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The end of life for SAP ECC is on the horizon. Over the coming years, we will see a great migration from ECC to SAP S/4HANA to power an organization’s digital transformation. Thriving and surviving in an increasingly digital world involves two steps: a digital transformation and a business transformation.

My first two blogs explored how organizations could embrace change and handle new processes to leverage an SAP S/4HANA migration. Over the following three blogs, I will take an in-depth look at how organizations can seamlessly migrate to S/4HANA with less effort and reduced costs.

In this blog, you will learn:

  • Why an SAP S/4HANA migration is not just a simple upgrade

  • What you need to consider before migrating from ECC to SAP S/4HANA

  • How to choose the appropriate approach for your digital transformation

The challenge of an SAP S/4HANA migration

An SAP S/4HANA migration represents a significant step forward for an organization from an operational and technical perspective.

The shift to SAP S/4HANA is filled with competing priorities and decisions, including:

  • Complicated legacy landscapes

  • High levels of customization

  • Unclean master data

  • The need to manage parallel or dual landscapes as you build the new SAP S/4HANA environment

Business doesn’t stop because you are migrating to SAP S/4HANA. The expectation of a major upgrade project on top of the usual ECC workload of business as usual (BAU) changes and enhancements until cutover can be challenging.

Preparation -- the key to a successful digital transformation!

The success of a digital transformation begins at the preparation stage.

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." Benjamin Franklin

Organizations realize the need for adequate preparation in delivering high-quality software rapidly. A recent SAPinsider report revealed that 37% of respondents specified poor requirements planning and roadmaps as the biggest challenge.

Appropriate preparation ensures that system software, hardware and even system operators are ready for the changes to come. From a technical transformation standpoint, large-scale migrations like SAP S/4HANA take time and thoughtful planning, which can help minimize the project’s overall complexity and cost.

A multi-step approach to your SAP S/4HANA migration

No SAP landscape is the same. Whatever the size or industry, organizations have created SAP environments with different combinations of hardware, software, customizations, and business processes.

So, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to an SAP S/4HANA migration. Preparation for some organizations could mean consolidating systems; for others, ABAP code optimization or cleansing master data.

Step1: Decide on a transition method

The size and complexity of your SAP landscape and how you want to deal with your existing data determine the overall approach for your transition. However, there are three basic approaches for a shift to SAP S/4HANA:

  1. Greenfield: Stand up new SAP systems, reimagining business processes and configurations from scratch.

  2. Brownfield (system conversion): A lift and shift; copying ECC environments and upgrading and adapting customizations. This technical upgrade utilizes many existing business processes.

  3. Bluefield (hybrid): Pick and choose what systems, data, customizations, and business processes are migrated to SAP S/4HANA. Move business critical ECC functionality and map requirements to the SAP S/4HANA system. There is a possibility to develop new functionality in the upgraded environment.

The method you choose impacts data, business processes, customizations built over time, custom code, quantifying changes, and synchronization between your legacy and SAP S/4HANA environments. For example, in a Brownfield approach, ECC 6.0 and Unicode are pre-requisites for a shift to SAP S/4HANA. So, you may have to make some underlying changes to your legacy systems for a successful migration.

Greenfield Brownfield Bluefield or Hybrid

New system implementation starting from scratch



A system conversion of a legacy ECC system


Copy chosen system, retaining necessary data and custom code. Adapt for conversion or new SAP S/4HANA capabilities
Quantifying changes in preparation Essential Essential Essential
Data Unlikely to retain any data All data in the system is retained and converted Can choose to preserve business critical data in systems migrated to SAP S/4HANA
Business processes Business processes and configurations built from scratch Necessary changes only Retain processes which work; customize others to suit business needs
Code merge insights N/A Yes – all custom code is retained with adjustments to suit SAP S/4HANA when required Case by case – preserve critical code and adapt for SAP S/4HANA environment
Technical synchronization N/A Yes Yes
Work order synchronization Yes Yes Yes

What does this mean for the preparation phase of your digital transformation?

Organizations must develop a strategy for conversion that meets budgets, deadlines, and ROI. Whatever method you adopt to shift to SAP S/4HANA, a few key considerations will impact your transition's success.

Step 2: Other considerations

The preparation phase is an ideal time to assess the challenges and make the necessary adjustments to accelerate your SAP S/4HANA migration and minimize negative impact after go-live.

5 factors to consider in preparation for a digital transformation

  1. Code Simplification

When migrating to the new SAP environment, you should consider your plans for customized ABAP code. The shift to SAP S/4HANA allows organizations to take advantage of new standardized functionality previously unavailable in ECC and reduce their reliance on custom code. The preparation phase is an opportune time to make this adjustment to avoid rework post-cutover.

However, there are many moving parts, so organizations must put in place processes or workflows to prevent the loss of functionality or unexpected behaviours. Doing this ensures you can avoid downgrades and have the confidence that all required functionalities are migrated.

2. Code Compatibility

There will be cases where organizations need to bring over their custom code to the new platform to retain their competitive edge. Since developers typically created this code for ECC systems, it is often incompatible with SAP S/4HANA, presenting one of the biggest hurdles teams must manage during their digital transformation journey. Fortunately, there are practices teams can adopt to mitigate much of the effort to adjust the code for compatibility.

It's good practice to check the suitability of the code from inside your current ECC environment. Use the ABAP Test Cockpit (ATC) and install libraries to assess code for SAP S/4HANA suitability. Run all changes progressing across the current landscape (BAU changes, enhancements, etc.) through ATC. Where an incompatibility exists, you can attempt to resolve it immediately and advance it through testing and authorization requirements with the other changes.

3. Cross Landscape Dependency

Many different landscapes make up your legacy SAP environment. In combination with your ABAP development changes and customized code, you need to consider changes to BW, BOBj, SRM and CRM, for example.

Understanding the dependencies between your ECC system and the other landscapes is critical. When you migrate from ECC to SAP S/4HANA, you must accommodate cross-landscape dependency between the data integrations. Otherwise, you run the risk of parts of the application not working in the new environment. In addition, the different landscapes might be included in their own SAP S/4HANA transition, so an appropriate plan for managing multi-landscape transformations is crucial.

4. Onboarding the development team and change management process training

Often, an integration partner will stand up your new SAP S/4HANA system. It would help if you had onboarding and training of your change management process solution during the preparation phase of the project. Your change management processes must be consistent and enforceable, and the SAP S/4HANA system should be built to your requirements in preserving data, customizations etc. You don’t want an outsourced integration partner building your new environment and leaving you to ensure it works as expected.


Will you leverage SAP BTP to keep your core clean in the new SAP S/4HANA environment? Consider putting some of the functionality onto the BTP immediately.

The Bottom Line: Navigating your Digital Transformation

Shifting from SAP ECC allows organizations to enter the digital future. It's not just an upgrade; it's a path to digital transformation. Data preservation is a key consideration for a rapid and less risky transition to SAP S/4HANA. How do you want to utilize existing data, customizations, and business processes? The most advantageous time is during the preparation for your SAP S/4HANA journey.

You can, for example, make a data-specific decision about how you will transition to the new environment and rationalize and assess custom code for SAP S/4HANA suitability as you prepare for a digital transformation.

In the next post, Seamless SAP S/4HANA migration: an automated retrofit approach”, I will analyze why synchronizing changes between your legacy ECC and SAP S/4HANA systems until the cutover is crucial.

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