IT Operation Transformations Do Not Have to Be Complicated, and They Will Save You Money

Avantra Is Seeing Increased Budgets and Appetites for Business Transformation Projects Among SAP Customers Today

by John Appleby, CEO, Avantra

John Appleby

John Appleby has been a thought leader in the SAP market for 20 years, and he has been Chief Executive Officer at Avantra since mid-year 2020. Prior to Avantra, John served as the Global Head of Data and Database Management/SAP HANA center of excellence at SAP and as the Global Head of SAP HANA Solutions at Bluefin Solutions, subsequently acquired by Mindtree. In his leadership role at Avantra, John’s priority and focus is on how automation can help reduce the manual effort involved with running and maintaining SAP systems, and thereby improve the security and reliability of those environments.

Avantra supports SAP customers by helping to eliminate the need for repetitive SAP operations, reduce the cost to serve, and deliver the self-healing enterprise — regardless of whether an organization’s SAP systems run on SAP or non-SAP databases or are integrated with other cloud or on-premise SAP or non-SAP applications. With clients running everything from SAP R/3 4.6C to SAP S/4HANA on anything from HP-UX to Sybase databases, Avantra is a judgment-free zone in the variety of systems it supports and doesn’t believe that technology operations companies should try to influence or drive the business direction for their customers.

Avantra is expanding its focus beyond what is happening in the SAP system to automating build activities. By providing full-stack automation monitoring, it offers SAP customers a service that goes beyond what was previously viewed as end-user monitoring. Avantra version 20.5 was released in June of 2020, and version 20.11 was unveiled in mid-November 2020.


The last thing executives want is a surprise call from the IT department telling them the SAP system is down. Unfortunately, that call happens a lot more than it should. In a better scenario, the IT team would become aware that something was going sideways hours before making the call, and would proactively work on the problem. And in an ideal world, automation would not only alert the IT team of the expected problem condition, but also avert the problem from ever occurring, avoiding the need for the call entirely.

SAP customers can minimize the manual effort involved in running and maintaining SAP environments by using intelligent technologies to automate repetitive tasks, eliminate human error, and improve the quality and availability of systems and business outcomes. In 2020, big teams of highly valuable people performing mundane and tedious jobs, essentially wasting their talent, are no longer necessary — automation can improve how systems run and enable people to focus on providing business value where it’s needed most. Automation can also help solve the problem of finding low-cost labor to perform manual, repetitive tasks in today’s super-competitive market with incredibly high inflation, a constant recruitment cycle, and 30-40% churn in some IT departments.

A paradigm shift has also occurred in much of the IT industry when it comes to administration. In today’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) world, site reliability engineers (SREs), who are analogous to developers in the SAP world, build automations to run in cloud environments. However, there is no administrator role in the SaaS world that is analogous to an SAP administrator responsible for maintaining SAP systems. No one is assigned to maintaining the hypervisor for the cloud environment — there is no such thing as a Salesforce administrator, for instance. Instead, automation plays this role. This shift toward automation serving as the administrator has not yet occurred in the SAP ERP space, however. A century ago, organizations had Chief Power Officers responsible for keeping electricity running in the buildings, and it seems we are at that same point today with SAP systems, where there are employees responsible for keeping the systems running.

According to some benchmarking we did, we found that while the SAP market seems to be inundated with buzzwords such as “digital transformation” and “SAP S/4HANA migrations,” in reality, only 25% of IT spend is allotted to those projects. In fact, SAP customers spend 75% of their budget on keeping their SAP environment running. Depending on the size of the organization, some of these IT departments might have once had several million dollars a year at their disposal for this task. In the current climate, however, IT organizations are hard-pressed to get more budget, so if they want to innovate, they have to move their “run” budget into their “build” budget — by employing automation.

A Move to Automated IT Operations

With the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly everyone pressed the pause button on their projects. But that is starting to change, and we are seeing companies today fall into three main camps.

The first camp includes organizations in industries such as entertainment, airline, and travel — where macroeconomic issues have caused severe budget cuts and in some cases the furlough of thousands of workers — which are simply not spending money on IT operations or business transformations.

Those in the second camp are planning to sit out the pandemic and make do with what they have.

The third camp, which is much bigger than the first or second, is made up of companies that recognize they must modernize their business to succeed. If at first they postponed or paused projects, they have now continued them — not only to avoid sunk costs, but also to reap the business benefits. Within this third camp, there are those that no longer have a discretionary budget to keep their SAP systems running, with those funds now replaced by a business case budget for projects that move the business forward. These companies are investigating plans to present to leadership that will do that and bring ROI back to the business.

From what we are seeing, the appetite to spend money on transforming the business has increased since March 2020. A major reason for this is that the pandemic has forced organizations, such as manufacturers and retailers, to recognize that they need to immediately invest in digital transformation projects. When retail stores had to shut down, for instance, some realized that they had no working online delivery capabilities. Manual systems were fine until the doors closed to customers and business operations came to a halt. As a result, a tremendous number of businesses were forced to transform.

This is where Avantra can help. At the core, we have a master system that provides SAP customers with a single pane of glass for looking at all their systems and identifying problems — for example, configuration or point-in-time issues that require attention, such as a full file system or a malfunctioning interface — and resolves those problems through automated notifications, workflows, and self-healing. We provide transparency to our clients and visibility that they can share with their service provider, business units, and team, so they can make an assessment based on an agreed set of what is acceptable and what is not. We offer full-stack automation, where we automate everything that happens across the stack, such as downtime. One of our clients, Zappos, has scheduled downtime at 2:00am. Previously, the team had to wake up at 2:00am to shut down the systems, wait two hours for the maintenance to complete, and then bring the systems back up again. With Avantra, those types of manual activities can be automated.

We recently asked our customers about their highest priorities and the tasks that take the most time. Over the next year, we are working our way through building out capabilities to address what they shared, with an end goal of automating everything that our customers do repetitively. Of course, a major priority for SAP customers is ensuring the security of their systems.

A Focus on Security

SAP customers have security concerns, such as whether the system was set up correctly, if it is secure, and how to identify vulnerabilities. The out-of-the-box security elements provided with public cloud offerings are not enough to meet the level of security required for critical SAP landscapes. To help customers close this gap, Avantra follows an approach that is both different from and complementary to others — we don’t provide an audit, but rather real-time monitoring that helps ensure the necessary parameters and certificates are set in a highly secure way.

It’s not policy that causes most security problems, but rather simple mistakes and human error. For example, in the movie Jurassic Park, the security system is turned off as dinosaurs are smuggled out of the building in a clearly malicious, intended breach. In reality, that is not how security holes are opened. More often than not, someone gets sloppy and forgets to close a hole they opened to perform a necessary task, such as changing a parameter that made the system insecure. Avantra’s automated monitoring flags that change, identifies the severity of the problem, and logs the information down to the level of when the change was made and by whom.

The security that comes with templatized and immutable environments aren’t possible in customized landscapes such as SAP environments. These systems must be constantly monitored, and audit rules need to be continually reviewed and updated as new functionality becomes available. A one-time security audit will tell organizations where they are today and perhaps help them put some process changes in place, but that’s very different from automation that can identify a specific component within an SAP system that is insecure due to a vulnerability, and then alert the business user responsible for that system. For example, a team member at Zappos would receive a message asking for authorization to take down the system at 2:00am for automatic patching, and then receive another message after the system goes back up, according to the workflow.

In the current climate, workflow engines are necessary to keep environments secure, and I believe that the hacking of enterprise systems is the next big security problem on the horizon. While web systems and firewalls have been secured for 20 years now — thanks to F5, Juniper Networks, and other Cisco-pioneered technology for securing perimeters — the core of the enterprise hasn’t yet been secured in a similar way. The way to combat this is by investing in innovation, such as automation.

Invest in Automation and Free Up Money for Business Transformation

Our research at Avantra has found that while a majority of SAP customers don’t self-select as being innovative, there is almost a 100% correlation between investing in automation and being innovative. When you invest in automation, you can free up five times that amount for the innovation cycle. That gives you more money to spend on automation, which frees up more money for the business in a cycle that links IT operations automation innovation with business process automation.

IT operation transformations don’t need to be complicated. Of course, a business process transformation — such as a transformation involving a large-scale financial supply chain management project and costing millions of dollars — can be complicated and disruptive. An IT operations transformation, on the other hand, can deliver innovation without disruption, because you are automating what is already there and not disrupting any processes. In addition, an IT operations transformation does not require a significant investment — you can instead spend incrementally. By starting your innovation journey in operations, rather than in business processes, you can innovate in bite-size pieces, without disruption, and in the meantime redirect money toward real business process transformation.

Many decision makers today don’t fully understand how important it is to invest in automation so they can focus on more value-added work for the business. While IT operations might not seem like an exciting area, it is a priority for senior IT and business leaders. They need to reduce the cost of IT because they won’t get the budget from anywhere else, and they need to pass this message down through the chain and help others build a business case to secure funds for these projects.


A Belief in Autonomous Service Providers

Roughly half of Avantra’s customers are service providers, and service providers typically have pools of resources that work on certain tasks — for example, they might have infrastructure, network, Basis, and functional teams performing a lot of manual work. With service providers supporting hundreds or thousands of customers, reducing this manual work becomes even more critical than it does for an individual enterprise, because the costs of those resources and manual activities compound. We believe that organizations should be able to set up SAP systems in such a way that they become autonomous, in the same way that a car can be. We are currently working on a rollout with a service provider to deliver that vision, and we are seeing some compelling use cases.

Instead of the traditional approach to system support, which generates thousands of emails and leads to alert fatigue, this service provider can go into a portal and flag a system, which automatically shuts off the system so it can undergo the necessary work. This service provider can perform this automated system shutoff for all its customers’ (many thousands of customers) systems, saving massive amounts of time. The organization will be in a position shortly — with the kernel update module in our forthcoming release — where it can enable that automation across all its applications and spin up systems automatically with the press of a button.

The organization no longer needs big teams of people to perform manual work, but instead has an SRE who builds the autonomous service and root-cause analysis professionals who identify and resolve problems before passing the resolution back to the SRE. The SRE then builds an automation so that when the issue arises again, it self-heals. This company will have a dramatically lower cost to serve than anyone else in the industry. And now it has interesting commercial decisions to make: Should it now focus on making more money, lowering cost, or winning more business? That’s a nice problem to have.

MythBusters: Why Customer Obsession Is Key for Successful SAP Migrations to the Cloud

by Axel Streichardt, Head of Worldwide Business Development, SAP on AWS, Amazon Web Services

Axel AWS

Axel Streichardt came to Amazon Web Services (AWS) as Head of Worldwide Business Development for SAP on AWS in May 2020. Prior to AWS, Axel had 20+ years of experience in developing customer solutions for Global 2000 customers to run SAP applications on premises or in the cloud. In his current role at AWS, Axel works backward from customers’ goals to drive new levels of efficiency by running their SAP applications on AWS.

In my more than 20 years of experience working with SAP customers around the world, I have realized that enterprises are constantly on a journey, often seeking reliability, agility, and security, all while trying to control and lower the cost of running their SAP landscapes. Customers in various industries are also seeking to achieve business value where technology is the enabler. Of course, many customers are looking at the cloud as a deployment option; in fact, many customers already have a cloud-first strategy, but are hesitating when it comes to their most mission-critical application, SAP. I’ve heard several reasons for this hesitation to migrate SAP workloads to the cloud: uncontrolled costs to migrate and run SAP systems, inflexible service-level agreements (SLAs), an increase in downtime, and security issues.

This article dispels the myths behind these misconceptions about moving to the cloud, and it illuminates for SAP customers the many benefits they can gain by bringing their SAP systems to a hyperscale environment such as Amazon Web Services (AWS).

