Partners Group’s Route to the Public Cloud with SAP

Swiss asset management company Partners Group has opted for ERP in the public cloud to manage its corporate processes. Its first three subsidiaries have already deployed the new standard system in the cloud.

“A good opportunity to rethink and adapt processes” is how Patrik Bless describes it. The Group’s vice president for technology is the person leading its Sirius project, which will see its corporate processes moved to the cloud.

Partners Group had its best year ever in 2017. The private market investment manager’s main business is funding and developing companies, real estate, and infrastructure. It increased its assets under management worldwide to €62 billion, an increase of almost €40 billion in just six years. Profit has grown steadily, tripling over the same time from 212 million Swiss francs in 2011 to 752 million Swiss francs (€633 million) in 2017.

According to Bless, supporting the Group’s growth, integrating systems more closely to make processes more efficient, and optimizing risk management are the three key drivers behind the decision to adopt a new corporate IT infrastructure.

Sirius: Three Ways to the Cloud

When the company began looking at how to achieve these aims back in 2016, the public cloud was only one of a number of options. Now, the first three subsidiaries are up and running on the new cloud ERP, SAP S/4HANA Cloud. The software will be systematically rolled out across all 19 subsidiaries by the end of the year.

The Sirius project — in which financial accounting, human resources (HR), and travel and expense processes will move to the cloud — is named after the brightest star in the night sky. The star, the project’s logo, is depicted with three points, one for each main software stream: SAP S/4HANA Cloud, SAP SuccessFactors, and SAP Concur.

Cloud ERP: Rethink Processes, Adopt Standards

Partners Group had been using a conventional midmarket solution from Switzerland for its accounting processes.

“Though it was reliable and its processes tried and tested, it was no longer the best fit for our global business activities,” said Bless, about why the time had come to rethink the processes that had served the company well for 20 years. Over that time, many separate systems had been added to the infrastructure, making it ever more complex. The way forward was clear: standardized solutions.

“We believe that the public cloud gives us an opportunity to rethink our processes, adapt them, and align them with a proven standard,” says Bliss. “There’s little point in investing time in evaluating processes only to decide to keep them exactly how they have always been, even if you do then run them on a more innovative tool,” he adds.

Victor Leuenberger is a manager from SAP Switzerland and his team is Bless’ implementation partner and consultant on the digital business suite. Experience has shown him that the standard processes in public cloud applications can help companies avoid getting bogged down in internal discussions. Non-standard functions and exceptions are ruled out right from the start. “The simple answer is that this is the standard and we have to adapt to it,” says Leuenberger.

According to Bless, last year’s exploration phase, in which Partners Group looked at how it could adopt standard cloud processes, was a challenge: “We used the time to find out where the cloud’s limits are.” He now knows which functions the software restricts. But he also appreciates the benefits of the cloud, such as always having the most recent version of the solution and knowing that it will meet future needs. To increase acceptance of the new processes, staff, who are in the middle of the change curve, are already receiving training.

Public Cloud: Focus on Core Business

Leuenberger believes that the IT industry is moving away from selling software to providing applications in the cloud. Solutions in the public cloud provide an array of services reliably that are not part of a company’s core business. This is a model that service providers like Partners Group are looking for. Its core competencies are in investment and customer service, not running IT for corporate processes. “We have no ambition to build up our own SAP team,” says Bless, who sees Sirius as a business initiative, not an IT project.

“Our main aim is to renew our business processes,” he says, which is why the project managers for the different streams are just as likely to come from business departments as from IT.

SAP and Partners Group: From Early Adopter to Close Partner

The first three subsidiaries of Partners Group have been using SAP S/4HANA Cloud since the beginning of April 2018. These legal entities were chosen to go first because they met certain criteria that would prove that the software could deliver all the functions required.

For instance, one entity was chosen specifically because SAP S/4HANA did not yet offer its combination of country and currency, Bless reports, because Partners Group was one of the application’s early adopters in Switzerland. Bless fully expected that there would still be some work to do, such as explaining to regulators how the public cloud reflected their requirements. Some functions still need a little more work, and these changes will be in the May release.

“Partners Group gave us valuable feedback and some of the suggestions they made are now part of the standard version while others are on our road map,” says Leuenberger. Incorporating this feedback means that the standard software will better meet the Group’s best practices.