Done! Markus Rossmair, the person responsible for SAP software at Schattdecor AG, flicked the switch on Monday, April 8 2007. That completed a perfect technical upgrade from SAP R/3 4.6C without Unicode to SAP ERP 6.0 with Unicode.
The previous Friday, the legacy system was locked and shut down. Five members of the project team, ten key users, and a consultant from the project partner, Steeb Anwendungssysteme, then began to work around the clock on the upgrade. The effort was worth it. “The upgrade went absolutely smoothly. We had scheduled four days of downtime, but needed only three,” says project manager Rossmair. Overall, the enterprise resource planning (ERP) upgrade with Unicode conversion lasted only three-and-a-half months.
With Unicode, the universal character set, Schattdecor went to a single code page at a single stroke for seven languages: German, English, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Russian, and Chinese. Unicode assigns every character and symbol a unique number: German umlauts, ligatures like Æ, Cyrillic letters, or Chinese characters. That expanded the number of characters and symbols from 256 to more than 90,000. The conversion is an enormous advantage for the international midsize company with production facilities in Germany, Poland, Italy, Russia, China, and Brazil. Communication between the various languages with the ERP software now runs seamlessly – even across various locations.
Fewer translation errors
The 350 users of SAP software at Schattdecor also benefit. Today, they log on to the SAP solution only once and can immediately work in various languages. That makes life a lot easier, especially for developers at the central IT department in Thansau, Germany. They can trigger changes to cross-country data structures, like customer tables, quickly and securely. The tables contain data on the plant, the order number, and the order description. The information is in German for the plant in Thansau, in Polish for the plant in Poland, and in Chinese for the plant in China. Unicode now assigns every table element to the correct language.
The Multi-Display, Multi-Processing (MDMP) code pages used with SAP R/3 4.6C did not provide that kind of support. Four different code pages were used for the seven languages: one for western European languages, one for Polish, one for Russian, and one for Chinese. To perform cross-plant modifications, developers had to log on to each code page and compare the entries manually. That approach was not only complicated and time-intensive, but also put the company at risk of translation errors.
“With the Unicode standard, we will be able to display the characters of many other languages and cultural areas correctly in the SAP software,” says Rossmair. That benefits the growth of the midsize company, especially in Eastern Europe and in Asia.
Handling daily tasks faster
Efficient work processes in the IT department are an important result of the new enterprise solution, but they are not the only one. Role-specific user interfaces in SAP ERP help users in sales, purchasing, and accounting perform their daily, routine tasks more simply and faster – from orders to order entry and billing.
Today, Schattdecor has a clear view of current liquidity in all its plants. “We use integrated liquidity management to monitor and direct all payment flows. That’s why we always know how individual plants handle income and expenses,” says Rossmair.
Saving time and money
Schattdecor had considered an upgrade to SAP ERP with Unicode for some time, but had to delay it – partly because of an implementation of SAP software at a new production facility in Brazil, which was completed in January 2007. The company wanted to avoid further delays and to complete the upgrade over the Easter holidays. “We had to reckon with four days of downtime in any case. When we looked at the holidays in the countries in which we manufacture, we saw that Easter was practically the only good time for a change,” says Rossmair. The data in the SAP software could not be accessed during the four days. No deliveries could be dispatched and no printing machines could be outfitted with rolls of paper.
The company decided on that schedule for organizational and business reasons. Because standard maintenance of the software version used previously ran out at the end of December 2006, an early upgrade enabled lower maintenance costs. And the combined upgrade and Unicode conversion (CU&UC) method meant that Schattdecor could perform the upgrade to SAP ERP and convert to Unicode in one step. That saved time and money when compared with a traditional approach that involved three steps. The former approach began with updating to SAP ERP 2004 as an MDMP system and then converting the system to Unicode. In the third step, the software would be updated to SAP ERP 6.0 with Unicode.
Rossmair began planning the project in September 2006. He brought Steeb Anwendungssysteme on board as the external project partner. “We had already worked with Steeb for several years, and the company convinced us with its proven competence in upgrade projects with Unicode conversion,” says Rossmair about the reasons for the decision.
Testing in a sandbox
Because SAP ERP with Unicode places more demands on the hardware, Schattdecor moved from a 32-bit system environment to 64 bits in December. The new environment consists of two HP Itanium servers with four Intel IA-64 processors and 32 GB of working RAM for the production system. The test and the development systems each run on one Itanium server with two CPUs and 8 GB working RAM.
During the conversion of the three-level SAP system landscape to SAP ERP with Unicode, Rossmair wanted to keep the risks to a minimum. That’s why he decided to set up and implement the test systems with the sample data from SAP in a sandbox environment. This approach installs an SAP instance with the same version being used in production on a dedicated Windows server. A homogenous copy then imports the productive application to the “new” SAP system. “Sandbox systems offer an extraordinary option to test an SAP ERP upgrade with Unicode conversion separately from ongoing system operations and to document the results,” says Rossmair.
At the beginning of 2007, the project team made a one-to-one copy of the production system on a dedicated server and performed the initial upgrade tests there. This approach enabled the team to complete some essential preparatory work, such as checking the data for the individual languages, by the end of January. A second sandbox system was then set up and loaded with the data from the facility in Brazil, which had completed its rollout of SAP software in mid-January. The technical upgrade to SAP ERP, including the comparison of vocabulary, lasted only three weeks.
Checking 1.5 million database entries in four days
To compare the system vocabulary, the IT department developed checking software that automated most of the assignment process based on plants and company codes. The software enabled Schattdecor to check 1.5 million table entries in the database and to assign the entries to the individual code pages in only four days. Minor issues with Chinese symbols or Cyrillic entries could be solved quickly in follow-up work. A completely manual comparison would have taken several weeks.
In the sandbox, the project team also checked about 400 ABAP-based in-house developments (mostly reports) with the UCCHECK tool from SAP for compatibility with the stricter ABAP Unicode syntax. That ensures that only error-free Unicode programs would be executed later on.
At the end of February, key users in Thansau began to put the new system through its paces. At Schattdecor, these users are the central link between the user departments and the IT department. At the same time, the test and development systems were upgraded to SAP ERP with Unicode and tested. All the tests were successful, so that the project team could place the Unicode-enabled programs and reports in the database during the week before Easter.
Planning the next steps
With the upgrade to SAP ERP with Unicode, Schattdecor has also laid the foundation for service-based business processes. “That gives us the flexibility we need to implement business and communications processes with even better performance,” says Rossmair. Schattdecor is now setting up a portal environment for partners and customers to set course for even closer collaboration. An employee portal should further improve the companywide flow of information.