SAP Upgrades: Dos and Don'ts from an ERP Guru

ERP consultant Jon Reed offers 49 dos and don'ts when it comes time for you to upgrade to SAP 6.0 -- and shares lessons learned from companies that have made the big switch.

According Jon Reed, ERP consultant, author and SAP analyst, there is no shortage of SAP ERP upgrade advice available to companies and IT departments today. One problem: "Most of this advice, as truthful as it is, has reached the point of cliche," Reed writes in a new report on SAP ERP upgrades.

"Yes, we know that upgrades need extensive testing. Yes, knowledge transfer is critical. Yes, an effective change management strategy must be implemented. Yes, the better the user documentation, the better the upgrade," Reed writes. "But there's a lot more to a successful upgrade than plugging away with some common sense principles and hoping for the best." (A free copy of the report is available; a short registration is required.)

Reed interviewed a bevy of industry analysts, project advisors, ERP upgrade consultants and SAP users who presented at trade show sessions (after upgrading) to determine what separated a successful SAP ERP upgrade from one that was anything but. (For more on this topic, see What Does a "Successful" ERP Implementation Actually Mean?)

Here are just a few of the dos and don'ts that Reed offers in the report, as well as a few lessons learned from SAP user companies that have made the transition.

Dos and Don'ts: Vendor Selection and Pre-Launch

Don't: Assume that your SAP experience means that the SAP upgrade process can be handled solely in-house.

Do: Treat the SAP upgrade as a whole new implementation. Re-evaluate technical needs, skills requirements, and the extent of system customization.

Don't: Upgrade just to avoid extended maintenance fees from SAP.

Do: Establish business drivers for the SAP upgrade, such as: instance and database consolidation (goal: cost savings) or improved CRM functionality (goal: top line growth).

Customer Lesson: Indesit, an international consumer appliances company, justified their SAP upgrade with the goal of increased visibility in their global supply chain to reduce the cost of raw materials and pursue new markets.

Dos and Don'ts: Technical Upgrade Considerations

Don't: Assume that your custom code and interfaces will work in ERP 6.0, even if they were built using established user exits. They will not.

Do: Test all used custom code and third-party interfaces in a sandbox environment or (better) with an upgrade simulation software that can save you a lot of time.

Bonus: Seize the opportunity to reduce redundant (or no-longer-relevant) custom objects during the upgrade process. You can even start cleaning your code well before the upgrade.

Customer Lesson: Agilent began their SAP upgrade with 14,000 customized objects. After the upgrade, they were able to reduce that number to 7,000.

Dos and Don'ts: Upgrade Skills and Training

Don't: Cross your fingers and hope that a bit of internal training will be sufficient for those IT staffers in lead roles for the upgrade.

Do: Bring in outstanding consultants in specialized areas that are integral to your SAP upgrade.

Customer Lesson: Kraft Foods supplemented their internal team with "All Stars" in key areas tied to the success of their upgrade, such as: Netweaver technical, Unicode conversion, new GL configuration, and BI upgrades.

Don't: Assign responsibility for change management and upgrade training to the IT department.

Do: Create an internal change management and training team, one that has a reasonable budget as well as executive involvement and buy-in.

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