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How to successfully introduce your staff to SAP S/4HANA

A whole new implementation of SAP S/4HANA leads to far-reaching changes across the entire company. That’s why it’s important to pursue a holistic change management strategy and thereby ensure your staff are quick to accept the new solution and put it to good use. The following tips explain how to go about doing exactly that.

There are exciting times ahead for SAP customers. Ever since it was announced that support for SAP Business Suite will be phased out in 2027, most companies have stopped asking themselves whether or not they should switch to its successor SAP S/4HANA, and started thinking about what kind of migration strategy they should adopt for the switchover. As the latest Lünendonk Study shows, there is a growing willingness to completely cast off monolithic legacy systems and embrace a full, brand new implementation so as to make the best possible use of the new real-time ERP system’s potential. In actual fact, the more you look into SAP S/4HANA, the more you want.

An ERP system with a future...

For instance, let’s look at the underlying technical structure – the SAP HANA in-memory database and the simplified data model. Together, these elements help to halve the previous storage requirements and considerably improve performance. In the ideal scenario, the time needed for big-data analyses, reporting, and simulating entire business scenarios can be massively reduced. At the same time, the digital core creates a single source of truth that uses one data source to link together systems, people, technologies and end devices. Furthermore, preconfigured end-to-end processes, combined with cloud operation and AI technologies, open up whole new possibilities in robot-assisted process automation (RPA), real-time analysis and the rapid rollout of digital business models and new business cases.

SAP sums up all that and lots more besides in one little word that is also their promise – simplicity. The user-friendly, web-based user interface SAP Fiori is based on this same philosophy. On top of that, companies can also choose whether to run SAP S/4HANA as an on-premise solution, in a public or private cloud or in a hybrid environment. However, even if SAP S/4HANA simplifies the business world in the digital age once it has been successfully rolled out – getting to that stage is anything but simple.

…and an IT project like no other

It goes without saying that this applies to all ERP implementations. Like open-heart surgery, they are complex procedures that demand maximum concentration. At first, rolling out SAP S/4HANA would seem to be no different, but this operation is actually even more complex. After all, a company will only be able to harness the full potential of this new ERP system if it also comprehensively rewires its own nervous system – its business processes.

This is because, unlike more typical IT projects, there are considerably more specialized issues to take into consideration. Depending on the extent of integration, companies need to specify in minute detail which processes can be nudged closer to the standard and which need to be recreated from scratch for SAP S/4HANA. In actual fact, a whole new implementation is an opportunity to lay the foundations for modernizing the entire company, i.e. rethinking system dependencies and business processes. Under certain circumstances, whole departments will need to be reorganized and the job profiles of staff brought into line with the new process design.

Boosting acceptance with digital adoption

Whether or not this dual operation is ultimately successful is therefore only partly down to the IT. Having a holistic change concept that gets things moving in the right direction is at least equally as important. It is a means of ensuring staff understand the planned changes and are motivated to support them.

One key aspect of a concept such as this is establishing digital adoption early on in the process. Digital adoption plays a key role in putting in place a digital corporate culture because it helps the people in your company to recognize the opportunities presented by new technologies and utilize them to good effect. Digital adoption is a decisive competitive edge, particularly during the course of complex transformation processes. However, many companies fail to make the most of it, only to regret this later when their projects fail to achieve their targets, as a recent survey carried out by the Fraunhofer Institute revealed. Although there is no single secret recipe for systematically establishing digital adoption, there are numerous options that can work in the various stages of an implementation. The following tips set out these options and how they can be used.

1. Put together a skilled project team with members from all areas

The composition of the project team is one of the first and most critical decisions in the run-up to an SAP S/4HANA implementation. When putting your team together, bring on board skilled staff from all the key areas or departments where the software is going to be used. This ensures you have all the key stakeholders involved from the outset and avoids any bumps you might otherwise encounter along the way when decisions taken by people outside a department turn out to be impractical on a day-to-day basis.

It is crucial your team members know all the relevant business processes across different departments and areas in detail and have the necessary expertise and communication skills to mediate between the reciprocal requirements of the IT and other specialist departments. Although it won’t be possible to completely avoid any resistance to planned changes, you will be able to stop emotions from running unnecessarily high. Ultimately, you will create an atmosphere of objective professionalism from the start that everyone can contribute to on a constructive basis.

Our expert tip: As soon as you can, assemble a team of staff who have an affinity for technology, know all about the benefits and potential of SAP S/4HANA and can spread the word and talk skeptics around to using the new system.

2. Get the management team involved

Straight top-down projects are guaranteed to kill off acceptance, because changes can’t be enforced from on high. However, that doesn’t mean the management team should only work on an implementation project behind the scenes. On the contrary, rolling out SAP S/4HANA has a far-reaching influence on business processes and the organizational structure, and thus connects directly with the pre-existing corporate culture. As a result, the management team needs to make it unequivocally clear that it wants and supports the planned changes. Moreover, it needs to actively promote the new solution among the workforce, alleviate unfounded concerns and nurture a readiness to change. A clearly discernible vision is the best starting point for successfully building digital adoption.

Our expert tip: Give your vision a familiar face and encourage all managers to use the new solution themselves, share what they have learned about it and actively advocate for the planned change in discussions.

3. Let your staff know about the implementation as soon as possible

Whether or not your implementation is a success is ultimately down to your staff, so it makes sense to involve the future users of the technology as early as possible. Let them know about the upcoming implementation, the benefits of the new software and the potential restrictions during critical stages of the project.

