The Beginners Guide for Digital Transformation with S/4HANA

What is SAP HANA?

First released in 2015, SAP HANA is the next-generation, in-memory relational database technology for SAP, essentially the backend of the SAP system. The benefits of HANA include superior performance, efficiency, optimum data management, simplification, and innovation.

What is SAP S/4HANA?

SAP S/4HANA is the latest version of SAP’s ERP software, built to run exclusively on the SAP HANA database. Benefits to SAP S/4HANA include an improved interface that leverages the SAP Fiori design language and increased performance thanks to the SAP HANA in-memory database.

What is Digital Transformation with SAP S/4HANA?

Digital transformation refers to an organization identifying an opportunity to deliver value to customers with technology. SAP S/4HANA is a digital transformation engine that improves business processes and enhances productivity.

Many organizations are currently either planning or executing a transformation to SAP’s next generation ERP, S/4HANA. Organizations must upgrade to SAP S/4HANA before the 2027 deadline to avoid the risk of their most business-critical operations running on outdated and unpatched software. ​​Moving the business to the cloud can be a long and tedious process, prompting SAP to introduce the SAP RISE Business Transformation Program. This program transforms every element of an organization and eliminates complexity.

Organizations that run their business on SAP systems utilize SAP developers to write code and develop custom applications suited to their needs. To ensure confidence in running applications in the cloud, organizations need to check their custom code and remediate these issues before bringing them into the new environment. Including security at the beginning of a code development process, also known as shifting left, brings in security validation at the moment when code is created instead of at the moment when code is deployed or tested. This allows enterprises to identify risks and prevent risks from leaving the development environment, so issues aren’t created in the cloud environment.

Benefits of Digital Transformation with SAP S/4HANA

SAP S/4HANA automates processes as the foundation for utilizing intelligent technologies such as AI, machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to drive innovation. It provides data management and analytics and supports agile application development and integration.

Challenges with SAP S/4HANA Digital Transformation Projects

As CIOs and IT leaders evaluate whether digital transformation projects make sense for their organization, security can often be viewed as a blocker. In fact, not focusing on security from the outset, can lead to costly delays:

is security roadblock
to transformation

of cloud migrations are delayed
due to security concerns

average cost of a failed, delayed, or scaled back digital transformation projec

As you navigate your SAP S/4HANA or SAP Rise digital transformation journey, you might find the following are common challenges:  


This is a major transformation project involving the business’s most important assets. Transformation teams need to ensure that when the new SAP S/4HANA applications are deployed, they will support the business as expected, without interruptions in service.

Many organizations have accelerated their pace of digital transformation, meaning there will be additional pressure to avoid project delays. 

Even well-staffed organizations might struggle with bandwidth and conflicting workload priorities that make it difficult to support a transformation project of this magnitude. Additionally, internal SAP teams might lack familiarity with components of the new system, such as the HANA database or Fiori design language.

As explained above, many organizations don’t have the internal resources they need to handle the transformation themselves, so they bring in a system integrator or third-party developers to help. Validating the work of these third parties can be difficult and time-consuming and typically relies on manual reviews.

In some cases, SAP S/4HANA transformations are the impetus for SAP to come under the purview of the CISO. This is a challenge because the tools the CISO and their team rely on generally don’t support SAP.

Get ahead of the blockers by starting with security in mind and anticipating risk for every step of the way during your SAP S/4HANA or SAP RISE transformation.

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Considerations for Each Stage of Digital Transformation with S/4HANA

Common challenges during the planning stage of digital transformation projects:

of organizations consider existing customizations as problematic to their path to S/4

of organizations expect to face security challenges during their transformation

How to overcome these challenges in the planning stage of your digital transformation:

  • Better understand SAP application security best practices
  • Identify problems in legacy systems and custom code before migrating
  • Understand security obligations for systems integrators and RFPs
  • Make testing as efficient as possible throughout the project
  • Arm yourself for the shared security model you have with RISE for SAP
  • And don’t forget to keep the lights on: Keep your legacy systems protected and productive in the meantime

Common challenges during the implementation stage digital transformation projects:

of organizations are concerned that the skills deficit will slow down migration

3 hrs
The amount of time new SAP systems deployed in IaaS environments are exploited

How to overcome these challenges in the implementation stage of your digital transformation:

  • Give accurate security and compliance status updates
  • Get the latest SAP threat intelligence from industry-leading experts like Onapsis Research Labs
  • Validate the work of contracted developers and systems integrators
  • Protect existing, legacy systems to avoid business disruptions
  • Secure areas of customer responsibility under RISE with SAP 
  • Monitor for threats in real-time while you build securely

Common challenges in the post-deployment and ongoing maintenance stage of digital transformation projects:

72 hrs
The number of hours exploit activity can be observed after an SAP patch is released

The average annual cost of business disruption due to non-compliance

How to overcome these challenges in the post-deployment and ongoing maintenance stage of your digital transformation:

  • No one is perfect. Identify issues that were missed and remediate quickly
  • Accurately measure and communicate risk facing new systems over time 
  • Stay protected against emerging SAP threats and vulnerabilities via Onapsis Research Labs updates
  • Maintain compliance by automating IT controls testing for SOX, GDPR, NIST, and more – plus integrate with SAP Process Control 
  • Enable DevSecOps to prevent issues from being introduced to the new system  

Important Reminders as you plan your SAP S/4HANA Journey

Don’t bring your skeletons with you:

For organizations migrating any legacy applications to SAP S/4HANA (brownfield implementation), ensure you are not bringing legacy problems into your new environment. Consider custom code– fixing security problems or removing outdated/unnecessary code—and security and compliance issues, allowing you to identify vulnerabilities like misconfigurations or user roles/permission issues, or issues with IT controls that you want to avoid bringing into your new system. 

Build in security. Don’t bolt on.

For greenfield implementations, work with a trusted partner that will help build security assessments into development processes via custom code and transport analysis, and system setup via vulnerability scans from the start. This way issues can be found early, when they are generally easier to fix, and before they hit production, when even greater negative consequences can arise. 

Trust, but verify:

Many organizations bring a systems integrator (SI) into this type of project, who could be responsible for writing custom code, setting up the environment (e.g., configurations), and/or ongoing management (e.g., patching). It’s also not uncommon to outsource coding to other third-party developers. Find a solution that delivers automated vulnerability, code, and transport assessments as an easy way to validate the work the SI and/or third-party developers do.

Eliminate manual efforts to accelerate timelines:

Organizations have to rely on manual reviews throughout the transformation process, whether that’s manually reviewing code, manually checking user roles and configurations, manually checking for patches (if legacy apps are being migrated). Find a partner that can eliminate as much manual work as possible, saving significant time and with the goal of accelerating overall project timelines.

Reduce risk and avoid security roadblocks on your journey to SAP S/4HANA with Onapsis’s automated solutions designed for SAP

faster code reviews

faster patch validation

faster vulnerability remediation

automation of controls testing

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