A Long History of Helping SAP Customers

As a famous CEO once said: “There is no compression algorithm for experience.” This is especially true for SAP customers. AWS has a proven track record of helping SAP customers manage their complex data landscapes. In fact, SAP has been an AWS customer since 2008 and has been certified and supported since 2011. Today, more than 5,000 SAP customers trust AWS as the platform of choice. One such customer example is Moderna, a pharmaceutical company also developing vaccines. Moderna migrated its SAP environment to AWS to help rapidly uncover new insights to get potentially life-saving treatments into production faster. Additionally, a recent IDG survey shows that SAP customers using AWS experience business benefits such as enhanced innovation, faster time-to-market, and improved customer relationships — with 43% of SAP customers on AWS for more than two years reporting improved organizational efficiency.

In 2020, AWS was named a leader in cloud infrastructure and platform services for the 10th consecutive year, and it has been lauded for years as a leading SAP service provider for the SAP HANA platform and cloud infrastructure. Why is that? The secret is the most important AWS leadership principle: customer obsession. We work backward from the customer and consider their requirements and requests, and the real needs and strategies for their SAP journeys. To do that, of course, we first need to dive deep to truly understand what our customers are telling us about their challenges and pain points before suggesting solutions. AWS aspires to become a trusted advisor to customers by thoroughly assessing their current SAP landscapes and analyzing their cloud readiness. We provide tools and services to mobilize customers and migrate them to the cloud. But the journey does not end once they are reliably running mission-critical SAP workloads in the cloud. Customers seek to expand and integrate SAP systems to gain better insight into their data and to drive business value. I believe there is no better place than AWS to integrate SAP systems with technology, such as data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), or Internet of Things (IoT), because AWS has mastered using these technologies for a successful customer experience. In the end, it is the customer’s choice and decision on how fast and where the SAP journey goes. We work with them to ensure it will be a successful journey and prepare for any unforeseeable circumstances along the way.

Providing Agility in Tough, Unpredictable Times

We live in very unpredictable times, and the last 12 months have shown that businesses have to react quickly to unforeseen events or external forces. SAP customers have to not only be flexible, but also innovate new services rapidly. For example, with business models and business processes changing frequently over the last year,  organizations had to find new ways to connect with their customers, with extremely tight budgets. This leads to more innovation and automation. AWS, for instance, helps enable these changes by fully automating administrative tasks, such as SAP copy, clone, and refresh, to free up an organization’s resources — that is, time, people, and budget. In my conversations at the recent virtual AWS re:Invent event, customers told me that they could reduce the resources necessary to manage their SAP systems by 30%–40% using AWS tools and services. Other customers, such as The Kellogg Company, could save over $900K and run dozens of marketing simulations a day.

Another area for consideration is the flexibility needed to gain a competitive advantage and to handle increased demand seamlessly. For example, Netflix and Peloton both saw a dramatic increase in business as demand for their products skyrocketed over the past year, and they had to immediately spin up more resources without downtime. Running on AWS helped these companies to capitalize on the business opportunity presented to them, because more compute, storage, and network resources could be automatically increased.

Unpredictable times also have an impact on the path customers take during their SAP journeys. The majority are still running SAP ERP knowing that SAP extended the deadline to migrate to SAP S/4HANA to 2027 (with optional extended maintenance through 2030). I’ve talked with large customers that stepped on the brakes with their SAP S/4HANA migration plans to focus on modernizing their current environments, migrating to AWS with increased automation, data insight, and a more holistic view on business outcomes and predictive analytics. For example, the Volkswagen Group (VWCO) is one of the largest truck and bus manufacturers in South America to decide to deploy a new ERP system, choosing SAP S/4HANA — hosted by AWS. VWCO recognized a reduction in costs and increased agility, with the ability to perform production server upgrades in only 20 minutes.

Many customers have a cloud-first, or even cloud-only strategy, to reduce costs and complexity and gain agility; but migrating SAP systems is another caliber. It is mission critical and even minutes of downtime can translate to a loss of millions in revenue or a hit on trust in the brand. Earning trust is another of AWS’ leadership principles, which is why we work with customers on building this trust. I have seen that customers’ cloud adoption journeys very often start small, with low-risk, low-cost workloads migrated first. Many customers start with SAP archiving projects, or backup and recovery, and gradually move to high availability (HA)/disaster recovery (DR) workloads, followed by test/development environments to ultimately migrate their entire SAP production landscapes onto AWS, using AWS best practices to deploy, optimize, and modernize. I recently spoke with a large software/hardware company that shared its SAP migration journey and needed advice on improving its current SAP HANA backup and restore strategy. I suggested using AWS Backint Agent for SAP HANA, an SAP-certified backup and restore solution for SAP HANA workloads running on Amazon EC2 instances. It backs up the SAP HANA database to Amazon S3 and restores it using SAP management tools, such as SAP HANA cockpit, SAP HANA studio, or SQL commands. I shared that AWS Backint Agent supports full, incremental, differential, and log backup of SAP HANA database and catalogs to Amazon S3. As a result, the customer shared that the business could increase backup/restore performance by a factor of 10x.

It is all about choice and options, and we help customers throughout their SAP migration and cloud migration journey. As I said, we’re customer obsessed.

Addressing the Current Challenges for SAP Customers

SAP customers are currently dealing with several challenges — namely cost, availability or avoiding downtime, performance, security, and integration — that AWS can help address.


One common topic in my customer interactions is the cost of running SAP systems:

  • Infrastructure costs: Customers are looking to optimize their data center compute, storage, and network resources, but often lack full cost control over their entire infrastructure. In the on-premises world, companies have to size and build infrastructures for SAP systems to accommodate peak times. These resources are idling and unused over 90% of the time, and are difficult to assign to other workloads. With AWS, they can scale up and down — and only pay for what they use, such as Hoya, who could reduce its capital expenditures for infrastructure by 80% to 90% over three years. Other infrastructure costs are associated with spinning up and down test systems or sandboxes. It takes days or weeks and is rather costly to set up systems for a “quick” test. Our customer Lockheed Martin gained agility to spin test systems up or down as needed in hours rather than days, therefore seeing reduced operational cost. We also saw at BP a 33% reduction in cost for SAP systems while increasing performance by 40%.
  • Migration costs: Due to complexity and duration, migration costs often exceed operational expenses. SAP migration projects can take months to years to complete, and as customers start to consider their SAP migrations from SAP ERP to SAP HANA or SAP S/4HANA, they want to understand the advantages of first migrating their SAP systems to AWS. They want to know if a cloud infrastructure can help cut migration costs and/or the time required to execute the migration. AWS’ SAP ProServe team has successfully helped many customers with their migrations. In addition, the AWS partner network is a group of global system integrator (GSI) ISV partners that can help drive innovation-led business transformation, mitigate migration costs, and create efficiencies for customers. Our new independent software vendor (ISV) partner path can help expedite customers’ engagements with AWS, and the AWS competency program identifies, validates, and promotes partners with demonstrated AWS technical expertise and proven customer success. For example, our customer Dole accelerated the time to develop and deploy from 10 months to 10 weeks and went from eight resources to two, reducing its migration costs by 5% due to a reduction in its ABAP code.

Sometimes it is not the direct cost associated with software or hardware, but more the cost of avoidance. As described previously, just a few minutes of downtime can have a costly effect, which is why customers are demanding HA and DR solutions to protect their SAP landscapes from downtime. AWS offers 99.99% uptime for compute resources (EC2) and 99.999% of uptime for storage (EBS – io2). What is more relevant is the annual normalized uptime report, published by all hyperscalers. Looking at that data then, AWS is the most reliable cloud to run your SAP workloads. An example of this is Louisiana Pacific, who achieved a 20% application performance improvement, 24×7 availability, and improved disaster recovery using the CloudEndure Disaster Recovery suite and SAP HANA system replication capabilities.


While no service providers disclose the exact location of their data centers around the world, for obvious security reasons, location certainly matters to customers when it comes to ensuring availability. They want to know their data is stored in a secure, protected, and safe way and is highly available in case a disaster strikes. AWS has 24 active geographic regions — a region is a physical location in the world where we have multiple availability zones (AZs) — with 77 AZs (which consist of one or more discrete data centers, each with redundant power, networking, and connectivity, housed in separate facilities; applications and data are replicated in real time and consistent in the different AZs) and multiple AZs in every region. Customers such as Whirlpool or Philips 66 are leveraging AWS AZs for HA and DR solutions.


AWS is designed to ensure that customers receive the performance they require. As SAP HANA is a low-latency application, we provide performance-based instances and can seamlessly scale up these customers from very small (256GB) to very large — all the way to 24TB in scale-up, and up to 48TB in scale-out, running on AWS’ innovative Nitro system. It is providing 100% performance of high memory instances, including dedicated hardware accelerators that offer and manage direct connectivity to Amazon VPC and Amazon EBS. In addition, AWS has different ways of helping customers with any data latency/residency and compliance issues that are caused by customer location, especially with deployments at the edge or in countries with low latency network connections. To overcome these issues, we offer AWS Outposts, which is a managed service that is deployed on premises in your data center and looks just like an AWS appliance in the cloud. Customers use this appliance to capture any data with low latency requirements before sending it to the next AWS data center. When it comes to performance, our customer Liberty Mutual uses AWS services, along with SAP S/4HANA, for real-time financial closing. Another customer, Heineken, shared during the AWS re:Invent keynote that it estimates its 42TB system on AWS is half the cost of the 6TB system it used to be on premises.


System security is another area of top concern for customers. Security is “job zero” at AWS. SAP on AWS provides security not only by preventing system break-ins, but also by supporting and applying some of the tightest security standards in the world to organizations and governmental agencies. Through our security principles and practices, we help keep our customers’ data centers safe and secure from cyberattacks and data breaches. With over 265 security features, dedicated network connectivity between AWS data center and availability zones, plus the highest standards on end-to-end encryption technology, AWS keeps customers’ data safe. AWS is also collaborating with SAP National Security Services (SAP NS2) to help public sector customers run the most mission-critical and sensitive SAP HANA workloads on AWS. The US Navy and SAP NS2 migrated their largest SAP ERP system — 72,000 users spread across six US Navy commands — to AWS. The milestone — which came 10 months ahead of schedule — will put the movement and documentation of some $70 billion worth of parts and goods into one accessible space, so the information can be shared, analyzed, and protected more uniformly.


SAP customers are constantly innovating and expanding their SAP landscapes and integrating with non-SAP systems. They are demanding integration solutions, not building blocks to incorporate all the data and systems into their SAP landscapes. The ability to build predictive analytics data lakes that combine SAP and non-SAP data requires a seamless connection and integration of those systems. Customers such as Zalando built a data lake solution with SAP and non-SAP systems using AWS Glue and AWS Lambda to consolidate all the information in Amazon S3, using Amazon Redshift for end-user analysis. The end result — the ability to track performance in near real time and the reduction of the cost of obtaining business insight by 30%. Pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb was challenged to increase speed for its drug testing and deployed SAP AWS data lakes with AWS Lambda, AWS Glue, Amazon Athena, Amazon Redshift, and Amazon SageMaker. This has helped the company to quickly deploy new data points without having to consider infrastructure, scalability, or availability, but instead concentrate on building business logic. Running SAP on AWS resulted in a 92% time reduction in running simulations. During the recent AWS re:Invent event, AWS announced the availability of AppFlow for SAP software in Q1 2021, which will stream data seamlessly from SAP systems and SAP HANA to Amazon S3, simplifying the process of building an analytics data lake.

Help Beyond the Transition to SAP S/4HANA

No crystal ball is required here. We all can see in the coming years that customers will be transitioning from SAP ERP to SAP Business Suite powered by SAP HANA or directly to SAP S/4HANA, but as I said, the SAP journey does not end there. As I described before, customers will continue to innovate by expanding their SAP solutions into new areas such as AI, ML, IoT, and building data lakes for better insight to make more accurate, fact-based decisions. Many of these customers are on the cloud migration path already, but even if  your company decided to stay on premises with its SAP landscape, these services are also available to you to start your data integration and build an intelligent SAP enterprise, using SAP’s term. Again, we want to give customers a choice and always work backward to provide solutions to achieve their goals. I often hear in my customer conversations, “I did not know that,” or “I thought that AWS was more expensive,” etc., which is why I shared some customer conversations (and use cases) to clarify some of the misperceptions and provide more detailed information to help you make an informed decision about your SAP cloud migration journey to AWS.

