Why The Large-Scale Conversion Playbook Is Overdue For A Revision

Soeren Ruder

Converting a large-scale system has always been associated with sweeping change. Whether confined within an organization or extended across its value chain, the migration can create an opportunity to move toward an intelligent enterprise that is fundamentally different, improved, and more competitive than the status quo.

However, it’s easy to argue that these initiatives do not account for the disruption of conversion and the increasing pace in which change needs to happen to keep businesses competitive. While these projects are too expensive and high-stakes to rush deployment and adoption, digital technology is evolving so quickly that a steady stream of innovations are emerging seemingly overnight, each one better than the last.

How can companies protect their large-scale system conversion from becoming a liability that locks them down to technology that could be replaced at a moment’s notice? This very question is inspiring a dramatic shift in how ERP systems are converted to next-generation ERP suites – from pre-conversion to post-conversion maintenance.

Rethinking the past

When converting a large-scale system, most companies follow a phased, step-by-step model that hinders realignment of the new technology with emerging business opportunities, market risks, and emerging innovations. This traditional mindset worked well when technology didn’t significantly change for years. But now that digitalization is accelerating and intensifying, the delivery of competitive changes is becoming increasingly challenging.

When helping our customers convert their ERP systems, we realized that the entire experience had to change. We learned that viewing the process as a lifecycle enables them to check and recheck how well the migration aligns with evolving dynamics in their business and industry.

Viewing conversions as a lifecycle

By adopting a lifecycle-driven approach to large-scale system conversions, businesses can introduce four areas that are significantly different than those in ERP upgrades. Each of these focus areas plays a critical part in pulling from the latest, most relevant innovations and realizing all opportunities of the transformation with minimal risks and without delay.

1. Functionality changes and custom code

With next-generation ERP, companies are using a new database, data model, and set of functionalities – all of which can impact operations and data management. This once-in-a-business-lifetime opportunity can spawn a variety of innovations that empower people to rethink processes.

But on the flip side of this experience is an aspect of the implementation that can be quite complex. This situation is especially precarious when using a legacy ERP system that is highly customized after years of answering evolving business requirements and customer needs.

By focusing on custom code concerns in the conversion phase and functionality gaps and changes throughout the end-to-end lifecycle, you can look at your ERP migration from a process perspective. You can adapt processes coming from the standard suite and combine them with custom functions while making room for innovation that can improve the business over the long haul.

2. Performance and load

Performance is one of the main benefits that businesses envision when upgrading. Yet, people need to keep in mind that the implementation begins with a “plain vanilla” system with standardized setting.

In this case, your team needs to define your perfect individual setup. Large-scale implementations need a scale-out scenario with several iterations of performance tests to find the perfect table distribution. Plus, best practices are not always applicable, especially for large enterprises.

3. Proactive system cleanup

All data, processes, and complexities initially residing in the existing IT landscape are taken over by the new software during conversion. And whenever this volume of information is consolidated into one source, efforts during preparation, migration, and downtime inevitably increase.

Creating and sustaining an archiving process can support this part of the migration. System cleanup can and should be done across many areas with several tools, including:

  • Process key performance indicators: Business process analytics help clean-up process and data dumps such as unused order types.
  • Process mining: Process mining software can help analyze the actual use of processes in the system.
  • Unused custom code: Through custom-code lifecycle management, you can remove obsolete custom code.
  • Archiving: Storing and cataloging objects from old data into an archive file system reduces the data footprint.

All activities help to reduce potential issues and effort during a conversion. 

4. Near-zero downtime

Downtime is one of the most common concerns among executives. An ERP cannot stay in production while changing RAM, adding internal storage, and upgrading the processor. But there’s a stark reality that most, if not all, businesses face: a days-long, serious outage is a significant revenue and operational drain, even if it takes place on a weekend.

Companies are expected to squeeze downtime into one weekend, sometimes even as little as one day. The offline time during the conversion can be split up into technical downtime and business downtime. While the business downtime is usually pretty static with manual checks and activities, a near-zero downtime approach can help minimize technical downtime.

Making sense of where the digital world is heading

A large-scale system conversion can be one of the most exciting, challenging, and transformational initiatives that any company can take on. It’s complicated, all-encompassing, and influential, leaving little room for error and delayed timing. And let’s face it, traditional strategies for large-scale system conversions cannot adequately deliver the promise of today’s digital world.

With constant awareness of emerging technologies, opportunities, and risks, you can acquire a large-scale system that addresses your current and future needs. You can not only ensure that everything from data to processes and insight-delivery mechanisms work together harmoniously, but more importantly, deliver the capabilities and outcomes that lead to revenue growth and market leadership.

For more on this topic, read the “Journey to Intelligent ERP” series.

Soeren Ruder

About Soeren Ruder

Soeren Ruder is a business enterprise consultant for IT architecture with the SAP BTS Digital IT Architecture team, working as a conversion architect for large-scale conversion projects. He holds a Master of Science degree in business informatics.