SAP S/4HANA Migration Project Hits Some Bumps

SAP S/4HANA Migration Project Hits Some Bumps

When Trusting Your SAP S/4HANA Migration Teams Too Much Has Massive Implications

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by Dr Marco Sisfontes-Monge, Managing Partner, Arellius Enterprises


SAP S/4HANA migration projects in large firms are challenging and, without a doubt, require lots of work. Certainly, many employees will have a lot of anxiety and concerns about their positions and their capabilities to achieve their goals and learn the new tools; and, of course, finance and marketing will demand accuracy and data validations to guarantee historical data is in alignment with the new architectures.

Involvement of the Big 4 consulting firms immediately raises the expectations and being involved with a publicly traded company also demands higher standards due to auditor scrutiny in the design, build, and data validation; this is common, and companies pay for this activity as well. However, very often the team focuses on the project plan too much rather than first validating if the plan is even feasible with the software purchased, since the teams will read about it in magazines, online articles like this one, or using reference documentation provided to them by other team members. 

For this reason, before jumping into a new SAP journey, please verify what software the company has purchased and align users’ expectations and key stakeholders accordingly. These capabilities must be crystal clear to both project managers and the implementation team, since this will determine the reporting functionality available, skills set required, developing times, real-time vs. not as real-time, and more. For example, a company willing to migrate to only SAP Native HANA tools must be prepared to learn a lot if they are trying to phase out their SAP BW environments, since the tools available are not related at all to the traditional SAP BW objects, and you will need to learn even more. 

In this article we will review the following: 

  • Why it is important to verify the activities identified in your SAP S/4HANA upgrade project plan to be feasible.  
  • Why it is important to follow SAP OSS notes to uncover any major issues in your project.  
  • How successful projects depend on teams and people you can trust; if you do not trust, them replace them.
  • Expectations vs. reality: it is a hard truth that you must be prepared to adjust quickly.
  • Yes, don’t forget to buy the software that you are supposed to implement. 

At the Beginning, There was Light  

Like many projects, everything starts with initial direct contact, a large beverage company implementing SAP S/4HANA 2020. I had a chance to talk with the implementation manager about their needs, and he was clear: “Creation of validating reports to guarantee that SAP S/4HANA vs. SAP ECC data was in alignment because both finance and marketing teams did not consider the current SAP BW reports were accurate.” This activity is quite common, so the manager also confirmed that the company had migrated SAP S/4HANA and now they had report issues, so historical data from 2018, 2019, and 2020 had been moved to SAP S/4HANA, and they were eight weeks from going live and needed a few reports to verify that old SAP ECC data was the same in SAP S/4HANA server.  

In addition, the financial manager requests to use the latest SAP HANA software that the company has purchased. Speed, accuracy, and validations must be the highest due to the current environment in the implementation where the finance and sales user community is not happy with the reports being delivered in SAP S/4HANA. The project was won, and resources were assigned, and I was personally involved with this client to make sure that the process was smooth for the manager since he personally requested me to be involved.  

 The First Red Flags  

 Then, many issues started appearing that sounded unusual just in the first few weeks: 

  • Finance team consider all SAP BW reports not reliable. 
  • There is a list of over 200 reports that must be delivered in the next eight weeks. 
  • All reports must be delivered in the same format as the current reports, and yes in eight weeks. 
  • The SAP BW Team is amazed at hearing of a “new tool” called “SAP Fiori” (please don’t’ laugh, this is real). 
  • The SAP BW technical lead advised against using SAP OData services and recommended SDI, SDA, SLT, and others, but the only tool purchased by the company is … Yes, OData services.
  • Internal and external Big 4 auditing firms demand documentation of all reports before go live and that also in eight weeks. 
  • The SAP BW teams request reports using SAP BW tools for HANA, SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC) with interfaces such as SAP SDI, SDA, SLT, and more, but the company did not buy any of these products on the current licenses.
  • The finance manager does not want any of the new reports being built in the SAP BW Server but directly in the SAP S/4HANA Server. However, all the reporting software was purchased to report using the SAP BW Server only. 
  • After close inspection of the 200 reports, each report had an average of 100 calculated key figures or measures with multiple transformations, multiple variables, and aggregation rules that took the SAP BW team over five years to build. 

