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This week IgniteSAP will be reviewing the methods SAP employs to provide users with a means to contribute to the development of S/4HANA Cloud and adjust its functionality to reflect the changing needs of users. 

This is a highly complex process as S/4HANA Cloud customers can operate in almost every conceivable industry and business: all of which require the product to be tailored to their needs, and updated as those needs change. Viewed abstractly this presents SAP with what we may refer to as a design paradox: the product must do everything yet it must do some specific things very well. In order to overcome this SAP uses various communication channels with their users along with internal development teams to create ongoing conversations about the nature of S/4HANA Cloud to ensure the product fulfils these contradictory criteria. 

S/4HANA Cloud 2011, the last quarterly version update for 2020 of the SaaS ERP platformwas announced on October the 28th. This includes specific improvements which have been requested as part of the ongoing interaction with SAP users to ensure that their needs are met. 

Oliver Betz, senior vice-president and head of Product Management for SAP S/4HANA explained: 

“Beyond the main customer influence programs, we also run smaller dedicated groups with which we validate our plans and ideas. Early feedback on planned innovations is key to helping ensure we are on track to deliver updates that are truly beneficial across a range of industries.” 

In techtarget.com SAP president of S/4HANA, Jan Gilg has recently given an interview in which he discusses in more detail the nature of the two-way connection between customers and SAP that have led to improvements appearing this quarter in the new version. 

“There are various channels. One is what we call impediments, where customers can use a portal to make suggestions on what they perceive as a gap or requests on what we should develop. Other customers have the ability to vote on the suggestions, and we take that and put it into our backlog… [Also]… we embedded Qualtrics into S/4HANA, which was released last year for a small group of customers and is now available to everybody. Now in each Fiori app [S/4HANA mobile UX], customers can leave feedback that’s more specific to [their]context. They can leave feedback and suggestions for improvements, which are channelledto product managers who then put it into the backlog.” 

Gilg went on to explain that how they ensure that they understand what product functions are actually used by tracking S/4HANA usage anonymously, and comparing this with customer feedback.  

“…we built a tool that correlates the experience data with the usage data. There are some interesting correlations, like often during upgrades, you get more [support] tickets and you also get feedback from customers. Usually [correlated data] matches pretty well together and sometimes you can trace this back to a certain event. It’s a very helpful tool, where we can show how we bring operational and experience data together to improve our product.” 

Through these processes there are a series of backlogs generated which are then prioritised according to a variety of criteria such as the number of requests for a particular new feature or function, or innovations where there may be additional revenue generated. All of this information can contribute to the next quarter’s version of the product through a detailed integration exercise.  

“The product managers go over those functional backlogs and make sure they all match up because it doesn’t help if the finance piece of the process is priority No. 1 and another piece that’s needed in logistics is only priority No. 50 and is not going to be part of the release. Product managers have to prioritise the adjustments to make sure that the process works end-to-end.” 

Some of these new features have been created in direct response to customer requests due to new requirements related to the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated disruption: 

“…many customers have adjusted their supply chains more locally, and there’s much higher interest in visibility and predictability. Many are moving away from optimising purely on cost to resilience, which from a developer’s perspective changes what we need to focus on.” 

Jan Gig was then asked about S/4HANA Cloud implementation projects in the pandemic: 

“…we have seen almost no slippage, and customers have been able to move to more remote work and remote go-lives rather quickly and successfully because most of the implementations are less complex than for a large company that deploys on premises. For the cloud, customers are primarily interested in a subscription model more than the classic license model, so we’re seeing much more demand for both public and private cloud deployment.” 

What this interview reveals is that the quarterly release structure of S/4HANA updates is working well to ensure that customers’ needs are met in a timely manner. The ongoing conversation with users through various channels, along with the process of correlating usage with feature requests allows SAP to focus on what matters most for their customers. The primary criteria for this is functionality. As the pandemic has taken hold and economies have slowed businesses have been forced to change their daily operations and as a consequence the way that they use ERP platforms is changing. This interview is an insight into the mechanism by which the needs of businesses are translated into actual functionality within S/4HANA Cloud and demonstrates that these developments are achieved with a three-month turnaround. It can be assumed that the new features will also spark new ideas about potential innovations for the next iteration so the software development is in effect a collaboration between SAP and industry. 

