A key component to Accenture’s global IT strategy is staying current on software updates. This strategy has proven to reduce risk and be more cost-effective over the long term, while enabling Accenture to take advantage of new features and capabilities. As part of this strategy, Accenture maintains its SAP enterprise system as an asset, undertaking regular upgrades in order to be on the most current code base.
“Accenture’s stay-current strategy has been pivotal to staying secure, maintaining compliance with the latest legal and regulatory changes, achieving timely resolution of production incidents, providing enhanced scalability and performance to address growth, and enabling the ability to leverage the newest digital capabilities on the platform,” says Eli Lambert, Accenture Managing Director - Global IT, Finance Applications. These business drivers made the case for Accenture to perform an upgrade from SAP S/4HANA version 1610 to version 1809.
When tech meets human ingenuity
Accenture’s global IT organization approached the technical upgrade with the same rigor and levels of collaboration with the business that it would typically apply to a major functional release—with the aim of having no unplanned business disruption while laying the foundation for business transformation by leveraging new digital capabilities delivered in SAP S/4HANA version 1809.
The upgrade journey was a collaboration between Accenture’s Finance and HR business units, global IT, Accenture Consulting, and SAP. The team leveraged Accenture methodology, deep business process knowledge, and extensive SAP S/4HANA upgrade experience with Accenture clients to quickly confirm business operational requirements and upstream/downstream application impacts.
The team developed a comprehensive plan to ensure that the SAP S/4HANA solution, vendor systems, custom applications, business processes, security, and training were optimized for the newest version of the software. The plan addressed Accenture’s entire financial ecosystem, which includes all of Accenture’s SAP RICEFs (reports, interfaces, conversions, extensions and forms), 360 internal applications, 35 vendor systems, 2,600 business procedures, 600 security roles, and more than 1,600 automated test scripts.
As with the initial SAP S/4HANA implementation, the team leveraged a “fail-fast” approach that included early conversion and functional and performance testing to identify remediation items, understand the risks, and prioritize scope appropriately in order to provide sufficient runway to address potential issues. Leveraging the Microsoft Azure cloud enabled the team to spin up environments quickly to support conversions, development, as well as functional and performance testing.
In addition to early functional testing, a dedicated conversion team focused on tuning the cutover and addressing potential data-related issues. The conversion team executed 11 mock cutovers with production-like data volume to optimize the conversion plan, cutting the technical execution by 50 percent in order to fit into a standard weekend downtime window. The mock conversions were also essential inputs into the creation of the detailed plan that included contingency measures to improve decision making in the face of unforeseen problems.
During the cutover weekend, the Finance organization was given read-only access to a mirrored SAP environment to continue to have access to production information, if needed, to support operational requests. The cutover plan included detailed conversion steps along with planned communications to business stakeholders upon completion of key milestones. The preparation of a rigorous cutover plan and execution of numerous practice mocks enabled Accenture to execute as planned during the production cutover weekend, restoring the system to end users slightly ahead of schedule.
The program leveraged best-practice release management methodology to mitigate risk and address unanticipated issues after go-live. The approach involved setting up a command center consisting of a combination of leadership and development support from both Accenture and SAP. On a daily basis, the command center participants reviewed open issues, communicated business impact, escalated issues when appropriate, and facilitated expedient resolutions.
After the system was restored, the command center team was on high alert, monitoring processing, performance, and usage of the updated applications. The command center team identified and addressed minor issues quickly, achieving stability prior to the financial month-end close.
Quality testing, a strong partnership amongst the business, Accenture Consulting, global IT, and SAP, as well as the command center approach for production stabilization, enabled Finance to experience a smooth month-end with no new high-priority incidents.
Accenture’s experience demonstrates that an upgrade can effectively balance value, cost, and risk. Based on its experience delivering enterprise system projects and insight into the risks and challenges that organizations face during upgrades, Accenture Consulting has created and maintains a complementary set of methodologies and resources. These assets offer organizations a reliable, cost-effective approach to deliver upgrades.
A valuable difference
The SAP S/4HANA upgrade to version 1809 positions Accenture to continue to get the most from its IT investments. A key tenet of an intelligent finance organization includes automating manual activities and providing powerful forward-looking analytics, which enable Finance to shift its focus from predominantly transactional activities to higher-value business advisory activities. Staying current on the SAP S/4HANA platform enables Accenture to take advantage of SAP’s latest innovations in process automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to free up finance capacity.
Accenture’s SAP S/4HANA automation road map includes a variety of initiatives aimed at improving efficiency and cost to serve, such as implementing SAP’s machine learning framework for cash application and automating master data setup, including end-to-end company code setup. Additionally, powerful, new analytics capabilities will equip Finance with descriptive and forward-looking predictive analytics that strengthen Finance’s role as business advisors. One example includes deploying predictive analytics that will provide more accurate cash forecasts. The insights will help to optimize where cash is being held, reducing risk and better equipping Accenture to make strategic investments.
Furthermore, staying current on the SAP S/4HANA platform puts Accenture in a better position to respond swiftly to a dynamic business environment. With the scale and performance of the SAP S/4HANA platform and the latest SAP functional and technical innovations, the Accenture business is well equipped to address operating model changes, reorganizations, and acquisitions.