Systems overburdened by load peaks, productivity losses, irritated customers: IT downtimes can hit companies hard, as they quickly incur significant costs. Downtimes that occur in the course of digital transformation projects should therefore be kept to an absolute minimum, advises Darren Shaw, Cloud Business Leader at SNP North America, in this guest article. The expert provides in-depth expertise on how to achieve this goal.
Unplanned IT downtimes are among the biggest challenges companies face in highly dynamic markets and in the light of fluctuating demands. An exemplary look at the retail industry demonstrates this thesis: According to recent studies, eight out of ten companies experience an unplanned downtime at least once a year. If such an emergency occurs, the majority of companies (87 percent) wait up to four hours for support. The consequences are massive and range from production interruptions and lost sales to brand damage and data protection breaches. Analysts at the U.S.-based Standish Group have calculated the financial burden on retailers: POS outages cost an average of $4,700 per minute or $282,000 per hour. In the e-commerce sector, which is experiencing an even greater boost than usual during the pandemic, the loss is likely to be even higher.
Planned downtime in transformation projects
When unplanned downtime causes such damage, project managers should certainly minimize planned downtime, which is required to a certain extent in larger IT transformation projects. For example, during a data migration to SAP S/4HANA, it is technically necessary to shut down business processes. However, this downtime can be greatly limited with a combination of advanced technologies, best practices and solid changeover planning.
Keeping IT downtime to a minimum
It is understandable that continentally or globally operating companies – especially in the retail industry – generally have little room for downtime. Different time zones and the fact that even on some holidays, such as Christmas or New Year's Eve, people can shop locally in retail stores or online at any time require continuous business operations. Alas, how can planned downtime be kept to a minimum?
Screening the system landscape prior to the migration: Facts are friends
In a transformation scenario such as an S/4HANA migration, at SNP we recommend that our customers firstly determine the current state of the existing ERP system and familiarize themselves with its special features: This may seem self-evident to many project managers. However, our many years of experience working with large companies have shown that after years (or decades) of use and further development, the overview of which data, applications and systems are used, by whom, when and how is lost. The effort to examine the existing IT infrastructure pays off: Facts are your friends. In this way, individual requirements for the transformation project can be defined, processes accelerated and costs effectively saved as a result.
With these practical tips, system downtime can be greatly reduced:
- Identify time windows when downtime is most likely to be tolerated. Depending on the industry, business model, and presence in different international markets, these times may be at night, on weekends, or on holidays, for example. Based on this, possible project start dates can be defined depending on the scope and complexity.
- Select a "minimum viable product" (MVP) approach from agile methodology in order to strategically plan your migration project: ask yourself what data needs to be migrated now to get a fully functional and compliant S/4HANA system - and what data may be able to be migrated later on. For example, if a company has 10-TB system, but only 0.5 TB of that is current and prior year data, that small amount of data should be migrated first.
- Ensure that the cut-over phase is well planned and executed to ensure that the go-live is on schedule and that a cost-optimized, secure and value-added system migration is achieved.
- As part of the changeover process, define so-called "freeze" periods during which changes to master data or hierarchy data are not permitted. This ensures data consistency.
- Optimize the infrastructure of your source system before migration: Harmonizing data structures and cleansing data can significantly reduce the effort required for the changeover and consequently downtimes.
- Find out what one hour of downtime costs your company and take this into account when selecting the appropriate transformation approach and the migration partner.
Choosing the transformation approach and partner wisely
Companies pursuing a complex transformation project such as a S/4HANA migration should be critical in selecting the appropriate migration software and choosing a service provider. Costs must be considered in their entirety: An offer that is initially less expensive can turn out to be far more expensive when combined with a longer downtime. Those who choose a traditional IT solution may risk, for example, that open orders can be canceled or only executed with delays during the data migration.
To avoid additional costs due to long downtimes, innovative technology that enables near-zero downtime migrations is ideally used. This automates migration, validation, reconciliation and test processes, as well as providing deep insights into the systems and suggestions for optimization. Another criterion for the IT solution should be that several projects and activities, such as the move to the cloud and the S/4HANA implementation, can be combined in a single go-live.
Those who take these recommendations for action into account will be surprised at how much the time span for downtimes can be reduced. The key to success, however, is strategic project planning and evaluation of available options.
This guest article first appeared in the original English version on the SNP blog.