Innovation in SAP implementation: The strategic value of adopting a playback approach | HCLTech
Digital Business

Innovation in SAP implementation: The strategic value of adopting a playback approach

Want to accelerate and derisk the implementation process and enhance adoption of best practices? Then it’s time to move beyond SAP Activate methodology and adopt an innovative “playback” approach.
5 min read
Sebastian Gueler


Sebastian Gueler
SVP – Head of Americas, SAP Practice
5 min read
Innovation in SAP implementation: The strategic value of adopting a playback approach

SAP implementation – but not as you know it

While I’ve witnessed a near continuous evolution of ERP during my long career, there is one thing that hasn’t changed: implementations are still fraught with challenges. Indeed, every CIO I know bears battle scars from programs that were over time, over budget, and beset by poor user adoption.

Yet there are also many stories of unalloyed success. So how can you ensure that your program will be one of these? Lists of “key success factors” for always include the obvious: meticulous planning, a focus on value, and effective change management. But what many tend overlook – and what I think is the real determinant of success – is the singular importance of the implementation methodology that enables these.

Right, I hear you thinking. Isn’t the default methodology the trusted and tried SAP Activate? Of course – but even Activate leaves room for improvement. What follows in an overview of a novel approach I call “the playback method,” which is inspired by SAP's Activate framework but can better accelerate and derisk the implementation process and enhance adoption of best practices.

Why it’s time to change the narrative around requirements

One point most SAP practitioners will agree on is that traditional implementation methodologies, with their heavy focus on gathering user requirements and tailoring solutions to fit these specifications, rarely lead to efficient or innovative outcomes.

This is because users - whose working knowledge of SAP likely comes from their legacy environment - are unlikely to know how to extract real value from the new system. As a colleague pointed , users tend to fall into the “same as now - only better” design trap.Their frame of reference is always going to be what their legacy system can and can’t do now, rather than on the best way to deliver business value using the new system.

This tendency speaks to two main issues – either of which has the power to derail your transformation project. The first is your users’ lack of visibility into the capabilities of the new system.The second is that their focus is not necessarily on realizing “best practices”; rather, it is on maintaining business continuity, specifically on achieving their current KPIs. The problem is that both can become a roadblock to actual transformation.

It's time to change this narrative. Rather than asking users for their requirements, your SI instead needs to tell the business what best practice in the new system looks like – and then convince them why it’s better to leverage it. In other words, the conversation needs to shift from “what do you need the system to do” to “why shouldn’t they adopt what best-in-class companies already use?”

Here, the industry expertise and experience of your SI will be key. These conversations are, after all, not just about technology and functionality. Rather, they are fundamentally about how the business can better meet their KPIs – or indeed, why they may need to change their KPIs to align with industry benchmarks. In other words, your SI needs to be your ally in convincing often skeptical users that they can – and will – adopt industry best practices because it’s better for the business, even if that means change.

Enter the Playback Approach

The playback method is a consultative approach that effectively shifts the traditional narrative from "What are your requirements?" to "This is what best practice looks like in your industry—why wouldn't it work for you?"

The approach is grounded in an early visualization of the new system. Following our Activate+ methodology, users get to see (and then refine) a best-practice solution during iterative “show & tell” or “playback” sessions that begin early in the design phase. As early as the first session, we show users their new system, ideally populated with their own data. This means that almost from day one, users can see how their new processes will work, helping to flush out design challenges early in the project life cycle.

To accomplish this accelerated design phase, we leverage our prebuilt, industry-specific best practice solutions – what we call Base90s. These industry solutions have been refined over the years and reflect our deep knowledge of both standard SAP and industry gaps in standard SAP Best Practices. Show & tell sessions help us identify where standard can’t be adopted, so we can refine the solution in subsequent playback loops.

This is a real step-change – especially if you think back to more traditional implementation methodologies. In the old days, you saw the solution late during the project life cycle – perhaps as late as integration testing, which meant that projects would often run out of runway to incorporate any changes. The choice then was to either delay go live, or to go live with a suboptimized solution (not extracting all the value you needed and expected). Most often your SI was forced to a rush job, resulting in an avalanche of go-live issues, a chaotic hypercare phase, an unhappy user community, and a pressurized IT organization.