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A Conversation About Innovation, Collaboration, and Joining the Open-Source Movement

Stefanie Chiras, Red Hat’s Senior Vice President and General Manager, Red Hat Enterprise Linux Business Unit, Shares the Importance of Finding Your Voice and Bringing Value to the Table in the Tech Industry

Stefanie Chiras, who was recently promoted to Senior Vice President and General Manager, currently leads the Red Hat Enterprise Linux business unit at Red Hat. Chiras joined the organization in 2018 — transitioning from the business side of IBM Systems — excited to move fully into the open-source world that Red Hat is so committed to, building off her experience in hardware space.

Her background includes studying mechanical engineering with a specialty in combustion engines for her undergraduate degree at Harvard, pursuing her master’s degree and PhD in materials engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and completing postdoc work in aerospace engineering at Princeton University. Following her studies, as well as a summer internship working for NASA, Chiras chose a career in the technology industry instead of becoming a college professor as she originally intended.

Chiras began her career at IBM Research in 2001, and then transitioned through the engineering and development side of the business, where she worked in everything from chip design to system architecture, system design, and testing. In 2012, she moved to the business side of IBM Systems, where her first corporate role involved creating a business in the Linux space. Through that exposure to the open-source ecosystem, Chiras gained familiarity and interest in Red Hat, which she worked closely with as a trusted partner before eventually joining the organization.

SAPinsider recently spoke with Chiras to learn more about her journey in the technology industry and in the SAP space in particular. In this Q&A, she discusses the path that led to her current role, how key mentors have influenced her life, and the relationship that Red Hat and SAP have forged to offer joint customers value today and into the future.

Q: Was there anything specific about your upbringing or education that helped lead you to a career in technology?

While I was growing up, both of my parents were public school teachers. And my dad felt he could fix anything that could be taken apart, no matter what it was — he just had to try. For example, he once wanted me to help him fix a transmission that had gone out on an old car. When I told him that I couldn’t do it, he said, “People do this every day. You can certainly do it once.” That was his line, and he gave me a fearless attitude toward tackling things, such as auto mechanics, that I didn’t know much about. Very few of the things I have done in my life were things I knew everything about before I got started. That exposure early on to going ahead anyway helped shape a worth-a-shot, can-do view that helps guide everything I do, and continually urges me to move to the next step and take on anything.

During my high-school education, I was very lucky to have a physics professor who was an unbelievable mentor. His teaching style was very pragmatic — he followed a this-is-how-the-world-works approach rather than a textbook approach — which opened my eyes to a different view of science and changed how I’ve looked at things throughout my life.

When I went to college, I loved physics and had grown up working with tools, so a mechanical engineering major seemed like the perfect solution. In my senior year, another professor who was an amazing mentor suggested I go to graduate school and encouraged me to pursue teaching at the college level. But first, I took a summer internship at NASA in the materials program in Langley, Virginia, working in a huge airplane hangar that was converted into a lab, breaking sample materials apart, and studying how they fractured. It was the first time I saw the passion of people working together in a field like that. It was a magnificent environment, with everyone so happy to be there every day, sharing ideas and fueling one another’s innovation. I absolutely loved it.

In grad school, I went into materials engineering and pursued my PhD in that space with the full intention to teach. I started teaching at the college level during my postdoc work and then decided to change over to the commercial side of the industry. While I loved the teaching aspect of academia, the lure of collaborative and unified research being done in the industry was very appealing to tackle real-world problems. I joined IBM Research and ended up working in processor chips. I slowly worked my way up the stack and gained a background in everything from metalization to chip design, system architecture, system design, testing, and characterization. Then, around 2012, I moved from the engineering development side over to the business side, which was a big shift.

Q: You’ve had quite a journey throughout your schooling and your career. Are there any particular skills you developed that you feel helped your progression?

I learned early on how important it is to surround yourself with subject matter experts in other areas and be willing to learn from them. For example, when you get a PhD, you know a whole lot about a very focused topic. Then, when you look to apply all that knowledge, it only works if it is complemented by other people’s expertise in other areas. Knowing your area is only part of it — it is far more important to know the boundaries of your knowledge and how it interacts with everything around it.

It’s a choice to be open to learning. It’s okay to lack knowledge about something, and it’s a gift to find an expert in that area and work with them. Looking for new places to learn from is something that has kept me motivated throughout my career, and it’s one of the reasons I joined Red Hat.

Q: What spurred your move from the hardware side of the technology industry to enterprise software, and what do you love most about your current role at Red Hat?

Coming from the business side in the systems division at IBM, and working in the Linux space, I had a great appreciation for the value of the ecosystem. I had an opportunity to absorb Red Hat from the outside in, and I was very intrigued by its approach, culture, and the open-source aspect. The collaborative nature of the environment was very appealing to me. I believe in the vision of open source and the innovation it builds on, and so it felt very natural and comfortable to me. Having come from the hardware side, I was eager to engage in a space with a much broader ecosystem and upstream communities of everything from chip manufacturers to architecture suppliers, cloud providers, and independent software vendors.

There are jobs and careers, and then there are movements that you want to be a part of. I joined Red Hat to participate in a movement to understand open source and how to bring that value forward to customers. The beauty of my role is that it sits in the middle of that. It gives me the opportunity to work with Red Hat Enterprise Linux customers and understand their needs, what problems they need to solve, what’s coming down the pipeline, and where they want to move their business next. And it lets me take what we do with Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system, which serves as the technology underpinning of all our other products, and helps connect that to the rest of the portfolio. It also gives me the ability to still touch the engineering and technology side, which feels like a core part of me.

It’s so rewarding to listen to customers and act as that liaison to bring what they need upstream. For example, customers that run their business on SAP software ask what we can do to help ensure they can move forward, and that, in turn, feeds our ecosystem decisions — whether that is a choice of processor, public cloud, or SAP application. I find that three-dimensional arrangement so exciting because it’s like an engine of innovation with many requirements from different areas, and it’s never stagnant.

Q: What are your current priorities and plans for helping to bring SAP customers into the future?

Our core principles — of listening to customers first, ensuring we deliver what they need today, focusing on what they need tomorrow, and giving them flexibility going forward — are very similar to what SAP is delivering to its customers as it works to help them modernize. There’s good alignment between our focus areas, and the technologies we deliver are extremely complementary. With all the innovation that’s coming down the pipeline, customers want flexible environments that are resilient, reliable, and secure, and they are looking for partners that stand behind the commitment to ensure all that while keeping up with the technology. And that’s where we come in. Red Hat is very focused on what we call “the open hybrid cloud,” which is a platform that provides customers with the flexibility they want to deliver today and allows them to more easily consume innovation and change as they move forward, but without compromising their security, stability, and resiliency.

Customers’ strategies and needs are forever changing and are very diverse. Some companies might want to run their systems on premise for a long time, and others might decide to run multiple public clouds. In response to these changing needs, we have evolved our offerings beyond Linux to become a portfolio company that responds to developing trends in the open-source space and keeps the ecosystem relevant and future-ready.

Today, lots of customers want to use as-a-service offerings and managed services, and this open-hybrid-cloud world is expanding. Without knowing exactly what will come down the pipeline, we give customers a foundational platform that allows them to build on everything they’ve already done, to leverage that next thing, and to simply and easily take their SAP workloads where they want to take them — and we do that with an ecosystem. We have a trusted partnership with SAP, as evidenced by our collaborative testing efforts, which has only grown as our platform has expanded. For example, we introduced capabilities such as our Kubernetes platform, OpenShift, and our automation management platform, Ansible, which we can deliver with the SAP portfolio. In that way, our offerings are well aligned both in how we view our customers and how we want to bring them value today and deliver what they need tomorrow.

Q: In terms of what you want to deliver to customers today, what strategic priorities and key decisions are they seeking to address with your help?

With all the change and opportunity that innovation offers today, and everything affecting and accelerating business strategies, such as the COVID-19 crisis, the most critical questions that customers raise with us revolve around which migration approach is right for them, and how to prioritize what step to take first — or next — on their journey.

Our focus is all about helping customers understand where to build a consistent and sustainable infrastructure. Do they want to run it on premise or on a public cloud? There are so many choices, and prioritizing those decisions is a challenge. The open hybrid cloud is different for everybody. But the biggest question is what to do first and how to start tackling that in a way that makes strategic sense for the business and allows the flexibility to move forward.

Q: Did you have many female peers throughout your education and career? And do you see the tech industry as becoming more inclusive of women?

There were very few women in my undergraduate program, and I can remember only two women during my summer internship, but it wasn’t until graduate school that I realized that most of my peers were male, and I felt a little out of place as a woman. That led me to internalize doubts about raising my hand or worries about saying the wrong thing. For me, that was the first time being different felt tied to my gender rather than something else that was easier for me to rationalize.

In grad school, I had a great professor who would consistently call me out — in a room where I was the only woman among 300 men eager to answer every question — and encourage me to answer. I was very quiet and never felt compelled to be the first one to speak up, even if I knew the answer. This professor told me, “You need to find your voice.” That was a very good lesson, and of everything I learned in grad school, that is quite honestly what has stuck with me the most throughout my life.

I have definitely seen an improved focus on achieving gender balance, but there is more work to be done, and I think this needs to start at a young age. Having an experience early on that strengthens your confidence and emboldens you to take risks is important. There are many outreach programs, such as Girls Who Code, which Red Hat is very active with, where the intent is to provide all girls with the opportunity for choice. They can try out coding, and they can decide whether or not to do it again — no one is making that choice for them. As they go through their careers, this is an important point to remember. Someone might do something to make them feel uncomfortable or feel like they’ve said the wrong thing. That part is out of their control. But they can decide how they react and what they will do next — they own that choice.

When I look at diversity in the tech industry overall, the attention and progress I see in some areas is wonderful, but it’s important for everyone in the industry as a group to continue to focus on three key areas. First, there’s the hiring aspect, where we need to ensure we start with a very diverse population from which to pick the best candidate. We all have a responsibility to build the pipeline and engage early on to ensure everyone feels comfortable making the choice to apply. The second piece is ensuring we have the right leadership training. It’s important for leaders to feel their feet are firmly on the ground, especially if a leader is one woman in a team of 20 men, for example. These first two areas — the hiring aspect and leadership training — have metrics that people can track to see if progress is being made. The third area, however, is probably the most important and hardest to measure: creating an inclusive view so that everyone is heard and asked for their point of view, which takes real consistency and effort to build. It matters, and we need to solicit feedback from everyone to participate in making that culture.

I find there is a lot more awareness and dialogue around diversity happening today, and there is much more of a willingness and openness to feedback or corrections, which is the way to change. And this gives me hope that the industry — and society as a whole— will work to achieve that. It’s great to already see a focus on ensuring there’s no bias in job descriptions. That is a very important step.

Because of all the innovation happening today, it’s never been so important to have more diverse views at the table. With customers themselves being so diverse, companies must be able to look at their varied needs through different perspectives so they can come up with ideas and solutions that are equally diverse.

Q: How is Red Hat focusing on diversity and inclusion efforts?

Open source starts with the premise that the best ideas can come from anywhere. It’s the purest form of collaboration. There are coders across the globe all contributing to make something that is greater than its parts. What’s interesting is everyone is viewed anonymously, with their identity based on the ID they use. Their code speaks for them, which serves to obscure any unconscious biases. Our goal at Red Hat is to mirror that magic of the open-source world and bring it to the next level, where people can bring their whole selves to work. We do that by building on layers of what we call “the open culture.”

We have open management practices for our leadership, which were created with collective input, pulling ideas from everyone on how best to build an open and collaborative environment. We have a set of core priorities and multipliers that are all about communication and how to treat each other with respect. By ensuring that these principles are consistent and cohesive across the company, both at a leadership level and at an individual level, we keep it foremost in people’s minds that what we do is important, but how we do it is equally important.

