When a software upgrade becomes a major operation
It’s hard to imagine nowadays, with software being patched and updated almost weekly, but the core of Jumbo’s ERP system came into existence in early 2000. Originally it was made for another chain of supermarkets, which Jumbo acquired in 2009. It became the backbone for the newly formed organization. In 2022, it is still as robust as it is vital to the Jumbo organization, although also a bit outdated compared to S/4Hana, SAP’s newest ERP system.
End of life
The systems’ longevity is a testament to the flexibility of SAP-based solutions. However, with all the customizations done along the way, upgrading would become a very challenging task. But, after so many years, that is also exactly what needs to happen. The current version is reaching End of Life and the time has come to move on to S4. To learn more about this monumental operation that already started in 2018, we talked to Ton Duyser, SAP-veteran, and Architect @JTC.
Default settings for Belgium
Ton: “In 2019 Jumbo opened their first supermarkets in Belgium. We briefly considered deploying our existing ERP system over there as well, but we quickly realized this was an excellent opportunity to start implementing SAP S4. Trying new software in just three supermarkets poses less risks, compared to doing the same in hundreds. Because of the limited time we had, we chose to implement the “retail best practice” configuration of the software. While that was a subset of the fully available functionality, it was certainly sufficient to get started in the Belgian market.”
The old and the new side by side
For the Netherlands, with its 700+ supermarkets, this best practice implementation was not an option. As Ton explains “We’re kind of spoiled over here, with our much more tailormade system. Over the years, all these additions and customizations have become indispensable to us. That’s why we needed a different approach. Currently, the old and the new version operate side by side while. Soon we will transfer store after store to the new system. Only when the last one has been upgraded, we can really flip the switch, so to say. When it’s done, we will have created an environment that will allow us to move forward again for years and adopt technological innovations more quickly . “
Survival of the applications
An essential part of the transformation process is to improve and optimize existing processes. Manual intervention should be avoided as much as possible. Otherwise, the classic rule would apply: if you do what you did, you get what you got. Redundant applications can also be remediated in the new landscape. Ton: “We are currently looking at a landscape of somewhere between 400 and 500 applications, of which perhaps 50 or so are crucial to our primary processes. Such a number says something about the complexity of the landscape and the interaction between the various systems. If you start at the creation of products and go through the processes all the way to selling them, you encounter tenths of different applications. Who is to say what exactly happens to functionality ‘X’ or application ‘Z’ if we pull the plug on application ‘Y’?
A helicopter view of the application landscape
Getting a clear picture of the application landscape is no easy task within an organization as large and widespread as Jumbo. This is where Ton and his colleagues come in. He has decades of experience in working for and with SAP, although according to him, only the most recent 3 to 5 years are relevant in IT, because “knowledge ages faster than you do”. His knowledge and experience help create an overview of the application landscape and make educated choices about what applications to take along to the new landscape or what to leave behind. Ton: “For example: S4 offers functionalities that we had to create ourselves previously, which offers opportunities to go back to the standard implementation. The question then becomes: can we just simply swap out the old functionality for the new?” And what impact will that have on the processes?
Fortunately, the team can call and rely on many colleagues. Ton: “No single person can oversee it all, but as a group of specialists we are able to get a much clearer picture of the environment and its inner workings. We spend quite a bit of time reaching out to colleagues to find out what connections there are and what would be the consequences of changing or severing them. With so many specialists within JTC and its suppliers, there’s always someone with the answers to our questions.”
The bigger picture
Ton prefers looking at the big picture rather than dive too deeply into the software itself. In his own words: “Details can become a pitfall, because they can make you lose overview.” That overview aspect is what attracted him in this current project. Ton: “It is a great challenge. And even after all these years, I still love working in IT. I have no idea what the future holds for me. And that’s ok, because for now, my focus is on my contribution to make this transformation a success. After that, we’ll see…