A Guide to Support Package Upgrades

SAP Support Packages contain quality improvements for the SAP system – delivered either in individual packages or grouped into a Support Package Stack every three to four months. SAP uses Support Packages to deliver bug corrections and legally required software adjustments, such as for human resources and financial accounting, to its customers by replacing the affected objects in their SAP systems. And this is precisely where the challenge lies.

Large organizations − such as financial services providers − tend to have complex SAP application landscapes that have been custom-modified to a high degree. If modified SAP objects are newly imported with the Support Packages, they must be compared with modified objects in the customer’s system to avoid any customer modifications being overwritten. If no such comparison takes place and if customer modifications are not adjusted to fit the requirements of the changed SAP standard objects, then program and application errors can occur. Before an upgrade, it is therefore vital to check carefully which custom developments and modifications are affected by the Support Package you wish to import.

Support Package upgrade: the challenge for SEB AG

SEB AG, the German subsidiary of Sweden’s largest bank, SEB, employs some 1,200 people to serve its corporate, real-estate and institutional customers in Germany. Among other software solutions, the company runs SAP ERP 6.0 with Financial Services and was also planning to deploy the SAP FS-CMS (Financial Services – Collateral Management System) component, which requires a current Support Package for productive use. Because SEB AG also needed to upgrade its software to reflect error corrections and legal stipulations – such as those relating to the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) – it decided to upgrade to Support Package Stack 16.

At the time of the upgrade, the latest Support Package in the company’s application components was Support Package 05. Adding to the complexity of the challenge, SEB also ran MARK, a mortgage bank-specific software solution that is an extension to SAP Banking but contains numerous adjustments to the SAP standard.

1,650 modifications requiring comparison

Because SEB anticipated modifications in almost all of its relevant business transactions, the company elected to test its entire set of business transactions in order to be sure of identifying all the affected modified SAP objects . The test run for the Support Package import revealed 1,400 modifications requiring comparison in the program area and 250 modifications to the data model (data dictionary). On this basis, the comparison process was likely to involve a major time effort. innobis AG, an SAP and IT services provider based in Hamburg, provided the expertise required to carry out the comparison rapidly and efficiently and to reset modifications that were no longer needed to the SAP standard.

Hartmut Haar, director and head of SAP support at SEB AG, explains: “We are strongly aligned to SAP Banking. Our SAP application landscape is very complex and deviates from the standard in many places. So the process of importing Support Packages always involved a major effort to adjust and process the modified SAP objects. We’re now doing our utmost to reduce this effort by resetting modifications to the SAP standard wherever possible. During the last Support Package upgrade, we succeeded in returning two thirds of all modifications to the SAP standard. This obviously required additional resources, but the extra investment made now will help us save time and money in the long run.”

One thousand modifications reset: efficiency increased

Because SEB knew exactly which components it was actually using, many of the modifications in unused applications could simply be reset to the standard without further investigation. However, SEB could only reset modifications in components that it was currently using if it was clear from the source code that they were not relevant for SEB −  otherwise there was a risk of losing application functionality. In the end, a total of some 1,000 modifications were reset to the standard.

“Resetting modifications requires a precise knowledge of the standard functionality in the affected SAP components,” said Haar. “innobis provided all the subject-specific expertise that we needed for the Support Package upgrade. We had already collaborated with them on a number of projects, so we knew that they had many years of experience in the fields of SAP consulting, development, and maintenance. In fact, the modification reset process was so efficient that we expect to make savings of up to 20% on upgrade efforts in the future.”

At the same time, it was important to understand that resetting modifications could affect other objects in the source code that the imported Support Package did not newly deliver. As Gerald Peuser, head of Development & Integration Services at innobis, explains, “Usually, the best way of dealing with this eventuality is to set up a correction management system that consists, for example, of documentation describing the interrelationships between technical modifications. Overall, taking a preventive, process-based approach makes it easier to manage existing modifications and to reset individual modification blocks.” .

As an alternative to resetting, it is also possible to replace modifications with customer-specific extensions (BAdIs, BTEs, user exits, and enhancements) that reside in modification-free source code. In this way, modifications remain intact and no longer have to be compared during an import. This is a variant that SEB could potentially make use of in the future.

Support Package upgrades can be both labor-intensive and costly. And while maintaining the status quo may sometimes seem to be the more cost-effective choice, this is neither an innovative nor a forward-looking approach. Because, what an upgrade offers is the opportunity to accept modifications quickly and efficiently, reset them if required, or switch to modification-free extensions. This not only reduces the effort of importing future Support Packages , it also optimizes the SAP application landscape. In a nutshell, a Support Package upgrade is a chance to alter the IT infrastructure in such a way that it can be used more efficiently while remaining state of the art.