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Clean Core Implementations For SAP

Clean core implementations for SAP are an essential aspect of successful SAP cloud deployments. This week IgniteSAP will discuss the importance of ensuring a clean core, some of the challenges seen when adopting this strategy, and provide some practical advice for SAP consultants tasked with extensions during digital transformations.

Optimizing SAP ERP With A Clean Core

Since 2015 SAP has been encouraging their customers to adopt S/4HANA as the core database for SAP ERP systems. More recently they have been pushing hard on the message that S/4HANA Cloud should be the preferred SAP deployment for almost all of their customers.

The newest product packages form SAP: Rise with SAP (for larger organizations) and Grow with SAP (for SMEs) also leverage S/4HANA Cloud and SAP Business Technology Platform as the fundamental components.

Read more about Rise with SAP or Grow with Sap

This combination, in conjunction with the SAP Business Network and other SAP products specific to various industries and lines of business, is now central to SAP’s portfolio.

But all businesses and industries have different requirements from their ERP systems, and each implementation project or upgrade of SAP software and services starts from a pre-existing ERP landscape consisting of legacy SAP or non-SAP systems.

There are very important reasons for some businesses to create extensions or customizations which should not be overlooked. They can be used to provide optimization, automate business processes, create controlled access for external users, or methods to analyze and visualize business processes: reducing the cost to the business. But these extensions themselves may come at a high price if they are not carried out in line with a clean core.

Ideal Versus Real?

So although the ideal scenario for SAP ERP deployment is an entirely greenfield approach, most implementation projects have required a certain amount of extensions and custom coding in order to integrate legacy SAP and non-SAP systems and data: leading to complex SAP systems that are current but still have substantial maintenance and administrative needs.

Many implementation and upgrade projects are delayed because consultants are instructed by their customers that they need to account for these elements, but some customers have a less than optimal understanding of the appropriate clean core practices and SAP’s new standard procedures for dealing with extensions.

Attempting to maintain individual legacy databases and non-approved extensions can stop a business from upgrading to S/4HANA or transforming their whole landscape.

SAP has been working hard to create new products and demonstrate that a cloud-based SAP system with a clean core is reconcilable with extensions and customizations, if SAP consultants align themselves closely with recommended strategies using new products like SAP BTP.

Consultants who have a detailed understanding of the SAP Best Practices and SAP Activate methodology, as well as strategies for preserving a clean core (even with customizations and extensions) will find it easier to not only carry out the project successfully, but also convey the business case to their customers before they begin.

The Business Case For A Clean Core

The primary benefit to a business of implementing an SAP ERP architecture with a clean core is a lower overall cost of ownership, including licensing, maintenance, and hardware costs.

The clean core also contributes indirectly to lower operating costs in several other ways.

Easier, more frequent upgrades are made possible because when the core is clean and extensions can be created using modules from the SAP Business Technology Platform, so the business benefits from compatibility of these elements.

This has the added benefit of making the business more agile, and more able to adapt and scale the landscape of it’s IT processes in accordance with need current needs of the business, within the context of the market in which it operates.

In other words there are less technology-related barriers to the business keeping up with competitors in the market with a clean core, because the business has almost immediate access to new technologies as they become available, for example through BTP extensions.

The resulting IT landscape is simple and efficient once the implementation project has been completed, and even non-SAP business users can create new extensions without the input of ABAP coding specialists with low code/no code solutions like SAP Build.

Clean Core Implementation Method

Before discussing some of the approved methods for ensuring clean core implementations for SAP ERP it is important to define the term.

A “clean core” within an ERP system can be described in the following way: the core of an ERP system is the data, processes, points of integration, and fundamental extensions that form the basis upon which all other aspects are built. In order for this to be considered “clean” these core parts and processes should be consistent with each other, transparent and efficient, and not customized.

So the term is used by SAP specifically to define a method of adding extensions to the core of the ERP system in such a way that the added components do not contradict the desired consistent and efficient nature of the core of the ERP system.

Extensions Consistent With A Clean Core

SAP consultants can be asked to implement extensions which are not consistent with a clean core, but it is possible to maintain a clean core if some basic principles and methods are followed.

Standard, and unmodified is the ideal to be applied wherever possible. Historically, many extensions and customizations were created because the pre-built and approved solution to an extension requirement did not exist, so an ABAP developer was needed to make it from scratch.

The number of extensions created by SAP and available through the Business Technology Platform is now vast (and growing) and it is quite likely that consultants will find what a business requires through that route.

When carrying out an S/4HANA ERP project, if it is implemented with a greenfield approach then it is much easier to create a core system which is clean and is made to stay clean with subsequent upgrades.

If the project requires a brownfield approach then pre-existing elements using custom code must be replaced with standard-compliant substitutes (so check SAP BTP for these). These will be decoupled and outside the core stack, with connections re-established in a carefully controlled way.

Extensibility Options For S/4HANA

SAP currently recognizes three models for S/4HANA Extensibility options: Key User Extensibility in the S/4HANA core, which uses low code/no code app building scenarios, Developer Extensibility in the S/4HANA stack, which requires the use of custom ABAP code, and the previously mentioned Side-by-Side Extensibility through SAP BTP.

These models have some overlap in their provision for different scenarios but between them they cover many possible ways in which extensions can be provided for S/4HANA in a manner that is consistent with a clean core.

It is important to note that even the On-Stack Developer Extensibility option which requires ABAP competency provides ways to check that the extension is compatible and compliant with other SAP elements using (for example) the ABAP RESTful Application Programming model (RAP) to build upgrade-safe extensions.

The advantage of using the options when creating extensions is that not only will these be consistent, compatible and compliant with other parts of the SAP ERP system, but they will also remain stable after upgrades are carried out over time.

Core Values

Clean core implementations for SAP are not just a matter of good house-keeping: they are a key part of the system’s ability to function over time.

With the careful adherence to some basic principles and with the wide variety of options available for extensibility, any customer’s requirements for their business processes can be met and expectations exceeded.

Consequently SAP practitioners should familiarize themselves with these principles and consider them a key part of the conceptual tools that they use in their professional life: as much as the SAP Best Practices and the SAP Activate methodology.

SAP consultants who can demonstrate that they can successfully provide businesses with an SAP ERP system with a clean core, with extensions to meet any business context, can expect to be in extremely high demand over the next few years as the SAP services industry approaches the deadline by which customers still on SAP ECC and other legacy products need to have moved to S/4HANA-based ERP systems.

If you are an SAP consultant wanting to stay up to date with the latest industry news, or looking for a new role in the SAP ecosystem, join our exclusive SAP community at IgniteSAP.