I like Hovercrafts, I always have. As a 10 year old I remember watching amazed at these futuristic little fellas exerting effortlessly mastery over land and water – making mole hills out of the mountains that could not be overcome by car or boat. To a boy they were the pinnacle of what vehicles could be, what human endeavour could achieve, a real (if admittedly noisy) machine to rival the Bat Mobile or the AT-AT*

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(*Technically this is a dog dressed up as an AT-AT but it should be sufficient to jog the memory).

Now some years later I believe that I may have seen another such leap in the achievements of man, this time not as an awe inspired youth in the Isle of White but rather as a slightly hung over man sitting (in a intriguingly small chair) at SAP FKOM in Barcelona. The name of this new hovercraft – S4 HANA – a long predicted new version of core ERP sitting atop SIMPLE architected table structures and HANA technology. For SAP this ‘return to its roots’ is the oft heralded destination for the HANA march that began a number of years ago and which is accompanied by the promise of SIMPLE data, SIMPLE FIORI interfaces, SIMPLE integration and a nice new logo.

But is it a hovercraft? Well possibly. For a Hovercraft for all its technological brilliance and its ability to conquer all terrain never really took off as a method of mass transportation. Don’t get me wrong, to say that hovercrafts are never used would be entirely erroneous but it’s fair to assume that few people reading this will be just about to nip to the jobs on a cushion of hot air and a flexible skirt. The problem with the hovercraft was that it solved a problem that was not high on anyone’s agenda. To illustrate the point, Christopher Cockerell the man commonly credited with the invention of the modern Hovercraft struggled to sell the concept, remarking that ‘”The Navy said it was a plane not a boat; the Air Force said it was a boat not a plane; and the Army was ‘plain not interested.

This is where I believe the parallel with S4 HANA can be drawn. For as I have said on previous blogs whilst HANA and now S4 HANA it is undauntedly clever and the ‘In Memory, Column Orientated’ technology a real technical leap, the specific business issues that it surmounts, remain (to me at least) ill-defined and nebulous. It still feels like a technology looking for a problem rather than the answer to a specific real world gap. For example let me probe two ‘advances’ heralded by the collective Key note speakers of FKOM, that of MRP, and simplified UI.

If we start with MRP the principal argument that is proposed time and again is that now using S4 HANA businesses can run MRP daily (they should have said instantly) and thus businesses get immediate, real time data that leads to better business decisions and a more profitable business. Well…. that makes sense, doesn’t it? On the surface, yes but dig a little deeper and it is my experience that many customers already run MRP daily and many that don’t have done this as a conscious decision due far more to either business capability restraints or a lack of need and not due to technological impediments. Exceptions do of course exist but suggesting that this is a de facto benefit of S4 HANA is a massive over simplification and a message that undermines the credibility of what is powerful and transformational technology.

To my mind the same over simplification of claim applies to the assertions made about the UI (User Interface). SAP have committed that all ERP transactions will be FIORI(tised?) meaning that the myriad of anecdotal complaints we have all heard (and possibly made) about the horrendous UX should be a thing of the past.  However although whilst undoubtedly being hit with the ugly stick  the traditional UI is eminently functional and does allow rapid data entry; something that is important to me if my job involves the creation of hundreds of Sales Orders, WBS elements or Purchase Orders. We may all want an Aston Martin but you can guarantee that after a couple of days of tying to cram 3 children and a dog in the back, you come to realise that the old people-carrier had its good points after all.To conclude – I hope that I do not come across as negative because I am not. I can see real benefits in S4 HANA the same way as I can see benefits of hovercrafts. I remain convinced however that to persuade most businesses that S4 HANA is worth transitioning to in the near future (and not just via the inevitable forced march that accompanied the demise of R2 and R3) SAP needs to concentrate on better understanding and defining the real issues faced by real businesses today and not just relying on the trite, oversimplified (SIMPLE!) and often questionable examples that are constantly wheeled out in every TechEd, Sapphire and now FKOM. I for one genuinely hope that SAP address this, as I for one would be more than happy to pilot a hovercraft in the years to come.

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11 Comments

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  1. Robin van het Hof

    Nice blog, and +1 for the ubiquitos Star Wars references

    I don’t necessarily agree on the UI part; only a handful of extreme powerful dark lords might need a full-options, king-size Death Star, but for ordinary Jedi, the convenience and quick deployment of a mobile lightsaber is all they ever need

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    1. Matthew Riches Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to make these comments mate! Having spent my life doing core (dull) SAP I see that the back bone of most SAP systems is the people who spent hours bashing data into transactions. I agree that FIORI etc is great for occasional user and for simple processes (such as goods-in etc) but I’ve not seen any difficult transactions that have been given a make over. Its certainly possible and if done correctly absolutely beneficial but at the moment it feels like this will be an afterthought and not something that is currently part of S4 HANA.

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      1. Robin van het Hof

        IMO, SAP will have to Fiorificate (most of) the transactional screens too.

        Let me put it differently: Let’s imagine you are a millennial, and as such you’ve been used to using all these simple to use (web-)applications from the past 5 years

        No, you just got graduated from universtity, applied for a job at an enticing enterprise, and today is your first day at the job. Hurray!

