What skills does IT need to implement S/4 – and what you can do now to start building them
It has been a few years since I embarked on my own personal S/4 journey that started, perhaps much like your own, with reading blogs and exploring the wealth of info that the SAP system provides. Now that I spend the bulk of my days developing S/4 solutions, I have graduated from reading S/4 blogs to writing them. So, what insights would I pass on to SAP professionals who are about to start this journey?
Firstly, you will have to approach things in a fundamentally different way if the business is going to get the best from a clean digital core and be able to support the ongoing innovation that companies must embrace to be competitive in the new digital world.
Now that I have thoroughly scared you, next I would say that while it’s certainly all changed, a lot of what you already know and have experienced can be carried forward. The challenges you have always had are still there, and many of the concepts and approaches of the SAP system are still available. For example, the old tables are present even if some are now compatibility views. The front end is now Fiori, but a large percentage is just Fiori front ends to the old transactions. However, when you do see some of the fully redesigned screens, you realize you could have never done that in the older ECC development tools. You have many new tools, there are new concepts and – critically – your design approach and ethos to SAP have to undergo a fundamental shift.
SAP provides a staggering amount of detailed information on S/4 as well as on most of the tools and concepts behind the wider solution, such as SCP, CPI and SAC (the list of new acronyms is truly staggering). SAP also provides many ways to see, use and even develop in the new platforms, such as the SAP Cloud Platform for instance, so that you can directly interact with this new technology. This is all great when you are able to strictly adhere to the script and/or demo, but for the novice user or developer of S/4, it can be a huge challenge if something does not work. You will then need to roll up your sleeves and sort out the problems or issues yourself, just like in the pre-S/4 world. Much like in that earlier world, this is often when you will learn the most.
As recently as two years ago, while I had the feeling that not many people took to the complexities of in-depth S/4 development, today I am surprised by how many have sound S/4 experience. This leads me to my next insight - don’t assume boundaries and restrictions in S/4, as innovation is unsurprisingly very much alive with S/4. I should also note at this point that it’s not just in S/4, the same can be true in C/4, BPC, SAC or any of the newer SAP areas. The functional range of the S/4 platform and many of the other SAP solutions are now ready for large enterprise use, and the industry and specialised business solutions are also starting to be adopted. Whilst up until recently it certainly looked very daunting to upgrade to S/4, it no longer does. Things have been and still are moving at a rapid pace and we are all going to have to get used to it.
This means that in the new S/4 world, you are no longer a developer, configurer or technical analyst; you need to be a Jedi level of SAP Grand Master. Ok, maybe that’s not the literal case, but you and/or your technical teams will have to fully embrace the new concepts and skill up on the new technology.
Developers won’t be able to sit on large deployment rollouts and/or complete business as usual for large monthly drops of bespoke code. Clients will demand upgrades to S/4 within tight timescales rather than re-running template rollouts; support is going to have to include at least some level of DevOps, CI/CD, and faster Agile delivery.
So how to come to grips with S/4?
From a technical standpoint, before you start your SAP learning process, you still need to have some awareness of the main functional differences and areas of simplification to put any new technical concepts into the right context. The best practices and model companies now supplied by the SAP system are true end-to-end business processes and it helps to understand these practices as well.
However, there is no getting around the fact that you will need to become completely competent in Fiori in the new S/4 world. Just like all SAP technical team members could debug via the SAPGUI and navigate through technical system admin transactions to resolve issues, for S/4 the equivalent steps often start within the browser, through the Fiori front end and into the SAP system, with a wider set of admin- and log-based tools. If the S/4 system is on-premise, then some of the older transactions can still be used, but for full cloud-based deployments, it is all Fiori-based. Hence, this has to be a core competency.
Unfortunately, it’s not just Fiori. Whilst some level of in-app extension still remains and full extensibility options are now available, you will also have to become fully conversant with side-by-side options such as SAP Cloud Platform (SCP) and integration supported by Cloud Platform Integration (CPI). This will be a topic for a future blog, since ‘side-by-side’ development - while available for some time – will have to become a primary skillset now. In addition, the underlying SAP systems’ installation process and setup steps are also useful to understand the setup of some of the new technical basis components of S/4 and how they interact with the core functional and technical solution.
There’s more. The APIs will need to be understood, as well as how to use Core Data Services (CDS) with associated OData. It’s true that in many areas of SAP, you’ll be able to use previous tools and approaches, but equally new alternatives (and future directions of SAP) mean yet more areas to investigate, such as SCP Workflow and the ability to deliver embedded analytics (which changes how we approach reporting in S/4). Developers will also need to get used to using Eclipse and SAP’s web IDE. SAP is also releasing ABAP in SAP Cloud Platform to enable a few transition options for developers that can include a certain level of option to reuse current developments into the SCP environment. Preparing and actually migrating to S/4 will also be a topic for another blog, since it has a wide range of demands and would influence what skills should be built up and when.
Yet we must not ignore the new technology and strategic options we now have, such as; SAP’s Chatbot (CoPilot), Robotic Process Automation (iRPA), Blockchain, Microservices, IoT and Mobile solutions. All of this is in a more open technical architecture and development platform, with SAP and non-SAP solutions and applications providing an overall target operating model. Knowing when and what technology to apply to business requirements now requires a broader understanding of new technologies; the classical Design Authority that reviews solutions for fit to standard SAP now must also ask themselves if solutions fit to the right technology.
And as if that wasn’t enough to learn, there are also new development methods that provide alternatives to our previous classical structured development approaches, such as DevOps and Agile. SAP’s Activate has also been updated to support teams in this new business, functional and technical framework, and Solution Manager (SolMan) will also have a much more fundamental position as it can provide visibility into the best practice processes, deployment, enhancement, landscape management and testing. This means you can start your journey to S/4 with Fiori to understand the technology, but you must then learn to utilize SolMan effectively so that you can start off your application and development life cycle management in a more organized manner.
Can’t wait for S/4? Well you shouldn’t!
What’s the best way to start your personal journey to S/4? The journey can start with SAP learning hub and open SAP, complemented by a huge range of blogs and various YouTube channels, plus trial accounts to start turning theory into practice. The important point is not to get off by the scale of change that is occurring. Instead, remember that there are accessible and easily consumed ways to train and apply your new skills. Train in an agile way by breaking it into small tasks, often with short sessions on specific topics or tools.
You and your company don’t need to wait until an S/4 upgrade project and/or Sandpit S/4 system is made available to start your S/4 migration. There are many things you can do now in your existing ECC system to prepare for the move to S/4. Hopefully, what can be done will become apparent as you build your awareness of the new technology (and if not, watch this space as it will also be a topic for a future blog!). Training, skills development, and awareness of new technology must also start directly and become a regular part of your monthly or possibly even weekly schedule.
So S/4 has changed significantly from ECC, but you don’t need to treat ECC and S/4 as completely separate worlds. You can start the learning journey now and apply some of the new technology and concepts in the ECC world to ease the future transition to S/4.
The journey to S/4 has just begun. Future blogs will cover:
- Extensibility in S/4HANA
- Development impacts when Migrating to S/4HANA
- S/4HANA impacts on Technical Design Authority thinking