To create that culture, you absolutely need the right hiring practices and leadership programs, but what matters most is the day-to-day inclusion practice. That’s where a company either differentiates itself or not, and Red Hat has done a great job. There is still more we can do, and we work at it every day.

Our diversity and inclusion efforts are very visible and often discussed, which gives us a platform to reinforce those practices all the time, and we certainly have groups dedicated to diversity and inclusion. When I first joined Red Hat, I was lucky enough to participate in a two-day summit with a small group of women dedicated to discussing ways to create a more inclusive culture at Red Hat. It was the most grounding and amazing experience to come into a new company and, right away, spend two days with about 12 senior women at Red Hat — all with very diverse backgrounds — and focus on how to make the company a better place for women. It was a great bonding experience and gave me a network that I still rely on when I need to call on a mentor.

Q: As mentorship seems to be a big part of your career growth, is that something you try to reciprocate to others?

It is very important to me. I’ve had a number of mentors external and internal to Red Hat who I have learned so much from just by listening to other perspectives and different points of view. That’s something all of us need. No one wants to feel isolated. And we can try to make a difference by helping each other make a difference. So it’s my opportunity to give back and reinforce to someone else that it’s important to be yourself, express yourself, and have people you can talk to. Being a mentor to someone is rewarding for me because I hopefully can help someone move forward and I inherently learn a lot in the relationship as well.

Q: What specific advice or encouragement would you give to other women to help them move forward?

At the end of the day, we all want to add value and make an impact. But value is relative to what is needed at one point in time — for that team, in that space, in that moment. We are trained, particularly in science, that we are either right or wrong and that value is brought to the table by the person who is “the best.” But being valuable and being the best are not synonymous. Seeking to be valuable is a much more fruitful goal, and understanding that even if you aren’t the best at something (such as coding a kernel), you can bring value by finding someone to work with who is.

There’s only one best, but everyone can bring value. Looking at the world that way helps level the playing field and brings different perspectives to the table, which brings value. It is the responsibility of all today’s leaders to help the next generation of leaders figure out their own way to bring value, because they will create the next wave of great innovations. We are all in this together.

How Endress+Hauser Is Creating a Simpler Business by Making Integration a Strategic Imperative

by Lauren Bonneau, Managing Editor, SAPinsider

With more than 14,300 employees worldwide, Endress+Hauser — a global supplier of products, services, and solutions for industrial process engineering, measurement, and automation — is a growing group of companies that currently number 134 across 48 countries. To handle its massive IT needs, in 1997, the group created an internal IT partner organization, Endress+Hauser InfoServe, which is responsible for safely and reliably managing its enterprise data and handling the group’s 1,050 application interfaces with €43 million digital net sales.

Endress+Hauser has been a trailblazer when it comes to making integration a strategic imperative. In 2018, Endress+Hauser InfoServe conferred and decided to create an integration competency center (ICC) named Applications Integration – in which all the group’s integration resources and skills are centralized. The ICC is responsible for the governance and continuous improvement of all integration matters and is focusing on process integration as well as data integration topics such as extract, transform, and load (ETL) mechanisms, data movement, and data synchronization.

“It’s important to have an integration competency center so multiple projects within the group are not always reinventing the wheel regarding integration demands,” says Markus Schalk, Head of Applications Integration at Endress+Hauser InfoServe. “That‘s exactly what we want to prevent, and having set expertise dedicated to integration makes it possible to know our costs and provide efficient, standardized IT platforms.”

“It’s important to have an integration competency center so multiple projects within the group are not always reinventing the wheel regarding integration demands.”

— Markus Schalk, Head of Applications Integration at Endress+Hauser InfoServe

According to Mr. Schalk, Endress+Hauser’s recent efforts to establish this ICC was part of a larger strategic initiative, called “Simple Business IT,” which is focused on how to seamlessly connect all systems across the Endress+Hauser group of companies — for example, integrating internal applications such as ERP systems with business-to-business (B2B) applications so customers can digitally order products via interfaces. “Simple relates to the organization’s end-to-end processes, business applications, and system architecture, and integration is the backbone to provide a seamless, connected, simple IT landscape,” he says. “This strategic initiative is about applying digitalization to make things simpler not just for our internal user group within the company, but also for our customers.”

Customers and internal users expect a seamless experience where navigating between applications is invisible to them. “It shouldn’t be feasible for an end user to know there are different systems involved or have to copy and paste information from one application to another,” Schalk says.

To achieve this, Endress+Hauser created a Business Data and Integration Hub (BDIH), capitalizing on the capabilities of SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite and SAP HANA, and using SAP Integration Solution Advisory Methodology. Schalk’s team relied heavily on this methodology from a very early stage to analyze integration demands, guide and inform different stakeholders across the group, and lead project decisions and tool selections.

The Benefits of Moving Integration to the Cloud

Endress+Hauser has been running ERP software from SAP for 20 years. Recently, the business began a project to consolidate all of the group’s ERP systems onto one SAP S/4HANA instance. In addition to its longtime use of SAP’s ERP software, Endress+Hauser has a long history with integration tools from SAP, including using the very first version of SAP NetWeaver Exchange Infrastructure and then later SAP Process Integration. According to Schalk, the organization decided to stick with SAP integration software for its move to the cloud based on the success of its past experiences as well as its trusted partnership with SAP.

While Endress+Hauser follows a best-fit architecture — meaning if a new HR system is needed, both on-premise and cloud solutions are reviewed and the best fit is selected — it decided that the best fit for integration would be the cloud, so on-premise solutions were not considered. As far as middleware is concerned, Endress+Hauser did not want to have an on-premise system as well as a cloud system, according to Schalk. “More reasonable would be for us to have one solution, and we wanted to go cloud-first, moving all integration topics to the cloud,” he says. “Within three to five years, we want to have all integrations running in SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite.”

By moving integration to the cloud, Endress+Hauser can ensure that systems data is always up to date and secure with zero downtime, and it can create an agile, data-driven platform with stable operations, according to Schalk. He describes the top benefits and most measurable key performance indicators as being speed, cost-efficiency, and no-touch transactions.


With many companies currently adopting agile methods, speed is an important topic, according to Schalk. “Having good data integration in place, and good quality data in one place, speeds up other projects — not just in terms of cost, but also in providing solutions to internal users and customers,” he says. “For example, we developed an intelligent product configuration called “Quick Select” where customers can select a product on our website, such as a measurement device, and choose a few main properties, and the rest of the key parameters are then calculated and filled automatically based on customer history — done by intelligent magic behind the scenes — via the data lake, Python scripts, and SAP Cloud Platform.”

The development process for the Quick Select configuration was dramatically shorter than the traditional method where developers need to determine what data they need, where to get the data, and how to integrate that data. “With all the data in one place, we can just grab the application programming interface (API) and take the data. It’s all readily available,” Schalk says. “We were able to develop Quick Select in three months, which would have traditionally taken one year. This is an increase in speed of more than 400%.”


“One of the biggest benefits of SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite is the prepackaged integration content, which can be implemented very fast,” Schalk says. “We recently implemented SAP SuccessFactors solutions as our new HR platform, and the prepackaged integration content made it very easy for us to integrate the new solutions with SAP ERP.”

The prepackaged content not only enabled a fast and easy implementation but also lowered costs, according to Schalk. “We always have an up-to-date system with new features without any patching, big upgrade projects, or operational pain,” he says. “And due to the pre-packaged integrations and lower maintenance efforts, we have cost savings of at least 25% on average.”

No-Touch Transactions for Customers

According to Schalk, B2B integration is an important piece of the “Simple Business IT” strategy, and the topic of no-touch transactions has grown within the organization to become a strong area of focus, investment, and integration development over the last few years. “Digitalization for us means having direct integrations where customers can order our products without human interaction — so there are no salespeople on the phone answering questions,” he says. “Customers simply press a button in their system, and a no-touch transaction directly lands on the workplace of our production centers.”

Schalk says that Endress+Hauser already has 130 strategic customers integrated, with roughly €43 million per year running through B2B integrations, as no-touch transactions. These transactions flow through the ERP system directly to the manufacturing execution system to produce measurement devices without customers requiring any human interaction in between.

Future Integration Plans

Endress+Hauser plans to continue building on its BDIH and using SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite with a focus on API management and an API-first approach. “At the moment, we are investing heavily in bringing asset data to the cloud in a standardized manner with generic APIs,” says Schalk. “But we are planning to bring even more data into the cloud with SAP HANA — not only asset data, but more business data, such as transactional data or analytical data.”

According to Schalk, integration matters to Endress+Hauser, and he advises that other organizations should also consider it a key issue rather than a side topic. “An integrated IT landscape creates many benefits and generates value aside from cost reduction,” he says. “Having control over data and bringing it together in one single point of truth makes it easier for companies to quickly create new intelligence solutions.”

How a Cloud-First Integration Strategy Helps Eneco Offer Innovative Energy Services and Cut Costs

Cloud Integration Consultant Marco Verhoef Shares Early-Adopter Insights on SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite

Marco V of Eneco 

Marco Verhoef, Cloud Integration Consultant at Eneco, has been in the consultancy field for 20 years. After working in the oil and gas industry at Shell, the semiconductor industry at NXP, and the electronics industry at Philips — before moving to the utilities industry in his current role at energy company Eneco — Verhoef has developed technical expertise in a number of functional areas. Drawing on his decades of experience, he has been generous in sharing his insights on cloud integration over the past few years, participating in several blogs, podcasts, and studies on the topic.

SAPinsider recently spoke with Verhoef about Eneco’s integration strategy and its migration from an on-premise integration server to SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite as an early adopter. During the interview, Verhoef shared insights on how his team built a business case, key takeaways gleaned from the initiative, and how the business was able to save money by moving to cloud-based integration. Below is a summary of that conversation.

Q: What does Eneco’s current SAP landscape and cloud strategy look like?

We are currently starting a project to migrate to SAP S/4HANA, which we have been considering for a few years — if we should move and when. At first, the decision was a lifecycle one based on the end of support for SAP ECC in 2025. Since it can take two or three years to migrate an ERP system, we didn’t want to put the migration off for too long and end up paying double for support after 2025. Once the support deadline was extended to 2027, however, it became more of an innovation decision, and we then found another reason to make the move. We decided that moving to SAP S/4HANA would help us better meet increased real-time information needs and improve reporting.

Eneco has adopted a cloud-first strategy, and our landscape boasts many cloud applications from SAP, such as SAP SuccessFactors, SAP Concur, SAP Fieldglass, and SAP Ariba solutions. In 2017, we migrated our middleware from on premise to the cloud, moving from SAP Process Integration to SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite. Then soon after, we moved our on-premise SAP ERP system to the cloud with Microsoft Azure. In a perfect world, our strategy would be only to have software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, but that’s not possible — yet.

Q: How did you build a business case to move integration to the cloud, and then get it approved by management?

In the on-premise days, we were operating in silos of SAP islands and managing different tools and systems, which was an expensive endeavor. There was no real architectural alignment like we have now. The only time we talked about the cloud was when we made jokes about “the clouds,” as cloud technology was a new trend that architects had just begun writing about in white papers. The first time we heard about SAP’s plans to bring middleware to the cloud was at a workshop in March 2014, and the offering was called “SAP HANA Cloud Integration” at the time. It looked user-friendly, and the cost element was interesting, so I decided to build a business case for management with some integration colleagues’ support.

During 2015, we presented a business case that addressed both the management and architectural levels, and it was mainly focused on cost. If you can show that you will save a lot of money in a year, leadership will be all ears and open to talking about the idea. It was clear from the meeting that middleware in the cloud was the way to go. Of course, we also emphasized the potential for time-savings. Using an on-premise integration server, and therefore having tedious and expensive release projects, was disruptive not only to the IT department, but also to business users — while IT had to upgrade all the yearly source and kernel changes, business users then had to go through all the test scripts and sign off on them. It involved a lot of communication, time, and effort, all of which would be eliminated in the cloud. The days of business users doing repetitive, time-consuming tasks would be over.