Along with the huge workload of software development, this process requires SAP to provide a wealth of documentation and educational resources for users so that they are able to keep up with the pace of change. This need is met through constant updates of the content found on the comprehensive S/4HANA Cloud Community site, the SAP Training website and the documentation found through the SAP Help Portal

The full SAP S/4HANA Cloud 2011 Feature Scope Description (as of 28/10/20) can be foundhere

There is a blog post of the highlights of this release by Sven Denecken which can be found in the SAP Community blogs here. The highlights listed by category include: 

Finance: “modernised SAP Fiori apps in Collective and Dispute Management…In this release, we provide new extensibility options, an overall better performance, in-depth data insights and many more features.” 

Manufacturing & Supply Chain: “In the area of advanced Available-To-Promise (aATP), we now offer Product Substitution, helping you to substitute one product with another suitable one in case e.g. a product is out of stock…New master data and new SAP Fiori apps help to manage product substitutions and discover potential upcoming problems.” 

Sourcing & Procurement: “…the performance of suppliers is measured across multiple criteria in different real-time key performance indicators…With the Supplier Evaluation Score Output this can now be done via a flexible to configure form by print-out or e-mail. This way, customers can configure their own form to communicate scores to their suppliers to make them aware of their performance, guaranteeing transparency.”  

Professional Services: “Modular and SaaS Project Resource Management for collaborative staffing: This new resource management component of SAP S/4HANA Cloud for projects enables resource managers to improve the utilisation of their resources by better fulfilling staffing demands. It runs on the SAP Cloud Platform integrating with the SAP S/4HANA Cloud Professional Services processes.” 

Enterprise Portfolio & Project Management: “With 2011, we … introduce a new UI application ‘Schedule Project Accounting Jobs’. Project Financial Controllers can now use this new application together with the new template ‘Actual Settlement: Projects’, which allows them to schedule periodic accounting jobs for a project or a work package with less manual effort while getting all the benefits of an SAP Fiori app such as a simplified and standardised scheduling functionality and most up-to-date results.” 

Sales: “The SAP Self-Billing Cockpit based on the SAP Cloud Platform (SCP) allows you to run self-billing processes with your customers. With this integration, you can receive and process self-billing messages, edit messages in case of errors and receive multiple order reasons and condition types in case of any differences.” 

Service: “In Service Management, we have a new enabled business scope, ‘Recurring Service’: enabling the capability to schedule and organise periodic services which occur repeatedly at certain intervals, such as regular maintenance. By using Maintenance features, it is now easier than ever to plan your recurring services which will help to avoid potential escalations due to unforeseen breakdowns.” 

Governance, Risk and Compliance: “…we’re releasing Detection of Data Retention Risks for Use in Finance and Contact Accounting through Automated Privacy Procedures. This integration between SAP S/4HANA Cloud and SAP Privacy Governance provides access to global risk and compliance tools and helps to automatically detect potential privacy risks and immediately avoid them. 

Product Compliance: “In Product Marketability, the new Substance Volumes Tracking feature enables you to identify risks by tracking, calculating and monitoring volumes for substances imported into and/or produced within a country. This gives you the possibility to define legal entities, to map production plants and to receive plants to these legal entities. 

Asset Management: “In Asset Management, we offer a new SAP Fiori app to create maintenance requests for technical objects such as functional locations or pieces of equipment. While creating a maintenance request, you can store relevant information required to identify and solve any problems which might occur.  This provides a simplified creation of new work requests for maintenance and reduces the effort for logging maintenance issues through a simplified user interface. 

Two-Tier ERP: “Subsidiaries need a simple, flexible, yet robust and cost-effective system that delivers the same results while integrating with the Headquarters’ system… to support this, we deliver Multi-Level Project Scenario in the Headquarter-Subsidiary Model… the Headquarters gain real-time visibility on all project activities associated with the master project, as well as a single platform to track and manage projects for customers dealing with multiple subsidiaries.” 

SAP Activate: “…we’ve also been working on improvements for our SAP Activate Methodology to adapt to our ever-changing environment. SAP Activate was enhanced to support SAP customers with instructions for the use of SAP Cloud Application Lifecycle Management.” 

This is a brief overview of the main features for this release and its a lot to take on board so it is best to regularly check in on the status of S/4 Cloud developments. The shortest route to keep touch with the latest changes in features and functions of S/4HANA Cloud is theWhat’s New Viewer for S/4HANA Cloud on the SAP Help Portal, which provides a convenient searchable and filterable list. Any features which are of particular interest can then be investigated in more detail in the Help Portal and in the S/4HANA Cloud Community. 

If there is a feature or function that you feel is missing in S/4HANA Cloud that would be useful to yourself and others then reach out to SAP through the channels listed above, and ask others in the community to do the same: vote for the features you would appreciate and you may influence the product development teams to include that new feature in the next quarter. 

For more news, updates and insights from the SAP market read the Ignite SAP Blog.

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