The first Version of SAP S/4HANA 1511 will no longer be supported in the year 2021. SAP S/4HANA 1511 mainstream maintenance expired on 31st December of 2020. Customers who are still running SAP S/4HANA 1511 are strongly advised to start planning the upgrade now.
SAP S/4HANA upgrade is an opportunity to take advantage of the latest functionalities. As far as my experience goes on upgradation Projects, the upgrade is a very smooth process. Technical upgrades to the latest releases takes less time than the upgrade with functionalities. In my experience technical upgrades take almost 12-16 weeks.
The first version of SAP S/4HANA 1511 was introduced to the market in November 2015 and maintenance for this version ended on 31st December 2020. The maintenance for SAP S/4HANA 1610 will end on 31st December 2021. Similarly, successive releases will reach the end of the standard 5 years maintenance period during successive years. Many SAP S/4HANA 1511 customers already moved to the latest release and customers of other version are making the move to upgrade their SAP S/4HANA to get the latest capabilities. In my experience, upgrade projects will become a normal part of keeping up with the pace of innovation. I feel it is part of the continuous improvement process of their SAP Business Suite system.
Why upgrade an SAP S/4HANA System?
There may be several reasons, one being the SAP S/4HANA maintenance schedule. Another reason may be to replace Compatibility Packs functionality with SAP S/4HANA capabilities. There may be a need to upgrade for a Business or IT point of view. Or we may like to get the latest functionalities that are available in the latest releases – such as Group Reporting or Accrual Engine. The reason for the upgrade determines the upgrade type – technical or functional.
If the upgrade is just technical, consultants do the mandatory changes during their simplification item checks and complete the project. At a later time, you may prefer to improve your functionalities.
If the upgrade is aimed at also getting new capabilities, then it will be a Functional Upgrade. This includes a Technical Upgrade, with added scope to take advantage of new business functionality immediately after upgradation.
If SAP Provided an alternative solution for any Compatibility Packs currently in use on your SAP S/4HANA system, then you may also need to do an upgrade to adopt them.
Customers choose S/4HANA Functional Upgrade to get new capabilities, new business requirements or to improve their end user experience with the latest SAP S/4HANA Fiori apps. Often it may be a business need to upgrade for new requirements e.g. digital transformation or automation or a need for mobile applications, etc. This Functional upgrade enhances value for the business and also multiplies ROI. During this Functional upgrade., consultants work on different capabilities by designing or re-designing business processes in New SAP S/4HANA. This takes more time than a technical upgradation. This helps customers to get the benefits from new innovations such as predictive analytics, AI, machine learning and robotic process automation.
Generally, If your SAP S/4HANA system is under mainstream maintenance, it will have direct upgrade path to latest version of SAP S/4HANA. Sometimes, an upgrade may take more than one step if customer skips targeted point and delay in performing the upgrade. It not only involves additional cost and sometimes it is painful too.
SAP Innovation and Optimisation Pathfinder before upgrade
To consume new capabilities, SAP Customers can apply for SAP Innovation and Optimization Pathfinder report, which provides tailor-made recommendations on areas of relevant SAP innovations, business process improvements and IT optimisation potentials for your SAP S/4HANA system.
What Do Customers Get From This?
• what are the most relevant innovations in the latest SAP S/4HANA release?
• Where are potential areas for IT optimisation?
• How to optimise business or IT processes?
The SAP S/4HANA What’s New Viewer
Another source for new capabilities is, “The SAP S/4HANA What’s New Viewer”. This helps to explore the new capabilities in the latest release of SAP S/4HANA.
The latest SAP S/4HANA has some embedded functionalities. For example the embedded SAP Transportation Management, embedded Extended Warehouse Management, SAP S/4HANA Service, embedded PPDS. An SAP S/4HANA upgrade is the way to adopt them to benefit out of these new embedded products.
An SAP S/4HANA upgrade brings performance improvements, new functionalities, new apps, new design etc. The latest SAP S/4HANA may bring more Fiori apps with new features e.g. “export to spreadsheet” added to many SAP Fiori elements apps, touch-enabled user interfaces for Web Dynpro ABAP applications and SAP GUI for HTML transactions in the latest version of SAP S/4HANA.
Technical Factors for S/4HANA Upgrade
To stay up-to-date with the latest corrections and security patches that are delivered with new releases, new Feature Package Stacks (FPS), and Support Package Stacks (SPS), SAP S/4HANA upgrade is the driving factor for an IT department. IT departments prefer upgrades to ensures the security of the system. They may prefer technical upgrades as a minimum from time to time – even if the business may not have a business reason for a functional upgradation. The technical upgrades indirectly help to improve the functionalities and business processes and get them ready for improvement projects.
Functional Upgrade or Technical Upgrade?
When you plan for an SAP S/4HANA upgrade you may question if the intended upgrade is functional or technical for effort estimation. This will be always based on your upgrade drivers.
So what are the key considerations for choosing a Technical or Functional upgrade?
1. Business functionalities needed after upgrade
2. In source system does not have many SAP Fiori apps, in the target system, if customers want to use more Fiori apps in latest version of SAP S/4HANA
3. If SAP Leonardo or any other new intelligent technologies are in scope
Minimum mandatory simplification item changes will be done for technical upgrades. Usually adding new features will be deferred to a later time.
Key Consideration for Technical Vs Functional Upgrade
1. If there is any hard deadline for go-live with the new version of SAP S/4HANA, then surely it prevents a functional upgrade project – as functional upgrade projects run longer based on scope items of the upgrade project.
