Lessons from a Current SAP S/4HANA Implementation

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: July 19, 2018

There is no better way to learn from an implementation than from others who are currently learning from their own successes and mistakes. With this in mind, I recently spoke with a client to discuss their lessons from a current SAP S/4HANA implementation.

I recently wrote a blog about how to ensure a successful SAP S/4HANA implementation. This blog covers our perspective from working with dozens of clients that have implemented SAP in recent years. But learning from a specific client case study provides some unique lessons to augment more general lessons learned.

This particular organization is a $2B beverage manufacturing and distribution company on the west coast. They had been using JD Edwards and, in addition to S/4HANA, are deploying Ariba, SuccessFactors, and JDA.

Here are the key lessons from this client’s recent SAP S/4HANA implementation:

Understand the complexity of SAP S/4HANA

The person I spoke with was a very senior IT guy – and a very technically savvy one at that. Even someone as technically sophisticated as he commented on how complex S/4HANA is. As a consultant that learned an older version of SAP straight out of college early in his career, I can attest to that as well. This is especially true if you are also deploying SuccessFactors, Ariba, or other integrated systems.

It is important to recognize that SAP S/4HANA is more complex than most ERP systems – which can be a good thing – but that comes at a price. It is important to budget the time and effort required to fully define and test your integrated processes. SAP’s integration of business processes is a strength of the software, but it can also complicate and slow down your overall digital transformation.

Ensure knowledge transfer from your SAP system integrator

Many assume that they will learn from their SAP system integrator through osmosis. However, as this client is finding in the midst of his implementation, this just isn’t the case. His advice? Find ways other than “osmosis” to build internal SAP S/4HANA competencies.

Whether you are working with Deloitte, Capgemini, Accenture, or any other SAP system integrator, it is important that you take the time to learn the software. This will allow you and your project team to be more self-sufficient and to work more collaboratively in defining how the technology can improve your business.

Take ownership of and accountability for your SAP S/4HANA implementation

In addition to transferring knowledge from your SAP system integrator, it is also important to take control of your project. Regardless of your integrator’s competence, your internal team should own and direct the project. This is what the client did here. They used their SAP system integrator as a staff augmentation rather than to lead project. The company took ownership of the project plan and budget – not the system integrator.

This may be easier said than done. It’s difficult enough to find enough internal resources to support the project without building internal competencies. It’s also difficult to do when you don’t already have internal SAP competencies. But, the more successful you are in this arena, the more likely you will be to build for long-term success.

Understand the factors that will determine your SAP S/4HANA implementation time and cost

Most SAP S/4HANA implementations take more time and money than expected. This makes the estimation, implementation planning, and implementation readiness processes very important. Companies that have a good handle on these variables are much more likely to be successful. The client in this case was no exception.

Several factors are most likely to determine how much time and money your implementation will take. There is a direct correlation between how your organization rates in these areas and overall implementation time and cost. Be sure to get an independent, outside view from SAP consultants who can help develop a realistic plan and budget for your SAP S/4HANA transformation.Build your SAP S/4HANA implementation project for long-term sustainability

There are two components to consider here. First, you want to ensure the overall project quality assurance of your SAP S/4HANA implementation. This will help ensure that your project stays on track, is aligned with your organization, and delivers the benefits you expect.The second component of sustainability should focus on establishing a longer-term SAP center of excellence. This will ensure that your business and IT groups own the SAP solution and are proactively improving your team’s adoption of the technology over time. As the client in this case study found, long-term sustainability is one of the areas for immediate and long-term benefits. In his case, building internal SAP competencies is very different than the ones his team had built in JD Edwards.


There is no easy answer, best practices, or silver bullets to successful SAP S/4HANA implementations. But, we can always learn from the battle scars of others to pivot accordingly.

Learn more by reading our 20 Lessons from Over 1,000 ERP Implementations

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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