Implementing SAP S/4HANA for a leading defence company

Project One has been working with a leading UK defence company for over 10 years. One of the areas of support is driving their future ERP journey, which is critical to their back office and shared services operations. 


The company has historically used SAP ECC6 to run core, back office processes, with different instances across the different business units. In 2015, the strategic decision was agreed that the future direction would be to move onto the latest SAP S/4HANA product, before the 2025 out of support deadline (this deadline has since been extended by SAP to 2027). At the beginning of 2020, the Shared Services business unit engaged with Project One to start shaping up the programme of work for their transition to S/4HANA.  


A number of other business units had already made the move (with varying degrees of success), and that, linked to the ticking timeframe of the out of support deadline, had driven Shared Services to act. The SAP scope for Shared Services covered core finance (accounting and management accounting); procure to pay; order to cash, some HR processes and business and management reporting. They also were currently running on a shared platform with a couple of other business units.  


This was a critically important change programme for the Shared Services business unit. Their SAP capability ran all their critical processes, and integrated with 20 other systems. This was therefore a strategic platform change and very high risk to their business-as-usual operation. They realised that this had to be done right first time and to very high quality. In addition to this, the S/4HANA programmes in other business units had a history of time and budget overruns, some with significant issues. 


With Project One’s help and direction, the decision was made early on to progress with a ‘greenfield’ implementation – a new ‘out of the box’ implementation of S/4HANA, utilising standard processes. This was critical to future success and led to a further challenge of needing significant business change activity, to transform the business areas to follow these new standard processes. Enforcing the above direction required the right level of governance and very strong and capable programme sponsorship, which the Project One team put in place.  


This then filtered down into very strong and capable business process leads, who could make sure that the new processes could be adhered too with minimal changes required to the core SAP product. The other key challenge was timescale. By far the cleanest and lowest risk implementation approach was to cutover at year-end.  


The plan had to be examined and re-worked several times to fit to an end-to-end two-year window to show an implementation date of Jan ’22. This required deep programme management and supplier management skills and expertise. 



Project One partnership  


Project One provided the programme leadership for the two-year programme. This was split into two key phases of mobilisation and then delivery. Investing up-front to mobilise thoroughly enabled the delivery phase to launch on a very sound footing and ensured the required ‘right first time’ approach, which ultimately saved the company both time and money.  


The mobilisation phase ran for a year, initially working with the incumbent IT supplier to map out the high-level processes and systems integration points and to form this into requirements for a Request for Information (RFI) and then Request for Proposal (RFP) phase to select a systems integrator (SI). Due to the compressed timescales, an innovative approach was followed for the RFP, using a draft set of requirements initially and then a fuller set, once available, to feed into the contracting process for the chosen SI partner.  


Mobilisation also drove the selection of the customer side business team – 12 business process leads in total, all of whom had to be backfilled to ensure they could be deployed full time onto the programme. This phase also confirmed the delivery phase plan and budget, signed-off the business case and set-up the governance required. 



Programme delivery  


Once into delivery, there were four key factors that Project One provided to enable the programme team, of 120 people at peak, to be successful:  


  • Relentless Drive: the supplier organisations and the internal teams needed to be managed and driven to very tight timescales. The 12-month delivery window was non-negotiable due to the year-end deadline, so hitting key milestones and keeping the programme under control was critical.  
  • One-team ethos: making sure that the organisational badges were ‘left at the door’ was critical to the culture and mind-set of the delivery team. Making sure that everyone was driving to the same agreed outcomes, and that any commercial issues were dealt with separately.  
  • No customisation: utilising the out of the box S/4HANA processes and functionality drove best practice into the solution and enabled a more straightforward implementation. Also using the selected SI’s proven delivery method ensured a streamlined delivery.  
  • Quick decisions: the straightforward governance and the strong sponsorship enabled decisions to flow up the chain when required with the right data in place to make the right calls. Any delays were escalated immediately to ensure the appropriate focus. 

The programme delivered to plan and budget, cutting over to the new S/4HANA platform at year end. There were a few data issues, that were fixed forward, but overall the implementation was a success, the end-users were very supportive and the business-as usual operation was not disrupted any more than planned. Project One is now working with two other business areas to bring the lessons learned into their S/4HANA implementation programmes. 

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