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SAP’s suite of business applications provide the backbone of most large organizations today. In order to keep in track with changing business needs, SAP regularly releases upgrades to its ERP components to help customers to cope with latest business capabilities and be more productive.

Hence, it is recommended to SAP customers to keep on upgrading their SAP system at a regular interval in order to keep up with the latest business trends. But, at the same time, a small mistake in the implementation process of the support packs/enhancement packages can erode the value of these upgrades and cause critical and unrepairable damage to the company’s business, which in turn, may destruct the customer good will.

Here are some common mistakes companies make while implementing SAP upgrades :

1. Taking help from industry specific consultants

It is a general tendency of companies to assign the upgrade project to a partner who had already handled its last project. But , in order to perform a successful upgrade, capabilities and experiences of vendors are to be assessed by letting them walk you through their upgrade methodologies. Not all industries would be facing the same challenges. So, its better to assign the vendor who has past experience on the industry and upgrade version.

2. Handling one upgrade at a time

Critical technical upgrades and Functional upgrades should not be handled simultaneously. Technical upgrades do take much less time, cost and effort than functional ones, the later requiring greater changes to user interfaces and business workflows, which involve rigorous testing and validating the regular as well as new (if any) business processes.

Technical upgrades are generally triggered by technical requirements, such as, SAP’s decision to withdraw support or a specific package or a change in the hardware which is running the application.

Companies conducting technical upgrades should look for ways to perform selected functional upgrades that will improve business processes without the cost and complexity of a full functional upgrade. It is required to ensure that a technical upgrade provides business benefits by exploring easy functionalities like a new built in report, or a checkbox to activate workflow. Major functional upgrades need to be handled separately with proper planning on training, documenting and implementing the changes. it is not advisable to impose a big amount of change to both end users and IT department simultaneously increases the risk of failure and organizational resistance.

3. Robust Test Management System

Many organizations fail to ensure that their test environments match their production environment. As a result, custom objects may not work properly when deployed.

The most horrible time to identify a problem with your upgrade is after it has moved to production. A quick fix would never work, and this situation may cause a great deal of damage to user productivity, revenue flow and credibility. Hence, a complete test environment should be ensured which mirrors completely the production environment, that is separate from the development and quality servers. Proper testing and user feedback should be incorporated. The bugs, if any, identified by user, should be taken care of and resolved . Testing should be complete and consistent, all the way from the business requirement document to pre-deployment testing.

4. Handling Change Management

Users mostly face difficulty in coping up with upgrades. Failure to help them cope and can result in the entire upgrade to fail. The time to address Change Management is before the upgrade process begins.

An internal Change Management and training team should be created backed by a reasonable budget and support. The change managment sessions should be started as early as possible so that users can provide feedback on the changing business processes or reporting structures. During the training phase, users should embrace their new roles and be converant on the additional functionalities of the SAP system as well as new/enhanced business processes.

5. Proper Skill Assessment and Infrastructure Planning

It should not be assumed that employees skilled in ERP 4.x are capable of performing upgrades to ERP 6.0. Necessary investments need to be done in order to assess the current skills available and supplement skills that are lacking within the organization.

Also, according to SAP, almost 60% of their customers need to change their hardware configuration in order to upgrade from ERP 4.x to ERP 6.0. This may include resizing of the application server, making network adjustments in order to maintain system performance of the new version, upgrading/migrating OS and databases, converting to Unicode or deploying new front-end components.

In order to assess skills, it is recommended that outside vendors should be approached for an “SAP skills matrix” in order to evaluate or upgrade skill requirements. SAP’s talent management functionality with SAP ERM HCM (Human Capital Management) or SAP Solution Manager’s OCM (Organizational Change Management) toolkit can identify skill gaps.

For the Infrastructure Planning, it should not be assumed that SAP\s recommended system requirements are accurate.

Move to the 64-bit hardware SAP recommends, as the added scalability and power will provide a solid foundation for future enhancements. Running the NetWeaver Java stack would be optional, as ERP 6.0 ships with the older NetWeaver ABAP stack, which will be adequate for most users. Do install NetWeaver Java stack, however, to address more complex requirements.

While Unicode conversion are time and resource intensive, they are not terribly difficult. Moving to this new data exchange standard will be easier before upgrade than after, since the database in SAP ERP 6.0 50%-100% larger than the previous versions. However, Unicode conversions would take more time and effort if the customer has a very large database and uses MultiDisplay MultiProcessing (MDMP) functionality.

6. Remove unwanted Custom Code

Most companies routinely write their own custom code in order to create object or functions catering to their business needs. Its inevitable that some custome codes won’t work with the new version of SAP. Eliminating unwanted custom code can save a significant amount of time , effort and trouble. All custom codes and third party interfaces should be specially thoroughly tested in a testing sandbox system , or even better, with upgrade simulation software.

7. Install Support Packs regularly

Support Packs are SAP’s patches published containing correction and legal changes. Installing all proper support packs in your current version ensures that your system upgrade would install and run as expected.

The SAP system should not be upgraded to a later version until support packs are installed which contains corrections for errors and OSS notes for your 4.x environment. Ensure you are updated on all error fixes and you are running the latest version of Solution Manager support platform, if you make extensive use of it. Failure to do so can cause technical and training issues down the line.

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