This content is part of the Conference Coverage: SAP Sapphire 2024 news, trends and analysis

Mueller: Clean core is the 'right way' for SAP cloud migration

In this Q&A, SAP CTO Juergen Mueller explains why a clean core is critical for moving to S/4HANA cloud and how the enterprise architect can help customers get there.

Faced with a large base of customers that still run ERP systems on premises, SAP has made significant efforts to promote and incentivize moving to S/4HANA Cloud Public Edition.

The heart of this effort is the Rise with SAP initiative, which was launched in 2021 and is designed to simplify the migration to and the management of the S/4HANA Cloud environment. A key to a successful cloud environment, according to SAP, requires transitioning to a "clean core," where organizations transform customizations to their SAP systems or eliminate them entirely in favor of standard cloud processes.

However, achieving a clean core is a complex undertaking and is likely one of the reasons that many SAP customers have been reluctant to make the cloud move. At SAP Sapphire in June, SAP unveiled that it is adding enterprise architects to each customer's Rise with SAP engagement to assist in the cloud migration and the goal of moving to a clean core.

At Sapphire, Juergen Mueller, SAP chief technology officer and executive board member, discussed what the clean core means for customers, why SAP introduced the enterprise architect role to its Rise program and what role the SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) plays in its product ecosystem.

The clean core was talked about extensively at Sapphire and how it's key to SAP's cloud strategy, but it appears many customers are not clear on what this is. Can you define what the clean core is from SAP's perspective?

Juergen Mueller, chief technology officer, SAPJuergen Mueller

Juergen Mueller: First, [you must ask] why it's important. We want companies to be in a situation to be continuously able to adopt updates and new innovations as we roll out those out. As a chief technology officer, I'm only happy if what we're building is used; otherwise, it doesn't create any value. In the past, we did not provide customers with the tools and methodologies to set themselves up to be able to consume those updates continuously.

Then we developed what we call the clean core approach, which means that even though you customize the system to a particular company's needs, you do it in a way that you are always upgrade ready. That means that all the extensions are done with publicly available APIs, and we keep these APIs stable so that when we upgrade our system, your extensions, process automations and integration flows continue to work.

Why is that important?

Mueller: This significantly reduces the effort that companies have when upgrading. SAP are amongst the most critical systems in the world to run [critical systems such as supply chain and manufacturing], and it's a huge issue if these things stand still.

To put it into perspective, [SAP customer] Hitachi basically upgraded [on-premises systems] every seven to 10 years, and now they upgrade every year or whenever we bring out a major release, and the upgrade effort went from one-and-a-half years to roughly six weeks. This is enabled by following a clean core approach, with the testing amount that is necessary and the rework that is necessary either eliminated or reduced significantly.

Is the term clean core an SAP invention, or is it a general industry term?

Mueller: Probably both. There may have been a different terminology out there when we were describing these concepts, but that one really sticks with customers and partners.

SAP has introduced an enterprise architect role to every Rise with SAP engagement. Why do you need to have enterprise architects involved now?

Mueller: We want to ensure that customers make the move to the cloud but that they also do it in the right way. In most cases, this happens, but we want to make sure that customers are fully educated on different aspects of such a move. It's an S/4HANA-centric conversation where they may come from one or multiple ECC [ERP Central Component] instances oftentimes to one or very few S/4HANA systems. That move, for example, does not only include S/4HANA, but it's also around HR with SuccessFactors or Fieldglass.

We want to ensure that customers make the move to the cloud but that they also do it in the right way.
Juergen MuellerChief technology officer, SAP

It's about procurement with Ariba or travel and expense with Concur. It's about your integration capabilities, where you go from integration process orchestration to integration suite. It's about the analytics space, where you might go from BusinessObjects to SAP Analytics Cloud. It's about building extensions where you go from ABAP [Advanced Business Application Programming] classic to an ABAP cloud. It's about planning, where you go from on premises to cloud versions of business planning capabilities. It's about data transformation and cleansing master data and the data estate where you go from a [Business Warehouse] BW system to maybe a hybrid of BW and SAP Datasphere and how you integrate non-SAP data.

It's a complex undertaking that is happening. It's about transforming processes from an as-is state to a to-be state. Many customers use this inflection point to look at their processes. And once you have that model with Signavio -- where you are today and [where you want processes to be] -- you should map that with your business strategies. This means where you want to differentiate and where you should use standard software from scratch and configure it.

Because this is a many-faceted problem, it makes sense to have someone from SAP as a point person that has a broad understanding of such topics.

Where are they going to come from, and do you have enough enterprise architects that can do all that complex work?

Mueller: Arguably, you never have enough, but we do have a good source of enterprise architects within the company and have high level recruitment from our consulting teams -- people with a lot of consulting and implementation experience. They come from pre-sales and post-sales roles, where they work with customers. They all get extra education because few individuals have broad knowledge across all those domains. It's set up as a separate dedicated team.

Will SAP use certified partners to bolster the concept of following SAP's methodology?

Mueller: Yes, and we are very open with our partners. [At Sapphire, we] discussed with the partners how to increase the talent pool and how the customers' standards are increasing, and they are going to ask for more certified personnel. There's so much happening and so much innovation [at SAP] that we want and need the partner ecosystem to keep up. That's why we changed the learning and certification program so that when you do a certification, you refresh your knowledge, which is something that we didn't do in the past.

Are these efforts, to some degree, recognition that customers haven't moved to S/4HANA as quickly as SAP has hoped, especially to the public cloud version?

Mueller: I would phrase it differently. Rise with SAP has been one of the fastest growing businesses that SAP has ever seen; same with BTP. But it's about leveling this up even more, in a sense of doing it the right way and ending up in a spot where the results of the clean core effort shine and we help companies to work through a holistic transformation.

Where does SAP BTP fit in SAP's ecosystem of products?

Mueller: BTP will continue being our strategic platform that we build applications on, that partners build applications on and where all the integrations to non-SAP and SAP systems happen, along with data management and extensions.

At the core, SAP is an applications company and will continue to be an applications company. But these technology challenges that companies have are so profound that the total addressable market [to help with these] is the largest market in the enterprise space after the infrastructure-as-a-service market. It's bigger than any individual application vertical. Therefore, it's paramount for SAP to have a strong business technology platform.

Are there customers who don't have SAP as a core ERP that use BTP, perhaps as a development or integration environment?

Mueller: We do have customers that basically use only BTP, but that is a minority. How we go to market is not usually a technology question. But we approach customers usually first from an application lens. This is usually around S/4HANA Public Cloud Edition, Private Cloud Edition, or some of the other applications such as SuccessFactors. And then they learn about BTP.

Some customers have said they were skeptical about BTP. Then they introduced it to their IT team, and then the IT team was pushing it. They don't want to use other platforms or older technologies anymore. The IT team is creating pressure to do everything new on BTP.

David Essex, an industry editor for several TechTarget websites, contributed to this report.

Jim O'Donnell is a senior news writer for TechTarget Editorial who covers ERP and other enterprise applications.

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