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Nick Coburn15-Mar-2022 16:23:346 min read

SAP S/4HANA Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide For Executives

The UK has been devastated by a mysterious phenomenon that reanimates corpses as flesh-eating zombies. After just a few weeks, millions of people have reanimated despite the government's best efforts and social order is collapsing.

As the Exec of a large SAP-using company, you’ve been holed up in your offices along with the rest of the C-suite, hoping to survive on instant coffee and vending machine snacks until the whole thing blows over.

For a while, you thought you’d be safe - but as you hear the glass doors smash in the reception area below you realise the time is now - the SAP zombie apocalypse is here. 

How will you survive?

SAP Apocalypse Threat 1 - Execs lack ‘real’ commitment

If Senior Leadership isn’t committed to the project, then the chances of success are dramatically reduced.

Lack of leadership buy-in is often the reason SAP enabled transformation programmes simply become SAP implementation projects. When leadership fails to see the benefit and fails to understand the importance of their role, the onus for success falls firmly with IT.

Without real commitment there is also the risk of creating a blame culture. The business needs to ready itself for a change in ways of working, procedures and policies. In the case of large scale transformation, this may mean process efficiency in some parts of the business actually regresses and as challenging as that is, it may be required for the greater good of the organisation.

If leadership support is fragmented and not absolute then the business can easily lose faith in the programme, particularly in the early days when go-lives are bumpy and cause business disruption.

SAP Zombie Survival Tip

First and foremost, senior leadership has to feel engaged and be clear on the rationale of the project and the benefits it will bring.

Senior Leaders must ‘feel’ a sense of accountability to ensure the project is successful. Where there are challenges, they must be publicly supportive of the project and save constructive criticism for appropriate forums.

They must also be clear on the role they and their team needs to play on the project. They must be engaged early and then on a regular basis so that they are well informed.  Where there are challenges, senior leadership should be briefed and communications aligned. Expectation management is key and there is little point hiding bad news as it finds a way of surfacing regardless.

SAP Apocalypse Threat 2 - Treating go live as the end rather than the beginning

When the business loses focus it becomes more susceptible to process divergence and inconsistency in ways of working. Process efficiency and standardisation begins after go-live. The hard work is on adoption and avoiding divergence.

If the business becomes critical of IT and support for the project diminishes, this can cause:

  • A blame culture.
  • Missed opportunities to deliver on benefits
  • A disbanding of the Super-user structure after hyper care (and a subsequent loss of knowledge).
  • The loss of business engagement. 

You must seize the opportunity to drive business optimisation otherwise your SAP programme is just another IT project.

SAP Zombie Survival Tip

Leading organisations have a laser like focus on business readiness and business adoption. Business adoption must be at the forefront of transformation. It’s far too common for programmes to focus on preparing for change and leave the business to their own devices once the system is live. Process efficiency and transformation doesn’t happen overnight.

Organisations need dedicated capabilities to help drive towards this once a new system is delivered. This may be in the form of Process Improvement or Business Optimisation teams who help drive adoption and deliver ongoing continuous improvement.

A Network of Excellence should be established to provide ongoing support to the business once the Super Users have returned to their day jobs. This type of structure should be organic and allowed to grow in the way which best suits the needs of the business.

SAP Apocalypse Threat 3 - Incorrect Business Case Assumptions & Baselines

Without a clearly defined and well understood business case, how do you know that your programme is successful?

Many organisations lose sight of the business case during the programme or fail to revisit and refresh it.

If the business doesn’t understand or buy-in to the business case then business adoption becomes increasingly more difficult. If the business can’t explain the benefit of your multi-million pound investment, then how are they going to adopt, adapt and transform?

SAP Zombie Survival Tip

Leading organisations have a clearly defined and well articulated business case, which is built upon the firm foundations of delivering tangible benefits to the business.

Senior stakeholders provide input to the business and become accountable for its success and the realisation of benefits and associated value.

A successful business case is underpinned by metrics which demonstrate process efficiency or highlight those areas which require improvement.

They are baselined for performance against each of the business case elements and regularly updated to show current performance and improvement vs. the baseline.

SAP Survival Threat 4 - Lack of vision / journey

If the business doesn’t know where the programme is going, why it’s needed and what it delivers, how can they get behind it and support it?

Without a clear purpose and vision, adoption becomes increasingly difficult which in turn leads to process divergence and lack of buy in. Transformation becomes increasingly difficult and the risk of the programme becoming just another IT project rises, and with it the chance of failing to deliver real business benefits.

SAP Zombie Survival Tip

A clearly articulated vision and direction of travel is of paramount importance to the success of the programme. This is more than just a business case and extends to the overall strategy of the business. Once live, leading organisations develop portfolio plans and roadmaps of projects, sponsored by process owners, which will help the vision of transformation to be realised.

The whole business needs to understand the direction of travel so they can get behind it, support and better understand the role they need to play to help realise the vision.

Make sure people understand how the investment in SAP supports the overall business vision and that the journey has been broken down into well thought-out phases that relate to specific SAP initiatives.

SAP Apocalypse Threat 5 - Treating SAP as an IT project and not a business initiative

Organisations that treat the project as a technology project get just that - a new system. Technology should be an enabler for transformation and business optimisation. Projects which are seen as technology projects often struggle to get business buy-in and adoption becomes a real challenge. The business feel they are just having it ‘done to them’ rather than being an integral part of the programme.

SAP Zombie Survival Tip

Transformation and business optimisation is enabled by underpinning technology. The programme should be driven and owned by the business with confident, robust sponsorship from senior executives.

In the case of an S/4HANA migration - this presents a once in a generation opportunity to revolutionise the way your business runs, reducing technical debt, and better aligning ERP to the business strategy.

To ensure this is achieved, it is vital that the project gets buy in from the top down that is led by senior executives and stakeholders, and that is also supported and understood by the people on the floor using SAP day in and day out who are the real beneficiaries of the new system.

Just because SAP have created the 2025 end of support deadline for ECC, that isn’t enough to build a business case for S/4HANA. Think about how S/4HANA can deliver real business benefits and build your business case around that. Give the business ownership of that business case and it will ensure the project doesn’t just become another IT upgrade.