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How to Pitch an SAP NetWeaver Upgrade to Management

by Sheri Hinton and Khalil Nasrallah

July 1, 2008

Knowing that an SAP NetWeaver upgrade is vital to your company’s success and future growth, how do you convince your executive management to put the wheels in motion? Here are some best practices to help you make a case for your next upgrade.

At some point, you and your colleagues will likely discover that an SAP NetWeaver upgrade is mandatory for your business to grow, thrive, and cope with the constant changes to the IT landscape.

Perhaps you need to extend tthe current SAP NetWeaver functionality to accommodate system or business process modifications, or to introduce new SAP NetWeaver technologies that will provide a competitive edge. To you, an upgrade seems to be an obvious priority, but you still need to sell your company’s executive management on the idea. You need to show management the reasons why an upgrade is necessary and a clear plan for executing the upgrade. This requires a good understanding of the business drivers behind an upgrade and an ability to assess time and resources needed to execute it.

If you are new to SAP NetWeaver, then making a strong case could be a challenge. But don’t worry.Providing quick and intelligent answers to these five questions may help in persuading the powers that be that an SAP NetWeaver upgrade is in your company’s best interest:

  • What are the key drivers for an SAP NetWeaver upgrade?

  • Which upgrade approach should you choose?

  • What are the components of an effective upgrade methodology?

  • How do you assess the complexity and effort of an upgrade project?

  • What is the most appropriate testing approach for your business?

We will walk you through how we’ve answered these questions based on our experience with multiple upgrades to SAP NetWeaver, and we’ll provide important lessons learned from those projects. Armed with this information, you can demonstrate to management that you can plan, assess, and execute your SAP NetWeaver system upgrade projects and follow a standard and proven upgrade methodology that minimizes risk.

The Business Drivers

Several business drivers can become the impetus for considering an upgrade:

  • The current version is coming out of system support either in standard or extended maintenance. This can represent added support costs and significant risk in running on a platform that is no longer being developed by the vendor.

  • Businesses may be looking to enhance existing processes or implement new processes to gain greater business benefits from the system. Note that you should carefully evaluate the decision to implement new or modified business processes because doing so can significantly increase the effort and timeline for implementation in the following ways:

    • Requires a higher level of effort in the initial design phase

    • Extends to higher effort in configuring and developing the desired solution

    • Increases the overall testing effort

    • Potentially increases training needs, as the new processes need to be thoroughly vetted with business users

  • SAP NetWeaver is required as part of the foundation for adding other technologies (e.g., SAP NetWeaver Portal or SAP NetWeaver Process Integration) or to provide an enterprise service-oriented architecture (enterprise SOA) platform. These requirements are usually satisfied if you perform a technical upgrade and implement the new technologies in future phases.

You may find that some of these drivers apply to your situation. Based on our experience, the primary driver is typically system support, combined with a secondary driver of providing a foundation for future initiatives and new functionality.

Upgrade Approach

When evaluating an upgrade, it is important to understand the available options and how they align with your timeline and business drivers. There are two primary options to consider: a pure technical upgrade or a technical and functional upgrade.

A technical upgrade involves more than just a simple hardware/software version update. You need to consider many additional factors.

  • You may require a hardware upgrade to support the newest version of SAP NetWeaver: Typical incremental hardware requirements for SAP NetWeaver are 10%-30% CPU, 40%-50% memory, and 25% disk increases.

  • You may have to implement newly introduced transactions that replace those currently used in existing business processes.

  • You may need to add new SAP functionality to support existing business processes (e.g., the new SAP General Ledger).

  • You may need to decommission some customizations. A technical upgrade may affect customizations that are in place to support existing business requirements and extend the functionality of the current SAP version.

  • Your developers may need to fix ABAP code based on SAP-imposed changes — for example, custom code that references altered SAP objects (such as a data field that changed from four to five characters) or that includes obsolete ABAP commands due to the stringent syntax checks imposed with Unicode conversion.

A technical and functional upgrade includes all of the considerations of a technical upgrade but also allows you to roll out new functionality, such as adding new processes to an existing module, adding new modules, or integrating a new technology (e.g., SAP NetWeaver Portal). Accommodating additional functionality can significantly affect the upgrade effort and timeline, growing from a “fix” to a full-blown implementation project.

