There’s an awful lot of talk about cloud computing and the migration strategies, tactics and operational nuances required to evolve our pre-existing IT stacks and wider data estates to the new world of cloud.
Pick any consultant, specialist cloud advocate or platform evangelist you like and they’ll all typically come forward with a ‘usual suspect’ selection pack of suggestions, recommendations and best practice guidelines to make the process as seamless, as fault-free and as ultimately robust and successful as possible.
“Don’t rip-and-replace and don’t just lift-and-shift for the hell of migration… instead, analyse the workloads, mission-critical role and application dependencies (in the code sense – and in the business services sense) associated with every element of the organisation’s current architecture and then plan a journey to the cloud based upon logical systematic steps that form an aggregated ascent to a higher plane of IT flexibility, power and efficiency,” said, just about every cloud migration specialist that has walked the earth since the turn of the millennium.
Granular details: financial & operations
What we really need is for the industry to tell us more about how to handle migration mechanics, how to execute them comprehensively and what kinds of measure we should use to gauge our progress.
Innovation and technology manager at SAP consultancy Absoft Robert MacDonald thinks he has seen enough of the real world guts, grease and granular gearing that goes on inside an SAP cloud migration to offer us some hard-line advice.
He argues that businesses can no longer afford to put off a cloud-migration strategy (SAP or otherwise) and says that for businesses, an ‘immediate’ migration to the cloud can quickly deliver tangible benefits, while also preparing for future digital transformation.
However he warns, ensuring the right mix of technical and functional SAP skills as well as cloud expertise is absolutely vital to both immediate success and strategic direction.
MacDonald alludes to the post-pandemic prioritising that many firms will now be trying to work out and says that this year has thrown up an extraordinary array of operational challenges for most companies – exciting opportunities for some and disheartening realities for others. Either way, for the vast majority, technology and operational plans in 2022 look very different to the strategic direction outlined pre-2020.
An SAP change imperative
He points to the matter of SAP ECC going out-of-support in the next 5+ years and asks whether organisations know how to mitigate technology issues (retiring legacy equipment and so on) but also drive tangible value on the migration road to SAP S/4HANA.
“For the vast majority of companies, the focus has been on maintaining the status quo over the past two years. Technology change and investment have been minimal – aside from enabling home working where both possible and necessary,” said MacDonald. “In the meantime, however, the SAP ECC on-premises technology model has not only become more high risk post-pandemic, with a restriction on business agility and an operational constraint; exposure to downtime; and less financially compelling.”
With the migration to SAP S/4HANA somewhere on the agenda over the next few years, companies know change is required – according to the annual UK and Ireland SAP User Group (UKISUG) member survey, 74% of its affiliating organisations are either using S/4HANA or planning to do so.
S/4HANA is a big migration and many organisations will struggle to find the budget required, so what are the options?
MacDonald says it’s all about achieving the right balance of technical expertise and strategic advice.
“The priority is to move existing, on-premises ECC solutions into the cloud – a process that can be achieved in a matter of months, with minimal disruption. Taking this approach provides immediate access to an array of benefits – most notably access to cloud-based solutions that can immediately address these pressing operational problems,” he said.
For his money, MacDonald thinks that cloud-based reporting can be a revelation for many businesses, especially those still wrestling with time-consuming, month-end reporting and Excel spreadsheets.
“Fast, mobile access to in-depth reporting and analysis will transform decision making. Easy to deploy apps can ensure new business partners – such as transport companies filling the gaps created by the driver shortage – can link directly with the core system, seamlessly updating key information, such as deliveries,” notes the Absoft innovation guru.
Technical, functional & strategic
But how does this help us when we all know there is a well-publicised SAP skills shortage? In fact, that’s not even the biggest issue at hand, says MacDonald. Why?
Because SAP technical skills are just one facet of a successful cloud migration. It also demands functional knowledge, expertise in hyperscale cloud providers – specifically Microsoft Azure, with its pledge to SAP customers – and trusted, strategic insight.
According to MacDonald, any decent SAP engineer can copy an on-premises system into the cloud – but that is just part of successful cloud migration. Issues with network connectivity, speed and latency are also easily solved. Rather, it is the functional side of the process that is key, such as ensuring interfaces – including vital Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) links – are working effectively from day one.
In addition, a truly valuable migration is one that encompasses rationalisation, especially for those organisations that have an extensive SAP deployment, including Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) and SAP Business Warehouse, running across multiple servers.
With the right technical, functional and Azure expertise, MacDonald suggests that an MSP can quickly explore rationalisation options.
“SAP’s legacy procurement solution SRM has the most moving parts of most implementations today and is the most complex and expensive component to move to the cloud. By reviewing the functionality rather than considering only a technical migration, procurement capabilities can be provided by the standard ERP system or by a new cloud solution like Ariba. The cloud migration is expedited and the risk and complexity is actually reduced by implementing a superior solution for procurement in the same project. It’s simply not possible to deliver that kind of business value from taking a technology-first view of cloud migration,” surmised MacDonald.
The cloud offers extraordinary flexibility, so we all need to learn how to use it.
This means the time for generic advice has run its course. Now is the time for the industry to deliver specific and granular migration mechanics, comprehensive execution support and in-depth measures for real-world progress.