Kathy Gibson reports from Saphila 2023 – BMW South Africa has saved a massive 60 000 days in application modernisation as a direct result of intelligent automation.

Intelligent automation can help to address challenges in SAP custom codes, says Arndt Hoffman, chief customer officer at smartShift, and BMW has achieved some major inroads.

The SAP modernisation story to SAP S/4 HANA is pretty simple on the surface, he says. The end result should be a new SAP system with custom code neatly decoupled from the system.

The reality is not so simple, though – and one of the biggest issues is legacy custom code. In BMW’s case, this goes back to 1989.

Indeed, the average SAP systems has about 22 000 customer objects, 2,7-million lines of code, and up to 2 000 transports per month. Making it worse, about 40% to 60% of custom applications are not used.

All of this leads to an average of 9 000 HANA issues, 17 000 S/4 HANA issues, and thousands of person days of technical debt.

“So why not just throw all the custom code away?” Hoffman asks. “Because there are good reasons to have custom code – so 72% of customers want to keep their customisations.”

The traditional approach to this is manual remediation which is labour intensive, time-consuming, and risky. “And it only scratches the surface, not looking at how you can optimise the code for the future.”

The manual approach is not satisfactory to customers, with most of them giving it a poor score.

smartShift developed its Intelligent Automation Platform to improve this process. Since first developing it 15 years ago, it has enhanced it considerably to cater for new challenges as they arise.

The system takes custom code in the existing SAP environment, analyses it and then transforms it for the target SAP environment – usually SAP S/4 HANA. It can then do a clean core analysis and clean core realisation. The result is a modern SAP system that allows for future innovation in a flexible, scalable, and agile environment.

BMW South Africa has over 16 000 applications, with plenty of custom code. “We wanted to use custom code in an efficient way, but we couldn’t afford to have our developers sitting there and changing it,” says Hanlie van der Berg, SAP architect at BMW’s Rosslyn plant.

The company decided to take a custom code transformation approach customised for each project, using the smartShift Intelligent Automation Platform.

“We had to have guaranteed KPIs,” Van der Berg adds.

BMW identified 69 SAP system landscapes in the scope of a multi-year transformation roadmap.

The intent of the project was to improve systems stability and resilience, and allow true speed and agility in transformation.

The project started in September 2018 and so far 116 projects in 45 SAP landscapes have been successfully completed.

A massive 60 151 custom objects and 9,7-million lines of code have been decommissioned.

This has resulted in massively reduced yearly maintenance costs, addressed 950 000 issues, and saved 60 000 days of manual labour. “We feel our developers should be working on new systems, not wasting their time modernising old custom code.”

Van der Berg adds that the IT risk has been reduced as well, and agility improved to a two week lead time today.


Manufacturing plant system

The BMW ZAP system at Rosslyn is the local manufacturing plant system that is fully integrated with logistics, finance, retail and sales. It was established in 1995 on release SAP ECC6 Eh97. It is an extra large system with more than 50 000 objects and more than 22 000 interfaces.

“It is an old system and a massive system, but it runs well. And, like all systems, it has to be transformed to the new systems.”

Among the challenges relating to custom code are those relating to upgrades, security, maintenance, performance, documentation, and support.

Using intelligent automation, BMW was able to define how the custom code should change, and the platform takes over from there.

In 2019, the initial analysis was undertaken and a repository cleanup initiated to eliminate unused custom code. “Then we were left with the code that we actually use.. We wanted to modernise this, and also build in more security.”

The code security remediation began in 2020 and was completed in 2022.

BMW and smartShift then did an interface analysis, which  is still ongoing.

The next step will be the S/4 HANA clean-core analysis to let BMW know what code needs to be replaced and what needs to be done to clean up the core.