Note that with either of the upgrade options, you need to test all functionality, examine business processes and interfaces, update training documentation, conduct end-user training, and address change management issues. In line with the primary business driver, we usually recommend a technical upgrade because this option allows for a shorter implementation timeframe and sets the foundation for future rollouts of enhanced or new functionality.

Methodology Components

As with any project, be prepared with a clear understanding of each of the stages your project will go through and their unique requirements. When you undertake an upgrade project, you should incorporate the following five common stages and project management output:

  1. Project preparation: In the first stage, you assess the upgrade, develop a preliminary project plan and scope, and order the non-production hardware.

  2. Blueprint: In this stage, you review training requirements and testing strategy as well as assess the current (or as-is) system documentation. Based on the review, you can size and order the production hardware landscape, identify desktop requirements, and perform a fit-gap assessment to identify the delta for functional components.

  3. Realization: The most critical stage in the process focuses on delivery. Required activities include:

    • Freezing changes in the production landscape

    • Upgrading development and QA environments

    • Regulating configuration, custom development, and security

    • Coordinating and conducting integration and user-acceptance testing

    • Updating final system configuration and documentation

    • Completing delta end-user training and documentation

    • Devising dry-run cutover plan(s)

  4. Final preparation: In this stage, you deliver delta training, finalize the cutover plan(s), and verify technical activities for the last time. Subsequently, you can roll out the new graphical user interface (GUI) to end users, and the ERP production system will be ready for upgrade.

  5. Post go-live support: Finally, you ensure that your IT team provides post-implementation support, opens the system to changes, and decommissions old systems. The duration of each of these methodology components will vary depending on the size and complexity of the upgrade. Based on our experience, however, these five components are critical to the overall success of the project.

The duration of each of these methodology components will vary depending on the size and complexity of the upgrade. Based on our experience, however, these five components are critical to the overall success of the project.

Complexity and Effort

Next, understanding and assessing the complexity of an upgrade project is largely tied to the defined upgrade scope. A purely technical upgrade typically ranges from low to medium complexity. A system with minimal customization represents a low complexity upgrade.

As the level of customization increases, so does the complexity of the upgrade because a customized project requires further analysis and testing. Preparing management for the project’s complexity — or allaying their fears about the required amount of effort — goes a long way to making your case.

Additional technology components and functional enhancements also affect the complexity of the project:

  • You should evaluate non-SAP technology components for compatibility within the overall system architecture.

  • You may need to update add-on components (such as Taxware) to run on the new hardware platform, thus increasing the testing effort and overall project complexity.

  • Functional enhancements, such as the introduction of SAP NetWeaver Portal requires additional design, development, testing, and training effort which increases the level of complexity.

  • The addition of Unicode, while it is not required for an upgrade, also increases technical and development complexity; however, you should consider converting to Unicode if you have multi-language requirements or future plans to move to Web-based interfaces.

In short, the effort involved in an upgrade depends on numerous factors, as described in the table below.

Factors Contributing to the Effort Involved in an Upgrade Project
Factor Effort Involved
Scope Typically, technical upgrades take 3-4 months. However, changes in scope can drive this timeline to longer than a year.
Training After you conduct a current end-user capability assessment, you might find training requirements increasing if there are gaps within the current system functionality.
Security New objects or new functionality may require some new security components and testing.
Additional components Introducing additional technologies, such as SAP NetWeaver Portal or SAP NetWeaver Process Integration, can increase the effort required for project implementation, as well as internal technical training.
Systems integration The greater the number of external system linkages, the greater the effort. Testing interfaces, especially with third-party providers, can be time consuming and you should not underestimate the effort involved.
Custom development
and enhancements
Functionality that your developers created with custom code in the current version is sometimes replaced by new functionality in the new version. Both the business and the developers need to determine if the standard functionality in the new system can handle customizations or if they must modify the current system to fit the new version. This determination involves increased effort — especially if the current system is highly customized.
Industry solutions
(utilities/ public
sector, etc.)
Some industry solutions require a higher level of change associated with the upgrade. Additionally, specialized industry processes require a higher degree of testing.
Testing You can leverage existing test case scenarios to reduce testing preparation. However, you need to evaluate and change these scenarios based on the project scope. The number of integration testing cycles significantly affects the project effort, so you should carefully evaluate this factor to achieve a balance between investment and benefit.


