How to make your SAP upgrade succeed in ten easy steps

An SAP upgrade can be fraught with obstacles. Here are ten steps for taking the hassle out of an SAP upgrade.

Most SAP upgrades are fraught with obstacles and potential pitfalls, but a good SAP administrator knows how to overcome them. Here are ten steps that can be taken to make an SAP upgrade go smoothly.

1. Address business objectives
Make sure that your project managers align your upgrade plan with organizational goals to ensure that SAP ERP supports your business processes and objectives. Outline the benefits of the new functionality and communicate these benefits to your users. Weigh the pros and cons early on during the project planning phase in order to determine whether installing new out-of-the-box functionality makes more business sense than migrating existing customized code.

2. Prepare the entire organization
Prepare business, functional and end users for the task. It will take everyone's involvement to make things run smoothly. Make sure everyone knows the project's impact and can contribute resources accordingly. Remember: There is no such thing as a purely "technical" upgrade.

3. Consult experienced companies
Speak with peer companies in a similar industry that have been down the SAP upgrade path. Understand their upgrade strategies, training methods, planning approaches and other methods of project organization.

4. Make a checklist
A pre-upgrade assessment checklist can help you evaluate your current hardware from top to bottom. You'll need to look at CPU, memory, disk space, SAN, network infrastructure and any other areas affected by the upgrade. Keep in mind that SAP has many services -- such as hardware sizing and pre-checklists -- that can help your organization avoid upgrade pitfalls.

5. Prioritize testing and training
Proper testing and training are probably the most important factors in a successful upgrade. Perform a full testing cycle to ensure that everything -- including third-party interfaces -- works as expected. Involve your designated team leaders and power users, and require them to sign off on this functionality. Skipping any up-front testing will come back to haunt you later in the project.

6. Focus on communication-driven change management
All changes resulting from the SAP upgrade should be thoroughly documented. Establish a strong process for approvals. Communication should be a priority for the change management team, so provide constant updates to the project members and business community, including upper management and all end users. In addition to daily task meetings, set up a weekly update meeting for all relevant members of the organization.

7. Don't forget the front end
A compatible version of the SAP GUI front-end must be deployed before the upgrade is completed.

8. Keep the lights on
During the initial project planning, make sure that you secure resources to help with the day-to-day support activities. Given the large amount of work associated with the upgrade, consider hiring additional consultants or backfill to help with support.

9. Rehearse
Plan for a realistic dress rehearsal using a fresh copy of your production systems. With all users involved, perform an end-to-end test of the upgrade going through the complete timeline and all user roles. If there's enough time, plan on doing more than one rehearsal. That way everyone will bje better prepared.

10. Hire experienced consultants
Engage a quality consulting group with experience in your industry. Verify that the consultants understand the needs of your business and have SAP upgrade experience within your industry. Make sure they have the internal resources and relationships with SAP to bring the leadership needed to help make the upgrade succeed. Engaging a consulting company can also be a way to augment any skills your in-house team may lack.

Matthew Clemente has more than nine years of SAP Basis experience. He has completed more than 16 successful SAP upgrades, including seven full end-to-end implementations. He is currently a Senior Basis Administrator with Morris Communications in Augusta, Ga., and serves as Chief Technical Instructor for saptraining.com.

This was first published in March 2008

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