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SAP UK Programme and Project Leadership Roundtable

​On Thursday 14th May, Investigo’s SAP team held its latest UK programme and project leadership webinar. This was an opportunity for senior SAP professionals from across our network to share ideas and approaches, and to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the current climate. It was hosted by Principal Consultants Raj Narwan, Lewis Dunn and Ross Waugh.

Focus on functionality

“It’s been a waiting game over the years,” said Evan long, a highly experienced interim programme and project manager. There’s been a long-held perception that some of the functionality of SAP S/4HANA leaves a lot to be desired – and that has even extended so far as misspellings. But, he continued, “Things have come on since then.” In fact, things have come on so far that we’re now seeing such unexpected new functions as embedded analytics.

The improvement has been incremental. Jane Blackman, Global IT Manager at Hitachi, said, “When we first went to it, there was a massive lack of functionality. There was a bit more with each release, more coming in every cycle. SAP had real barriers to adoption due to lack of core functionality and extended warehouse management not being available. Now it is.”

But can these regular improvements actually be more of a hindrance? “The big problem is the continual upgrade cycle,” said Rory Clarke, an experienced ERP and transformation programme and project manager. “It’s not a one-time purchase or a once every five or 10 years replatforming. I’m not sure it’s sustainable with mid-tier businesses.” In this way, SAP risks alienating the very customer base it’s trying to strengthen. Rory made the comparison with Microsoft upgrading Windows every six months. “It’s not a sustainable model for SAP and will be undermined by the likes of Dynamics and Oracle,” he said. “They don’t affect the end customer at all – they just add costs to the business.” There’s a danger that not engaging with the quarterly release cycle in S/4HANA Cloud can result in losing core functionality – something which Jane experienced at her previous organisation: “The entire finance team couldn’t work for three days.”

S/4HANA doesn’t always fit with what you already have, as illustrated by Basil Ghannam, Programme Manager at Duke Street. A media company where he previously worked was unable to find an offering in S/4HANA that suited IS Media. The only other solution was to host IS Media in one instance and to interface into S/4HANA, which is not ideal in an integrated system. The result was that certain functionality was not moved across to S/4HANA.

The barriers to adoption

How do companies get started with S/4HANA? How do they know if they need a new implementation or a conversion project? While SAP has recently released a guide for senior IT leadership to answer some of the questions, there remain concerns about whether there’s enough support and understanding on how to adopt S/4HANA.

“One of the big confusions is through Cloud Easy,” said Rory. “CIOs say they’re 100% Fiori and import in a Gooey app. Fiori is fine for transport expenses, but as soon as they get to material masters or running MRP, it doesn’t have the same flexibility.” Evan added, “I was always a Gooey person. It’s whatever works best in certain situations.”

Then it comes down to building a valid business case and having a demonstrable return on investment to justify such a project. Anthony Walker, a business and technology change manager, described the challenge of trying to convince the CFO that you should move to S/4HANA, when the company has already completed a robust ECC installation. “I’ve still not heard a case that’s credible from an SAP standpoint,” he said. “You can’t make that business case stack up,” added Jane, citing “the cost of implementation and integrating, the cycle of release and the impact of managing and testing. There’s some good functionality but other than that, it’s a huge amount of money.”

But this functionality could prove more than enough justification. “This is where SAP think HANA will be the saviour,” said Anette Jones, an SAP programme manager. “It’s fast to implement and there’s a case if you’ve got the right business processes in S/4HANA Cloud. It takes down the time of implementation, cycles of enquiry. That’s where they think it’s going to go, and that’s why they’re throwing money at it.”

The maturity of an organisation can also be a factor in deciding whether or not to adopt SAP S/4HANA. Kate Webb, an SAP PMO at MBDA, is trying to write a business case to prove it’s worthwhile converting ECC into S/4HANA. This involves dealing with finance, manufacturing, logistics and procurement. “How do I prove it’s worth doing?” she said. “The ECC system has been in for years. It’s never a good implementation. They’re ending support for ECC soon, so we have to put HANA in.”

It comes back to whether SAP are offering the right product for the right clientele. Rory felt that “SAP underestimated how many of the people who made them all this money over the years will go somewhere else. These organisations are immature in some ways, but they make up the bulk of their business. SAP is trying to force them down a new path. They run their business, they don’t run SAP. They need to recognise the tolerance of an organisation to change. They can’t change everything all at one time.”

“A new cloud era is forcing businesses to have common processes as per other organisations,” said Balbir Sangha, a highly experienced project and programme manager. “It will be interesting to see how the largest organisations use their core business processes to move them to common practices on the cloud.”

The role of the consultant

“Do we need to change the way we as independent consultants present our offerings in the market?” said Rory. With SAP talking about consulting factories directing intelligent delivery frameworks, what does this mean for independents? “With all new aspects of S/4HANA, SAP seems to be driving the value through the ecosystem,” he said. “But does it mean even those engagements going ahead are likely to be shorter? Do clients still want experienced, independent hands with them during the journey?”

“The need for clients to have someone on their side managing the implementation does not go away,” said Basil. “Probably where we can add most value to clients is in bringing in experience and delivering the programme for them, managing the implementation part.”