The icing on the cake came when the SAP BW team and finance manager confirmed SAP Analysis for Office version 2.3 is the one being deployed as part of the migration to SAP S/4HANA 2020. This article was written in Jan 2022; SAP Analysis for Office 2.3 (AO or AFO) has been decommissioned or in obsolete status for over four years. Literally, SAP S/4HANA 2020 did not exist when SAP AO 2.3 was released, and as shown in Figure 1, SAP recommends SAP Analysis for Office 2.8 SP04 or Higher for new implementations.  

SAP S/4HANA upgrades - image

Figure 1Recommended SAP components for SAP S/4HANA upgrades 1909 and 2020 for SAP Analysis for Office

Our firm has always been involved in large implementations with challenging deadlines. For example: 

  • Large utilities in U.S. and Europe. 
  • Supermarkets, car dealerships, and hotels in the Middle East. 
  • Oil and mining companies in America, Europe, Africa, and Asian-Pacific involving over 10,000 users. 
  • Supporting, overseeing, or completing work related to Big 4 consulting and auditing firms. 
  • Large financial transformations in health care sector, fashion, and retail. 

So, when we are working in this project, and we see the Big 4 consulting firms not raising the alarm, which is technically their job, the status of the project start worrying us. I personally become suspicious of the activities happening within some SAP teams and how truthful the updates are on the daily leadership calls, even though it is confirmed that testing activities are on track for go-live date in two months. 

Technical Concerns Keep Arising 

Ok, now we are done with a review of 200 SAP BW reports, have some idea about their sources and transformation processes, and again, these SAP BW reports are the source of record and shared with different shareholders. However, the SAP BW team confirms that the SAP BW DEV environment has been upgraded, and they are performing build and testing activities in SAP S/4HANA 2020. The technical lead informs the system landscape as shown in Figure 2. 

SAP BW architecture - image

Figure 2Architecture communicated by the SAP BW team from the client 

We have been involved in this process while trying to literally find their SAP S/4HANA system without success. At this point it is a concern that SAP BW on HANA products were chosen, since they are in support mode, which in SAP terms means that they are about to be considered partially obsolete, and deployment of SAP Analysis for Office 2.3 is a red flag of the software installed.  

Yes, SAP is that “smart.” One piece of software can hint at an unlimited number of factors in the client’s servers, and how the situation is being handle is raising concerns. The project has changed from initially build validation reports to now trying to believe that this implementation has SAP S/4HANA 2020 in their landscape as confirmed by project leadership, and the go-live is in two months. To get to the final solution, I requested to our technical teams to perform a server comparison of our firm’s servers vs. the client’s to identify where the functionality is missing and adjust these elements in the client’s servers. The results are shown in Figure 3.  

In summary, the SAP BW server upgrade levels are far from expected, and not even a single report can be created following the build strategy that the SAP BW team and finance manager were expecting. The current SAP software is just too old in the SAP BW DEV server to allow development and with this hint that also QA and PROD servers are also not upgraded. 

SAP BW DEV - image

Figure 3Summary of SAP BW on HANA 2020 functional client vs. our servers 

Figure 3 shows the client functionality on the left and on the right the functionality available for build on our SAP BW on HANA servers 2020 matching the alleged client installation. Our conclusion is that the client SAP BW server is unusable, the components in the SAP BW server are over four years old based on current software installation levels, and the SAP Basis team has refused to upgrade following the requirement for SAP HANA 2020 because the Basis manager “believes” that’s the best way without checking any SAP OSS notes for guidance. 

As you can see on the right in Figure 3, there are a significant number of menu items available, each linked with a different back-end component, so reports can be created, and it also allows the front-end components part of SAP HANA Eclipse, such as SAP BW tools, Native HANA, and ABAP core components to function. To achieve what you see on the right-hand side of Figure 3 not only requires your client (laptop) to be upgraded, but the backend of the server must also be upgraded so your reports can be created. 

Reality vs. Expectations Do Not Match 

The results of the analysis reveal a disturbing situation, as shown in Figure 4. In summary: 

  • The client’s servers are not even ready for build, nothing has been built using the SAP S/4HANA, none of the SAP BW reports have been upgraded to SAP S/4HANA, and nobody in the SAP BW team has even started creating these reports. 
  • From a system perspective, both BW or SAP S/4HANA Production Servers have not been upgraded nor are they operational as summarized in Figure 4. 

server storage capacity - image

Figure 4Summary of the build status of the client’s servers

  • As shown in Figure 4, only a Sandbox BW system that is not connected to another Sandbox with SAP S/4HANA data is in shape to be used to start development. No other server is operational to SAP S/4HANA components due to the refusal from the Basis manager to upgrade following SAP guidelines, and on top of that it is not in SAP S/4HANA 2020 but in SAP S/4HANA 1909. 

