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AP ECC Upgrades: The New Necessity

by Adolf Allesch

January 1, 2008

Major upgrades are every IT manager’s nightmare. But they can’t be avoided, and SAP customers are facing a big one. Consider the various upgrade options for SAP ERP systems.

By now, every licensed SAP organization should be aware of the inevitable upgrade from SAP R/3 to SAP ERP Central Component (SAP ECC). This intricate upgrade can be a challenge for many customers. The complexity is in the planning, and it hinges on factors that you can control and technical elements that you need to address because of SAP’s latest design. So, how should SAP customers deal with the broader degree of planning, investment, and commitment to reach the new platform?

Planning for the Upgrade

The cornerstone of the planning effort is your company’s ability to upgrade legacy ERP (and other SAP components). You have three main choices for an upgrade strategy:

  1. Strategic business-improvement upgrade. With this upgrade you can make use of enterprise service-oriented architecture (enterprise SOA) by enabling new and optimized business processes and scenarios based on SAP ECC.

  2. Functional upgrade. Here, you can implement new functionality as part of the upgrade, focusing on reducing system complexity. Its goal is process improvement and operational excellence.

  3. Technical upgrade. The focus of this upgrade is to maintain the standard functionality already in use. However, the approach may also include adapting your business processes to SAP’s and retrofitting custom modifications onto the new standard functionality. This method centers on reducing and sustaining total cost of ownership (TCO).

Today, the majority of the installed base is in the extended maintenance window, so upgrading is important to ensure SAP vendor support. Most upgrades begin with an assessment to determine the current state of your system and to document how well you are positioned for the move. This is where any decisions from the past reappear along with their impact on cost and time. Problematic decisions resurface from the installation and maintenance of the system, such as the amount of custom code, the number of custom programs, the number of interfaces, its compliance to support packs or notes, and the availability of test scripts.

An upgrade to the latest release, SAP ECC 6.0, lands you on SAP’s new software-delivery roadmap. This is the “go-to” release for all customers currently on SAP R/3. Why? From now on, all new functional enhancements to ERP through 2010 (when the next major synchronized release for SAP applications will take place) will be made available as optional enhancement packages for SAP ECC 6.0. Since all enhancements will be enterprise SOA-based, you must be on an enterprise SOA-enabled core (SAP ECC 6.0/SAP NetWeaver 7.0) to use them. The upgrade to SAP ECC 6.0 gets you to an enterprise SOA lifestyle; preparation for it is key. It also begins to highlight your needs for enterprise SOA components (for example, portals, middleware or service bus, development tools, and service repositories).

Must you upgrade to SAP ECC 6.0? Eventually, yes, but some customers are taking it in stages. They’re using SAP ECC 5.0. Some have upgraded to SAP R/3 4.7 as an interim solution:

  • Upgrading from R/3 4.6 to R/3 4.7 avoids extended maintenance fees for a while. Other reasons to go to R/3 4.7 are the ease of the upgrade (no new technology) and the ability to handle the migration with in-house staff (no new skills but additional time on the maintenance clock needed).

  • Upgrading to SAP ECC 5.0 instead of SAP ECC 6.0 is more typical. With SAP ECC 5.0, you don’t need to update to the Unicode database. If you upgrade to SAP ECC 6.0, you need to address the Unicode database conversion, so you have two upgrades to consider.

The complexity of the decision-making process stems from balancing your appetite for technical evolution and innovation with your ability to justify the migration. The SAP ECC 6.0 migration is the most challenging yet, but any release lower than SAP ECC 6.0 compromises your ability to use the enhancement packages and the full functionality of SAP NetWeaver.

Both R/3 4.7 and SAP ECC 5.0 are Unicode-compatible (but not Unicode-required), so you could upgrade ERP first and later upgrade the database to Unicode. But SAP skipped SAP ECC 5.0 for some industry solutions, so SAP ECC 6.0 became the de facto standard.

Justifying the Upgrade Investment

SAP has invested a great deal in tools, collateral, and so on to get customers to upgrade, but most of them are still on the fence. They are overwhelmed, because SAP is now a tools and technology company. Business applications are not the focus, where historically they were. The new product is so different from the previous product that upgrading means you have to leave your comfort zone. The “SAP NetWeaver and enterprise SOA” carrot is not enough.

As with any complex upgrade, you need financial justification. SAP’s new enterprise SOA-based business-process platform contains hundreds of new functional and technical features for that justification. SAP has published the SAP ERP Solution Browser to provide a feature-based comparison among releases, as well as the business value of each feature, a new upgrade roadmap, white papers, customer-experience databases, and so on. Given SAP’s level of investment, why have the majority of upgrade customers held back? And why do most perform only technical upgrades when they decide to upgrade?

The answers are many, but I believe that SAP customers are challenged to provide hard financial benefits for the upgrade and lack the business involvement to extend the solution with new features and functions. Some are still studying the suite and others are overwhelmed with all the capabilities of SAP ECC, SAP NetWeaver, and the collection of tools supporting the platform. The ERP product has been reinvented, so the default becomes a technical-only upgrade. This approach is okay, but it postpones the use of SAP as a business-process platform.

Commitment to the Platform

After the investment to upgrade to SAP ECC, a new commitment and discipline are needed to operate the system as one platform vs. the many components that existed in the past. Your upgrade journey may include upgrading ERP, implementing or upgrading satellite solutions (such as SAP Advanced Planning and Optimization, SAP NetWeaver Portal, SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence, SAP Human Capital Maintenance), migrating to Unicode, and deploying new tools.

The new enterprise SOA-based platform is integrated technically and requires using SAP Solution Manager and deploying support pack stacks and new development tools, such as SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio (SAP NWDS), for both ABAP and Java. The outcome is a modernized ERP with the ability to extend your SAP ECC investment with Web and enterprise services in ways impossible under the old ERP model. Upgrading ERP is inevitable; plotting your journey is the next step.

Adolf Allesch is the global SAP NetWeaver lead partner at IBM Global Business Services. A pioneer with the Web, he is now the SAP NetWeaver evangelist for IBM. He specializes in technology-enabled business transformation using SAP and is a frequent presenter at SAP events worldwide. You can reach him at

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