Over the past years, many SAP customers have heavily extended and modified their SAP solutions. As a result, their core SAP solutions have accumulated a large share of custom code and a high number of modifications.

“We simply cannot use SAP innovations and new technologies out-of-the box.  It forces us to build more customized solutions on top of already customized solutions. It feels like a vicious circle.”

Does it sounds familiar? Keep on reading.

Even though the customers have been well aware of the problem, the attempts to resolve it fail more often than they succeeded. The reason behind it is twofold: first, there is little transparency on “how much modified” such a system is. Second, building a solid business case for a clean-up is rather difficult. The good news – there is a way out.

It all started not so long ago with a conversation we had with one of our customers:

“My system is 15 years old. You keep telling me it is highly customized, has thousands of modifications and hundreds of thousands custom code objects – we know that, thank you. We are spending lots of money on keeping the lights on; every enhancement pack takes huge effort. As you can imagine, green field is not an option. Neither can we afford a huge renovation project, which will last for years. Is there a better way? Can’t we just go business process by business process and fix it?”

That moment it became clear there was a need for a lean, repeatable, evidence-based method – plus a set of appropriate tools. We got to work. It would be wrong to say we have invented it all from scratch. Rather, it’s the combination of a few things about this approach that makes it work:

First, rather than following a bottom-up technical approach, the method puts the business process first. Second, instead of trying to revamp the solution as a whole, we focus on individual business processes such as Order-to-Cash or Procure-to-Pay, thereby maintaining a small, manageable scope for each mini-project. Third, we attack each business process from two angles: one is its “technical health” whilst the other is its efficiency, compliance and complexity reduction. Forth, we rely on tools to retrieve the “hard data” and to pinpoint the problems.

What is actually “SAP standard”?

Many de-customization initiatives declare as objective reducing the complexity and getting back to SAP standard. One thing that needs clarification here is the notion of “SAP Standard”. Arguably, there is no universally acknowledged definition for it. For our purpose, we define “SAP Standard” through the five principles below:

  • Standard process flow
  • Maximum usage of standard functionality offered by the solution
  • No modifications, no clones of SAP code
  • Custom code interfacing SAP through well-defined interfaces /  enhancement techniques
  • High quality custom code

Can your measure it?

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While the first two items remain a topic for subject matter expert’s judgment, the others can be measured quite precisely. To achieve that, we employ the B2S Dashboard, which is a tools developed on top of the SAP Solution Manager functionality.  It collects the data from a number of sources, breaks it down to individual business process steps (e.g. transactions or reports) and translates it to metrics such as

  • the type of customization,
  • the number of modifications and enhancements,
  • the number of clones (i.e. modified copies of SAP code),
  • code quality,
  • the number of system errors,
  • the relative share of custom code
  • the frequency of changes to code or customizing etc.

Equipped with this data, one can pinpoint the parts of the business process that drive both the complexity and the maintenance efforts.

What about the process?

In parallel, we look at what happens with this business process in reality. One quick way to get insights is SAP Business Process Analytics.To get a fist feeling, may want to have a look at the impressive collection of KPIs it offers.

The second tool we employ is SAP Process Mining by Celonis, which is a SAP partner application built on SAP HANA. By utilizing the system’s transactional data and the power of SAP HANA, it offers easy-to-use drill-down mechanisms hence enabling an explorative, dynamic analysis of irregularities and deviations in the process. Check out this or this videos to see the tool in action.

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Process Mining is commonly seen as a business process optimization technique. However, there is more to it: process mining also gives you an ability to challenge the process design and the associated solution’s complexity.  Let’s face the reality: your business is very unlikely to be willing to discuss any simplifications you may suggest to the process unless you come with hard data in hand.

Putting it all together

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These insights and evidences take the discussion to a completely new level:

From feelings & rumors… …to facts and decisions

“We have some complex hard-coded checks. The developers say the code is flaky and hard to maintain”

“Apparently, 4% of all SAP transports in our system are bug fixes to our hard-coded cheks. This gives us any reason to replace them. BRFplus seems to be a good fit.”

“The local organization says they absolutely need that extra order type and all the complex logic around it.”

“Now that you tell me we have less than 0.1% percent of the market’s revenue with this order type, I guess we ought to scrap it and do it the standard way.”

“This custom functionality is crucial for our business.“
“The figures you gave me imply that in over 60% of all cases the users ignore this functionality. We either should challenge how much it is needed  to think of a redesign in a more user-friendly way.”

See the difference?

By now, an alerted reader may have noticed that “back-to-standard” may not be an adequate moniker for this type of exercise. However, we decided to retain this catchy name for the time being. After all, it’s not the name that matters, it’s the results, right?

P.S. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all people from SAP who helped to make it happen, especially Alexander Kirov, Hannes Kerber, Manfred Rapp and Christian Freytag!

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