The SAP Basis manager informsd the team in an explosive meeting with the finance manager and SAP BW team that none of the tools they were planning to implement have been purchased by the company, and there is no budget for the project to buy them since it had already been spent for that year on “consulting.” The SAP Basis manager also informs the finance manager that the SAP BW server in production before upgrade to SAP S/4HANA 2020 components is already at 85% storage capacity with 1.5 Teras, which by itself requires a new hardware upgrade, and he did nothing and never communicated this situation to the project team. 

When pressed, the SAP technical lead mentions that the only software available in SAP S/4HANA 2020 purchased for reporting is SAP Embedded Analytics, and not the complete license, only half the license, which means that SAP ABAP CDS Views is the only strategy available using OData service to be able to report data out of SAP S/4HANA. 

In addition, SAP Embedded Analytics and SAP ABAP CDS Views functionality are not activated anywhere, and the technical teams have no idea how to activate them, no user roles created, and no ABAP objects activated either. After further analysis, the SAP HANA Embedded Analytics cannot be leveraged since the client only purchased half the license of SAP Embedded Analytics, and key functionalities shown in red and yellow in Figure 5 were not available. The only option possible is using SAP ABAP ADT CDS Views. 

SAP Fiori tiles - image

Figure 5Quick review of SAP Fiori tiles for SAP Embedded Analytics; red and yellow not available for SAP S/4HANA foundations license HANA2020 

For reference, SAP CDS Views using just SAP ABAP ADT is an extremely cumbersome product, and it is simply designed to get data out of SAP S/4HANA and load it into SAP BW or SAP SAC systems for further manipulation. The finance manager is furious, and he states that this issue does not matter to him, that we have many reports to deliver, and we must do it with the tools that we “have.”  

SAP BW team keeps updating the project plan with progress in SAP SAC, HANA Native tools, SAP BW on HANA, and more testing of reports that any of these products and related components are not even purchased by the client. Escalation to the project manager and finance manager happens, with a request to stop and reevaluate the implementation since reality and the project plan do not match, and the SAP Basis manager leads the effort to clarify the status of the project. 

On top of this, the SAP Basis manager confirms that it is not feasible to attain the project plan and the reports expected with the functionality purchased in SAP S/4HANA, and that he cannot recommend loading more data to the SAP BW server since it is already at 85% storage capacity. 

Both Big 4 companies agree that there is no need of performing system testing and performance evaluation of the SAP S/4HANA boxes, even though there was no capacity left in the current state before the upgrades. Now that we revealed the harsh reality, we must drastically adjust expectations based on the software available. The financial manager disbelief is noticeably clear.  

The SAP Basis manager recommends to both the SAP BW teams and the finance manager that data validation must be done at an aggregated level since the size of the SAP BW box might not be sufficient at current utilization levels. In summary, current SAP servers are unusable, and the SAP Basis manager has tried many times to inform leadership that the software purchases do not match what is available in the project plan, but to no avail. 

Disbelief and Shock, but the Project Plan still on track 

At this point, the activities by the different SAP teams, mainly SAP BW team and other technical leads, have been exposed, the project plan is at 90% completion of the activities, and extremely difficult meetings are taking place. The finance manager states that we need to do our best to try to meet the schedule with the software purchased by the company and work hard to make as many reports as possible.  

I explain to the finance manager the severity of the situation and the fact that his timelines, all his reports, and the overall implementation must be reevaluated since multiple licenses are missing and no work has been performed anywhere related to these tools. Both SAP BW team and SAP Basis are refusing to follow SAP guidelines, which has translated into multiple software installation mismatches between tools and software, performance is being impacted by the current deployed tools, and business users are furious. 

In addition, the business intelligence and finance leads are providing fake status reports to the project leadership team, claiming that the reports are built and tested using SAP S/4HANA technology; however, the servers are not upgraded per SAP requirements, and the software tools purchased are far from the functionality expected. For example, under the current license the company has only available SAP ABAP ADT as the tool for query building, data manipulation, drilldown, and everything else. There is no SAP BW4 HANA, there is no BEx tools, and SAP HANA Native … not purchased either. 

