas there was insufficient coverage of the new solution. By far the biggest complaint has been the slow response and lack of functionality covered in Fiori. The majority of positive comments come from the ability to do real time reporting and performance of computationally complex functions.

 

By Carl McGowan

Carl McGowan is Soltius Australia’s Chief Architect. He has a wealth of experience deploying Asset Management solutions as well as mobility solutions around the world. As an electrical engineer he has a special interest in the utilities sector although his work has allowed him to provide solutions in asset intensive, FMCG and service companies. Currently Carl is focusing on building the Soltius brand Australia and taking the MyPM product to the world.

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