fbpx Skip to main content

SAP’s Clean Core

As organizations migrate to the cloud, the need for a simpler, more agile, and adaptable ERP system becomes critical. SAP’s Clean Core strategy advocates for a system architecture free from unnecessary customizations, which can lead to technical debt and increased operational costs.

Through adherence to guidelines and minimizing custom code, organizations can keep their ERP systems stable, upgradable, and ready for advancements, such as AI, machine learning, and advanced analytics.

This article by IgniteSAP explores SAP’s recommended Clean Core system architecture, its implications for SAP consultants, and how this knowledge can develop their careers. 

Through awareness of the principles, challenges, and best practices associated with the Clean Core concept, SAP consultants can better advise their clients, and deliver better SAP systems.

Principles of the Clean Core Strategy


SAP’s Clean Core strategy for system architecture lies in a reframing of the requirement for compatible extensibility.

Extensibility is the ability to extend SAP systems with other functionalities, and it requires that customizations or extensions must be designed to be sustainable and compatible with future updates.

Side-by-side extensibility allows developers to use modern programming languages and tools, offering greater flexibility and innovation. This supports scalability and performance, as extensions can be independently scaled and maintained.

The SAP S/4HANA Extensibility Guide is a good resource for understanding and implementing this principle. It provides detailed guidelines on how to extend systems without compromising the core.


Another aspect of the Clean Core system strategy is smooth integration. This involves integrating S/4HANA with other solutions for a cohesive and efficient IT ecosystem. Applications can be integrated with the core ERP system through APIs, for continuous interaction while keeping the core system isolated from changes.


Agility is another principle of Clean Core system architecture. By reducing complexity and enhancing adaptability, organizations can respond quickly to changes in the market and customer expectations. Innovation and scalability contribute to agility, using technologies such as AI, machine learning, and advanced analytics to augment business value.

A Clean Core system is better positioned to integrate these advanced technologies, for optimal competitiveness, and readiness for future technological advancements.

Impact on Existing SAP Implementations

One obvious feature of SAP’s Clean Core concept is the simplification of system architecture. Organizations can reduce the complexity of their SAP landscapes, facilitating easier maintenance, faster upgrades, and improved overall system performance.

When adopting SAP systems with a Clean Core in mind, organizations must decide between greenfield and brownfield implementations.

Greenfield involves starting with a new implementation of SAP S/4HANA, allowing design of the system architecture from the ground up with a Clean Core as a primary aim.

Brownfield means converting an existing SAP system to S/4HANA. While this method retains some legacy elements, it can still align with the Clean Core strategy through simplification and optimization of the current system.

Technical debt arises from the accumulation of outdated code, customizations, and inefficient practices that can burden an SAP system. By promoting the use of standard functionalities and responsible extension practices, the Clean Core design principle helps organizations minimize technical debt: lowering maintenance costs and improving system stability and performance.

Accelerating workflows and optimizing resource utilization are other goals of the Clean Core strategy. A thorough assessment of existing processes identifies areas for improvement, resulting in more efficient and adaptable operations.

How SAP Consultants Can Leverage the Clean Core

SAP CEO Christian Klein has pointed out, “The central prerequisite for adopting either the Rise or Grow offerings is the switch to a cloud model, whether private or public, and the adoption of a Clean Core with standardized processes. Migration effort and customizing could be significantly reduced by the [Clean Core] methodology behind the two offerings.”

SAP consultants aiming to help customers implement a clean core should advocate for reducing unnecessary customizations and adopting standard SAP functionalities.

Consultants must also educate clients about the benefits. This includes highlighting how the strategy can lead to lower maintenance costs, better system performance, and greater flexibility. SAP consultants must also stay informed about the latest developments in SAP technologies and methodologies to provide the best value for their clients.

SAP consultants can also enhance service offerings by specializing in Clean Core transitions and optimizations. This involves developing expertise in assessing existing SAP landscapes, identifying areas for simplification, and guiding clients through the transition to a Clean Core.

With these specialized services, consultants can address a need in the market and differentiate themselves from competitors. This benefits the consultants’ professional standing and opens up new opportunities for career growth and development.

Challenges in Clean Core Adoption

Transitioning to a Clean Core architecture is complex and requires careful planning. A common mistake is underestimating the scope and complexity of that transformation, especially in SAP systems with extensive customizations. Ensuring compatibility of all integrated products with the SAP S/4HANA environment and selecting the right transition tools is also essential.

Alongside eliminating unnecessary custom code, comprehensive business process assessments are essential to identify which processes can be standardized, and which still require customization  (or “re-customization” through refactoring) in a way that is compatible with a clean core. This resource-intensive task needs input from multiple organizational stakeholders to avoid disrupting necessary operations.

A strong governance framework makes sure that all changes align with strategic goals and have clear decision-making processes. Without this provision, maintaining the Clean Core’s integrity is challenging.

Major changes to IT architecture and business processes require effective change management strategies as this affects the working practices of client employees. Resistance to change is a major hurdle and must be managed through communication, training, and support programs.

Industry-Specific Challenges

Different industries face unique challenges when adopting a Clean Core, especially regarding regulatory compliance and complex processes. Sectors like finance, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals require stringent measures due to heavy regulation and specialized processes, complicating the transition.