In his current project, Evan is automating testing tools in converting ECC to S/4HANA. “There’s a new paradigm here,” he said. “A lot of new areas to get our heads round as individuals, which, being a programme and project manager, will take time to get through.” Jane was in agreement: “There’s so much coming out, it’s important to keep up with it. If you get your hands dirty and do coding, it’s slightly easier. If you’re in the wider sphere and trying to keep up with what’s going on, it’s impossible. If we upskill ourselves to keep on top of it, clients won’t appreciate what we offer.”

Perhaps consultants offer too much, when they should instead focus on getting the job done in line with the client’s expectations and budget. “We feel obliged to throw out all the options, but we need to be very conscious of what the customer can do,” said Rory. “It’s all very well and good doing these things, but we spend a lot of time debugging other people’s code. Sometimes I think more is less. It’s chasing a dream when getting the job done is sometimes more important. Customers come to us for value for money. Mostly small to medium-sized businesses who need results. They have a budget and a short timeline.”

Ritesh Kumar, an SAP analytics consultant, felt that independents still have a lot to offer in helping their clients come to terms with SAP’s regular upgrades. “What SAP have done after requests from customers is change the upgrade cycle to half-yearly. Changes are incremental, not revolutionary. The tech requires a technical understanding that clients don’t have. That’s where people like us can come in to help them make better decisions.”

Programme recovery

Basil has recently observed an increased demand from clients who want to recover a programme that was previously put on hold – perhaps because they were too big for the organisation, or the client wasn’t ready for the change, or there were strained relations with the main system integrator.

Jane has had such an experience with Salesforce due to the lack of a business case, scope, and understanding of how the programme would be delivered. “We put a stop to it really quickly. The difference between Salesforce and SAP is that Salesforce is massively configurable and there are a lot of people out there, non-professionals, who think they know what they’re doing. With SAP, you’re dealing with professional people. The issue is with SAP – being sold the dream and not having the team in place.”

The last three projects that Rory has worked on have been recovery projects, and they each had the same problem – the business case. “They’re vague,” he said. “You have hard numbers but no way of achieving them. The scope is variable or non-existent. You come in and define what you’re going to deliver and have real conversations with the person who brought you in. Over Teams, you spend an hour on the call to stop someone doing something they shouldn’t. It’s easier to wander around to talk to people, look at their trackers. Recovery projects will be a challenge.”

Quite often, decisions made by a previous incumbent can present extra difficulties in picking up the recovery of a programme. “Now I’m working with people I’ve not even met and I’m trying to get them to work twice as hard to get things back on track,” said Basil. “The programme often started before you, which is a permanent challenge,” added Rory. “Support the business with a long term vision.”

Close consultancy

There’s undoubtedly a huge value in having your team present in person. “It’s entirely about the business,” said Jane. “My recovery project was always intended to be virtual. The team and SI is globally diverse. When we did the recovery, it was hard work but if you have a team with the right mindset and train them to follow processes, it can work. It’s a mindset thing. Sometimes it’s easier to stand behind them rather than contacting them asking for an update.”

Having done something similar in a globally diverse organisation, Annette stressed the importance of “setting the right culture within the team. It’s easier when some of the people are co-located as you have mini-teams. When everyone’s disparate, it becomes harder to do that as they go off and do their own thing.”

Currently working in the Japanese pharmaceuticals industry, Kevin Hardy, a highly experienced senior programme manager, is used to going onsite. But in the current remote workplace, he’s found onboarding people to be a real challenge, particularly in turning instruction-led courses into practical advice that’s easy to read and understand. “I have a meeting with the entire team at the start of any engagement, then have a series of coffee chats to find out what’s going on. These have been replaced by one-to-one and team meetings. There’s not a lot of difference but you miss some nuances, body language you would normally pick up. We are at the end of the planning phase for the migration of multiple ECC systems into SAP S/4HANA. Design workshops will be remote in their entirety and will require a massive amount of planning.”

In the current climate, it’s hardly surprising that many companies are changing their thinking on when, how or even if a programme will be carried out. Kate pointed out that MBDA, with multiple independent systems, is currently postponing discovery sessions until next year when it can conduct them face-to-face. Jane gave the example of a division of Hitachi, which is moving ahead with its SAP S/4HANA Cloud implementation having done all the workshops remotely.

Sometimes companies “have a really big business, but they don’t know how to run a project. They’re not designed to run projects,” said Rory. “If you’re an SI, you develop projects constantly. As an SI or an internal contractor, it’s hard to tell the customer what they need to know. It’s a challenge and with COVID-19, we have to deliver more value. The customer needs to understand what they’re going to get. Our challenge is to have a good business case, educating the user to want to put the numbers on the charts.”

“We need bravery from the sponsors and trust in IT, which are usually lacking as people don’t want to give information that might be scary,” said Balbir. “Programmes are failing as people don’t have that dialogue, they don’t have that sponsorship and commitment to the programme.”

The nature of a company itself can influence the way programmes are carried out. “If it’s an immature business and there’s a lot of pressure, there’s a churn on priorities,” said Jane. “You deliver the goal and then the question is ‘what about this? Let’s redefine the project and do that next.’ Some organisations will be under pressure and have expanded or contracted really quickly, making executing projects really difficult.”


In the same way that SAP’s upgrades to S/4HANA ensure the continual improvement of its product, independent consultants have had to adapt their ways of working in order to meet the challenges of the remote workplace. Whatever value S/4HANA offered before, it continues to offer now; it’s up to SAP experts to continue collaborating with their teams effectively and to offer crucial guidance to businesses looking to enhance their systems in the remote world.