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Tips on how to get a Hana implementation off the ground

The confusion around SAP’s in-memory database is holding many customers back. We look at some of the approaches being taken to simplify implementation

When SAP introduced its Run Simple campaign in 2014, the company hoped to transform its long-held reputation for complexity and being difficult to work with.

At the heart of this new focus was Hana, the in-memory column database first introduced in 2010. The prime advantages of Hana over traditional relational databases are its blisteringly fast query speeds and the ability to do real-time analytics and reporting.

But subsequent years have seen a confusing raft of Hana-based products and systems that have left many customers scratching their heads as to the best way forward.

Among other things, there is the Hana Cloud Platform, the Hana Business One Cloud, and a plethora of SAP components such as CRM and Business Warehouse on Hana.

Then, of course, there is the company’s core enterprise resource planning (ERP) system Business Suite for Hana and its fully featured successor, S/4 Hana.

The company also offers a range of other products and services under the Hana brand, including apps and accelerators.

Insufficient clarity

But a recent survey by the SAP UK and Ireland User Group found that 70% of users believe SAP has failed to communicate the migration path to SAP S/4 Hana with sufficient clarity.

Julian Bond, head of ICT at Hillarys, a supplier of made-to-measure blinds and a long-time SAP customer, says: “SAP thinks it is a master of marketing, but while it is good in some senses, its customer base hasn’t got the foggiest idea what’s going on and the truth is, it has caused all the confusion itself.”

Hillarys completed its upgrade to what it thought was S/4 Hana in an impressive six months, going live in February 2016. But Bond says: “We have moved to SAP Business Suite on Hana, which was what S/4 Hana originally meant. But now SAP has moved the goalposts and released a later version that it says is actually S/4 Hana.”

As a result, Hillarys has not yet been able to take advantage of all the advanced functionality, such as the much-touted Fiori app portal that presents users only with the apps and functionality that they actually use, rather than forcing them to navigate a complex list of stuff they don’t need.

Challenges of Hana

The problem for SAP customers is that deciding whether and how to move to S/4 Hana is by no means easy. Sebastian Grady, president of independent support specialist Rimini Street, which supports software from SAP, Oracle and a number of other suppliers, says: “This is not as simple as flicking a switch – it can be a very costly re-implementation, rather than a simple upgrade. SAP’s current flagship product set, built over 40 years ago, has 400 million lines of code. Customers have millions invested in extensive customisations that may have to be rewritten in a move to S/4 Hana.

“Frankly, I don’t know how organisations can make a sensible calculation about the cost or return on investment because they do not have all of the information they need. And why would a customer take on the risk of an unproven system that is likely to be in development for many years?”

Others, though, believe the ongoing digital transformation of business makes the eventual move to S/4 Hana inevitable for most SAP stalwarts. Robin Webster, director of technology at Centiq, which provides managed services for SAP Hana, says: “SAP is very keen to get people onto the platform. It’s a bit early in the cycle for most organisations – next year should be interesting – but it is going to happen.

“There was always going to be a need to redesign how SAP works under the covers to take advantage of the full capabilities of Hana. SAP talks a lot about simplification, but that simplification is dependent on S/4. For most customers, it’s just a question of when to move – and that will be when the business functionality in S/4 is so far advanced that businesses decide they can’t do without these new tools.”

Hillarys’ Bond says it is critical to plan any move early. “When we made our switch, it was a big architectural change,” he says. “We used to run HP-UX, but for Hana, we needed Linux, so we moved to SuSe. That involved retraining all our in-house staff. We even migrated some of our non-SAP systems across to give us a bit of experience running production systems in that environment. Hana also assumes you will be working in a virtualised world, so we had to get up to speed with that virtualisation layer.”

Picking the right partner for the move is also vital. “We used Panaya,” says Bond, “whose tools were able to analyse all our custom code to ascertain how much would need to be rewritten, which sped up implementation considerably.”

Hana also requires a different approach to traditional relational databases, says Bond. “When you move to a column/in-memory database, you need to retrain. Rules that had served me well for 30 years are no longer appropriate. For example, Hana archiving is very different. As the database is already compressed in memory, archiving doesn’t make it smaller and can actually make it bigger,” he says.

Lewis Marston, CEO at SAP supply chain and digital transformation specialist Rocket Consulting, recommends that organisations take a holistic view of their application landscape and roadmap so that a strategic decision can be made with alignment to the SAP application roadmap. “A clearly defined data strategy is a must before moving to S/4 Hana,” he says. “Data without value will, even with the high storage compression that is available in Hana, drive up infrastructure costs significantly.”

Look at the roadmap

Marston also urges companies to consider their organisation’s cloud strategy or constraints. This requires a strategic look at SAP’s roadmap to the cloud for some line-of-business systems to avoid capability gaps.

Because any implementation is unlikely to be a like-for-like replacement, Marston says businesses should consider how the new and old systems can co-exist for an initial period until S/4 Hana is fully functional.

Centiq’s Webster stresses the importance of business readiness. “Ensure the functional area of the business you want to implement in is ready for S/4,” he says.

“For example, the HR [human resources] engine that many SAP customers know and love is not supported in S/4 because SAP assumes that you will use its SaaS [software as a service] offering, SuccessFactors. And some areas probably just don’t have the agile capability you need for S/4 Hana.”

Security and patching

Finally, businesses should pay particular attention to security and patching, given the newness of Hana. Alex Ayers, co-founder and consulting director at risk management consultancy Turnkey Consulting, urges businesses to keep on top of security.

S/4 Hana is relatively new technology and important updates are provided through SAP Notes and each new release,” he says. “Regular patching will be required as the product matures, and organisations’ change management processes should be ready to support this.” 

Ayers says security of the system should be given as much attention as roles and users. “Vulnerabilities are being reported frequently and organisations must have the ability to assess the risks and apply timely fixes or mitigations,” he adds.

Hillarys head of IT on the benefits of Business Suite for Hana

Julian Bond, head of ICT at Hillarys, has found that Hana gives the blinds maker a definite speed boost.

“Are we seeing the promised 50% speed improvement across the piece?” he says. “No, but you certainly see benefits in terms of anything query-related or data-intensive. We use SAP’s on-premise CRM [customer relationship management] product, which has always been known for running like a dog. But when we stuck Hana underneath it, for once the expletives were of joy, not of derision.

“Before, if you had a short call with a customer, the call would probably be over before their details appeared on screen. So people developed stalling tactics to keep customers on the line longer, and subsidiary processes using Outlook or notes on the screen. Since implementing Hana, customer information is available instantly, call times have dropped and customer satisfaction has risen.”

Similarly, using Hana with SAP’s Business Warehouse  speeds things up significantly. Hillarys has managed to cut overnight processing times by 60%, although Bond has not attempted to replicate what some larger SAP customers have done and spend lots of money putting in accelerators to allow for real-time processing.

“I don’t want real-time P&L, for example – I want everyone in the business looking at the same numbers,” he says.

And in terms of the core ERP suite, Bond notes that running the monthly accounts to send to the Office for National Statistics used to take 20 minutes, but it now takes under a minute.

“And when it comes to material requirements planning, where we used only to be able to do it once a week, we can now run it daily because it’s so much quicker, which allows us to deliver wider benefits for the business,” he says.

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