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How 2 S/4HANA projects wrapped up remotely due to COVID-19

Here's how two SAP S/4HANA migration projects by De Nora Group and Vistaprint were completed on time after the COVID-19 crisis forced the implementation teams to work remotely.

When the coronavirus pandemic crisis began to seriously affect businesses last spring, some costly and complex initiatives were faced with a dilemma: shut the project down until the crisis turned around, or keep going to completion.

Here's how two SAP S/4HANA implementation projects dealt with the dilemma by going full speed ahead to the finish.

De Nora Group is a global corporation based in Milan that runs two business lines: Electrode Technologies, which manufactures electrodes and coatings for electrochemical processes; and Water Technologies, which offers water and wastewater treatment technologies. The company has a complex ERP landscape that has included SAP ERP Central Component (SAP ECC) and peripheral SAP systems, but its leaders decided to migrate to SAP S/4HANA to simplify and consolidate the various systems on one modern ERP platform, said Oliver Roessler, CFO of De Nora Water Technologies.

Oliver Roessler, CFO, De Nora Water TechnologiesOliver Roessler

"The main motivation was there was a huge need for financial consolidation because there were many different ERP systems," Roessler said. "We wanted to integrate business processes onto one single and powerful platform, which was S/4HANA."

The SAP S/4HANA migration project has been completed in stages across De Nora's ERP landscape. S/4HANA was implemented for the Electrode Technologies business units in seven countries (Italy, the U.S., Germany, Brazil, Japan, India and China), and a migration project began for the Water Technologies systems began in September 2019.

Trans-Atlantic collaboration

Planning and development for the Water Technologies S/4HANA project was handled by teams in Italy and the U.S., said Carlo Paschetto, group director of the information and communication technology team (ICT) at De Nora.

"When you deal with a multinational project, complexity is an issue," Paschetto said. "In the last month of 2019, the ICT team traveled back and forth many times between Italy and the U.S."

We were only one month from the go-live, so we had to decide in a few days or hours if we were stopping everything or taking the risk for managing everything.
Carlo PaschettoGroup ICT director, De Nora

With a go-live date scheduled for April 1, the S/4HANA implementation was headed into the final stages in early 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic crisis hit. Italy was one of the first regions to be affected by the pandemic, which threw the project status into flux.

"The go-live was expected to be in April and this was the beginning of February, so just a couple months from the go-live date," Paschetto said. "We were working on the data migration and the customizations at that time in February, and we thought that the U.S. business team would be allowed to continue to work on site in the office. We couldn't imagine that COVID would spread around the world."

The real challenge happened a few weeks later, when the U.S. declared a state of emergency and workers had to work from home.

Carlo Paschetto, group ICT director, De NoraCarlo Paschetto

"We were only one month from the go-live, so we had to decide in a few days or hours if we were stopping everything or taking the risk for managing everything," Paschetto said. "Everyone in the project, the ICT teams, the business teams in the U.S., as well as the third parties working with us were working from home, and we had to decide if we were moving on or postponing the go-live."

The De Nora team convened with the main stakeholders, including De Nora's outside implementation partner Capgemini, to determine the best course of action, Roessler said.

"The steering committee discussed the pros and cons of a project stop or delayed go-live, and the risks on the other side if we were to proceed with the go-live on April 1," Roessler said. "The steering committee decided to go forward and not postpone the implementation. We finally made the decision, but we had all the risks and the pros and cons on the table."

More challenging than usual

Roessler had just joined De Nora and was well aware of the challenges involved in an S/4HANA project under the best of circumstances.

"I came onboard in January and they told me that they were going to implement SAP S/4HANA with April 1 go-live, which I thought was really challenging implementation," he said. "And then COVID, and what was already challenging became a much more challenging situation."

Ultimately, the risks of uncertainty regarding suspending the project were found to be higher than the challenges of completing it, so the project steering committee decided to press forward to the go-live date.

In order to make the go-live date, all parties involved had to collaborate remotely and across various time zones, Roessler said. Problems that were previously solved quickly when people were working side by side now took several hours to resolve because of time zone issues, but the remote global collaboration eventually worked, and go-live happened right on time on April 1.

Every implementation project brings new lessons, but this was totally new, Paschetto said.

"One lesson is a confirmation that [IT] working side by side with business is a key factor for the success of a complex project [like an S/4HANA implementation], and this was a challenging point in this rollout because we actually couldn't work side by side with the business," he said. "We learned we need to plan the training phase very carefully for the next rollout, and how we can better support the final end user without being able to work side by side with them."

Vistaprint chooses S/4HANA

Vistaprint is another company that faced the prospect of putting an S/4HANA project on hold.

Based in Venlo, Netherlands, Vistaprint provides a wide variety of print and digital marketing products to small businesses and individuals. The company claims around 17 million customers who typically order small quantities of materials like business cards and promotional flyers.

Vistaprint had run an SAP ECC system for 13 years to handle back-end operations, but the legacy system eventually proved to be inadequate to deal with the number of transactions being generated, said Mukul Agrawal, Vistaprint's global head of ERP.

Mukul Agrawal, Vistaprint global head of ERPMukul Agrawal

In June 2019, Vistaprint decided the time was right to begin a move to S/4HANA, which could handle the company's data requirements and serve as a platform for new business requirements, Agrawal said. For example, Vistaprint was running several non-SAP analytics applications that could be retired once S/4HANA was implemented.

The S/4HANA migration project progressed in stages, Agrawal explained. First, the legacy SAP ECC system was moved from Vistaprint's on-premises data centers to a private cloud on SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud; second, the underlying system database was switched from SQL to SAP HANA; third, the SAP ECC application was migrated to S/4HANA.

Going the last mile remotely

The S/4HANA go-live date was set for April 25 and the project was heading for the last mile when the coronavirus pandemic crisis hit. Like De Nora, Vistaprint had to decide to pause the project or continue with team members working remotely because businesses in the U.S. were on lockdown in early March.

"We were still roughly six weeks away from go-live, and we had to decide what we were going to do," Agrawal said. "Based on the work in front of us and what was left to do, we decided to move forward and finish this project remotely."

The Vistaprint team and its implementation partner, Tata Consultancy Services, worked remotely from home across time zones to complete the project, but some important work involving support after the go-live date could not go on as planned, according to Agrawal.

"We had plans that our teams were going to travel to manufacturing plants to support them after go-live, but that couldn't happen," he said. "It was not easy to make that decision, but in terms of facts in front of us -- how much work we had already accomplished -- we felt comfortable that we can do this remotely, because we were ready, we were prepared, we have done enough testing, and the issues that we have in front of us to work on, like testing and project issues, were very minimal."

Collaboration and careful planning are the keys to being successful when a project runs into disruption, Agrawal said.

"Know your risks and have a mitigation plan around it. Even if you have a sizable risk, you can always adapt if the mitigation is reasonable," he said. "You also need to win the confidence of your stakeholders -- don't make the decision in a silo and be patient enough to allow your partners to make a collaborative decision. If your stakeholders are standing by you, they will support you even if there are pain points after the go-live."

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