The desire to have access to the latest and broadest SAP functionalities, to reduce system maintenance costs, to enhance system performance – these in connection with SAP AG’s decision to end maintenance for the oldest SAP versions are sufficiently convincing arguments in favor of a system upgrade. But how should one prepare for the project and who should one entrust with the system upgrade?

Step one: system vs. competences

When searching for an upgrade project partner, you must start by comparing the level of complexity of your system with the experience of potential partners. Modernisation projects designed for systems with a simple technological architecture and a limited number of system extensions are carried out in a completely different way than a variety of systems in different versions, developed throughout the years. Therefore, if your system has a more complex structure and incorporates numerous SAP solutions such as BW, XI, or SAP Portal, you should look for a partner who is experienced in the implementation and development of such solutions.

Your partner’s experience in working with highly complex system environments is also important for another reason. When executing upgrade projects we should remember not only about the technological aspects, but also about the system’s functional aspect. Upon the completion of a technical update, the system should run in the functional area, irrespective of whether a functional modernisation was carried out or not. Hence, the ability to organise complex module tests, integration tests and regression tests is vital. Therefore, inquiring about your partner’s ability to develop test scenarios or experience in implementing complex adaptations following system upgrades makes sense.

Functional SAP upgrade – what to consider?

When a company decides to carry out a functional SAP upgrade, it should require even more from its potential partner. The core element is theoretical and practical knowledge of the functionalities available in the new SAP release. The partner is obliged to conduct Delta Training, that is, a review of the new functionalities in terms of the client’s business needs and the validity of their deployment and their implementation.

We can learn more about the partners’ competences by examining their list of references containing the names of companies where implementation was carried out and the type of implementations completed. Additionally, the richer the partner’s portfolio in sector-specific systems, dedicated solutions or in-house SAP solutions, the greater the certainty that the partner will cope with a more complex project. Another measure of the partner’s level of competence is the number of typical programming jobs completed, the size of the development and Basis teams, and the number of SAP certificates awarded.

Step two: remember about consulting skills

In a new functional version, tailor-made extensions can be additionally replaced by standard options in the new SAP system version. This is important, especially when a company, through the upgrade, wants to optimize and standardize its system and business processes while reducing maintenance costs. When a company decides to execute not only a technical but also a functional modernisation, it should check whether the partner is capable of providing additional services, such as business process mapping, customization or standardization planning, or scheduling integration with other systems. Apart from having a thorough knowledge of the new SAP solutions, equally important are consulting skills, concerning, e.g. the reasons for implementing the new functions, the method of optimizing business processes or the selection of additional SAP solutions that will replace the previous system extensions.

Selecting an implementation partner exhibiting greater experience in the performance of SAP audits, business process analyses and pre- and post-implementation analyses is the right way to go.

Before making any final decision concerning the selection of a project partner it is advisable to check the soft skills offered by the service provider. Irrespective of the complexity of the SAP system, it’s best to choose an upgrade partner whose reference list confirms experience in the implementation of consulting projects requiring the performance of SAP system analyses.

Step three: check out the project manager

Regardless of the length of CVs and references of the project team assigned to the SAP upgrade project, they will prove worthless unless the role of the project manager is taken by a suitable person. How many projects for new versions has the potential project manager executed? Does he/she have a worked-out method for running upgrade projects, including threat estimation, risk analysis and risk mitigation? Does he/she tend to draw up contingency plans for the implementation? A good project manager will never allow the project implementation to be compromised by poorly conceived elements.

From the client’s point of view, preventing business downtime is an important part of the project. A good project manager will schedule the SAP upgrade in such a way that tasks requiring business downtime are initiated and completed outside the enterprise’s business hours, e.g. over the weekend. The ability to plan and organize team work is vital and can be easily verified by reviewing the manager’s experience, i.e. the number of projects managed, training courses completed and certificates held and knowledge of project management methodologies. Additionally, CVs containing information on upgrade projects will further ensure a successful implementation.

Update projects differ greatly from implementation projects in terms of their complexity, and are considered by many to be… relatively more difficult. That is why when selecting a partner for implementing an upgrade project, it’s not enough to check their list of references. Before making a decision, take a closer look at the list: What companies have put their trust in this partner? How long and in what areas have they been cooperating? Answers to these questions, set against your own needs concerning an SAP ERP upgrade, will allow you to make a sound decision; a decision that will translate into satisfying cooperation, faster project implementation and a great deal of benefits for your company.