The next big hurdle was a successful proof of concept (PoC) to prove that the cloud integration tools could be used as-is and that all interfaces could be migrated. We started the PoC in 2016 with the support of SAP partner Proxcellence, which was very helpful because, through Proxcellence, we could directly access product development contacts at SAP in Walldorf without the need to raise a ticket. For the PoC, we covered about 70% of the technical objects used in interfaces running on the on-premise integration server to ensure we had enough evidence that we could start the project with success.

Q: Were any concerns voiced when you presented the business case, aside from wanting to see the PoC?

Security was the only concern raised. Leadership didn’t want the cloud solution to connect to the ERP system directly from the internet, so we had to find a cloud connector from SAP that would act as a web dispatcher to protect the system from intruders. After a few meetings with an architect responsible for securing the ERP system, we worked it out.

In 2017, we began the actual migration to SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite. The testing portion of the migration required some extra effort — because many of the interfaces were related to finance and human resources (HR), we involved business users from those areas in the testing as well — and was sometimes more work than the actual programming of the integration flows (iFlows). We also started the project without the ability to migrate all of our 50 or so interfaces, but just before the end, everything came together. During the six months of the project, we would get monthly automatic updates to the cloud integration software that added new functionality. With these updates, SAP delivered the needed functionality and we were able to test all the interfaces live. In March 2018, once we had the cloud integration up and running, we switched off the on-premise integration server.

Q: Is integration becoming more of a strategic focus for organizations? According to recent SAPinsider research, more than half of survey respondents said their current integration strategies are ill-equipped to help them meet future needs. Why do you think that is?

It’s fairly expensive to build architectural lines, and maintaining the lines is even more expensive. If it’s a long-term investment, it will pay off in the long run, but some companies want quick cash in five years, so it depends on the company culture. Bigger companies, such as Eneco, seem to be aligned with a long-term strategy and profit from putting a lot of money and resources into a good architecture. If your end game grows 5 to 10 times bigger in the coming years, you have to invest; otherwise, you will never get that gross.

I think companies are starting to look at integration more strategically for many reasons. A major one is that companies are opening up their IT by putting a lot of application programming interfaces (APIs) on the market. They are achieving extra profit by exposing these APIs. For example, PostNL, a company in The Netherlands that delivers packages, has strategic APIs that allow big wholesale companies, such as Amazon, to easily communicate with PostNL about order deliveries. By promoting its APIs, more companies let PostNL deliver their packages. No matter what business you are in, you want to make a profit, and extending your business model is a new way of attracting customers.

Another example of how APIs can be used strategically is Eneco’s windmills, which send data every second to Eneco’s IT system via Internet of Things (IoT) technology. This data is then analyzed in Eneco’s IT system to identify statistics and determine predictive maintenance — turning a windmill one degree in some wind directions can save power and money, for instance. Using an API, Eneco could potentially open up this integration to non-Eneco windmills, such as those run by a small farm, for example. Eneco could monitor the data sent by these windmills and help that farm profit by providing analytics that can turn into cost savings.

Based on our experience, API reuse is an area with significant potential that deserves attention. We created our own API portal to standardize integration with our back-end systems, and it’s taking off now as people in other areas of the company are starting to reuse APIs in the portal. While we are not yet monetizing our APIs, that is something we are exploring for the future.

Q: Would you share a few key takeaways you learned from your experience implementing SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite?

Because we were an early adopter, we had to figure out a lot for ourselves through trial and error, and we did come out of it with some important lessons to share.

Loosely coupled software services make your company’s IT agile. You can decrease vendor lock-in chances by having an API and event architecture in place so services are loosely coupled and can be changed anytime. Today, we have many SAP systems in our landscape, which is only growing, so while vendor lock-in is likely with our ERP system, we can change out all the subsystems at will. If lock-in is a risk you don’t want to take, I advise you to develop a risk matrix to evaluate your IT systems’ maturity and develop policies where needed.

Prepackaged content gives you a head start. SAP ships prepackaged content that includes components and building blocks to help you integrate with all of SAP’s SaaS solutions as well as non-SAP solutions. We have used prepackaged content to configure iFlows a few times, and it worked very well. For example, the prepackaged content for connecting an SAP SuccessFactors solution to SAP ERP includes the necessary mapping for all the fields in an Employee table, for instance. This eliminates a lot of administrative work — to enable the integration, you only need to make the connection.

Use a common data model as a basis within your company. When you integrate more technologies into your landscape, you have to ensure that systems can talk to each other and make certain that the business units using the functionality are speaking the same language. To achieve that, you need to analyze your company and create shared, standard definitions. When working in silos, there can be multiple definitions for what a product type in an order means, for example. You have to eliminate that as much as you can so that “order” means the same thing to System A as it does to System B, and everyone understands what all the fields mean within that order. Once you‘ve done that, integration is a lot easier, and no value mapping is needed. While the work to standardize data must start from scratch at your own company, it’s a good idea to look at how other companies are dealing with it.

Q: What measurable results has Eneco achieved from moving its middleware to the cloud?

From 2018 onward, we saved approximately $150K per year on costs, cutting down our IT spend for integration middleware to between 50% and 60% of our annual total cost of ownership. However, the most significant advantages were, and still are, the user-friendliness, the development speed and creativity, and the adoption by functional consultants and key business users. There are also many subjective benefits. For example, business users now monitor their own interfaces instead of the IT operations team, which has taken some tedious work out of our hands. Now, issues only come to us when a third line of support is needed for complex and interesting problems, and not when a standard SAP message alert is received saying that a financial posting period is not yet open, for example. Business users can now monitor those types of front-end transactions.

Q: Can moving integrations to the cloud help companies become more innovative?

It’s all about building a solid architectural base. Once you have that, the sky is the limit. People will have more time and flexibility and can be more creative about using IT to help change business processes and models and achieve new profits. Once you have a solid base, a common data model, a good API range, and a suitable defense mechanism — and the whole company speaks the same language — then many creative people can use that base for new ideas with the full support of the entire company. Business units won’t try to think of their own solution without looking at the existing architecture first. IT can help them find a solution, perhaps by sharing APIs that already exist. Integration tools are no longer just for IT people — they are also for business people who think every solution is possible.

The Rise of Integration as a Strategic Imperative

Craig Stasila  by Craig Stasila, Global Go-To-Market Lead for SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite, SAP

Over the last several years, SAP has seen its customers increasingly prioritize integration as a strategic imperative. Rather than existing merely as back-office plumbing, integration is becoming part of a broader goal to be more agile and respond to customers and stakeholders more efficiently and quickly. At the same time, cloud computing and the proliferation of software solutions that address all facets of the end-to-end value chain have made it far more challenging to integrate the myriad of different solutions in an efficient and flexible manner.

Let’s focus in on a real-world challenge being faced today. Previously, if organizations wanted to focus on their customers, they looked to a customer relationship management (CRM) system. This approach is no longer enough — organizations need to be able to support customers in person, interact with them on social and digital channels, and provide them with customer service, potentially across three or more different software solutions. To attain a 360-degree view of the customer, businesses need to integrate the applications that are driving innovation to ensure the right data is in the right place at the right time and is being securely accessed.

This is but one example of the numerous factors that are leading companies to focus on integration — the need to integrate different software solutions quickly and cost-effectively and then support them and evolve with them. Recent industry research can attest to this increased attention on integration. For example, SAPinsider research conducted in October 2020 found that more than half (57%) of respondents are currently working to create a consolidated integration strategy.

What Is Driving the Increased Focus on Integration?

The faster pace of business in an increasingly digital world has led to an emphasis on agility and responsiveness, which in turn is driving an increased focus on integration. SAP knows, from working with its customers, that connected enterprises are better able to respond and react to changing market conditions. And SAP is seeing a significant split between organizations that understand the strategic value of integration and those that do not see it as strategically important. In fact, a July 2020 TBR study on integration found that 84% of respondents see integration as supporting their business needs. Companies that focus on agility and embrace the changing landscape of their industry are succeeding far better than those that are lagging and slow to react. Forward-thinking businesses see integration as the technical underpinning of innovation and the path to converting digital insights into real-world business action.

Over the past five years or so, the pace of business has picked up considerably in an increasingly competitive environment where speed wins the day. The pressure to more quickly respond to customers and suppliers has led to organizations recognizing that integration is crucial to achieving a 360-degree view into their business data. And now, COVID-19 has compounded the situation by requiring organizations to become even more responsive amidst significant disruption. The pandemic has revealed that companies that can quickly become more agile and innovative are the ones that can more easily weather the storm, while those that follow older modes of working often struggle to respond to the curveballs they face.

Although a majority of organizations recognize the strategic importance of integration for agility and responsiveness, according to recent studies, research also shows that most do not feel their current strategy will prepare them to meet future business needs. The SAPinsider research on integration revealed that while many respondents are working to create a consolidated integration strategy, less than half (46%) said their current strategy is mostly meeting their needs, with 35% reporting it is only partially meeting their needs. Based on these results, companies do not have what they need to move the needle on integration within their organizations. Fortunately, there are some guiding principles SAP customers can follow to help make gains in this area.

Guiding Principles to Improve Business Outcomes Through Strategic Integration

Business and IT leaders who are serious about improving their business by developing the strategic importance of integration for their enterprise can increase their chances of success by adhering to the following guiding principles: secure executive support, establish an integration center of excellence (COE), conduct an integration maturity assessment, and devise and execute the strategy.

Secure an Executive Sponsor

Making integration a strategic imperative requires an executive sponsor within the organization who understands the value of reacting quickly, or even proactively, to customer needs and changes in the broader industry. For some organizations, that executive sponsor will be a chief information officer or chief integration officer. For others, it might be a chief revenue officer or chief sales officer who is looking to transform the business into an agile and digital enterprise.

The companies that are leading the charge to set integration as a strategic imperative have some level of executive sponsorship in place. Without that sponsorship, the business case could fail to secure approval or the necessary investments of money or time. Often the biggest challenge in moving toward integration as an organizational strategic focus is corporate culture. Many organizations tend to be siloed, from the supply chain to manufacturing, human resources, or other areas of the business, which can make organizational change a significant challenge. An executive-level sponsor can secure buy-in from the rest of the executives, effect change, and pressure constituent silos to interact with one another and participate in the evolution.

Establish an Integration COE

An executive sponsor also plays a crucial role in the creation of an integration COE, which is a team composed of a mix of business/functional/technical resources with diverse professional backgrounds that works together to execute on integration goals and plans. This team must have a good functional understanding of the company’s business processes and how to extract value from them, as well as deep technical skills and strong interpersonal skills to get loosely grouped individuals to communicate and work well together. Assembling the right team of people for the integration COE is critical to its success.

The ideal team for an integration COE includes stakeholders and team builders from across the organization. Ideally, the multi-disciplinary group would represent every facet of the board areas and lines of business. It would include technologists with a wide range of technical skills and a good understanding of the existing software systems and their limitations, because the best way to integrate certain software, such as SAP S/4HANA, with other systems can vary widely. The integration COE should also include people in an architect or strategist role who understand the overall enterprise integration strategy, the technology, and the way existing teams operate. These individuals should be responsive to business needs, develop a realistic plan looking forward, and be driven to accomplish the goals set out collectively by the team.

Conduct an Integration Maturity Assessment

It is important to assess an organization’s current integration resources, skillsets, tools, and capabilities, and match that against what is needed to achieve the goals of the enterprise integration strategy as mandated by the executive sponsor. Even if there is no executive sponsor, an honest understanding of where things are — whether that is achieved by creating a survey, writing a report, performing self-analysis, or bringing in a third party to assess the organization’s tools, technologies, end-to-end processes, and value streams — is critical. Understanding how components cut across different business and board areas, along with what is working and what isn’t, is integral to identifying areas for improvement that can be mapped to the integration strategy.

