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Experts share common global SAP upgrade problems and mistakes – and how to avoid them

Knowing common global SAP upgrade problems can help organizations avoid costly downtime. Learn the six most common problems – and how to avoid them – from top industry experts.

One of the best ways to reduce global SAP upgrade problems is to learn from the experiences and mistakes of others....

With that in mind, SAP industry analysts and experts shared the most common upgrade problems they've seen in global SAP environments. They also offered advice for overcoming -- or better yet, avoiding -- these problems altogether.

1. Ignoring the functional upgrade. Companies routinely find they need an SAP upgrade for technical reasons, such as a looming SAP support deadline or a platform change. The temptation is to do the technical upgrade but not bother to implement new features and functions -- which is more disruptive to users, according to Jim Shepherd, senior vice president with Boston-based AMR Research Inc.

"That's a real mistake, and it diminishes the value of the software," Shepherd said. "It also ignores the fact that business requirements change more frequently than software gets upgraded."

2. Poor test management. Many companies do a poor job of testing their SAP upgrades before implementing, he said. That includes both those that don't perform adequate integration, user acceptance and performance testing, as well as those that test too much.

"They don't take the time to do the analysis, to figure out what needs to be tested," Shepherd said. "In most cases, there isn't a good reason to test everything, so they spend way too much time and money on the testing."

Shepherd and Joshua Greenbaum, principal with Enterprise Applications Consulting, both advised companies to invest in testing software or services that help identify what to test and how to manage the testing process.

3. Scope creep. Scope creep is another common pitfall in SAP upgrades, Greenbaum warned. To avoid it, he suggests freezing SAP development well in advance of the upgrade in order to eliminate the possibility of development changes taking place during the upgrade.

4. Failure to kill custom code. Customers routinely write their own code to address objects or functions that aren't in the off-the-shelf version of SAP.

"When you upgrade, take the opportunity to standardize the SAP solution as much as possible," said Jon Reed, an independent SAP analyst and SAP Mentor. "You might have custom objects in prior versions of SAP that you no longer need."

Besides creating a more standard environment, companies can save themselves unnecessary aggravation, he noted, because it's inevitable that some custom objects won't work with the new version of SAP.

5. Delivering one-size-fits-all training. Different employees use SAP in different ways, so companies need to tailor training accordingly, Reed said. He favors role-based training customized to an organization's unique requirements. Context-based tools are a big help. With these tools, when users run into a problem, they click on a button and get help with the function they're using. When budget is an issue, Reed suggested focusing on the problems that are giving users the most trouble.

6. Ignoring change management. Reed also advised against waiting until training time to address change management issues. Instead, engage users in a dialogue early on about any changes caused by the upgrade, and let them provide feedback on new business processes and changes.

Paul Desmond is president of PDEdit, an IT content company in Southborough, Mass. He can be reached at paul@pdedit.com.

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