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Greenfield
25/9/2019

Greenfield, brownfield or hybrid: pick your path to SAP S/4HANA

When it comes to SAP S/4HANA implementations and migrations, plenty of terminology is flying around. Different terms that mean the same thing, similar but unrelated words, and overlapping definitions … All of these make understanding the language of SAP projects tougher than it needs to be. In this blog post, delaware SAP S/4HANA expert Folker Lamote lays it all out for you in plain English – including the pros and cons.

The terms ‘greenfield’ and ‘brownfield’ aren’t just used in IT. “These words are pretty common, especially when it comes to investments – most people are already familiar with them,” Folker asserts.


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Greenfield: start out with a clean digital slate

“In the case of SAP S/4HANA implementations, you’d be right in guessing that a ‘greenfield’ implementation means starting from scratch with a completely new system without taking anything from the past with you,” Folker continues. “It’s a green field, untouched by previous developments.”

The pros
Without a doubt, a greenfield implementation is the easiest way to get started with SAP S/4HANA. “In some companies, the legacy systems have been set up in such a way that they are hard to manage, with lots of custom coding, ad hoc solutions and different configurations. With greenfield, you can just sweep aside this unsortable, non-upgradable mess and start all over again,” Folker explains.

There’s also a business reason why a greenfield approach is often favored. “Businesses are never static – chances are that your business organization has changed over time and you used to rely on processes that aren’t valid anymore,” he continues. “Maybe you’ve shifted from providing goods to offering services, or your geographical footprint has been restructured. In the case of a company with multiple sites, a greenfield implementation can be approached in a phased way. However, you’ll need temporary solutions for intercompany movements and possibly parallel systems running at the same time.”

The cons
The initial cost of a greenfield SAP S/4HANA implementation will be higher than other approaches. Folker: “This makes sense because you have to redesign the processes that were working well with the old system. Take invoicing, for example: you have to recreate your perfectly nice invoice layouts from the beginning.”
Your company will also “lose” its historical data. “It takes some thinking ahead to maintain access to this data and to ensure legal compliance,” Folker goes on to say. “But that generally isn’t a big deal or a major detractor.”

Brownfield: keep the same structure, improve performance

In contrast, a brownfield implementation of SAP S/4HANA always begins with the existing system – it’s just that some important elements are changed.

“Think of a car,” says Folker. “It’s a little far-fetched, but imagine needing a full engine replacement. You still have the same car with the same history and the same mileage, the same look and feel, etc. Nothing changes for the driver other than performance improvements. Of course, you can take it a step further and add a completely new dash that displays more information in a better, more intuitive way.”

This analogy corresponds to a brownfield migration of SAP S/4HANA that includes SAP’s innovative new interface, SAP Fiori. “Users can use the same GUI interfaces they’ve relied on for years or choose to embrace Fiori, which introduces a lot of benefits and added value,” he elaborates.

The pros
A brownfield migration is less costly, since the things that work well for your company don’t have to be rebuilt from scratch. Folker: “Some customers choose small technical refinements of existing functionality and apps, but the migration is a lot lighter. You also get to take your master data with you without having to extract and load it into an entirely new system – it all happens automatically during the migration.”

The cons
The main issue with a brownfield migration is that it has to be done all at once, known colloquially as a “big bang”. “If your company has a limited tolerance for downtime, a brownfield can be difficult. And while the migrated system includes the full scope of SAP S/4HANA advantages, you can’t drastically overhaul the way you have set up your system. The modern way of implementing keeps the core ‘clean’ – developments are executed on a specific platform and not in the core. It’s important to note that applying this approach to a migration requires quite a bit of rework, but it could be done in a second phase.”

Hybrid: make much-needed changes but keep your data

A hybrid approach combines elements of greenfield and brownfield SAP S/4HANA implementations for specific reasons.

“We make a perfect copy of a customer’s existing system and remove their data from it, keeping the configurations and custom development efforts, and migrate it to SAP S/4HANA,” Folker explains. “The migration itself is easier, since it allows you to make changes to your configurations. But you always have to load the data again – that’s the big disadvantage.”

If a company really needs to make core changes to their environment, a hybrid approach is suitable. “This is because they get to reuse a lot of things you’ve built, and you avoid the longer downtime inherent to a brownfield migration. Since the new system is running in parallel with the old, there’s a cutover time of a couple hours rather than a few days.”

No one-size-fits all when it comes to SAP S/4HANA implementations

A company’s industry, organization and history, as well as the structure of its IT environment, are major factors influencing its ideal path to SAP S/4HANA.

“For example, moving from an ECC system to a greenfield SAP S/4HANA system will not be drastically different for users. This may be a different story if you’re moving from a legacy system like AS400 to SAP. Even so, there are still ways to preserve familiar ways of working.”

“The best way forward? Come talk to us. We’ve got a wide range of SAP S/4HANA implementations under our belts and have the insights and experience to ensure that your transition is the very smoothest possible,” Folker concludes.

It’s mature, it’s proven, it’s high-performing: SAP S/4HANA is ready for your company – and we’re here to help you maximize the advantages it offers.