SAP ERP upgrade case study: Upgrade to ECC 6.0 with minimal downtime

Sage Group Consulting helped Tarrant County, Texas, upgrade from SAP R/3 4.7 to ECC 6.0 with advance planning and simulations before go-live.

Salil Sharma has a piece of advice for anyone facing an SAP ECC 6.0 upgrade: Don't bite off more than you can chew.

"Many times, people put too much on their plate as part of an upgrade," said Sharma, practice director for Middletown, N.J.-based Sage Group Consulting. "Then the results do not come out as expected. Take it one step at a time."

Sharma served as the engagement manager/project manager for a technical upgrade to SAP ECC 6.0 from December 2007 to April 2008 for Tarrant County, Texas, a county with a population of 1.7 million, whose county seat is Fort Worth.

Tarrant County has roughly 4,200 employees in 80 departments at 37 locations. Sage Group, a consultancy focused on SAP R/3, business intelligence (BI) and human resources, was selected to help administer the upgrade from SAP R/3 4.7 to ECC 6.0, which includes a move to SAP Employee Self Service Portal (EP 7.0 ESS).

Heeding his own advice, Sharma and Tarrant County certainly took it one step at a time, at least to ensure relevant changes during the upgrade worked in tune with the business processes after the go-live.

"Following a timeline and only sticking to a plan, that's what really made us successful," said Andrea Benson, SAP IT manager for Tarrant County and project lead for the upgrade.

The project included three testing phases over the course of three weeks before the go-live. Each subsequent phase tested more areas such as transactions, processes, data, and authorized users, to make sure things would go smoothly before launch.

For more information on ECC upgrades
Read our SAP ERP Central Component (ECC 6.0) upgrade guide

Find out why SAP ERP 6.0 upgrades are easier than past releases
A gap analysis was also conducted in a sandbox environment, and a short cycle of unit testing in the Development (DEV) environment was also conducted. The project also featured a trial run of the upgrade process, including pre- and post-validation tasks, business continuity tasks and technical upgrade tasks.

While there was more than one reason for the upgrade, the main goal, Sharma said, was to position Tarrant County for the future by giving it a scalable platform for its ERP system. "The (R/3) 4.7 standard SAP support is coming to an end in the near future, and Tarrant County wanted to position itself for a robust foundation for the (SAP) ERP application," he said. Other goals for the projects included providing a more user-friendly interface; deploying more portal applications for employees; reducing the number of customizations; and improving business processes.

Tarrant County had been running SQL Server 2000 and SQL Server 2005 databases running on Dell 32-bit PowerEdge 6850 and 2850 servers. The upgrade to ECC 6.0 brought with it SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (BW) 3.5 and SAP Enterprise Business Portal NW2004s. It also required a change to 64-bit versions of the Dell PowerEdge 6850 and 2850 servers.

The move to ECC6.0 was primarily a technical upgrade, Sharma said. "There were areas we had to re-customize the application, and there was a lot of new functionality. We had to reconfigure the whole portal for ESS."

Sage Group's upgrade team consisted of 10 people, who focused on SAP FI/CO, HR and security, while the 12 Tarrant County members of the team had responsibility for funds management and grant management as well as the technical role of SAP Basis administration. A Basis and front-end operating system administrator was brought in by a second SAP consultant, Realtech Inc.

Sharma said the upgrade project met with little opposition. "It was very clear that we were doing a technical upgrade," he said, "and it was communicated to the user committee that they would not experience any problems [with] their [business] processes. On the portal side, we made sure they understood it was going to be a new look and feel but we would still apply the existing services. In fact, [the user committee was] very supportive to the business."

But the ECC 6.0 upgrade was not without challenges. In January 2008, a problem occurred when extracting pay scale attributes from SAP R/3 using DataSource 0PAYSCALELV_ATTR. During the upgrade to ECC 6.0, Tarrant County found that employee salaries in the NetWeaver BW 3.5 system were being calculated incorrectly because the hourly rate calculated in R/3 was already incorrect. The problem was resolved by opening SAP OSS notes.

Even communication with certain departments and figureheads posed a challenge, Benson said. "The biggest obstacle was making sure that we included everyone in the process," she said. Tarrant County met the challenge by implementing a portal where everyone could follow the progress of testing the upgrade.

One speed bump was that the business directors made it clear that they didn't want to see any changes in business processes as a result of the upgrade. But if an employee could not go in and do their regular job, she said, the group would go in and address the problem before production . She said the only change -- and it was a positive one -- was that after the upgrade, users gained the ability to telecommute.

When gas prices spiked nationally in 2008, Benson said the ability for Tarrant County employees to work from home really came into play. In addition to saving money on gas, users gained the ability for employee self-service, allowing them to perform standard HR transactions from home.

SAP Solution Manager used for patch management

Sharma also said that SAP Solution Manager was used during the project for certain tasks like patch management, as well as for documenting the upgrade process so as to keep track of any issues.

"In the beginning, we demonstrated to Tarrant County that Solution Manager can be used for documentation, testing, automation of testing and many other purposes," he said.

During the upgrade, the system was down for a weekend, but things ran as smoothly as expected by the time the system was back online. "Our downtime was minimized," Sharma said. "We turned the system off on Friday at 5 p.m., and by Sunday night we were up and running with ECC 6.0."

The project's success was due to simulations of the system before the go-live, Sharma said. Simulations can mitigate problems down the line, he said. The road to those benefits would also have been bumpier if not for advance planning of the upgrade.

"Plan it well," he said. "I cannot emphasize enough about the planning, and obviously the major element in the software area is testing. The more you do it, the more confident you will be. And after you go live, you won't have many more issues."

Benson's final advice on upgrades: "If you don't have in-house talent, go out and pursue a consulting firm."

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