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Product and Topic Expert
Product and Topic Expert


When introducing modular cloud ERP as a service, like SAP S/4HANA Cloud, many organizations look forward to a future without worries about operating databases, servers, networks, and software logistics. For the most part, those expectations hold true. For cloud customers to assume no need at all for an organizational setup to support the sustained success of solution adoption and operations however would be shortsighted. When organizations familiarize themselves with business transformation as a service, like RISE with SAP, my colleagues in Customer Success will share with them transparently for which tasks they will remain responsible throughout the subscription. This blog focuses on operations during the Run phase.

Organizations running cloud solutions remain responsible for several operational tasks. Some of the tasks they may be able to delegate to service partners. Others they may want to hold on to. Let’s have a look which might be which, and what ways there are for organizations to organize them well.

What are operational responsibilities in the cloud?

Agile Business Scope Deployments. Modular cloud ERP applications like SAP S/4HANA Cloud are typically implemented in incremental short cycles. Functional or regional scope is configured to allow for going live within a few weeks, followed by several more similar cycles. In fact, when scoping the solution implementation, savvy enterprise or business architects, configuration consultants and organizational change managers purposefully establish an agile culture of speedy cyclical incremental scope configuration followed by perpetual innovation adoption. While continuous process improvement has long been established business practice in many organizations, the scope, implementation, and adoption speed required here may exceed current practice. They have in common though that repetitive steps in common processes shall be automated wherever sensible.

Solution Adoption and Organizational Change Management. As business processes are being standardized, simplified, automated, and deployed in frequent incremental cycles, these changes might impact users in multiple ways. Analyzing and addressing these impacts belong to the tasks of organizational change management. Users will have to develop a certain level of resilience to cope with frequent process change. They may have to come to terms with more frequent learning, with different ways of working. As simple, repetitive work may regularly be delegated to bots, artificial intelligence might detect previously unknown pattern in vast amounts of data, and workers may need to learn how to collaborate with both. Their focus might generally have to shift to activities which require more human qualities, empathy, creativity, multi-disciplinary collaboration, and research.

Enablement and Training. Thorough enablement of the organization, especially of the end users of these new or improved business process applications, will be required. The SAP Learning Hub provides for learning journeys specific to user roles. Some of the enablement assets may come as integral part of the new software processes, like in SAP S/4HANA Cloud, with embedded and contextual process descriptions and training. Any customization however will require custom enablement material to be provided. Operations team may take advantage of tools like SAP Enable Now to create material of equal quality to ensure similarly quick adoption as with the standardized applications.

Monitoring. Automation and integrated business processes require careful monitoring. So does data throughput, flow, and process consistency.  Monitoring itself may often be automated and only alert skilled workers to execute exception protocols. Conceiving of such situational exception handling in and of itself in the course of automating processes thus becomes another task for an operations team. SAP Cloud Application Lifecycle Management may be a useful asset for this activity and many others mentioned here.

Product Roadmap Anticipation, Value Analysis. Anticipating innovations delivered as part of the subscription, assessing their value potential for the organization, and then implementing and adopting them, “owning” them, all these activities are required to operate the solution with a perspective of continuous incremental value creation and sustained success.

Customizations. While SAP S/4HANA Cloud comes with many standardized business processes, there is some level of customization possible, namely by integrating with other applications, by adding custom fields, custom objects, even custom code within the application. Anything implemented custom or integrated is to be tested before being put into production and continuously monitored in production by the organization with extra care. With automated periodic software releases or with updates these custom additions may need to be checked and tested thoroughly again.

Regression Testing. Most business processes configured within S/4HANA Cloud may be tested automatically with built-in test automation tooling and pre-defined or templatized test routines. Process stretching across two or more applications may require manual regression testing or different tools for test automation, like e.g. SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation, or intelligent RPA.

Master Data Governance. During initial implementation, the project typically takes care of migrating organization specific master data. During migration, quality assurance measures are usually implemented. Once the organization is in production however, maintaining master data in good quality becomes part of operational duties.

But wait, there is more. Check out the list of tasks and activities in the Run phase of SAP Activate.

Roles and Skills required. As we have seen, the tasks and activities needed to operate a business application in the cloud are quite varied. We’d not be wrong to expect a similarly varied set of skills and roles to perform them. SAP has defined 15 roles across 3 areas to address all the required skills to run SAP cloud solutions with sustained success. They recommend bundling resources who execute these roles in so-called customer centers of expertise, or Customer COE for short. Note that multiple roles could be combined into one position.

Customer Center of Excellence, SAP S/4HANA Cloud
Role Areas Roles
Business Roles Business Owners
Digital Business Analyst
Key Users
IT Roles Business Architect
UX Developer
Data Scientist
Roles across all IT Customer COEs Enterprise Architect
Integration Architect
Technology Architect
Release Manager
Test Manager
Service Manager
Change Agent

SAP’s role suggestion for Customer COE, in SAP Activate, Project Management for SAP S/4HANA, Jan Musil, Sven Denecken et al., SAP Press, upcoming 2nd edition, 2022, chapter 10.  

Customer Center of Expertise or Excellence. SAP has defined Customer COEs as “collaboration hubs across IT and Lines of Business in their organizations. Their mission is to provide transparency and efficiency of implementation, innovation, operation, and quality of business processes and systems related to the SAP software solutions and services. They have the knowledge, the capabilities, and the network to centrally drive continuous improvement and continuous innovation.” SAP provides for services to initiate a Customer COE. With a dedicated program setup SAP helps Customer COEs mature their capabilities and efficiency in supporting their own organization. In its original SAP concept, Customer COEs emphasize on expertise. While expertise is certainly required, I like to accentuate excellence. I find this notion more open to exploration, an aspect I find more inspiring as COEs mature into teams of innovators, as “prospectors” of future business value.

Customer COE Virtualization. Not all organizations may have the business need to keep representatives for all CCOE roles on staff. While Business Owner, Key Users, Change Agents and certainly Users are most definitely represented in all organizations, resources with more technical or architectural roles could be sourced as staff augmentation from dedicated SAP partners as part of a virtualized Customer COE team. There are certainly multiple viable COE models with different ratios between in-house and outsourced resources conceivable. Some of the criteria to be considered are availability and cost of skilled resources, their regular utilization rate, or perhaps plausible combinations of roles and skills into one job description.

Speaking of virtualization, as the past few years have shown, close collaboration across disciplines does not require team members to be co-located. Virtual teams have proven to do great work together. Even better when they use SAP Activate accelerators for virtual collaboration as they deploy incremental business scope.

We have seen, there are many operational activities customers of cloud applications remain responsible for. Setting up a Customer Center of Excellence addresses these responsibilities and tasks. Customer COEs could be virtualized and “hybridized” with some roles taken on by own staff, others delegated to contingent workers sourced from specialized SAP service partners.

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