There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to ECC conversions to SAP’s next-generation intelligent ERP, S/4HANA. Every journey is different.

Ballance Agri-Nutrients (Ballance) first completed an ECC migration to the HANA database (Suite on HANA) and Brownfields conversion to S/4HANA Finance 1503 (add-on) in 2016, making them the first organisation in New Zealand to go-live on S/4HANA.

Ballance has since executed a second successful S/4HANA conversion, upgrading the rest of its SAP modules to the latest S/4HANA version as part of its digital roadmap for achieving world-class supply chain and logistics excellence. Here’s the story.

Who is Ballance Agri-Nutrients?

Ballance is a New Zealand (NZ) farmer-owned co-operative that is committed to helping its customers farm more productively, profitably and sustainably. From a core business of fertiliser manufacturing, supply, sales and advice, Ballance has grown to offer farmers a full range of digitally enabled, science-backed products and services.

Assessing the challenge and business implications

For enterprises looking to deploy S/4HANA, the challenge is to convert in the way that most suits your business operations and achieves the best possible outcomes for all stakeholders. Ballance wanted to upgrade all its SAP modules to S/4HANA without impacting its complex integrated environment.

In early 2019, Ballance undertook a S/4HANA impact assessment and trial conversion with its trusted SAP partner Zag to fully understand the implications of a conversion to S/4HANA and determine the best approach for Ballance.

Impact assessment and trial conversion deliverables:

  • Impact assessment with a trial conversion in a Sandpit environment provided clarity on requirements for Business Partner Conversion and an estimate of custom code remediation using the ABAP Test Cockpit (ATC) tool.
  • Impact on functional areas (SD, LE, MM, PM and PP, FI etc.), impacts on BW, integration, already deployed SAPUI5 apps, and add-ons were all assessed in the engagement.
  • Impact assessment provided options for the level of Fiori that could be enabled (none to full).
  • Trial conversion ensured that impacts were well understood, aiding the decision on whether a technical or full conversion (including the mass deployment of Fiori) would be best.
  • A template for conversion activities and estimates for delivery and timelines were established.
  • Where S/4HANA simplifications had eliminated or significantly changed in-use functionality, design for the replacement solutions was undertaken to ensure impact, scope and business requirements were well understood and agreed.

“Thanks to insights from our S/4HANA impact assessment and trial conversion with Zag, we understood the best conversion path for Ballance was to undertake a technical conversion first, bringing all our business-critical modules to the latest version with minimal business disruption, and then deploy the Fiori user experience and other transformational projects enabled by S/4HANA as separate, subsequent projects,”

says Tim Lloyd, Acting Chief Digital Officer for Ballance.

 

The objective was to deliver a platform fit for growth and digital transformation by laying down a future-proof technical foundation for new functional enhancements to Ballance’s SAP landscape.

“The prerequisite engagements with Zag gave the business a lot of confidence in the S/4HANA conversion and paved a solid foundation for the project’s delivery,” says Lloyd. “It helps that Zag knows our business and industry really well, not to mention they have the most S/4HANA experience in the region, so we trusted them completely to work alongside us on the conversion.”

The hassle-free, no disruption technical conversion

Ballance and Zag completed a full ECC6 Brownfields conversion to the latest on-premise version of S/4HANA – Enterprise Management 1809, on SAP’s newly enhanced in-memory database – HANA 2, in early 2020. Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Sales & Distribution (SD) were among the business-critical modules migrated and upgraded along with Ballance’s existing S/4HANA Finance system.

Conversion activities

The pre-conversion and system conversion activities included upgrades to Ballance’s add-ons and the removal of older Fiori apps that were no longer supported. To ensure that subsequent projects would be able to leverage Fiori apps available on S/4HANA, Ballance’s existing Fiori environment was updated to enable specific functionalities like enterprise search and menu loading.

To enable Ballance to continue with other important projects and business-as-usual support during the S/4HANA conversion project, a parallel SAP ECC environment was used to test, validate conversion scripts and dry run the conversion. Ballance and Zag used a full ECC system copy for Trial, Development (DEV) and Quality Assurance (QAS) conversions to ensure that all problems that would come up during production (PROD) were identified early and addressed. Full integration testing and issue remediation took place, and any changes or developments in the BAU landscape were imported into the parallel landscape to ensure that they would be fully supported in the PROD conversion.

The go-live was executed across two cutover weekends, the first being the migration to HANA 2 and the second weekend being the conversion to 1809.

 

Conversion outcome

“The S/4HANA conversion was a critical digital enablement project for Ballance and it went live on-time and hassle-free,” says Lloyd. “Zag’s expertise, talent and one-team approach with Ballance were large contributors to the conversion’s success.”

There were no major defects or impact to Ballance’s integrated systems (incl. SAP SCM, SAP BW, BI, SAP Commerce and Marketing and other non-SAP systems), nor was there any disruption to users or business operations. The parallel DEV and QAS environments have become Ballance’s new DEV and QAS systems operating alongside its converted PROD system. Support was swiftly handed over in the intended 30 days.

“Beneficially, the project came in slightly under budget, so we have reallocated these funds to the transformative functional projects kicking-off on the back of the technical conversion, targeting key areas of our digital supply chain for improvement,” says Lloyd.

Future enhancements and Fiori deployments

Undertaking a technical conversion to S/4HANA as a first step (as opposed to a Big-Bang conversion with Fiori deployment across the whole business) has fast-tracked Ballance’s journey to S/4HANA, minimising overall disruption to the business and the amount of training and change management required.

Ballance has insured its digital investment by being on the latest SAP versions, making it sustainable for longer.

The swift completion of this technical conversion allows Ballance to make use of new S/4HANA applications and technologies, modern code for functional enhancements and, most importantly, provides an enablement platform and pathway for the deployment and transition of the business to the Fiori user experience. Beneficially, Ballance can plan and tailor the rollout of Fiori to suit its business (e.g by department, site, strategic priority) and in the way that derives maximum value and transformation to its operational processes.

“With S/4HANA we have enhanced our technical and functional system capability, allowing us to improve, standardise and optimise areas of our supply chain as part of Ballance’s World-Class Supply Chain programme,” says Lloyd. “Off the back of the technical conversion, we are kicking off four projects with Zag to address pain points in our logistics operations with the help of Fiori and other cutting-edge SAP and partner technologies.”

“We look forward to executing this next innovation chapter in our digital roadmap with our trusted SAP partner, Zag.”

 

Ballance Agri-Nutrients case study