To help its customers understand where they are on the path to a mature and successful integration strategy, SAP has developed a technology- and solution-agnostic framework called SAP Integration Solution Advisory Methodology for conducting assessments based on an integration maturity model. More than 1,600 companies worldwide have successfully used this methodology and its best-practice framework to assess their landscape’s components and requirements. It helps organizations identify the tools they need, the skills they lack, the governance model they need, and the blueprints and architectures they can reference from a technology perspective. The framework is also flexible — it is designed to support a range of needs and goals, from a company that needs to start with the basics, to one that wants to adapt established best practices, to one that wants to come up with its own maturity model. In addition, there is no predefined decision matrix for tools and technologies — governance, decision trees, and processes for making those decisions are added based on the organization’s assessed level within the maturity model.

Whatever methodology a business uses to conduct its integration maturity assessment — whether it’s SAP Integration Solution Advisory Methodology or another framework — the key is doing the research, making the recommendations, and executing those recommendations. The goal is to minimize friction as a business requirement moves from a concept to an actual implementation of that concept. Clear key performance indicators (KPIs) based on the integration maturity assessment can be extremely helpful in reducing this friction. KPIs establish a contract between the integration COE and stakeholders that signals to leadership and the broader organization what will be achieved. They provide a framework for understanding and measuring the changes taking place to ensure they continue to deliver the desired outcome going forward.

Devise and Execute the Strategy

From the results of the integration maturity assessment, an organization will be in a good position to know the gaps in resources, skills, and technology that need to be filled to devise and execute an integration strategy and achieve stated goals. Resources who can bridge the business and IT sides of the organization are crucial to a successful integration. A business liaison that is a functional expert — someone who truly understands the business and serves as a translator for IT and business needs — plays a central role. This person must have a good working relationship across all business teams, not just one or two, to have the best chance of reaching the entire organization and inciting all areas to be more responsive. Having this relationship with the business helps an integration COE better understand what is driving the need to be more agile and reactive. Success can ride on the ability of these translators to break down existing silos.

While the integration COE drives the initial creation and implementation of integrations, as a company moves through the integration maturity levels, lines of business can strategically start driving their own value from these integrations, usually by exposing their business logic as consumable, reusable application programming interfaces (APIs). When the integration COE empowers lines of business to take advantage of existing assets and resources on their own — and not just take advantage of data, but also leverage collaboration with one another — the integration COE can spend less time on tedious technical work and more time on tasks that can add value to the business, such as bringing new technologies into the fold.

Many organizations are starting to look at new technologies such as automation to keep pace with a rate of change that continues to rise rapidly. In particular, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are beginning to play a bigger role in the execution of business processes to help ensure resiliency, adaptability, and efficiency, and forward-thinking businesses are starting to layer in skills and technologies in this area. Integration COEs will need to have resources in place that are versed in these emerging technologies, and also be able to quickly and easily introduce them to the different lines of business without requiring them to become machine learning and conversational AI experts. This is why there is no end state when it comes to filling in gaps in resources, skills, and technology — it will always be an evolving, iterative state.

How to Achieve Integration Wins

When building the business case for integration and securing an executive sponsor, demonstrating the return on investment (ROI) is essential, and this is where a partner can often help. Many partners in the SAP ecosystem have long-term relationships with SAP customers as trusted advisors and histories that help them understand the industry and technologies. Some of these partners are having candid conversations with the 46% of organizations that reported (in SAPinsider research) that their current integration strategy is mostly meeting their needs to let them know that they are being left behind. Partners can help companies look at integration more strategically and help with tasks such as getting the integration COE started, performing an assessment, supplementing technical skills, and helping with change management. In fact, in the previously mentioned TBR survey on integration, 52% of the respondents felt that the role of a partner was critical in achieving integration benefits.

Organizational change management is hard, and many companies struggle to handle it themselves, so they turn to external partners that have tried-and-true methods to help effect those changes. On the technical side, partners can also help close skills gaps and can train an organization’s employees on how to use the new technology. This is especially important for those that did not previously view integration as a strategic imperative, because those organizations were likely using older integration technologies that will require significant changes. The real innovators in this space — those that have undergone integration transformation and are driving forward with agility — follow an API-first methodology that can scale horizontally. One customer that has adopted an API-first strategy is energy company Eneco, which credits much of its success to working with a trusted partner, Proxcellence.

Another customer having success in the integration space is Murphy Oil, which started out low on the integration maturity assessment model, with no integration COE, executive sponsorship, governance model, or framework in place to push forward integration initiatives. After engaging with partner Incture, which helped the business identify a very high total cost of ownership (TCO) due to overlapping integration tools, Murphy Oil adopted a more strategic approach, retired tools, and chose to migrate to SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite because it had the lowest TCO and fastest ROI. Incture assisted the company with the migration, with putting a governance model in place, and with technical and organizational change management.

In addition to working with SAP partners to ensure integration success, SAP customers can also enlist the support of SAP itself. For example, Endress+Hauser worked with SAP to conduct an integration maturity assessment using SAP Integration Solution Advisory Methodology and to help create its integration COE. And there are some SAP customers that have enough in-house resources to move through the levels of the integration maturity model without relying on the support of SAP or SAP partners. For example, Sika is currently developing an integration COE on its own to handle its hybrid landscape amidst a move to SAP S/4HANA.


A successful business case for integration hinges on several factors, but the most important is the need to stop looking at integration as a cost center, and start seeing it as a profit center that will save money and generate revenue, and as a strategic imperative at the heart of digital transformation. Digital transformation is not just digitizing business processes to save costs — it is making traditional business processes consumable in the digital realm to drive new forms of revenue from them, which can only be achieved through integration. Whether or not an organization’s integration needs are currently being met, there are many ways to look at integration more strategically and avoid falling behind the competition, which is most likely already focusing on the agility and capabilities that integration offers. To learn more, visit here.

SAPinsider Showcases Women in SAP Tech

Special Edition: A Focus on the Many Women Leading Successful Projects and Initiatives Throughout the SAP Ecosystem

by Lauren Bonneau, Managing Editor, SAPinsider

With the current global female population at 49.6%, and a growing and popular view that all things should be equal, one might imagine that half of available jobs are filled by women. However, women account for only 39% of the total global workforce. The disparity in the technology industry is even more glaring, with women holding only 26% of professional computing occupations in the US workforce in 2019.

To help address this imbalance, new initiatives, leadership councils, committees, and nonprofits have been steadily appearing worldwide over the last few years. For example, Women in Tech, an international organization, has a double mission of closing the gender gap and helping women embrace technology; nonprofit Global Women in Tech focuses on fostering diversity and inclusion in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); and Women Who Tech is a global network aimed at accelerating the number of women tech entrepreneurs and increasing the funding allotted to startups founded by women. These new additions to the movement join existing organizations such as Women in Technology International (WITI), which has been supporting and fostering women in technology for more than 30 years.

While the tech statistics show the hard truths that women are still underrepresented, underpaid, and often discriminated against in the industry, there has been an uptick lately in women-focused news stories, coverage, and conversations about diversity in the technology space. For instance, recently, within the same week, social media and news outlets publicized that a woman was credited with writing the first line of computer code, thereby inventing programming, and that the fairly new term “augmented analytics”  was coined in 2017 by three women.

In the SAP space, specifically, there have been many newsworthy announcements about the contributions and impacts of women in the ecosystem. The news highlights share some notable updates about women working at SAP, partner organizations, and customer companies. At SAP itself, a string of appointments have been publicized, such as Jennifer Morgan’s brief tenure as SAP’s co-CEO and appearance as #49 on Forbes Power Women 2019 list and Jill Popelka’s new position this year as President of SAP SuccessFactors. (Read the cover story and watch the video interview SAPinsider conducted with Popelka’s executive team for more on her new role and journey.) SAP has also committed to increasing the percentage of women in leadership by 1% each year, with a target of reaching 30% by the end of 2022.

A Look Back at the Many Women Featured in SAPinsider

Throughout its more than 20 years of existence, SAPinsider has published many articles and stories (in the flagship SAPinsider Magazine as well as its former sister publications SAP NetWeaver Magazine and insiderPROFILES Magazine) featuring women as key protagonists. Over just the past decade, the magazine covers have featured a host of female executives in high-powered roles at companies running SAP software, including Donna Sylster, former CIO of CHEP; Denise Clark, former CIO of Hasbro; Kelli Such, former Global BI Director of Kraft Foods; Emily Lund, former Director of Shared Services for JMC Steel; Uzma Burki, former Vice President at Amtrak; and Liv Landblom, former Senior Program Manager at Crocs.

Over the years, SAPinsider has published hundreds of case studies featuring women’s roles in the success of projects in just about every industry, line of business, and SAP solution area. In one case study, Director of Talent Management Mary Sue Handel and Thayre Faust, Director of IT, shared how A. O. Smith created standardized, global recruiting processes and improved the job-seeking process for prospective candidates. Another showcased Mamatha Mitr, Senior IT Manager at Dolby Laboratories, who described how the business automated its SAP regression tests, reduced their testing hours by roughly 75%, and experienced the intangible benefit of giving users peace of mind. And in yet another, DeAnna Myers, Senior Manager of Learning and Development at Sargent & Lundy, highlighted how the power project services company created a culture of collaboration, streamlined employee training, and expedited the transfer of expert knowledge and cross-generational conversations to an increasingly global workforce.

SAPinsider has also featured insights from women with hard-won technical expertise in columns that dive deep into SAP functionality and technical concepts and offer how-to administration and development instruction. In one technical column, SAP’s Vandana Mansharamani, Product Manager – Security and Data Protection for SAP S/4HANA Cloud, shared insights to help SAP customers comply with data protection regulations. In another, co-author Swetta Singh, Director of Product Management at SAP, offered an approach to help SAP customers simplify, streamline, and optimize identity and access management across their on-premise and cloud-based landscapes.

Articles over the years have gotten up close and personal with SAP executives such as Executive Board Member Adaire Fox-Martin, who shared details about her career path and current responsibilities, and Tanja Rueckert, SAP Executive Vice President, Line of Business Digital Assets and IoT, who described her top priorities in her newly appointed role and her views on the state of the Internet of Things in business.

SAPinsider has provided a platform for independent consultants to reach the ecosystem with their message, such as Danielle Larocca, who shared her expertise on how human resources has evolved and what its future looks like, and Mico Yuk, who talked about what influences and factors led her to focus on the area of business intelligence.

SAPinsider has also published articles from women thought leaders at SAP partner organizations who have educated the ecosystem through their experience helping customers with their various SAP initiatives. Winshuttle’s  Product Marketing Manager Jeanette Mifsud, for one, has been a frequent author sharing thought leadership on topics such as the importance of strategically automating SAP processes, among others. Marketing and communication specialists for Business Software, Inc. (BSI) Laura Jorgensen and Alla Umanskiy recently offered advice to SAP customers on how to navigate COVID-19 payroll
tax changes.

Dedicating This Edition to the Women Leaders of the SAP Ecosystem

SAPinsider has always shined a well-deserved spotlight on women leaders throughout the ecosystem, and we are proud to continue this tradition. This Q4 2020 edition of the magazine is dedicated to showcasing the amazing work women are currently doing across the SAPinsider Community. In developing this special edition, the SAPinsider team was honored to have an opportunity to speak with a variety of strong and accomplished women and hear their stories in oftentimes very personal conversations. Some of these conversations were reconnections with women we have highlighted in the past — such as Sharon Kaiser, CIO of New England Biolabs, who previously shared her experiences moving to SAP S/4HANA in this article. We also caught up with Birgit Starmanns, SAP’s Global Head of oCFO COE Thought Leadership Strategy and Programs for Finance and Risk, who is an SAP Expert and frequent author for SAPinsider. In addition, we had the pleasure of profiling some women who are new to the pages of SAPinsider Magazine, such as Deloitte’s US SAP Practice Leader Kelly Herod and Mervi Lampinen, Senior IT Executive at MSD Sharp & Dohme GmbH, who was a keynote presenter at the SAPinsider 2020 virtual event.