2. If business requirements are not finalised, they usually prefer to run technical upgrades. For example, business may be in the processes of finalising to use SAP S/4HANA Group Reporting or existing consolidation functionalities.
3. If the business is not ready to cope with the timelines e.g. as it is year end, then a technical upgrade is the only option to keep up maintenance.
4. Specific users want to finalise some of their business requirements, then technical upgrades may be the option.
5. If there are any budget concerns and restrictions then a technical upgrade is the only solution.
6. You did not get an opportunity to implement SAP Fiori in SAP S/4HANA 1511 or 1610 release. Now business wants to include SAP Fiori as scope item along with the technical upgrade, then it leads to functional upgrade.
7. Functional upgrade is needed to consume SAP S/4HANA Innovations, embedded Analytics, Central procurement or Demand driven MRP, etc.
8. Screen personas can be included as part of SAP S/4HANA Technical Upgrade. This provides non-coding options to improve classic user interfaces, such as SAP GUI and Web Dynpro ABAP applications.
Key Assumptions in the Plan:
The SAP S/4HANA upgrade project usually starts with Sandbox upgrade, then after upgrade testing and we start DEV-QAS & PRD upgrades. This Sandbox system should be a dedicated stand-alone system and refreshed with PRD before we start the upgrade. Preferably after period end activities on any period end. For technical upgrades only mandatory functional and technical simplification items are to be fixed. If there are any deprecated or deleted apps, latest apps are to be installed. The custom code that is in use will be verified and optimised during upgrade.
Almost all the same Upgrade steps will be repeated for subsequent iterations on each system. When you reach the Development environment upgrade, you may consider switching to the latest release/Support Package of the SUM software. The plan should be improved throughout each upgrade exercise until we reach the PRD upgrade.
The sequence of upgrade is first we upgrade SAP HANA database to the relevant release then we upgrade SAP S/4HANA. This question raises when upgrading from 1511 to 2020 or 1610 to 2020.
In embedded mode, the SAP Fiori Frontend server and SAP S/4HANA server are different components of the same server. This reduces the technical upgrade of the servers somewhat, however all other considerations are largely similar regardless of whether embedded or standalone (hub) mode is used. While additional components are needed – such as SAP Web Dispatcher for load-balancing and to avoid cross-site scripting – upgrading these is typically unlikely to add significant effort in a technical upgrade project.
SAP Fiori Frontend Server
When upgrading to the latest version of SAP S/4HANA, migrating from Central hub Fiori to embedded Fiori should be considered as an option. It is a recommended deployment option for SAP S/4HANA since December 2017. It reduces server costs and simplifies the configuration that is necessary for SAP Fiori. However, both deployment embedded and central Hub are supported, but embedded is the recommended option.
Your Own Custom Coded Fiori Apps
There may be some additional checks needs to be performed during upgrade if you have any custom Fiori apps.
Downtime for Upgrade
There is a comprehensive list of measures that can be taken to reduce the technical downtime of the system during the S/4HANA upgrade in SAP Note 2351294 – S/4HANA System Conversion / Upgrade: Measures to reduce technical downtime.
When performing first iteration on Sandbox upgrade, upgrade architects will find out the downtime and evaluate if it will fit into the business downtime window that is planned in the initial stages of upgrade.
We can also verify SUM logs for downtime optimisation. The upgrade evaluation file is important. At the end of each SUM run, the upgrade statistics can be uploaded to SAP. The data is used to optimise the runtimes of updates and upgrades.
Silent Data Migration
In order to reduce the duration of the downtime, a new data conversion technology known as Silent Data Migration (SDMI) has been introduced for target releases SAP S/4HANA 1909 or higher.
SDMI allows migrating application data during uptime. During this time we can use the system without impacting the business processes. This approach requires the upgrade to follow release sequence step by step. But no jump upgrade is allowed.
Whether we do a Functional Upgrade or Technical Upgrade customers want improvements and business value from their upgraded SAP S/4HANA. Customers can start consuming new functionalities as the system is ready for consuming capabilities even after a technical upgrade.
For example: Customers can add apps for their users, can introduce some new intelligent technologies like ML, AI etc
What are the Risks if we do not Upgrade?
Once SAP S/4HANA release reaches the end of its maintenance date, SAP will provide extended maintenance for an additional fee. After the supplementary maintenance agreement has expired, the release automatically enters customer-specific maintenance, where additional maintenance fees must be paid and there is a restricted scope of services. You can refer to SAP’s Product Availability Matrix and SAP Release Strategy for expiry dates of a release.
Furthermore you will not be able to access the below unless you upgrade:
• Latest SAP Fiori apps
• Latest SAP Fiori launchpad features
• Latest intelligent technologies scenarios
• Newly designed business processes
• New business models
About the Author:
Dr. Ravi Surya Subrahmanyam is a technical and Financials writer with a background in SAP Financial Accounting, Funds Management, Group Reporting, Financial Supply Chain Management, Cash Management & in-house cash, SAP S/4 HANA Finance. He has been working as a Director for the SAP Practice for The Hackett group India Ltd, (Answerthink Company). He completed his Masters degree in Finance from Central University, Master of Commerce from Osmania University, Master of Commerce from Andhra University, and Ph.D.in Finance from one of the best universities in India. His research Papers have been published in National and International magazines. He has been a Visiting Instructor for SAP India Education and SAP Indonesia – Education. He has been working on Conversion and Upgradation projects. He is a Certified Solution Architect for SAP S/4 HANA and an SAP S/4 HANA Certified Professional. He can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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