The release change challenge
// SAP-Processes & Systems
International energy provider company group implements its SAP release strategy with Enhancement Package 7 for SAP ERP 6
Since the introduction of SAP ERP 6.0 in 2006, the ERP application has – as part of its current release strategy – only been functionally enhanced through so-called Enhancement Packages (EHP). In addition to the usual maintenance via Support Packages, SAP has - with the SAP Enhancement Packages – created an enhancement concept that, on the one hand, ensures stability for existing functions and, on the other hand, allows for simplified and selective access to new functions. In this, it is ensured through the use of the switch framework technology that no functional changes are occurring during installation.
There are a lot of reasons why SAP customers decide for a release change; the two most common ones are:
- expiring maintenance contracts, in particular in case of customers with SAP Release < ERP 6.0 and thereby increased expenses in terms of maintenance costs caused by that
- functional enhancement and improvements that were introduced with the EHPs
The consultants of noventum consulting have been tasked continuously for >7 years with the SAP technology consulting for an international energy provider company group as well as with its implementation of a customer template and/or the new setup of the current SAP landscape. In this context and for the release change discussed below, 3 consul-tants provided full-time support in the concrete implementation (concept design, sub-project management, realisation, and documentation) of its SAP release strategy.
Software life cycle management for international energy provider group of companies
The change board of the group of companies had specified the requirements: every 2-3 years, any and all SAP systems were to be updated in accordance with the requirements from the specialist departments with the respective current Enhancement Package and/or ERP Release. The Service Level Agreements for the group-wide ERP project were the basis of this decision.
Upgrades of this quality are necessary in order to
- fix general system Bugs
- allow for new functionalities
- keep the SAP system at a current state with respect to software Technology
- be fully compliant with the maintenance recommendations of the manufacturer (SAP).
Often, the hardware changes together with the Software
Just like the software, the hardware is and/or the hardware resources assigned to the SAP systems are subject to a defined maintenance cycle and/or hardware life cycle management. In general, new SAP releases do, in addition to increased storage requirements, also require a larger dimensioning and/or sizing of the application servers. As such, it makes sense to coordinate such implementation projects also in coordination with the hardware replacement cycles and to handle them in the context of a holistic IT life cycle management.
Even if SAP, e. g. as in SAP Note 1723135 – Resource requirements for SAP ERP Central Component 6.0 EHP6, estimates a comparatively low increase of the hardware resources (processor, memory, storage) without activating the business functions ~0-5 %, experience from various EHP implementations shows that the resource requirements are, on average, considerably higher. In the following exemplarily reviewed EHP 7 implementation, the average dialog response times – with unchanged hardware equipment – were ~20 % longer than those prior to the upgrade.
EHP 7 implementation
As part of the implementation of an EHP upgrade, a differentiation is made between:
- the focus is on the purely technological upgrade
- no change to the standard functionalities
- no change to the modifications
- retracing of customer-specific modifications to the SAP Standard
- new functionalities can be activated, as needed, via the Switch Framework and are implemented as part of the technical upgrade
As part of the project planning, both some of the basic dependencies as well as the typical competing objectives of the magic triangle (time, costs, quality > project management) must be defined and coordinated with the expectations of the customer and/or end user. In this EHP 7 project, the following focal points resulted:
Due to the interoperability of the ECC and HCM systems and – for example – their data exchange (via ALE and/or RFC), the result for the productive technical upgrade process was that it had to be carried out concomitantly and/or on the same weekend. This did, of course, also result in dependencies for the fall back scenario. (More on this below).
Since certain functionalities and compatibilities with other SAP systems (Portal, BI, Solution Manager, Business Connector, etc.) as well as other external systems (MS Biztalk, xFlow, etc.) had to be checked, this increased the testing expenses accordingly. In this context, it was decided to also upgrade the SAP Portal from 7.0 to SAP Netweaver 7.4.
The originally 5 system landscapes (Sandbox, Development, Quality, Pre-Production and Production) per SAP solution (ECC, HCM, Portal) were each expanded by a temporary development system (MxC, c.f. Fig. 1.), in order to allow for so-called emergency transports during the „Freezing Period" (c.f. below: „Ongoing development and projects").
The following resources that were involved in the project from the conceptualisation phase through the implementation and the various test phases had to be planned and assigned:
Project management, IT team, key users, module-related specialist teams (FI, PP&L, HCM), authorisation team, ABAP team, etc.
Ongoing development and Projects
Ongoing developments had to be completed by the time of the upgrade of the development system. Thereafter, for 3 months, a so-called „Freezing Period" (a.k.a. „Frozen Zone") started during which no new developments or changes were to be performed. Emergency transports - which were allowed for the implementation of corrections for severe errors during operations - constituted an exception. New projects or developments were only allowed to start after the Go-Live of the EHP 7 release change.
Fall back Scenario
A backup of all productive SAP systems that were updated as part of the EHP 7 release change was created. In case of a severe error or if exceeding the time limit, all SAP systems would have had to be restored to this stored state. The systems (updated or restored) were to be available to the end user the following Monday.
Potential additional Go-Live dates had to be coordinated in coordination with the national month-end closings and/or payroll accounting periods of the subsidiaries of the group of companies. In this case, additional dates were possible only on the next weekend and/or during the next month.
In addition to the pressure to take action, e.g. due to expiring maintenance contracts, some advantages resulted from the EHP 7 implementation. For one, the maintainability and stability of the SAP solution currently being utilised is ensured until at least 2025. Furthermore, the enhancement concept of SAP provides access to the respective latest functionalities offered at lower test expenses in comparison to a classic release change. The comparatively short technical implementation and test period unburdens ongoing development projects through shorter „freezing periods". It was possible to provide a through-and-through support of (emergency) transports for operations by providing temporary development systems.
The SAP EHP 7 Upgrade project was implemented with an overall project duration of 5 months, to the expectations of all parties involved, both with respect to time as well as budget. Similarly, all relevant SAP system landscapes (SAP Portal and SAP BI, due to dependencies of the SAP PAM = Product Availability Matrix) were updated and brought to the respective latest version in connection with the group-wide software life cycle management with the support of the SAP technology consulting by noventum.