Allowing people to see and help refine the solution early in the program means they have time to understand it, to decide whether it makes sense for them and the business and allows ample time to pick up and correct anything we may have missed. It also means that our first playback loop can be used to start talking about what and how things will change – so users are part of a transformation journey from day one.

The result is that before we enter integration testing, every process has been built out, seen by users, and importantly, approved. Integration testing can now be done much faster, be more stable, and really focus on what it's meant to - the integration of the system.

Demonstrating prebuilt solutions: Accelerating user adoption

One of the critical advantages of the playback approach is its impact on user adoption. By introducing prebuilt solutions during the initial stages of the project, potential users are not just hearing about, but are actually visualizing, what their daily operations could look like. This tangible demonstration helps bridge the gap between abstract concepts and practical applications, making it easier for users to understand and embrace the new system.

Early exposure to the system through these playbacks also allows users to provide immediate feedback, which can be incorporated into the development cycle quickly. This iterative process ensures that the final product is more aligned with user expectations and business needs, thereby reducing resistance and enhancing the overall adoption rate.

For senior managers, the ability to visualize the end product early on also provides a clearer picture of the project's direction. This can give sponsors an early assurance that the program is heading towards success - an important psychological victory for all involved.

The strategic value of playback in SAP S/4HANA implementations

The strategic value of the playback approach extends beyond user adoption, however. Visualization helps users shift the focus away from legacy processes and towards a new future state.

By presenting a solution that is already aligned with industry best practices, the approach prompts the business to reconsider their processes and how they could be optimized. Once they realize that up to 80-90% of processes can in fact be adopted as standard or “best practice”, we can then focus efforts on the 10-20% of processes that are identified as truly “differentiating” for the business. This helps position the new system as a catalyst for business transformation, rather than just an IT upgrade.

For the business, this opens the door for taking a more value-focused approach to SAP S/4HANA implementation. A focus on best practices invites benchmarking current processes against industry best practices – and a subsequent re-evaluation of business KPIs. Playback sessions can also incorporate discussions of how improvements in one area can have other downstream effects, and help teams identify targets for the future.

And finally, the playback approach aligns closely with SAP’s Activate methodology, emphasizing fit-to-standard, avoiding unnecessary customizations, and promoting a clean core philosophy. This alignment ensures that the system remains robust, scalable, and easier to upgrade in the future.

Benefits of the Playback Approach

  • Reduced implementation time: By leveraging prebuilt solutions and minimal customization, the time from project inception to go-live is significantly reduced. And because the solution can be demonstrated early, it gives assurance to teams that transformation will not take forever – and that it will not be as painful as might be feared.
  • Cost efficiency: Minimizing custom development and accelerating timelines also helps keep the project within budget while still delivering a solution that meets key business requirements.
  • Enhanced stakeholder engagement: Seeing potential outcomes early in the process helps engage various stakeholders, ensuring their requirements are met more effectively.
  • Risk mitigation: With a focus on best practices and proven solutions, the likelihood of project failure is decreased.
  • An early show of success:For many project sponsors, their own personal success is often deeply entwined with that of the program. Being able to visualize the system early gives early visibility of the program’s health – and plenty of time to course correct as needed.

Conclusion: Empowering the transformation journey

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the methods we use to implement complex systems like ERPs must also adapt. The playback approach represents a significant improvement to standard agile and interactive methodologies in that it not only streamlines the implementation process, but also empowers users and business leaders to take a more active role in their digital transformation journeys.

For organizations looking to overhaul their ERP systems, considering a playback approach could be the key to unlocking greater efficiencies, better user experiences, and ultimately, a more robust bottom line. For senior business managers and IT professionals considering SAP implementation projects, the playback approach offers a strategic, efficient, and user-centric alternative to traditional methodologies. By focusing on prebuilt solutions demonstrated through interactive playbacks, businesses can not only speed up the implementation process but also ensure greater user adoption and strategic alignment with industry best practices.

Share On