You should also remember that successful communication is not a one-way street. Actively seek feedback and use the responses you get in the early stages for potential adjustments, further communications initiatives or one-on-one meetings. It’s important that you gradually give the people in your company a clear picture of what exactly is changing and how these changes will influence processes, working procedures and specific roles. Not everyone will like what they hear. That’s why it is important to use every opportunity to explain why your company has opted to switch to SAP S/4HANA, which benefits this will bring, how important each individual’s contribution is to the project’s overall success and how the new solution will help each individual be even more successful in their day-to-day work.

Our expert tip: An anonymous “worries box” can also help you identify the kinds of concerns and anxieties that aren’t talked about openly. This, along with regular user group meetings, can help you address these and other reservations so that solutions can be found as a team.

4. Give users the opportunity to carry out comprehensive testing

Software can often come up against low levels of acceptance because the test phase has been too short. You should therefore install a test system as soon as possible, so staff can really get to know SAP S/4HANA and the new SAP Fiori user interface. It is important that this test system is as close as possible to the system that will ultimately go live, and it should ideally incorporate company-specific data.

Comprehensive testing under realistic conditions can help identify and resolve weaknesses or inconsistencies even before the new system goes live. Furthermore, the departments can establish whether all the processes and requirements have been factored in or whether there is still room for improvement. Testing also has a beneficial effect on attitudes by giving staff the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the ERP system in a stress-free environment and explore all its opportunities without the fear of what will happen if they make a mistake. This is another way of dealing with reservations and creating motivation.

Our expert tip: Use the specific experience and expertise of the Learning & Development department. It can create training simulations for the test system, for example, and this makes an especially valuable contribution to the project’s progress.

5. Don’t hold back when it comes to training your staff

A well thought-out, multi-tiered training concept is one of the most important requirements for the short and long-term success when implementing any new system. It saves time and frustration and has a considerable influence on return on investment (ROI). At the start of your project, you should therefore put together a training plan that is tailored as closely as possible to the level of expertise in your workforce and the objectives you want your staff to achieve. You should also make sure you cater to different types of learners and choose your learning formats with this in mind – in-person units, virtual classrooms, blended learning, eLearning, etc. It is important to build in variety so as to prevent boredom setting in and to give everyone the opportunity to learn both as part of a team and independently.

To track the success of this training program, you should evaluate how the specific performance of all participants develops, remembering to monitor acceptance of the new system at the same time. If results are not where you would like them to be, you will need to take action and adapt your training measures accordingly. It is also important to set aside a portion of your training budget for qualification measures after the go-live, so you can retain flexibility for dealing with any stubborn problems and make very focused interventions.

Our expert tip: Wherever possible, you should also use collaboration tools and social media platforms so users can share their know-how. Besides boosting team spirit, this also helps you build up a store of expertise.

6. Create a user adoption roadmap

Right from the concept development phase, you should lay the groundwork for specifically promoting user adoption so that your staff can see the benefits of the planned changes and utilize the software effectively.

The best approach is to start by assembling a core team that will specify the promotional objectives and define the strategy for achieving these objectives.  When doing this, it is important to adopt a methodical approach so that a precise road map of measurable results can be established. Start by asking yourself what your staff would rate as progress or success when working with the software and consider how much training they think they need. You can find the answers to these questions by carrying out stakeholder interviews, deriving personas from these interviews and creating specific application scenarios that you can then prioritize.

Using this material, you can specify relevant success criteria in the form of KPIs, which you can regularly evaluate over the course of the project, enabling you to fine-tune your strategy early on, as the need arises. As soon as you have used the KPIs to develop your training offerings, get your staff on board. However, you should be well prepared for this stage and have a communication concept to create the necessary awareness for your project, a test pilot that covers the priority application scenarios, and a community platform for reviews and feedback so you can continuously improve your training offerings.

Our expert tip: Use a user adoption canvas to work out your KPIs and business values. The various fields are a great help for answering the most important questions for your project, such as: Who is using the software and what are their interests (role, team, etc.)? How should the software be used in the application context and what should the outcome be? Which stakeholders are particularly affected, either positively or negatively? What type of business value can be achieved with the software? What support measures will be needed?

7. Offer users made-to-measure support at their workplace

Since the human brain doesn’t work like a computer hard drive, it is not unusual for people to have forgotten a lot of what they have learned by the time they need that know-how at work. This “training amnesia” leads to performance dips in all parts of a company after virtually every go-live, and threatens one of the most important objectives when rolling out SAP S/4HANA – improving data quality.

These typical problems can be reliably avoided by using a digital adoption solution (DAS). A digital adoption solution kicks in when your staff hit a brick wall while working with SAP S/4HANA or a process-relevant cloud app. At the click of a mouse, it helps them move forward by providing precisely the information they need, as relevant to the specific task in the end-to-end process and their specific role.  When they quickly find that things always work out well, staff become much happier about using the new software. At the same time, they also benefit from improved process reliability because they can get support with important decisions or access background information on guidelines, documentation and processes without having to spend a lot of time searching for it.

Our expert tip: Use the analytics function in the dashboard of the digital adoption solution to identify problem areas, fine-tune pre-existing content and add content that is missing.

Given that digital adoption is a dynamic process that goes much further than just a technical switchover, we could go on adding tips almost forever. In the end, it is about creating a digital mindset throughout the entire company that, based on positive experiences in the working context, perceives change not as disruption but rather as an opportunity. This is the crux of the issue, because if SAP S/4HANA is to truly make the most of a company’s potential, not only does it need to be used efficiently, but it also requires a great willingness to change. This makes digital adoption a competitive edge that will become increasingly important in the future and therefore cannot be left to chance.