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Adoption of S/4HANA has been a winding road since the German software vendor announced the next generation enterprise resource planning (ERP) software built on its in-memory HANA database back in February 2015.

Since then SAP has been working hard to try and make the business case for S/4HANA adoption clear to customers, but has been dogged by customer questions around migration and what the product roadmap looks like, leading to slow adoption rates.

"There are key questions we run into with customers [for S/4HANA]," SAP roadmap lead Peter Maier explained to Computerworld UK this week, "like how will it integrate? How do I get there, so from A to B? What is the integration? What is the value? What is the related cost?

"This has been the feedback we get from customers and there was one common denominator: SAP please make sure you give us much more guidance and less choices moving forward."

Read next: S/4HANA: What does SAP’s next generation ERP mean for customers?

The response from the German company was to change not just its communications strategy around product roadmaps, but to create a whole new tool for customers to tell SAP which applications they are currently running and be given straightforward advice on how to migrate, called the Transformation Navigator.

Digital Transformation Navigator

The idea with the new SAP Transformation Navigator tool is for customers to lay out their technology landscape for SAP and then be given recommendations for where they should prioritise a shift to S/4HANA and where they can afford to wait. SAP is testing the tool currently and plans for it to be available for customers by Q2 of this year.

Simply put, Maier wants the tool to say "here is the solution, the integration and here is how to get from A to B".

SAP Transformation Navigator

Read next: SAP baffled by lack of S/4HANA awareness in its UK and Ireland user grouppeter

Ultimately Maier would like the tool to be able to see key a customer's key performance indicators (KPIs) and effectively model what the S/4 application landscape could bring to different business areas. "We want to show the value of the future [S/4] application landscape and combine it with our value lifecycle management programme to measure against customer KPIs," Maier said.

Communication strategy

SAP is also increasingly realising that its communications have to be targeted towards business users as well as IT, a shift away from their traditional communications style of deeply technical documents.

Before "it was either technical deep dives or marketing", Maier said. "Now we have a language for communications which is able to say: 'this is where you are, here are the recommendations and this means what for your business and company'."

Maier says there are three customer types the new roadmaps need to apply to: the traditional target audience of the CIO, existing customers who are concerned with business transformation, and new customers who don't have any of the migration concerns of an existing customer.

SAP's challenge is to create product roadmaps for S/4 that are applicable to all of these people. Maier said: "It is not just technical, it is down to business. So we align thought leadership and look at where the industry is going. How do they make money? What does this mean for the business model, and the people at the company? That is the roadmap."

Read next: 'There is confusion over Hana that we need to clarify' says SAP

The first response was to separate the on-premise and cloud roadmaps. A recognition from the company that cloud just moves too fast for a three-year, static product roadmap to be of any use. Back in November SAP published its three-year product roadmaps for SAP S/4HANA and the first of its rolling, four-quarters roadmap for SAP S/4HANA public cloud.

Maier explained the new strategy: "For cloud we will share rolling roadmaps on a quarterly basis for feature and function information. For on-premise we have a three-year roadmap and share feature and function for a year, followed by the product direction and then the product version for year three."

Adoption

So, how does the customer trust that SAP isn't just trying to up-sell them? Maier says that customers were very clear with them from the offset: "They said do not use this as a sales tool for SAP, full stop."

Aside from taking their word for it, though, SAP promises to take a "transparent" approach to the roadmaps, and also says that it is always the customer's needs they are looking out for.

In the end the success of this project will be defined by adoption numbers. SAP's Q4 results are due next month but Q3 showed adoption was rising, adding 400 S/4 customers in Q3 with SAP reporting 4,100 S/4 Hana customers in total. As Maier concluded: "My view success is defined by adoption and how we drive that."

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