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By Fred M. Isbell, senior director and head of thought leadership, SAP Service and Support Marketing

After I published my blog “Planning Your Journey to the Future with SAP S/4HANA,” I was thrilled to see the number of views and mentions it received among the SAP ecosystem. If you have not read it yet, the blog discusses some incredible ideas and perspectives from SAP, our customers, and our partners showcased at SAPPHIRE NOW – including the digital economy and SAP S/4HANA.

Since that post, several people have asked me for an example of how such a journey could be structured. Luckily, I met up with my SAP Service and Support colleague Gina Keeler when she returned from an SAP HANA Journey Workshop in the Netherlands this month to answer that very question.

Finding a Sherpa for the digital transformation journey

I have always liked the analogy of a services provider being a Sherpa on a transformational journey. As the son of a man who was one of the early “founding fathers” of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and literally gave me hiking boots as my first shoes, I’ve learned that the two most

important things on any journey is a map and a guide to lead the way.

I’ve always been fascinated with the Sherpas of Tibet – an amazing group of people who have led explorers on mountain climbs in some of the most rugged and dangerous mountains in the world. Not only are they experts in their craft, but are also fearless, smart, and agile despite the conditions. When I combine that experience with my marketing career, it’s not a leap of faith for me to see the SAP Services organization as the Sherpa for our customers throughout their journey to a digital future.

Understanding where you are in the digital transformation journey – and where to go next

Recently, SAP Service and Support hosted an SAP HANA Journey Workshop in conjunction with VSNG, an SAP user group in the Netherlands and part of the SAP ecosystem I’ve been a part of for more than 25 years. According to Keeler, “Hosting nearly 20 companies, the educational forum gave our customers an opportunity to learn about SAP HANA and how it creates a path for digital transformation.”

A combination of presentations and discussions focused on five major areas:

  • Reasons for adopting in-memory technology
  • Inspirational use cases for SAP HANA
  • Deployment scenarios for SAP HANA – cloud, on premise, and hybrid
  • Real-life case studies about SAP HANA Cloud Platform
  • An in-depth look at SAP S/4 HANA, detailing the strategy, vision, and product road map

The workshop started with an overview of key industry trends and digitalization by Frank Niemann, vice president, Software and SaaS Markets, PAC. Frank is a long-time colleague from PAC, and I’ve become very familiar with his organization’s work with SAP Services including market sizing, analysis of growth opportunities, and digitalization coverage of SAP innovations.

During his presentation, Frank discussed the three stages of digital transformation:

  • Front-end systems transformation with a focus on customer-facing systems for engagement
  • Enterprise, end-to-end digitalization that cuts across functional systems, data, and analytics to support a culture of innovation
  • Digital ecosystems that promote collaboration among integrated networks and industries to create entirely new areas of value

With this knowledge, our customers determined where they were in their SAP S/4HANA journey. Not surprisingly, the majority were at the start of their journey, where only a handful were in the “selection,” “implementation,” or “measurement” phase. It appeared that most attendees were interested in gathering information to build a business case for their organizations. Considering that we featured a series of customer case studies and an overview of our strategy, vision, and road map for SAP S/4HANA, I can safely say that no one left empty-handed.

Learning from others: Even outsiders can
help guide your path to transformation

After sitting through the case-study portion of the event, Keeler noted that some of the most compelling examples are related to the finance function. And when I think about my time working with financial organizations, principally CFO’s and VP’s of Finance, it’s really not that surprising.

Reduced financial closing cycles and time savings are transforming the finance function to address critical pain points for the line of business. Nevertheless, their experience resonates with companies of all sizes and industries looking for evidence to support their business case.

Just imagine. How can your company benefit from accelerating quarter and year-old closing from 20 days to under four days with SAP S/4HANA? Better yet, what if you can shorten it further to just one day? For that matter, just imagine the savings when speeding up every process within your network – especially logistics, procurement, sales and marketing – to that degree!

To realize such advantages, companies must be able to address the four pillars of true digital transformation:

  • The workforce and core HR processes
  • Collaboration across business networks, including customers and suppliers
  • 360-degree, omni channel customer experiences
  • The confluence of BigData, analytics, and the Internet of Things that brings an amazing network of devices that produces data at ever-increasing rates

Sure, this may seem like a tall order for any business. However, luckily, the concluding session offered some very sage, pragmatic advice:

  • Embrace change: Disruption and business opportunities are everywhere. Embrace them before they disrupt you and your strategy.
  • Think like an innovator: Don’t limit yourself by traditional thinking. Think “outside the box” to see where your products and services fit in today’s digital marketplace.
  • Acknowledge complexity, but do not become complacent: Complexity is an inherent barrier to simplification, innovation, and digital transformation. You must Run Simple.
  • Create balance: Balance business priorities with your solutions and technical road map – even if you are embarking on your own SAP S/4HANA journey.

As you can see, this was a very productive day for our customers and “Sherpas” of SAP Service and Support leading the way! For more information, please leverage the following resources:

Fred M. Isbell
is the senior director and head of thought leadership for SAP Service and Support Marketing.

Join Fred online: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn,, SAP Services Hub