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SAP systems: Develop extensions yourself or standard solution?

man standing hesitating to make decision

How do you deal with the functional limits of SAP? Do you rely on extensions developed in-house or do you look for existing solutions? We examine the various options and give you tips on how to implement such projects.

Table of contents

What are the limits of the SAP standard?

SAP systems always reach their limits when it comes to special requirements. Particularly when industry-specific or individual features need to be taken into account, the SAP standard offers no support because it is designed for basic universal processes. However, as SAP systems are often very extensive and complex, this limits their adaptability to a company's specific business processes. Companies therefore sometimes have to adapt their processes to the SAP software instead of the other way around. But there are other options.

Whitepaper: When the SAP standard reaches its limits

This is the best way to implement OEM process requirements!

SAP consultants working for automotive suppliers are familiar with this conflict: On the one hand, they are confronted with complex requirements from automotive manufacturers that include very precise guidelines for data exchange with their suppliers. And on the other hand, there is often an SAP system that is not designed to meet these requirements. In this white paper, we examine how exactly to deal with this problem and what solutions are available.

Cover page of the white paper: When the SAP standard reaches its limits - this is how you best implement OEM process requirements!, shown on a tablet.

What options do I have to adapt an SAP system to my needs?

There are three ways in which you can adapt your system to your requirements: 

The most basic option is called Customizing. However, these are standard adaptations: The existing functions are used and set up to suit the company's own processes. Customizing is carried out for every SAP implementation. If processes change in your company, you may have to adapt the customizing again. However, data fields and functions that the SAP system does not recognize cannot be set up in this way. Accordingly, other solutions must be found. 

If you want to handle additional functions and processes within your SAP systems, you only have one option: Extensions for SAP systemsoften also called Z programs. These are used to extend the functional scope of the SAP system. This ranges from the smallest function modules to complete process enhancements that are integrated into the standard SAP processes and thus extend them. 

The main distinction here is whether it is an individually programmed In-house development (i.e. a solution that was developed in your company for your company) or so-called Add-ons (usually standard extensions developed by third-party providers that can be used in many companies). 

What do I have to consider if I want to develop an SAP extension myself?

There are several aspects to consider when developing an SAP extension. On the one hand, you need to have a good technical understanding of your processes and the associated system requirements. On the other hand, you need sufficient capacity and SAP expertise in your IT department, including knowledge of good project management. You also need to carry out in-house development like any other IT project and go through all phases (preparation, development, test phases, go-live, operation).

It is important to note that the in-house developed solution is only helpful for your company if your system can continue to be operated and maintained smoothly. If many additional requirements come together, resulting in a large number of extensions developed in-house, this can lead to problems.

What are the advantages of in-house development?

  • The in-house development is a customized solution
  • Your processes are implemented one-to-one
  • The program is optimally integrated into your SAP system
  • In the best case scenario, you receive perfectly digitized versions of your processes

What are the disadvantages of in-house development?

  • High cost and time expenditure
  • Can only be implemented with existing specialist knowledge (process, SAP and project management knowledge)
  • Possible problems during integration and later during maintenance
  • Specialist knowledge of in-house developments is limited to a few people and cannot be guaranteed in the long term (e.g. if specialists leave your company)

Can I have SAP extensions developed externally?

When implementing SAP systems, companies seek support from external consulting or system houses. Are they perhaps in a position to map specialized processes or additional functions retrospectively and develop enhancements? The necessary technical skills are certainly available there. But there are some good arguments against commissioning a consulting firm with such special developments:

Short-term adjustments or quick solutions are usually not feasible: Consulting firms can rarely provide the necessary capacities spontaneously, as they usually specialize in large implementation projects that are planned for the long term. Consultants are often scheduled for other tasks, are not available for projects, are too expensive for smaller development tasks or would have to be provided additionally. 

There are system houses that specialize in certain industries or business areas. You should therefore check carefully whether your SAP partner is able to implement your specific requirements. If the consulting firm is not familiar enough with these processes, it is not advisable to use them for individual development. Otherwise, the lack of expertise for your special requirements will quickly result in high prices. This is because familiarizing yourself with your processes and developing a special solution from scratch takes time. 

Very few consulting firms are interested in making a long-term commitment to the further development of SAP add-ons. This means that the maintenance and support offer for the solution developed specifically for you may be lacking. It is questionable whether you will be supported by the consulting company when it comes to process adaptations. This is because the consulting firm cannot guarantee that it will be able to provide the capacity and expertise at short notice in the event of subsequent changes. In the end, you may be billed for a new project even for minor changes.

Consultancy or system houses can certainly help you in case of doubt. However, this comes at a price and future requirements are not necessarily covered. In any case, check carefully whether your SAP partner both fulfills your process requirements and charges a reasonable price (including maintenance and support).

Checklist: Add-on providers

How to find the right support for your OEM processes

Where the SAP standard no longer maps special processes as required, SAP-based add-ons offer support. This is particularly true for OEM processes. This is because suppliers are confronted with very specific and detailed requirements that the SAP standard cannot map. If you want to overcome this challenge with the help of add-ons, you need to start looking for the right provider. You can use this checklist to find out what is important and which criteria a provider must fulfill in any case.

Cover page for the checklist: Add-on vendors - how to find the right support for your OEM processes in SAP, mapped on a tablet.

What advantage do standardized add-ons have over in-house development?

If you don't want to develop the software yourself or commission a consultancy, there is often a third alternative: Add-ons. These basically work like an in-house development, but are programmed by specialists in such a way that they are a standardized and individually licensed solution. You can expand your SAP system with such add-ons to map additional functions and processes.

Standardized add-ons offer the advantage of faster and simpler integration. They are often already tried and tested and tailored to the needs of several companies. In addition, good providers offer regular updates and support, which leads to long-term security and lower overall costs. Add-ons are therefore a smart choice for your IT department. The likelihood of add-ons producing errors or failing is very low, as they usually have a certain degree of market maturity. The investment in such products is also usually manageable.

As add-ons are not developed individually for you, these solutions do not take every individual requirement into account. They are therefore mainly used when they cover a requirement that is common in a certain industry or for a certain process design. After all, it must be worthwhile for the add-on provider to develop a solution. Demand must therefore be high enough. One or more add-ons are therefore always an option if you are looking for a solution for common requirements that are not covered by the SAP standard.

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