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A successful S/4HANA implementation for SMBs hinges on best practices

Alain Dubois of Beyond Technologies tells how the company's own implementation of SAP S/4HANA Cloud provides it with insight that benefits its SMB customers.

Beyond Technologies is a consulting company that focuses on implementing S/4HANA for the SMB market. The Montreal-based firm has found a lucrative niche by focusing on vertical markets such as the retail sector, in which it just completed an S/4HANA Cloud implementation for women's fashion retailer Tory Burch.

Beyond Technologies doesn't just talk the talk, however. The company runs its own operations on S/4HANA Cloud, and, by "drinking its own champagne," the firm believes it can provide insights on best practices for its customers.

In this Q&A, Alain Dubois, chief marketing and business development officer at Beyond Technologies, discusses some of the lessons the company has learned from being an SMB that both runs and implements S/4HANA and other SAP technologies.

Beyond Technologies is a fairly small company. Why did you implement SAP S/4HANA to run the business?

Alain Dubois: We implemented S/4HANA as our ERP because our business grew in size and complexity. We are now geographically dispersed and manage projects with resources coming from multiple companies, so that led to intercompany transactions that were more complex and difficult to manage with our old system.

Alain Dubois, chief marketing and business development officer, Beyond TechnologiesAlain Dubois

We also needed to manage revenue recognition, which is important in the professional services industry. The company was founded in 2005 with just three employees -- SAP consultants -- and we ran our business on QuickBooks, spreadsheets and a time sheet in the cloud -- and that was OK. But we needed to implement something [to deal with the growth].

An S/4HANA implementation is complex, even for experienced consultants. How did you do it, and what specifically did you implement?

Dubois: We started with [the] S/4HANA Cloud implementation in the easiest locations and tried to follow the concept of not trying to do everything at the same time. The disadvantage with this is that sometimes you get coexistence with your old system in some of the regions. But the advantages are much bigger.

So we started with our easier operations in France, the U.S. and South Africa, and we kept Canada for last. It was all S/4HANA Cloud, public edition.

What lessons have you learned as an SMB implementing and running S/4HANA that you can bring to your SMB customers?

Dubois: The way to implement SAP in SMBs is to force best practices and try not to customize the system. We know it's a challenge for our customers to [follow] best practices because they always think that they do accounts payable differently than all the others. But we lived that through our own S/4HANA implementation internally that we are running in the public cloud.

We can't modify or customize, and we were forced to adopt best practices, so we had to live through that as a customer. We know how challenging it is, but we can also speak to the benefits much more. We get new releases every quarter, so it's a nonevent, and we can leverage those improvements as we receive them.

What are some challenges for SMBs and how do you deal with them?

Dubois: SAP has a lot of functionality, a lot of breadth and depth, but it can be almost too much for some. The key for our customers to understand is that you're never going to use everything that SAP has to offer. But as you grow, as you vertically integrate, as you diversify your operation, you know that SAP has the functionality to support those processes as you get more complex and diversify.

It's easy to get excited about everything that SAP can do for you, and SAP can bring you to a world-class process level in almost every area. But SMBs usually don't have the maturity to adopt all of those processes. So the challenge that they face is they see all the possibilities and we have to slow them down because if they're trying to do that all at the same time, they're going to fall on their knees.

Beyond Technologies has found a niche in focusing on the retail industry. Why did you decide to focus there?

Dubois: We looked at our business a couple years ago and said that if we wanted to expand, the best way to do that was to focus on certain verticals -- the ones where we thought we were good and had good credentials. We thought there was a barrier to entry and white space elsewhere.

We chose retail as the first one, and now we're also in wholesale distribution.

How do you adapt S/4HANA for retail customers?

Dubois: We took SAP's best practices in retail and added a layer of preconfiguration to make it even more relevant and precise for sub-verticals in retail, like groceries, fashion, hard goods, general merchandising. We push those preconfigurations to be able to speed things up when we implement so our customers can concentrate on the stuff that makes them different.

Now the speed at which we can implement is crazy. There are a few days of discovery to understand the customer's business processes at a high level. Then, there's a phase when we assemble all of our building blocks -- our preconfigured scenarios -- in the system with customer data. Then, we run workshops and, literally, a couple weeks after the project starts, we can show them -- with their data -- if processes work or if there are any gaps. We really embrace the Agile methodology -- SAP calls it Activate -- and it works.

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