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S/4HANA Migration: Brownfield, Greenfield or Bluefield?

Events like SAPPHIRE NOW provide me with a great opportunity to talk with a wide range of SAP customers, from small businesses right up to global conglomerates. It’s clear from speaking with these organizations that the vast majority have a migration to SAP S/4HANA on their radar. Some are still planning, some in proof of concept, some are implementing. But, wherever a business is on along this road, the fundamental changes in technology arriving in S/4HANA mean any migration is going to be a major undertaking. Equally, it’s clear that each customer’s situation is unique, which means there is no one-size-fits-all migration path. At Velocity, we see three overall migration patterns among the organizations we talk to, support and advise:

  • Brown field – these customers are likely more recent adopters of SAP (past 3-5 years) and so can keep the structure they already have in place and upgrade it to run under S/4 – a pretty straightforward concept, with SAP providing tools such as DMO and SUM. These give these customers an updated platform which they can use as the foundation for their future business.

  • Green field – these companies, here and below on the other hand, are either new to SAP (never implemented before) or have probably been running SAP for quite a while, so for them S/4 represents a fundamental change, both functional and technical, from whichever version of SAP that they implemented – S/4 has significant functional changes, incorporating business best practice refined over decades. So a “fresh” S/4HANA installation, for these businesses, gives them an opportunity to rationalize their probably rambling software platforms into a coherent new whole, adopting new and proven business practices as they do so. This is a complex operation, but it offers significant improvements in business efficiency and flexibility in the future. At a recent ASUG Carolina event, BMW discussed their plans and current achievements utilizing a greenfield approach as they move to S/4HANA.

  • Blue field – companies for whom this is the right option will likely be very large corporations with highly complex structures. The migration requires some specialized tools (available from SAP and other tools vendors) to extract their current configuration – without the data – and move it over into S/4, followed by selectively picking data to move forward into S/4. This is clearly a huge endeavor, but one which gives the opportunity to re-evaluate data and customization that have been carried along for years or even decades and restructure the business along the lines of S/4’s proven, modern business practices.

“Whichever approach an organization takes to its migration, it must at all times proceed with the end in mind.”


This is a broad brush assessment – each individual company has to go through a cost-benefit-risk analysis to select their exact migration path. Part of the analysis might be to factor in longer-term future benefits rather than simply looking for short term payback. These benefits might be in the form of being able to easily implement new business practices or exploit new technologies such as machine learning or the Internet of Things; or they might accrue from archiving older data to rationalize the amount of storage used and thereby save hardware or hosting costs.There are some important things that any organization considering the migration to S/4HANA should bear in mind:

  • The most important area to start with, particularly for levels of data around or over the 1TB mark, is data management – what to archive, what to retain, what to take along the migration and why? (For example: GDPR, anyone?)

  • Linked to data management is functionality – identify, and if possible, eliminate anywhere data is being replicated to multiple places and thereby prejudicing a “single version of the truth”

  • Next – future functionality. Is the company looking to make a strategic leap but is being held back by its current systems? Be ready to factor this future capability into TCO calculations.

  • Finally – speed, both in terms of solution implementation and system performance, is likely to be a key issue.

Whichever approach an organization takes to its migration, it must at all times proceed with the end in mind. It’s almost certain that working with a partner which can provide support, technology and/or expertise will be a critical part of the journey – analysis, planning, implementation. Selecting the right help for the complexity, size and duration of the migration is critical; further, we believe it’s important such a partnership should be active beyond simply the end of the migration project.

Looking for more information on S/4HANA? Try our blog: 3 Ways to build your business case for S/4 HANA