This blog post addresses the release management mechanisms available with SAP S/4HANA Cloud, which allow your company to benefit from the latest innovations and improvements.
Release management with SAP solutions implies a continuous focus on adoption and embracing a culture of constant change. This post will explain the basic components of the quarterly release upgrade process for SAP S/4HANA Cloud. Then, we’ll discuss how you can make the most out of the continuous innovation delivery by following a structured approach based on available tools and the SAP Activate innovation adoption process.
Release management is a key practice that helps ensure ongoing organizational alignment, predictability, and quality software delivery. Thus, you’ll need systematic and clear collaboration and communication between SAP as the software vendor and your IT departments, your key users, and your end users working with SAP S/4HANA Cloud. The purpose of SAP’s streamlined release management processes is to coordinate the development, operations, and deployment of software, while ensuring close alignment with business priorities.
SAP enables you to establish an efficient and effective release management process by providing multiple tools, best practices, and guidance. From the perspective of an SAP customer, the main goals of an optimized release management process are to minimize the overall effort and cost of the process itself, while maximizing the business value, which can be achieved by sustainably adopting new release innovations and functionalities.
Release Upgrade Schedule
The release upgrade procedures of SAP S/4HANA Cloud are designed to be recurring, predictable, and reliable. Their sequence is specified and planned at least one year in advance. All companies follow the fixed upgrade schedule; no choice allows you to opt out or delay the release changes. SAP publishes the most recent release upgrade schedule online, which can be easily found with the search phrase “SAP S/4HANA & Marketing Cloud – Upgrade & Maintenance Schedule.” Four quarterly release upgrades are planned each year, and each release is named with the current year and month. For example, “2108” represents the year 2021 and the month August.
Upgrades are performed in the following sequence:
- Q-systems are upgraded to the latest release, on the first weekend after the release-to- customer date.
- P-systems and all other types of systems (for example, starter systems) are upgraded on the third weekend after the release-to-customer date.
The purpose of the time gap between the Q- and P-system upgrades is to provide time for regression testing, thereby lowering the risk of upgrade-related issues. The table below provides an example upgrade schedule.
Software patches and infrastructure maintenance activities are performed within weekly maintenance windows. Detailed information about the underlying service-level agreements (SLAs) can be found at the SAP Trust Center, available at https://www.sap.com/about/trust-center.html.
Plan and Perform Preparation Steps
Good preparation is a key success factor to making the most of SAP S/4HANA Cloud release upgrades while also minimizing effort and risk. Upgrades can occur in different phases of the system lifecycle. No matter in which implementation phase they take place—for example, the SAP Activate explore, realize, deploy, or run phases—upgrades must be reflected in your project timelines. While Q- and P-systems are upgraded, the abilities to activate new scope items or country versions and transport mechanisms are impacted.
As an additional preparation step, early on, you should plan your activities around the release upgrades of SAP S/4HANA Cloud to ensure enough capacity. This planning includes, for example, informing key and end users about the new releases, taking part in early-release web sessions from SAP, and performing and reviewing postupgrade regression testing.
Tools and Best Practices
Your organization should define clear roles and responsibilities for the release management processes of SAP S/4HANA Cloud. Ideally, a central instance coordinates the preparation and execution of release upgrade-related activities and additionally at least one key user from the business per domain area who is specifically assigned as a catalyst for innovation adoption. Some helpful resources and communication channels, from high-level videos to detailed release notes, are offered by SAP, such as the following:
- Release videos: http://www.sap.com/s4-cloudrelease
- Release blogs: https://blogs.sap.com/2018/06/01/sap-s4hana-cloud-the-intelligent-erp-link-collection/
- What’s New Viewer and PDFs: https://help.sap.com/viewer/product/SAP_S4HANA_CLOUD/latest/en-US?task=whats_new_task
- Roadmaps: https://roadmaps.sap.com/
- Innovation discovery: https://go.support.sap.com/innovationdiscovery/
- Early release web series and show-and-tell sessions
- Release information and restriction notes in SAP Support Portal
The depth of information and content in these resources support each target group—from IT management to project managers, key users, and end users—in consuming and digesting the new innovations. In addition to general information about new releases, SAP also provides a tool for a more tailored approach to analyzing the impact and opportunities of a new release for your specific SAP S/4HANA Cloud installations. This solution is called the release assessment and scope dependency tool for SAP S/4HANA Cloud. With this tool, you can visualize your specific activated scope and understand the changes and new functionality available with an upgrade and be guided to potential innovations or new scope items that might be relevant to you. The tool suggests where you should focus your testing efforts based on the degree and impact of changes to the activated scope items, as shown in this figure.
Another key area of activity that secures a smooth release transition is postupgrade testing. Testing can be supported by using the test automation tool for SAP S/4HANA Cloud along with automated postupgrade testing, which is performed by SAP on behalf of customers. If you have a relatively high number of active interfaces and extensibility objects, you are advised to systematically retest their core functionalities in the time between the Q- and P-system release upgrades to ensure stability and business continuity and minimize risks accordingly. Also, objects related to identity and access management, such as business catalogs and business roles, need to be revised because, over time, some existing objects will be deprecated and new ones added by SAP.
Communication and Organizational Change Management Measures
To ensure that the potential added value from the quarterly release upgrades of SAP S/4HANA Cloud is realized, you’ll need to systematically perform organizational change management and provide clearly defined communication channels. Internal key users, champions, or coaches should be assigned to foster a continuous learning mindset and make all system users aware of learning resources, new innovations, and functionalities. Business users will be affected by changes like new user interfaces (UIs) and apps every 3 months; thus, these changes are predictable and can be planned. Instead of seeing release upgrades as an additional burden, changes in functionalities and new innovations can be accepted and proactively addressed enable a company culture that looks forward to and is curious about the new SAP S/4HANA Cloud releases.
Editor’s note: This post has been adapted from a section of the book SAP S/4HANA Cloud: An Introduction by Thomas Saueressig, Jan Gilg, Oliver Betz, and Marcus Homann.