While each woman’s story and sentiments are distinct, some connecting threads weaved their way throughout the experiences they described. For example, nearly everyone attributed their success in some way to a strong family unit or upbringing from supportive caregivers. Herod and Lampinen, for instance, both spoke about their fathers encouraging them to try new things, even things that seemed more male-related, such as technology- or mechanical-focused tasks.

Sponsorship, and the impact it can have on a woman’s career, was a recurring theme throughout the conversations. According to Alison Biggan, Chief Operating Officer, Marketing Centers of Excellence and Operations at SAP, women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored. She described sponsors as senior leaders who go beyond being role models to being advocates and staking their own reputations on another’s success. Meg Bear, Senior Vice President of SAP SuccessFactors, offered an expanded view on sponsorship — suggesting that, as a sponsor, someone in a position of authority is not just supporting an idea for someone’s career, but also helping to make it happen, and that people simply don’t get to a senior executive level without that kind of support. Kaiser, for one, admitted that she would not be in a position to take advantage of the many opportunities open to her without her sponsor, who advised her on how to maintain her identity and grow her reputation and credibility as a leader and manager. Ivona Crnoja, Project Consultant, SAP AI Business Services, SAP SE, recommends that women make use of their company’s personal career coaching and mentoring initiatives, if available, to build a strong network of successful women they admire to support them on their way forward.

Another frequent theme was the importance of being a good communicator. Kaiser, for instance, recounted that several executives over the years have appreciated her ability to relay complicated technical information in business terms, in a way they can understand. And Starmanns said that strong communication skills have been a huge factor throughout her career, helping her succeed with writing, presenting, interacting with teams to ensure common goals, and accommodating different communication styles and focuses as needed.

Many also cited having a hunger for knowledge and a driving curiosity. Bethany Johnston, Corporate HRIS Manager at Northwest Pipe, said that her interest in the technology field stems from a desire to understand the “why” behind how things are done and to continually improve processes. In the cover story, Popelka — whose passion in college for learning about global cultures, history, and how people have evolved eventually morphed into a desire to understand technology and how to apply it to drive business outcomes — said that women should never stop learning, and that they should be curious and open to new people and opportunities every single day.

Inspiring Words to Ponder

Hearing about the work being done by the women featured in this edition — for example, how the massive workflow successes at Ascend Performance Materials were achieved by three separate women-led projects — certainly had an impact on the SAPinsider team. We believe their words of wisdom are bound to resonate with other women who aspire to leadership roles in the SAP ecosystem. Some of the team’s favorite recommendations found in the pages of this edition are:

  • “If you’ve made your way up the ladder, turn around and lend a hand to help the next person. We should always be looking for those opportunities to help other women climb up.” — Heather Whitfield, Program Manager Head of Operations, Applied Materials
  • “Individuals need to take a close look at what their team looks like and search for opportunities to sponsor someone who looks different from them.” — Judith Williams, Head of People Sustainability and Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, SAP
  • “Leadership is about service. If you focus on providing the best service to your customers — your clients, teams, peers, family, or friends — the success will follow.” — Kelly Herod, Principal, US SAP Practice Leader, Deloitte Consulting
  • “Accept the compliments for the hard work you have accomplished. Don’t hide, but be proud of yourself, and especially, don’t let others take credit for your achievements.” — Jana Wuerth, Senior Product Manager, SAP AI Business Services, SAP
  • “As you’re struggling to make your way and thinking you’re an imposter, try to remember that you’re not any more of an imposter than anyone else, because they are making it up as they go along too.” — Amy Wilson, Senior Vice President, SAP SuccessFactors


SAPinsider has shared the stories of many successful SAP projects led by women over the years

Some of the standouts include the following:

Ana Rodriguez

Enterprise Applications Manager Ana Rodriguez shared (in an article from Q1 2016) how Skullcandy was able to bring on several new legal entities, achieve a single source of truth for transactions, and expand its customer base by integrating with third-party logistics providers and electronic data interchange vendors, all while minimizing the need for additional resources, IT systems, or a significant infrastructure.

Tracy Lawlor

JetBlue Airways’ Vice President of Financial Planning and Analysis Tracy Lawlor described (in an article from Q3 2015) how JetBlue modernized the airline’s financial processes, created more efficient and accurate financial planning and forecasting to help business leaders make better decisions, and produced more accurate reporting due to improved analytics.

Sandy Reisenauer

Sandy Reisenauer, Senior CRM Business Analyst, shared (in an article from Q3 2017) how Nature’s Way decommissioned a homegrown application to provide field sales and customer service representatives with mobile access to customer account information and the ability to send automated requests to other departments and receive real-time status updates.

Laurel Johns

Laurel Johns, Manager of Finance Consolidation and Controls at Scotts Miracle-Gro, along with her teammates Shannon Randolph and Heather Lowe, revealed (in an article from Q3 2016) how finance was able to automate account reconciliation for 4,700 accounts, demonstrate financial compliance more effectively, and develop a more efficient way for financial analysts and auditors to prepare, approve, and monitor account reconciliations and attached documentation.

Mahindra CIE Automotive Ltd. Reduces Risk and Hours of Manual Effort by Automating Its SAP User Provisioning Processes

Plug-and-Play GRC Overhaul in One Week

by Joe Mullich, Contributing Writer

Mahindra CIE Automotive Ltd. (MCIE), headquartered in Mumbai, India, makes crankshafts, axle beams, piston rods, and some 250 other products that are under the hoods of some of the biggest automotive brands. In the past decade, the MCIE business has been on the move as well. A series of acquisitions and alliances has transformed the company from a small player in the automotive industry to a global powerhouse, topping $1 billion in revenue for 2019.

As with any growing international company, risk and compliance have become a paramount concern. A publicly traded company and a subsidiary of CIE Automotive group of Spain, the business must follow a variety of regulations and compliance standards and undergo various statutory audits.

In the first quarter of 2019, the company’s board of directors stressed the importance of putting in place stronger security and compliance controls to provide better assurance to investors and customers. The centerpiece of the company’s information stores is SAP ERP 6.0. As such, the system is a critical component of the compliance and security strategy.

“Oversights could be costly for the organization’s brand and trust with customers,” says Ajitsingh Nawale, Head of Information Technology for MCIE. “We want to eliminate any threat of possible violations and misuse of the system.”

Mahindre CIE

Ajitsingh Nawale, Head of Information Technology for MCIE

Fixing Manual Mire

Consider when MCIE hires a new vendor. This results in a complex series of transactional workflows that are fraught with potential for risk and fraud. Someone has to set up the vendor in the SAP system so the vendor’s invoices can be paid. Employees need to draft and approve the purchase order, process payments, and issue and sign checks for the vendor.

At each stage of the vendor onboarding process, it’s necessary to ascertain that only approved employees are authorizing each task. As new employees are hired, leave the company, or change roles, it becomes even more challenging to ensure that everyone has the specific system usage capacity and appropriate access.

In the case of MCIE, these safeguards were handled manually by two full-time equivalent (FTE) employees. These individuals conducted regular segregation-of-duties (SoD) reviews, which determine if any risks or conflicts have occurred with a specific user or function.

This review required them to go through a lengthy process of defining the organization structure, mapping out the steps with each transactional workflow, and correlating them to specific user roles.

The two FTE employees also provided risk analysis before provisioning changes, handled the provisioning and de-provisioning process, and oversaw the manual records of requests and reporting. Each of these tasks was a time-consuming ordeal:

  • Regular SoD checks and reviews (of all users) — took two weeks every quarter to complete
  • Risk analysis before provisioning changes (per user request) — took two to three hours for each user
  • Provisioning/de-provisioning process (per user) — took two to three days for each user
  • Manual reporting to show record of requests — took two days for each run

As the number of users increased, continuing to handle these tasks manually was not the most efficient or desired path, according to Nawale. “Users were becoming frustrated by the delays in access provisioning,” he says. MCIE considered adding a third FTE employee to handle the increased work, but that would have increased the cost of the compliance activities, and the business needed a more cost-effective solution.

Two Applications Met All Requirements

To satisfy the board’s mandate for improved security and compliance controls, MCIE wanted to completely automate its current compliance tasks related to access provisioning and reviewing access to the SAP system.

In addition, the company wanted to add another level of security by proactively checking for risk before any access change was allowed. “We wanted an end-to-end automated process, where we could manage the process from the time employees were hired to the time they retired,” Nawale says.

This led MCIE to SAP partner Security Weaver. Security Weaver’s flagship governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) software suite provides a unified view of the enterprise-wide application environment, and according to Nawale, it was quickly apparent that two Security Weaver applications — Separations Enforcer and Secure Provisioning — would meet the company’s entire list of requirements.

The Separations Enforcer application — an analytical tool used by internal audit and compliance team members (including the financial controllers, security administrators, Basis administrators, supervisors, and functional or department heads) — offers organizations a single, well-organized solution for storing and analyzing access management data and mitigations. The application automatically detects conflicts and critical access at the role and user levels, supports simulations, offers support for mitigating controls, and reports on user activities, allowing administrators to dramatically reduce time, errors, and risks.

The Secure Provisioning application — an access request automation tool that allows users to request new SAP access, remove existing access, or make master data changes — helps organizations simplify user access provisioning in SAP systems with an automated approach that ensures employees can quickly get the access they need, while protecting the enterprise from inappropriate access. Appropriate parties are notified and kept involved through email workflow. Each request is tracked, including the status of the request, who approved the request, and any SoD conflicts that the request would create. These conflicts automatically trigger exception reviews and tracking.

An Easy Plug-and-Play Process

“An important benefit was the plug-and-play nature of the Security Weaver products,” Nawale says. “No additional hardware was necessary, and there was no overlay with our existing SAP environment. The rapid implementation allowed the applications to be installed and operating in our environment within a week.”

The implementation team that deployed the two applications included senior personnel as project managers, representatives from risk management and security, and an employee who was currently handling the SoD, provisioning, and compliance tasks manually.

Over five days, the implementation followed a three-stage process. The applications were installed in a development environment, and then moved to quality assurance for testing, before finally being migrated to production.

During the following 15 days, the IT department added some specific configurations, such as defining which stakeholders would be allowed to take action on specific requests.

Two types of training sessions, lasting for two to four hours, were conducted for all the application users. One training was for the IT and project team to learn how to perform tasks such as applying changes and patches, and the other training was for the internal compliance team and end users, explaining the user interface and how to make changes and requests.

Benefits: Moving Faster and Safer

The two new applications resulted in clear benefits for both users and IT. Automating the compliance and security tasks eliminated a host of manual efforts, which reduced costs equivalent to two to three FTEs per quarter. In addition, eliminating the delays that the manual processes had introduced allowed employees to gain access to the system faster, reducing process times from a week to one or two days (depending on the required approvals in the system).

The self-service features improved end-user productivity. Managers and users now have a clear view of the status of their access request, including the implications of their requests, without needing to contact IT for assistance. Also, users don’t need to collect excessive authorizations as they move from job to job, providing them with quicker access to the system.

“The solution has been so successful that we no longer accept any manual requests for role changes,” Nawale says. “That was a part of the mandate rolled out from senior management.”

MCIE is currently evaluating other Security Weaver applications, such as Automated Mitigations, to build on its ability to track existing users who have been granted exception-based access that could contribute to SoD risk. These users must be audited on a regular basis. Among other things, MCIE will be able to determine not only what access those employees have been granted, but whether they execute any critical transactions. If those users have access conflicts, appropriate personnel are automatically notified.

As MCIE continues to grow in the automotive world, with these applications in play, the business can rest assured that its GRC risks will not grow.


Company Snapshot

Mahindra CIE Automotive Ltd.