        After the introduction to your new colleagues by that nice lady from HR, you team up with your supervisor and he opens up SAPGUI to show you how to create a purchase order…

        Your first thought will be, “is this really the business software I will have to use for the next 5 years?!”, and by lunch you will already write your resignation letter.

        Moral of the story: The simplification should be top to bottom, front to back. I don’t think this will be an afterthought to SAP 😉

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        1. Matthew Riches Post author

          Sorry for the slow reply! I agree with your points about new starters but the problem as far as I see it is that not everyone is a millennial (falcon!) and currently their are thousands and thousands of people in organisations all around the globe that have used sap for years and have become very proficient at it.The idea that FIORI is not going to cause a huge change management issue to many companies is not one I can agree with. Change always causes issues and I’m not convinced that the benefits of S4 HANA (which is nebulous at best) is anywhere near compelling enough to persuade many business to make the switch (yet!)

          I am however very grateful that we are having this conversation and I think that if SAP engaged in more conversations like this the prospect of S4 HANA would be more rounded, complete and honest! Keep it coming Hombre!

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  2. Raghavendra Nookala

    I would like to throw in another perspective. When I read this blog it compares and contrasts S4 HANA with the mother ship SAP suite of products. It is very unlikely that the customers using the ECC suite to jump to suite on HANA right away. The product will have to prove it’s merits before adaptation from existing customers.

    However there is a vast majority of the people especially small businesses that use a Hodge-podge of systems because of the cost and the need to implement a large suite of products to get their entire functionality. For ex: A company engaged in Sales and Service will have to pay for a number of modules whether they will use it or not. With S4 HANA they get an opportunity to pick and choose the functionality and an opportunity to scale up as the company grows. Simplification makes the product usable to smaller companies that were not on SAP’s radar earlier. This is a huge untapped potential.

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    1. Matthew Riches Post author

      Thanks for your reply! I’ve never thought of that but to be honest I’m not sure if they would be able to split all the existing modules into independent self contained products. If that is a feature of S4 HANA however then its a feature I missed – BUT I could well be wrong and if you are right then as you say it could open SAP up to non SAP businesses. Based on my experience however I do not see SAP replacing SAP Business one (or whatever it is called now!) with S4 HANA – but again it will be interesting to see what happens. I do see HCP (HANA Cloud Platform) opening up the power of HANA to none SAP businesses but I see this as being in the ‘Innovation’ space and not really in the ‘System of Record’ space.

      You make an interesting point and I really appreciate you taking the time to make it! If you have an article or information relating to this would you mind sharing? Many thanks!

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  3. Stefan Schaffer

    Hi Mathew,

    thanks a lot for your blog. I would like to add a few remarks on your examples.

    You are right, a faster MRP may not bring huge benefits to many companies. Essentially, expediting MRP means doing the same thing faster which often is nice, but not more. A technology like HANA should not only (primarily) be used to expedite the things we do today. Instead, it opens up possibilities to do things differently: Smarter (e.g. through predictive technologies), taking into account more information (why not including planned promotions into MRP?) and based on simulation. Many of these scenarios are still out there to be defined, but they will come.

    And when it comes to the UI, there are two facts we need to consider: First, many user interfaces of good old SAP ERP are outdated and confusing. Second. power users have learned to live with them. Re-inventing them using HANA and Fiori must not mean making them prettier only. And it also must not mean focusing them on occasional users only. It is imperative to also build better (and prettier) UIs for power users. Centered around search rather than IDs and with much more intelligence built in. This is absolutely possible. It just needs to be done – and done right.

    I am excited about Suite on HANA or S4 HANA, because I see for the first time in 20 years that SAP has all the pieces together to make tremendous progress in how people use their systems and I am more than confident that SAP will use this opportunity.

    Best

    Stefan

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    1. Matthew Riches Post author

      Thanks for the comments and I completely agree about the UI comments that both you and Robin (above) make.Undoubtedly the UI can be better, as long as the focus is there, and I agree that at some point in the future it will be. I just don’t believe that this is going to happen in the near future. When it does and businesses have the chance to see it and feel it then it will be one reason to move to S4 HANA, however while it remains unproven (for me at least) it is a reason not to…

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  4. Michael Spiess

    S4 rocks!

    After R/3 now comes S/4 HANA. This will be a great product! .Performant, IoT, you can make everything with great Fiori UI and In Memory database together with all cloud partners in the world. Great to work with SAP.

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  5. Clinton Jones

    Most interesting is the fact that S4 is being touted as available to buy today!

    I know there were efforts underfoot to create Smart Finance which involved something better than BSEG and BKPF and I haven’t seen it in action but the promise was conceptually good – continuous accounting – yay! Fiori was going to be the presentation layer and it was assumed you were using proper interfaces for all the external data you were going to need to force feed the system with.

    From the traction that has been sought and found in interest in Fiori then it is easy for me to guess (cynically) that perhaps S4 is nothing more than R/3 inside with a HANA undercarriage and chassis to replace Oracle (this has been possible for some time) and a bunch of shiny new Fiori UX apps?

    If you’re still stuck on legacy tasks you’re likely going to continue to use dynpros and perhaps webdynpros, I haven’t seen Fiori apps available for all modules. Since you’re likely using the NWBC this will be pitched as the unified user experience to new customers and part of the transition plan for existing customers…

    am i wrong?

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