Integrating industry-specific solutions with SAP S/4HANA while maintaining a Clean Core is also challenging.

Industries such as defense, government, and healthcare must make sure data handling complies with strict security standards. Additionally, sectors with legacy systems, risk aversion, or limited resources may adopt new technologies more slowly, requiring extra time and support for transition.

Reliance on custom code in many industries presents a substantial barrier. Identifying, evaluating, and refactoring or retiring this code is complex and resource-intensive.

Best Practices for Successful Implementation

Analyzing and Standardizing Business Processes

An integral step is the thorough analysis and standardization of business processes. This involves identifying processes that can be simplified, accelerated, and standardized across the organization, reducing unnecessary complexity and ensuring that the system operates efficiently, which optimizes efficiency but also simplifies future upgrades and integrations.

Reducing Customization Through the SAP Business Technology Platform

The SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) provides the tools and frameworks necessary to build extensions and integrations without altering the core system. This minimizes the risk of technical debt and makes sure the core remains upgradable.

Staying Informed on SAP Advancements

Staying updated on the latest SAP product advancements is crucial for SAP consultants. Continuous learning and engagement with new developments enable consultants to provide informed recommendations and leverage the latest features and best practices in their implementations.

Collaborating with Strategic Partners

Collaboration with strategic partners can significantly enhance the implementation of the Clean Core strategy. Partners can provide additional expertise, resources, and tools to support the transition and guarantee that best practices are followed. This can help address complex challenges for a smoother implementation.

SAP’s Reference Architecture and Activate Methodology

Following SAP’s reference architecture and Activate methodology is another best practice for successful Clean Core implementation. The reference architecture provides a blueprint for designing a reliable, scalable, and maintainable SAP system, while the Activate methodology offers a structure for project management and implementation.

Tools for Structured Implementation

SAP offers a range of tools and technologies designed to support structured implementation and maintain a Clean Core. These include the previously mentioned S/4HANA Extensibility Guide, SAP Business Technology Platform, and various migration and assessment tools. Using these resources can simplify the implementation process and verify that all extensions and customizations are compliant with the Clean Core strategy.

The Role of S/4HANA Cloud as the Digital Core

SAP S/4HANA Cloud serves as the central element of the Clean Core. It provides a reliable, scalable, and cloud-based system designed to support needs while minimizing customizations. The cloud-based nature of S/4HANA helps systems remain agile and upgrade-ready, aligning with the principles of the Clean Core.

The detailed guidelines provided in the Extensibility Guide cover various aspects of system extensions, including key-user extensibility for simple adaptations and side-by-side extensibility for more complex customizations.

Rise with SAP is a comprehensive service that supports business transformation through the adoption of the Clean Core strategy. It also offers tools and guidance for moving to S/4HANA Cloud.

Building, Extending, and Integrating Applications

The SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) supports extensibility and integration while maintaining a Clean Core. BTP provides the tools and frameworks necessary to build, extend, and integrate applications without altering the core system. This de-coupling method ensures that customizations are compliant with the Clean Core strategy and that the system remains flexible and scalable.

In addition to BTP, SAP offers other tools designed to support the development, extension, and integration of applications. These help organizations maintain a Clean Core by providing structured and compliant methods for customizing their SAP systems.

The SAP Custom Code Migration App is a valuable tool which helps organizations identify and retire unused custom code, so that the new system is simplified and free of unnecessary customizations.

The SAP Signavio Resource Center provides resources for analyzing and standardizing business processes. This includes tools and best practices for identifying areas for improvement and aligning processes with the principles of the Clean Core strategy.

SAP Datasphere supports data quality and governance, essential components of maintaining a Clean Core. This tool confirms that data within the SAP system is accurate, consistent, and compliant with industry standards.

SAP’s Emerging Technologies

The Clean Core is integral to SAP’s broader vision of strategic growth and the industry shift towards cloud-based solutions. By promoting the Clean Core, SAP aims to ensure that its systems are agile, scalable, and ready to integrate the latest technological advancements.

The Clean Core strategy also helps in the integration of emerging technologies such as automation, analytics, and machine learning (ML) into SAP services. By maintaining a Clean Core, organizations can more easily incorporate these advanced technologies, enhancing their ability to analyze data, automate processes, and make data-driven decisions.

Enhancing Agility and Innovation

A Clean Core system architecture enhances an organization’s agility and capacity for innovation by ensuring that the IT landscape is easily improved and free from unnecessary complexities.

Reducing the burden of technical debt and simplifying system maintenance, organizations can then focus more resources on strategically developing new capabilities, and improving existing processes.

SAP’s Clean Core strategy is crucial for aligning with the company’s strategic growth and cloud shift, integrating emerging technologies such as automation, analytics, and machine learning, and amplifying organizational agility and innovation. 

Through advocating for, and adopting implementation processes consistent with the Clean Core, SAP consultants can help their clients create flexible, future-ready systems that support continuous improvement and technological advancement. This delivery of the Clean Core will enable SAP consultants to provide higher-value services, driving their professional growth and career advancement.

If you are an SAP professional looking for a new role in the SAP ecosystem our team of dedicated recruitment consultants can match you with your ideal employer and negotiate a competitive compensation package for your extremely valuable skills, so join our exclusive community at IgniteSAP.