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The bigger the software, the greater the need for a coherent plan to make it do the things you need it to. Well, SAP is so large that it creates its own gravity. Large organisations deploy it to transform their businesses.

SAP isn’t the beast it used to be. The old nicknames – Slow And Painful, Submit And Pray – don’t really apply anymore. As it steadily loses its notorious reputation for clunkiness, let’s look at four specific opportunities for improvement.

Flaunt your business intelligence by improving data visualisation

The traditional look and feel of the SAP experience has always been – how can I put this – really rather German. ‘Functional utility at the expense of aesthetics’ is my best stab at the design brief for its original user interface. Recent SAP innovations have progressed away from this however, enabling users to interpret data in more visually pleasing (and therefore faster to process) ways:

  • SAP has grasped the nettle with a far better way of personalising and simplifying the user experience (UX) for SAP applications with Fiori. According to analysts at Gartner, Fiori is “…such a radical rethink of the way people should interact with an ERP system that it will impact the way application leaders need to manage their SAP implementation…”
  • With Lumira, SAP has created a data discovery and visualisation tool to surface the golden nuggets of intelligence locked within business information and enable a silly-sounding – yet still rather compelling – new capability called ‘data storytelling’. Lumira is proving an attractive alternative to the market leaders, Qlik and Tableau.

ACTION: Calculate the time you could save by having a single, clear dashboard of visual management information and complex data analytics for your business. Explore the difference this would make to your overall SAP ROI and, if necessary, develop a brief to commission the necessary software.

Bend SAP around your business processes – not the other way around

Why should it always be SAP’s way or the highway when it comes to business processes? The criticism around SAP and other big ERP systems is how business processes and people must somehow bend to their belligerence. The good news is that you can do more to define your unique destiny now than ever before.

SAP and the SAP eco-system relies heavily on pre-built templates, and an ever-widening choice of new SAP modules. Yet within this apparently cumbersome structure is a good deal of flexibility for tailoring bespoke components to complement your SAP-standard modules in order to address specific business requirements.

Examples include:

  • Integration with legacy applications – enabling long-running bespoke software systems that the organisation wishes to keep using to ‘talk to’ SAP, and vice versa, in an automated fashion without the need for human intervention/manual processes
  • Data extraction from SAP – structuring data sources and architectures in a particular way to satisfy the unique reporting, compliance or data analytics/intelligence requirements of a given business process
  • Customisation of the UX – accelerating the SAP migration/implementation process by taking the findings of user research to create menus, commands and other software elements that enables better alignment to the demands and objectives of the individual business.

ACTION: Examine the efficiency of business processes using SAP and identify areas for improvement. Canvass the input of users to do this. Investigate a cost/benefit analysis of making SAP better attuned to your needs.

Reach for the clouds to bring agility to your SAP transformation

Down the years SAP has made a very lucrative business selling perpetually licensed on-premise installations. Excuse the jargon, but what this really means is a business-wide version of the software installed inside the customer’s own IT infrastructure, connecting to users over the business network. What’s important is that this approach has fallen out of step with today’s appetite for cloud-driven, flexible IT services, paid for per month rather than in a great big lump. Organisations today don’t so much want SAP as ‘SAP-as-a-Service’.

According to a May 2016 survey of SAP customers in the UK & Ireland, 58% plan to use SAP’s cloud portfolio. When asked, the biggest reasons for doing so were:

  • Reduced capital expenditure (64%)
  • Quicker deployment (46%)
  • Greater mobile access to information (42%)

The barriers to cloud application adoption were found to be: existing investments in on-premise applications (57%), and a lack of clarity surrounding SAP’s product roadmap (52%).

ACTION: Learn more about how the pieces of the SAP cloud ecosystem slot together to avoid missing out on the opportunities of cloud. Identify trusted sources of advice for understanding what SAP’s present and future cloud strategy could mean for your ongoing business transformation.

Underwrite the value of your data with the right security and compliance

SAP’s appetite for data makes it a honeypot for malicious attack and a potential banana-skin for meeting regulatory compliance. The trick is to achieve an appropriate security and compliance posture across your IT organisation – including SAP – thereby minimising effort and expense.

Measures could include:

  • Assessing the provenance of data and data stores feeding SAP to ensure there are no ‘hidden’ databases contravening contractual obligations with third parties, or your own data governance policy
  • Conducting regular audits of internal systems to test against the security and compliance requirements surrounding SAP, identify weaknesses and publish the status to corporate stakeholders.
  • Specifically addressing the needs of ICO (Data Protection Act), PCI (Payment Cards Industry) and ISO (Standards) compliance to ensure new versions of each mandate are planned without disruption to any SAP implementation and associated systems.

ACTION: Ensure that the security and compliance ramifications of SAP are fully understood within your organisation and – if not – seek expert guidance incorporating this into existing policies and processes.

A new nickname for SAP could be ‘Some Amazing Potential’ – befitting the huge opportunity SAP customers have to wield this behemoth in just the way they need to. Half the challenge is knowing exactly what and how much you change to bring about a business transformation. The other half is actually doing it!