Organizations with deep SAP histories are in process of transitioning to the latest SAP solution- S/4HANA. However, the journey may seem daunting for some organizations with older code bases or significant customizations.

The transition work for most businesses is in preparing current SAP installations for automated transition management. This is focused on upgrading the underlying database and the user interface supports. Whether your business has a deep pool of SAP talent or relies on external support, working with transition specialists can make the S/4HANA transition easier and hassle-free.

Transition support and partners

Events such as the DSAG Annual Conference are excellent opportunities to connect with peers with similar SAP installations and experts in managed database/code transitions. The forums and informal meetings can enlighten business and IT leaders to the challenges other organizations faced and overcame as part of their journey. Many SAP partners are also present at the conference, making it possible to source potential partners, compare services and discuss requirements in a short time.

Locating your business on the path

As a preparation guide, SAP provides a recommended order for updates and cleanups to existing installations. However, this transition path is generic and needs to be adapted for your business's specific needs and nuances. It is also necessary to understand where the business currently exists on the transition path to properly prepare for the S/4HANA transition or engage a partner organization. The following are three steps you should follow:

1. Start with Unicode

The primary baseline code update is a conversion to Unicode. While this has been available for SAP installations for many years, businesses that operate in only one language may have opted out in the past. As a supporting capability, this update should have little impact on actual business functionality. However, there is no guarantee of zero impact, and it's highly recommended that you test all changes prior to your operational release. In support of this, the development of automated test suites significantly reduces the risks and costs of the transition process. Beyond the verification of business functionality, standardized testing can be used to benchmark improvements in system response and resource efficiency.

2. Clean up code

The next preparation step is cleaning up custom code and data management, which requires engaging business areas. Customization is a normal practice for SAP installations as business processes and reporting needs evolve over time. In earlier versions, some process and database customizations were required to improve system efficiency. The adoption of S/4HANA eliminates the need for many efficiency customizations and brings the system closer to the core standard for future process and data migration.

Working with experienced transition partners can have a big impact on these cleanup activities. Experts familiar with the data structures in the final version will be able to advise on where cleanup efforts should be concentrated. Vendors can suggest throwing a few hundred bodies at the problem but there are faster and more accurate alternatives which can almost entirely automate this process. Their expertise can also guide choices on which customizations are operationally necessary and which can be replaced by improved business processes.

3. Run upgrades

After the unicode change and cleanup, you'll need to update the SAP installation to reach SAP ERP 6.0 and EHP 7. Businesses have been able to operate on many historic code versions because of SAP's ability to solve business problems and support business processes at all times in its evolution. However, it is now necessary to upgrade because of the extensive database and user interface improvements offered by S/4HANA. This step focuses on creating a standard platform for the final transition.

Regardless of when your business intends to transition to S/4HANA, these early transition steps can improve how your business uses SAP in the future and make sure you are ready to move whenever you decide to move forward.

Jason Hannula is a seasoned IT business analyst who has worked with various agencies to deliver transformation projects that improve business processes and data usage. He has also been writing about the impacts of emergent technologies and trends on businesses for since 2013.