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Implementing your SAP S/4HANA system

Sometimes, the best way to fix a run-down house is not to continuously remodel it, but to tear it down and build a new one from the ground up. The same principle can be applied when implementing your SAP S/4HANA system with the Greenfield method 

While modifying an existing system—also known as using the Brownfield approach—may seem less daunting, the Greenfield approach completely eliminates old inefficiencies and builds a new system based on a standardized process. This allows you to reap the maximum benefits from your SAP system and prepares your company for the future.    

The hard work resulted in a system that's user-friendly, simplified, and one single source of truth from a data perspective.

 

When Dutch railway infrastructure maintenance provider ProRail approached us for standardizing and simplifying their finance and procurement processes and insights, we were excited to accompany them in one of the first Greenfield SAP S/4HANA implementations in the Netherlands 

Together, our project teams worked diligently to align all departments. After a two-year transformation with close collaboration and commitment on all levels, the hard work paid off and resulted in a system that's user-friendly, simplified, and one single source of truth from a data perspective, setting them up for success in the years to come. This is how we did it. 

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Setting the goals: standardizing SAP and simplifying the reporting 

ProRail is responsible for maintaining the railway infrastructure in the Netherlands and relies on its SAP system for financial administration, reporting, and decision-making. Due to the complexity of the SAP system they used and the multiple data interfaces that required many manual interventions, ProRail was eagerly looking for more standardization of their financial processes and simplification of their reporting. This would improve the organization's operational efficiency and make the insights gained a lot easier to use. 

With this in mind, we collaborated with ProRail to define the system transformation's results they had in mind after the implementation. The aims were to:

  1. Standardize the processes in SAP. 
  2. Simplify the financial data. 
  3. Implement a future-proof system based upon the latest technologies. 

Throughout the process, these goals became the backbone of the transformation. To stay within the project scope and ensure the desired results were achieved, the project leaders measured every decision and checkpoint against these three points, guiding the team to success. 

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Focusing on project alignment...  

Defining goals is important but the real work only begins when you set out to achieve them. Drawing inspiration from past transformations and accounting for the unique needs of ProRail, we worked with them to develop a three-pronged approach to implement this change:  

  • Ensure project governance by placing business and IT representatives on all levels. During the process, it was important that both our team and ProRail's team were aligned in every step of the way. This meant bridging the gap between business and IT teams by uniting everyone behind common project goals. Ultimately, this is a huge part of what led to the project’s success and helped the teams navigate the tougher parts of the transformation. 
  • Make use of a change authority board, ensuring each step is aligned with the goals. While the project had a clear mission to ensure standardization and simplification, it was a risk to focus on process exceptions and customization requests. With the setup of a change authority board with representatives from business, IT, and our team, we measured every customization request against the initial goals of the project. This helped us to maintain tight management of scope, conscious decisions on limited customization, and an end product that is closely aligned with the needs of the business. 
  • Assign process and data owners within the business to implement the needed changes. When implementing a big change, it’s important to define roles by which the change can be carried out on every level. By giving individuals ownership of the process and data, you give them more reason to be invested in the success of the transformation as well as a structured team by which it can be carried out. 

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... and then switching to change management 

Change management was a key component of our approach and was carried out throughout the project life-cycle. Often, these kinds of implementations can be misjudged as 'just an IT implementation'. In reality, an SAP transformation involves so much more on every level of the business. Particularly, in the case of a Greenfield approach, the human aspect of the change cannot be underestimated.  

Out of the blue, we asked employees to change their processes and the systems by which they’d worked for years. To do this sensibly and effectively, it was essential we brought along the workforce to take part in the change journey—to help them understand the how and why behind the change.  

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We implemented these change management processes by verifying and validating every step of the way, and adjusting when necessary. One example of this process in action, was when we approached the transformation's 'Realization Phase'. Typically, this step is taken right after the 'Analysis Phase' is completed and no time is wasted in between. However, during the process, project leaders realized that process owners needed a little extra time to fully understand and accept the proposed solution.  