Headquarters: Mumbai, India

Industry: Automotive

Employees: 4,363

Revenue: ₹7,500 crore ($1 billion USD) in consolidated revenue (2019)

Company details:

  • Incorporated in August 1999 and headquartered in Mumbai, India
  • Manufactures and supplies automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and their tier 1 suppliers with engine and chassis forged components for commercial and passenger vehicles, such as crankshafts, axle beams, piston rods, and some 250 other products
  • Part of the CIE Automotive Group of Spain and serves as a vehicle for its global forgings business and for all its other technologies and processes in India and Southeast Asia
  • Manufacturing facilities and engineering capabilities (of its own and through its subsidiaries) in India, Germany, Spain, Lithuania, Italy, and Mexico
  • Listed on the BSE Limited (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange of India Limited

SAP solution: SAP ERP 6.0

Third-party solutions: Security Weaver Separations Enforcer and Security Weaver Secure Provisioning

Position Your Business to React and Adapt to Any New Regulations with Ease

Bramasol’s CEO Dave Fellers and Vice President of Marketing and Strategy John Froelich Shed Light on the Flexibility and Effectiveness of the Comply, Optimize, Transform Framework

In the increasingly complex and regulated business landscape, compliance is a top concern for companies of every size, in every industry. Analytics are becoming critical to successfully unify internal processes and data to meet compliance standards. Bramasol Inc., in Santa Clara, California, is a leading provider of SAP solutions for the digital enterprise based on SAP S/4HANA. It focuses on areas around finance digital transformation and accounting regulatory compliance. Companies worldwide rely on the expertise and experience of Bramasol to help them comply with and benefit from the vast array of compliance requirements.

In the past few years, major standards have appeared in two finance and accounting compliance areas that cut across industries. First, ASC 606 and IFRS 15* are the US and international standards for revenue recognition. They provide new guidance on one of the most important measures used by investors in assessing a company’s performance and prospects. Second, ASC 842 and IFRS 16 present dramatic changes to the balance sheets for lessee accounting. These standards require companies to recognize leased assets and lease liabilities on the balance sheet and disclose key information about leasing arrangements.

SAP has been a key player in supporting the new standards. The lease accounting standard is incorporated in a sub-module called the SAP Contract and Lease Management application. New software has been added to SAP’s finance stack called the SAP Revenue Accounting and Reporting application to support revenue accounting.

SAPinsider recently interviewed Dave Fellers, CEO of Bramasol, and John Froelich, the company’s Vice President of Marketing and Strategy, to explore the key trends in compliance, as well as to find out how companies can turn compliance into a competitive advantage.

(* Developed by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) 606 and International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) 15 are the new revenue recognition standards that affect all businesses that enter into contracts with customers to transfer goods or services — public, private, and nonprofit entities.)

Q: How does Bramasol help SAP customers in the area of finance and accounting compliance?

Dave FellersDave Fellers (DF): Bramasol has been helping companies with transformations for nearly 25 years. We support a range of companies that may be moving from QuickBooks-type environments to full-fledged ERP systems, or transforming their finance via the power, flexibility, and scalability that is provided through SAP S/4HANA private cloud. Bramasol’s focus is to be very detailed and focused in the areas that we serve. We bring the most senior people in the industry into the work that we do, and we charge a reasonable price for that. We are not just helping companies meet a specific project need — we are helping them along the journey they are taking.

Regarding finance and accounting compliance, people typically think about compliance as special regulations — such as ASC 606, ASC 842, IFRS 9, the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act, or the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) — that affect only big businesses. However, compliance is not just for large companies, and it comes in many different forms, such as compliance and standardization around Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) for your accounting, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules, or similar regulations. Smaller companies must demonstrate they are compliant and have appropriate accounting and other business regulatory processes for any number of reasons. They might be looking to go public, or they may want to be acquired by a larger organization. So smaller companies are interested in leveraging SAP’s capabilities to meet compliance, and we support them. Compliance is for everyone.

Q: Can you explain the Comply, Optimize, Transform process?

John FroelichJohn Froelich (JF): Comply, Optimize, Transform is an adaptive framework that Bramasol uses to help our customers define and execute a successful digital transformation — whether it is a business transformation or a finance transformation — in a flexible manner. Comply, Optimize, Transform refers to the three phases of the framework (shown in the figure below).

Bramasol framework

Figure 1 The Comply, Optimize, Transform framework helps customers define and execute their digital transformation

Comply: Build a roadmap that provides a firm foundation for today. At this stage, we create a firm foundation for transactional excellence. This ensures that the accounting meets the appropriate standards and that required journal entries are made accurately and completely. We clearly define roles and responsibilities, and we create a data foundation with clean data and processes that companies can build upon.

Optimize: Refine processes for tomorrow. This is a flexible stage in which processes are tuned or optimized to help drive efficiency, lower costs, and provide additional insights to drive competitive advantage. In this stage, tools such as robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, and artificial intelligence can be applied to help simplify and automate key repetitive activities, freeing users and management to interpret and act on the insights provided. Let me explain how this applies to revenue accounting. Many of our customers have complied with the revenue accounting rules, such as ASC 606, using spreadsheets and database tools that are adequate but also cumbersome. These companies can automate and simplify the process using the SAP Revenue Accounting and Reporting application. However, some companies that use this application may have implemented manual workarounds, or they may have multiple solutions for areas such as commissions accounting. Through a holistic approach that integrates and leverages the power of SAP Revenue Accounting and Reporting, they can reduce the time it takes to calculate the effect of commissions — while automating the process, improving security, and driving better accuracy. That is why flexibility is critical, because every company is coming from a different starting point, with different philosophies and different challenges.

Transform: Create a plan for the future. The goal is not to define the end state of a digital transformation or finance transformation journey, but to create a vision of where a business wants to go. That vision enables the organization to implement new business models, such as a subscription-based or outcome-based model, to adapt to and take advantage of the new economy. Then they can apply advanced tools toward that model, such as SAP Revenue Accounting and Reporting, SAP Billing and Revenue Innovation Management (formerly SAP Hybris Billing), and the SAP S/4HANA Finance solution for advanced payment management.

Q: At what stage of that journey do you see the majority of companies right now?

DF: In today’s world, most attentive companies recognize that regulations and compliance rules are coming from all sorts of angles. They have geared themselves internally to address and handle these kinds of changes, and they have created organizations that anticipate and monitor these changes. They have also implemented internal functions to implement the changes, allowing them to be nimble and proactive so they leverage the standards to their advantage.

Leading companies work closely with their audit function that interacts with industry groups, looking to influence the ways in which the rules are rolled out or interpreted. On the other extreme, reactive companies are using spreadsheets or, worse, manual and paper processes to address the regulatory requirements. However, if you comply in that manner, your compliance journey isn’t done. You don’t meet the other SOX requirements around the ability to produce reliable, repeatable processes that demonstrate that your accounting is consistent and reliable.

We still see a lot of companies out there that have not yet completed that first step of our Comply, Optimize, Transform framework in an adequate way. Optimization alone is just doing a better job of leveraging some sort of tool to systemize your compliance. That’s important to do, but it can’t be the end point if you want to make compliance a competitive advantage.

Q: What enabling technologies and intelligent technologies come into play for the Optimize phase?

DF: Optimization is really the automation of business processes. This requires the right integration capabilities, such as leveraging SAP Cloud Platform and application programming interfaces (APIs) or technologies around RPA and machine learning.

JF: On the treasury side, customers are using SAP Cash Management to gain better visibility into their current cash position. One company uses the concept of in-house cash — where it brings all the cash into a single place and manages it through an SAP solution. The company has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on managing and dealing with its cash, such as by reducing the interest rates it pays from pooling the cash together. This also creates a more flexible and resilient finance ecosystem so the business can react quickly to the changes in the marketplace.

Q: How do you empower companies to gain that greater visibility?

DF:  Our philosophy is to take the basic solutions an extra step. We support processes around revenue recognition, lease accounting, and treasury. Often this starts from a compliance angle. But then we enhance these tools to give companies unique visibility through analytics — using SAP Analytics Cloud and SAP Digital Boardroom, for example.

As finance and compliance become more complex, visibility is critical. For example, lease accounting for lessors brings up compliance issues related to revenue recognition. Companies that lease products to others need to be able to depreciate or amortize the value of those assets over the useful life of the asset. This value is inextricably linked to how they will do their revenue recognition, and more specifically, how they calculate a key part of the five-step model — standalone selling price. Like many areas, what seems simple on its face is really more complicated. In the world of revenue recognition, one of the key features we are adding is the ability to handle commissions, which are a major cost and issue for sales organizations. It can be challenging to tie commissions to the revenue per the regulation, so it’s an area we have focused on to provide a comprehensive solution.

JF: A lot of companies are doing consumables or tying contracts together. This is something we are seeing more and more, which is particularly appropriate given where we are today with COVID-19. Think of the old shaving models, where companies made money on the blades rather than the razors. That same model is evolving for medical devices, printers, and even oil and gas. We are helping enable that model for customers through the revenue accounting solution and other tools.

Q: Can you provide an overview of the Bramasol “health check” offering?

JF: This relates to the state of mind of the different businesses we work with. While some companies view compliance as a nuisance, the most successful organizations see it as an opportunity to improve their business and focus it to transform. Our health check tool enables companies to examine their revenue accounting, lease accounting, or treasury from an ecosystem perspective. Revenue accounting really sits in a broader order-to-cash ecosystem — everything from creating the order to invoicing to recognizing the revenue. Leasing resides in a broader section of the procure-to-pay process. Treasury has a myriad of different spaces that it sits in, such as cash management, debt and investments, and financial risk management. The health check allows companies to pinpoint where they can improve their processes and drive new ROI. For example, we worked with a software company in Virginia called Ellucian, which provides ERP systems for schools. Using SAP Revenue Accounting and Reporting, this company not only accelerated the close but identified specific opportunities to upsell and cross-sell to its customer base. That’s the impact of changing the viewpoint from “I simply comply” to “I use these tools to get better.”

Q: How does SAP S/4HANA fit into the picture and the new subscription-based/service-based models?

DF: Transformation is not a final destination, but an ongoing process that requires the ability to handle massive amounts of data. SAP S/4HANA is a foundation for making this possible. For example, another one of our customers — the Certified Collectibles Group (CCG) in Sarasota, Florida — wanted to gain greater visibility of their customers, better understand its costs, and develop improved processes. SAP S/4HANA brings the necessary data together and puts the information in a state where it can be analyzed and easily viewed on dashboards. That provides the nimbleness and ability that will be critical for anyone going forward.

JF: “Something as a service” is being embraced in so many places. Our customer Hewlett Packard Enterprise, for instance, had shifted from a “buy a piece of equipment” model to a subscription model in which customers rent or use space based on the amount of processing they do. In a subscription model, you want to react to your customers quickly and provide different abilities to modify or manage their billing plans. The SAP Billing and Revenue Innovation Management application allows businesses to do that. However, it’s the power of SAP S/4HANA that permits them to perform collections and credit management, for example, by integrating information from different solutions. The convergence of all these technologies drives these new economic models through an ability to react quickly, while being able to scale.

Q: In these uncertain times, why is it important for companies to act now?

DF: There are always factors — in industry, in business, in the environment, and within government — that drive the need to respond and react. It could be new regulations or a pandemic like COVID-19. You don’t necessarily know what will be the next event you have to react to, so you must position your company to be able to adapt and react to anything. In today’s environment, some companies are under a huge threat to the very existence of their business, and other companies have a huge opportunity. However, even those companies with opportunity are not all doing equally well. Thinking about that data transformation hierarchy and having a product like SAP S/4HANA to support the business should be a priority so that is not an issue when you are worrying about the survival of your company.

JF: Many companies today are trying to save money; others are determining how they can thrive for the future, while maintaining a resilient supply chain and finance infrastructure. They are really taking this as a chance to step back and transform their business. While COVID-19 and the current times of economic disruption are certainly challenging, they do present an opportunity for those who want to step up. My advice to these companies is this: don’t be reactive. Prepare now by creating a plan and a vision for transformation — leveraging a framework like Comply, Optimize, Transform. Establish some key goals for the near term that are flexible enough to allow you to react quickly to the inevitable changes. If you don’t act now, somebody else will, and that could have huge implications for the slower  companies they leave in their wake.