SAP ABAP ADT is just a simple tool to get data out of SAP S/4HANA to a BW environment, SAP SAC, SAP Data Warehouse Cloud, SAP S/4HANA Cloud, and other tools for further manipulation; certainly, it is very powerful to create complex reports but requires code … lots of it. Also, for a end-users used to working with BEx, certainly it will be seen as pain point or going “backwards” in functionality. Figure 6 provides a quick comparison of an SAP ABAP ADT Query vs. an SAP BEX query calculated key figure that provide the same functionality.   

Again, Figure 6 provides the same results but the BEx is just dragged and dropped in comparison with SAP ABAP ADT, which requires significant coding. Now imagine the request to deliver over 200 queries, with 100 key figures per query, with multiple variables, user exits, backend transformations, restricted key figures, exclusions, ranges, single values, and characteristic combinations, all in six weeks! And with documentation and data validation for each query and report. 

SAP ADT vs SAP BEx Query - image

Figure 6Side-by-side comparison of an SAP ADT calculation vs. SAP BEx query  

Moving Forward Plan 

At the end of intense meetings, it was clear that the SAP BW team and other technical leads were hiding and miscommunicating information to the project managers, not only on status and progress, but also on products purchased by the company. Also, the finance manager was removed from the project, and his expertise is being better used in other areas such as data validation; a new project lead was appointed. 

Both Big 4 consulting firms were removed from implementation activities, and they were limited to report review and validation with the controller’s office. The implementation was stopped, the project has been delayed for nearly 1.5 years, and new servers ordered to be delivered by the end of 2021. In the immediate future, this was the strategy our team provided to the client, until new software licenses are purchased, and the project has been broken down in multiple phases. 

Further actions taken are described below: 

  • Upgrade both DEV and QA servers following SAP guidelines. 
  • Upgrade to the latest SAP Analysis for Office version. 
  • Upgrade backend components in all systems following SAP OSS notes for the SAP HANA 2020 upgrade. 
  • Initial reports will be built using SAP BW, and extraction using SAP CDS Views will be summarized as shown in Figure 7, because the most investment has been done in SAP BW server. Thus, it has the tools to both reuse current queries and expected data manipulation, as shown in Figure 7. The data will be extracted using SAP CDS Views, loaded into existing objects, and new versions will be used; the current queries will be reutilized to compare SAP ECC data vs. SAP S/4HANA data. 
  • Certainly, as shown in Figure 7, the SAP S/4HANA reporting tools available for the client are not the most expensive, and we recommend to the client to focus on where the investment has been done on the SAP BW server. 

HANA Server - image

Figure 7Short-term strategy for data validation reports based on current client’s investment 

  • Coordinating with SAP representatives to buy the licenses for SAP BW/4HANA for Phase 2 if required; in the short term, the business will have reports using SAP SAC, both web-based reports and MS Excel add-in for SAC. 
  • The complete SAP BW team was fired, including the SAP BW technical lead for lying to project management on products never owned and activities never performed.
  • SAP SAC will be used to connect to SAP ECC on-premise solutions to deliver immediate reporting capabilities to the finance, inventory, material management, and marketing teams. 
  • The company is moving to SAP Analytics Cloud and SAP Data Warehouse Cloud to share the load between on-premises and the new SAP Cloud Analytics powered by SAP HANA. 
  • An extensive list of dashboards and data validation activities are being developed, and now the SAP finance and marketing teams rely on aggregated reports; meanwhile, the other reports are being created, this time for real. 


This project has been a rollercoaster, starting as a simple reporting data validation project, only to discover questionable practices from individuals who communicated incorrect status to project managers and updated an overall project plan with false information of products never purchased by the client. In addition, we discovered that certain key activities were never performed by different workstreams, and the consulting firms were purposely manipulating the information to just create excitement about project progress.  

As I clearly explained to the finance manager and to the SAP team leadership several times, “the company wants to go to the moon, but you forgot to buy the rocket … even though we stopped the clock at lift off, it will not matter since there was a bicycle in the hangar not a rocket.” Reality vs. great expectations is key in your SAP implementations, but this time we helped the client to save millions of dollars due to the incompetence and fraudulent activities of its own project team and certain vendors. 

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