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The four pillars of operational excellence in the SAP on cloud space

Eamonn O’Neill

Eamonn O’Neill

Co-Founder and Chief Customer Officer at Lemongrass Consulting
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Image credit: jullasart somdok / Shutterstock.com

Shifting SAP to the cloud is dominating the IT and software space, but so much of business focus is directed at the migration itself, and not on the operating model once the project is complete.

The four pillars of operational excellence in the SAP on cloud space are: reducing costs, removing complexity, increasing flexibility, and improving security. These four pillars are essentially what all digital transformation efforts are geared towards.

Given how much of an undertaking this shift of business assets and processes to the cloud is for the business, teams cannot afford to leave planning for the operation stage until the last minute.

Let’s take a look at this on a more granular level.

The service catalogues

The IT team is responsible for executing a huge number of services, all of which are defined in the service catalogue. Some of these include installing new SAP systems and extending and patching existing systems. Altogether, these tasks require a huge amount of manual effort from the SAP technical teams. Their daily roles involve raising a change request within spreadsheet or a document, filling out what data is needed to make the change, working out the impact on cost and security, going through multiple levels of approval, and finally implementing the change.

For the majority of customers with an on-premises model, this would be the standard. However, on the cloud, it’s a whole different situation. This is where automation comes into its own.  

For example, if a business wishes to change their SAP model from a 2TB SAP HANA model to 4TB, automation can create a change request and provide details on how the development would impact security and cost, saving the team huge amounts of time with a more accurate report. This extra detail becomes the basis for the technical change itself – the automation can assess and execute the change faster and with more accuracy, avoiding the risk of human error or having to duplicate efforts when mistakes are made.

Automation helps reduce the technical effort within the IT process, allowing teams to focus on more value-add activities. Everything within the service catalogue can be prioritised, starting with the most critical, or the most expensive, or the quick wins – whatever the focus is for the business.

A key example of when automation delivers true value, is when teams need to access old SAP systems in archive. Every so often, someone needs to log on to query old purchase orders or bank records, ideally without having to manually start and stop a system – which could take days to complete.

Instead, if the business uploads archived systems onto the cloud with automation and you give them a start-stop button, they can access the system, conduct their query, and then shut it down at any given moment – saving costs, reducing wait times and eradicating unnecessary complexities.

Innovating SAP systems

Another common project for technical teams is conducting system refreshes and copies, taking fresh data from production into an operate environment for testing and prototype purposes. Within on-premises systems, this would take weeks to carry out, but on cloud it takes hours.

Automation also streamlines the process of taking data from one system and transferring to another – known as system refresh. There are several steps in this process beyond the obvious back-up, restore and pre-copy stages – automation helps export user lists and other items, bringing data back in and reloading the system. This process is different for every business and has long been a challenge for SAP customers. Removing the manual steps with automation, which can facilitate custom changes to fit each environment, means no system is deemed unsuitable.

A key benefit is that the test cycle will gain more up-to-date data, which will facilitate high quality testing and help avoid potential defects. From a prototype point of view, being able to try out an idea and clone a copy of the production system into an isolated sandbox environment creates a real opportunity for innovation. With automation, teams can assess how projects are funding innovation and track the outcomes. It gives a structure to innovating around SAP without incurring huge costs (which has always been a challenge in the past) driving a culture change across the business.

This is a great example of how automation essentially brings innovation to life.

System security

One of the truisms of cloud is that there is a greater number of moving parts than on-premises environments. This, combined with it being in the public domain, makes for a much more sophisticated security environment.

While the tools offered by hyperscalers are equally as sophisticated as the challenges business face, the complexities often overwhelm teams when it comes to day-to-day management. On public cloud, privilege access management is a mandatory rule, which means establishing fine-grain definitions across a much broader number of security objects. The amount of work required to design, build, and maintain the security environment is much greater than on-premises, and teams often fail to realise the importance of automation when it comes to scaling operations post-migration.

Security is a mindset – moving away from the old ‘moat and bridge’ paradigm in data centres where there’s only one way in and out. In cloud, everything is public until it gets locked down.

Boosting user experience

It’s easy to tell when an organisation has implemented automation in their operations post-migration by simply looking at user experience. If starting up an archived system takes days rather than hours, then they’re not automated.

The Uber app is a perfect example of how automation revolutionises a service and prioritises efficiency and customer experience. The company analysed the process of ordering a taxi to get from A to B and removed all possible manual steps. Beforehand, a customer would have to research a taxi company, call them up, provide their location (as accurately as possible), confirm the destination address, be given a quote or started on a meter (so the cost isn’t confirmed until the end of the journey), hand over the cash, and wait for the driver to write up a receipt. Uber has taken each of these steps and automated them through the app.

This is the result of automation being weaved into an operating model from start to finish.

Automate to innovate

By automating processes throughout the entire migration journey and beyond, businesses can harness the benefits of the cloud without risks of operational burden. First you automate, then you migrate, so that you can operate.

At each stage of the journey, teams must assess how automation is bringing value back to the business – how is it helping IT teams support the wider company? If we reflect on the four pillars of operational excellence (reduce cost, remove complexity, increase flexibility, and improve security), each development within the operating model must be linked back to how it helps achieve one or more of these.

A business’ goal here is to establish a resilient operating model that will withstand the challenges ahead. At the centres lies the need to innovate. But businesses cannot innovate unless they’re agile, and they cannot be agile unless they automate.

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