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SAP Customizations: Innovation, and Core Integrity

Through the evolution of SAP, customization and extension has been a crucial aspect in many deployments. Originally, SAP systems became highly adaptable, requiring extensive modifications to cater to diverse, industry-specific processes. This approach provided flexibility but at the cost of high complexity and long implementation times.

As the technological landscape and SAP’s customer base evolved, a shift towards streamlined customization methods occurred. The adoption of pre-configurations and alternative approaches aimed to reduce heavy customizations, offering a more standardized but adaptable framework.

This shift intended to simplify implementations and enhance and maintain system stability but the pace of technological advancements as each new product, service or methodology was introduced required a recurring workload of further customized adaptations for heavily customized SAP systems.

In order to compensate for this SAP introduced the ‘clean core’ concept: focusing on maintaining the core system’s integrity while allowing necessary adaptations through standardized extensions. This new approach was a significant shift from the previous customization method, seeking a balance between innovation, user needs, and system stability

Stakeholders, including consultants, clients, and user groups, raised concerns about potential limitations in meeting specific business needs with reduced flexibility. In response, SAP navigated a complex landscape of feedback, to reach a compromise which balanced a clean core with the diverse needs of its clients.

This week IgniteSAP is exploring the development of customization strategies and the concurrent controversy. All stakeholders in the ecosystem have contributed directly or indirectly to the current status quo in today’s best industry practices because their feedback has been considered as further iterations of SAP solutions have been developed and released. We will review the background and also how the issue of SAP customization is likely to develop in the future as SAP shifts its own corporate strategy: becoming a cloud-centered services provider.

The Early Days of Extensive Customizations

In the initial phase of SAP’s journey, the landscape was dominated by extensive customizations. Each implementation was a mammoth task, often requiring a ground-up approach to tailor the system to specific business needs.

This era was characterized by a heavy reliance on bespoke developments, as SAP’s standard offerings often fell short of addressing the intricate and unique requirements of each client. Companies would invest significantly in modifying the core of the SAP system, which, while providing a high degree of customization, also led to inherent complexities in system maintenance and upgrades.

Towards Modular and Non-Invasive Customizations

As SAP technology evolved and the user community expanded, SAP and its partners started to recognize the drawbacks of heavy customizations. This realization led to a paradigm shift towards modular and non-invasive customizations.

This focused on building add-ons or using bolt-on modules that could interface with the core system without altering it by adhering to shared development standards. This period also saw the rise of more standardized processes and best practices in SAP implementations, as part of an effort to reduce implementation times and enhance whole-system stability.

The Emergence of New Customization Techniques

With the advent of technologies like SAP Fiori, SAP S/4HANA, cloud-based solutions and AI, customization practices are undergoing a further transformation.

These new technologies offer more configuration options and user-friendly interfaces. Emphasis on a clean core has led to a focus on customizing systems through configuration (and pre-configured, standardized extensions for customization purposes) rather than coding: aligned with modern best practices of system design and architecture. This approach not only streamlines the customization process but also aligns with the broader trends in IT of agility, scalability, and future-readiness.

The Clean Core in SAP Systems

The ‘clean core’ philosophy in SAP systems is an approach focusing on maintaining the core system in a state which is as unaltered as possible. This concept is grounded in the principle of minimizing customizations that directly modify the core code of SAP systems.

By keeping the core clean, organizations can avoid the complexities and potential issues associated with heavily customized systems like compatibility problems and challenging system maintenance.

SAP’s drive towards a standardized yet flexible system architecture is a strategic response to the challenges posed by “over-customization” intended to allow customers to still use SAP’s standard functionality to the fullest extent.

SAP encourages clients to adopt best practices that allow for customization through configuration and modular add-ons, rather than core modifications. The ultimate goal is to offer a system that is both powerful in its standard form and adaptable through safe, controlled customization techniques.

Controversy and Stakeholder Feedback

The shift towards maintaining a clean core in SAP systems, while beneficial for system integrity, sparked controversy among various stakeholders. The primary concern was the perceived restrictiveness in customization and extension options.

Clients and SAP consultants accustomed to tailoring systems to fit specific business requirements felt that the new approach might limit their ability to address unique operational needs. This apprehension was particularly pronounced in sectors with highly specialized processes, where standard solutions seemed inadequate to handle complex, industry-specific demands.