Testing Approach

Finally, you’ll need to address questions about testing — and assure all stakeholders that you’ll take the approach that makes the most sense based on the type of upgrade that you are undergoing. Based on our experience, upgrade projects should use the following testing approach:

  • Conduct unit testing on any changes, both technical and functional, in a development environment.

  • Perform a minimum of two cycles of integration testing to ensure the day-to-day and periodic business processes are operational.

  • Conduct a cycle of user-acceptance testing to provide an additional level of validation. This type of testing also serves to validate that you’ve adequately addressed training materials.

  • Business simulation (or a day in the life) is beneficial, but is not necessarily required for a technical upgrade.

  • Perform a dry run (or dress rehearsal) of production cutover to solidify the final cutover plan and finalize the required downtime for cutover.

Using an automated testing tool can help you during an upgrade, especially if your business already employs such a tool. Tools like these can accelerate your upgrade by proactively identifying problems. Familiarity with your automated tool can help reduce your testing effort further because you can leverage existing test cases and easily repeat them.

If you don’t currently use an automated testing tool, you should carefully evaluate the benefits and costs (such as licenses and user training) associated with a new testing tool to ensure that the new technology won’t overwhelm your project team and affect the project timeline.

Whether or not you decide to use an automated tool, you will need an adequate mechanism for tracking the status and defects associated with test case scenarios. Most tools have this capability, but you can effectively manage a spreadsheet application as an alternative.

Taking It Home

With the background provided here, you can anticipate the questions and concerns of your senior management and make a compelling case for your next SAP NetWeaver system upgrade project. You can also allay their fears by equipping them with an upgrade methodology that reduces risk, as well as a clearer understanding of the scope of the project.

Smoother Upgrades: 7 Lessons Learned

Business sponsorship is imperative. A technical upgrade still requires some involvement from the business during testing. The benefits gained in a technical upgrade are not always immediately visible to the business, and expectations must be clearly communicated and understood. Regardless of the type of upgrade, it ultimately cannot succeed if it is viewed strictly as an IT-based initiative.

Frequently communicate with end users. Many users are apprehensive about system change. Frequent communications that outline upgrade expectations, benefits, and timelines are critical to project success. This communication helps to demystify the upgrade process and give all end users a clearer understanding of the final product.

Incorporate a comprehensive testing strategy. Thorough testing is the cornerstone of any project, whether it is a new system implementation or an upgrade. You must incorporate unit testing of any changes and new functionality into the project plan. Comprehensive integration testing — including security — is also required to ensure the integrity of the upgrade.

Properly size hardware. When moving to SAP NetWeaver, you need to properly size the hardware for both the upgrade and future growth. Additionally, you should consider performance tuning to ensure a smooth transition to the upgraded system.

Set internal training requirements. The SAP NetWeaver platform introduces new technologies (e.g., SAP Solution Manager and SAP NetWeaver Portal). Adequate training prior to project startup provides your IT team with the internal knowledge and confidence they need to support the project and system post go-live. Also, new functionality or changes in existing functionality can require additional training.

Manage expected downtime properly. The upgrade requires a freeze to the current production environment during the project timeline, which can affect the business’s ability to address any change requests to the existing system. During the project, you should address only those business-critical changes necessary to keep your business running. Downtime for the production upgrade can range from two to five days depending on the final project scope. You must manage the requirements for the freeze and the expected downtime and communicate frequently with the business to help minimize negative impact.

Minimize enhancements. Adopting a general strategy of minimizing enhancements and going with plain vanilla, standard functionality helps reduce overall risk and timeline.

Sheri Hinton is currently the delivery lead for Deloitte’s Canadian SAP Remote Development Centre (RDC). In addition, she plays a key role in Deloitte’s SAP upgrade advisory practice, with a focus on the strategy and implementation of SAP Netweaver technology. Sheri joined Deloitte’s Consulting practice 12 years ago. She has maintained a focus on SAP throughout ranging from development, to technology advisory, to project management.
Khalil Nasrallah leads the SAP NetWeaver practice and Deloitte’s SAP large accounts in Montreal. He is responsible for the strategy, planning, and implementation of SAP ERP and SAP NetWeaver components. Prior to joining Deloitte, Nasrallah worked with a big four consulting company and at a large aerospace company in charge of emerging technologies. He received his bachelor degree in Industrial Engineering from Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal in 1994 and his MBA from Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC) in 2004.

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