That's why we implemented a four-month intermediate phase, in which we held discussions and answered questions, to make sure everybody was on board before we took off with the project. This helped ProRail employees with overall acceptance of the projected changes, which made a smoother transition into the new system possible. 

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Overcoming challenges

Like any project, we encountered some challenges along the way. They generally fell into three groups:  

1. Business acceptance. During the implementation, our primary goal was alignment with a standard way of doing things. While many of the business requirements were met by the standard, some old customizations that employees were used to were no longer available, which meant they had to adapt to the new way of working.  

Though some requirements were not transformed into new customization—to improve its overall operation and secure a new, future-proof system—it felt to some like they had lost functionalities. This was a point of attention for us throughout the project. By having ongoing conversations, emphasizing our main objective, and turning additional attention to explaining the business value of standardization, we addressed these concerns with great care and in time.  

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Instead of only giving feedback from a project perspective, we also asked the business to share their thoughts on the solution and go-live readiness. In the few areas where we could still notice some misgivings, we helped teams better understand how the new system worked and the benefits that they would get out of it.  

Thanks to this extra attention—to help the teams understand the how and why behind the transformation—we were able to launch the new system on schedule and with great success. 

2. Technical Connectivity. During the 'Realization Phase', we experienced multiple connectivity issues, and discovering the root cause took a lot of effort and time. We learned from this experience that, from a technical perspective, many different components can lead to issues and it can take a lot of time and specialized consultants to find the root cause and fix the problem. However, in the end, the hassle is worth it if it means a reliable connection to the end user.  

3. Data Complexity. The big data challenge we had, was narrowing it down to one single source of truth. We collected information from many different sources and at varying levels of quality, complicating the data transformation.  

To solve this, we asked data owners to step up to the plate during the data migration and decide on transformation rules in case of any inconsistencies, based on detailed analysis. That's how we could ensure data accuracy and quality in the new SAP system. 

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When hard work pays off: the results 

After two years and lots of dedication, the finalized system went live in 2019. Together, we succeeded in standardizing 95 percent of the system—all thanks to the strong conviction and alignment of business leaders and the project team.  

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ABOUT95%

of the system data was standardized. 

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The reporting layers went down in complexity—from 20 to 2—meaning that we had created a simplified, future-ready system without manual interventions. For the first time, data was stored in one system and financial reporting was based on one source. All in all, the goals we put forth at the beginning were not only achieved but even exceeded.  

The icing on the cake came six months after the launch of the new system when we were jointly awarded the SAP Silver Quality Award for Business Transformation with ProRail. Though the implementation was already a success, this was a great acknowledgment of the innovation and teamwork this transformation inspired and a great way to celebrate the end of an exciting implementation that achieved the desired results.  

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What we learned

Though each transformation brings unique challenges and lessons, there are a few takeaways from this transformation that can help pave the way for future Greenfield implementations: 

  • The alignment of Business and IT teams is essential for a final product that will satisfy the overall needs of the company. Though it may be difficult at first, opening up these lines of communication will not only improve the outcome of your transformation, but also the functioning of your business as a whole. 
  • Commitment from C-level management is essential for the completion and success of the project. If there is one thing that holds true across all implementations it is that it will not always be smooth sailing. When times get tough, the full support from company leaders is what will drive the project through to completion. 
  • It is essential to keep strict and strong scope management. Once goals are set, every decision or iteration needs to be in support of those goals. This ensures that the project stays on track and the end product fits the need it was designed for. 
  • For most project managers, an agile mindset is a given. However, when entering a transformation, don’t assume your employees are already on the same page. Take time to explain why an agile way of thinking is important and define their role in the change. Changing together as a team on every level is key. 

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Want to learn more about this case or look forward to implementing your SAP system? We are here to help! 

Ruurd Feitsma

Associate Manager - Accenture Technology, SAP group


Paul Koolen

Senior Manager - Accenture Technology, SAP group

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