SAP’s Strategic Response and Adjustments

Feedback from user groups and customers has been a crucial element in the evolution of SAP’s strategy. Recognizing the concerns, SAP engaged in active dialogue with its user community: gathering insights and understanding the practical implications of its clean core philosophy.

SAP also began adapting its approach to better align with market needs, and SAP’s strategy evolved to focus on a more inclusive approach, considering the diverse and dynamic nature of global business environments. This evolution led to SAP’s commitment to not only maintaining system integrity and standardization but also ensuring that their solutions remained relevant and effective for all clients.

Balancing Flexibility with System Integrity

SAP developed new tools and technologies that included promoting the use of advanced configuration options, modular add-ons, and cloud-based solutions that offer customization capabilities without compromising the core system.

The clean core method maintains a streamlined core while adding new features through in-app and side-by-side extensibility. In-app extensibility enhances the digital core with tools for UI modifications, data model access, application logic, and specific transactions. Side-by-side extensibility, usually involving added apps on a standard platform, enables improved mobile experiences, B2C and B2B integrations, data management and analysis, Business Intelligence (BI), and IoT applications.

This strategic shift not only enhanced the adaptability of SAP systems to various business needs but also ensured that these systems remained robust, secure, and easy to upgrade. SAP’s nuanced approach to customization now provides for the need for both stability and adaptability in the rapidly evolving digital landscape.

Best Practices for Current SAP Customizations

The SAP Cloud Platform facilitates the integration of custom applications. Additionally, the Enhancement Framework in SAP allows for controlled custom code addition, minimizing direct core system modifications.

Current best practices in SAP customizations use tools like SAP Fiori for user interface customization, which enhances the user experience without core alterations. SAP S/4HANA is leveraged for its flexibility and advanced features, allowing customization within the core system’s framework that do not cause conflicts between other parts of an SAP system.

SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) allows SAP customers to perform necessary customizations without conflicting with the concept of a clean core. BTP provides a comprehensive suite of tools and services that allow for the development and integration of custom applications and extensions, decoupled from the core SAP system. This separation ensures that the core remains untouched, thus maintaining its integrity and stability.

SAP Datasphere (formerly known as SAP Data Warehouse Cloud) is likely to play a pivotal role in future SAP customizations. Allowing efficient management and integration of data from various sources, including non-SAP systems. This simplification and consolidation of data handling enable easier and more effective customizations, as decision-making and process customization can be based on comprehensive, real-time data insights. SAP Datasphere’s ability to unify data landscapes significantly streamlines the customization process.

Alignment with the latest SAP products, services, and methodologies is crucial for effective customizations. Adhering to SAP’s best practices and guidelines guarantees compatibility and ease of future upgrades.

Incorporating agile methodologies into customization projects promotes iterative development and better business alignment. Additionally, prioritizing ongoing training and knowledge sharing about the latest SAP technologies and practices is essential for maintaining an adaptive and skilled team.

By following SAP best practices around customization SAP clients and consultants can achieve the necessary balance between customizing systems for specific business needs and maintaining the SAP core system.

The SAP Customization Journey

From the early days of extensive and core-changing customizations to the current era of modular and non-invasive approaches, SAP systems have evolved to balance the dual needs of personalization and core integrity. This evolution, driven by technological advancements and strategic shifts towards a clean core philosophy, reflects SAP’s responsiveness to the changing demands of the business world.

The importance of this evolution cannot be overstated. This balance is critical in maintaining system integrity, simplifying upgrades, and facilitating integration with new technologies, all while providing the customization necessary for businesses to thrive in their unique environments.

Looking ahead, the SAP customization landscape is likely to continue evolving, influenced by emerging technologies and changing market needs.

Cloud solutions, AI, and advanced data management tools like SAP Datasphere will play pivotal roles in shaping future customization practices. Overall we can expect a shift to much smaller and more regular projects in customization as standardized, pre-configured and extensible architecture is less disruptive to business processes.

Stakeholders, including SAP consultants, clients, and end-users, must stay informed about these developments to effectively navigate this landscape, as it fundamentally changes the daily practice of professionals in the SAP ecosystem. Embracing continuous learning, staying agile, and adhering to best practices will be required for leveraging SAP systems to their fullest potential while maintaining the delicate balance between the stability of a clean core and an ideal SAP system for every customer.

This ongoing evolution of SAP customization is not just about technological advancement; it’s an existential issue for SAP: ensuring their customers are able to adapt to the ever-changing business world, and ensuring that SAP systems remain as relevant and effective tomorrow as they are today.

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