by Eric Kavanagh
Basking in the sun, drinking rainwater, soaking up nutrients from the rich topsoil, beautiful berries grow to perfection all across North and South America. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and more, the little fruits ripen naturally, as they’ve done for millions of years.
But what happens next is decidedly different… at least for berries grown by Naturipe farms. These berries get very special, high-tech handling, which helps ensure their freshness upon arrival at stores all over the world; and also optimizes their entire digital supply chain.
That’s because Naturipe innovated in truly groundbreaking ways. A company that prides itself on representing the growers first and foremost, they decided to dive headlong into the brave new world of a real-time technology platform: the new, in-memory enterprise solution of note.
Recognizing the ephemeral nature of fruit, they chose to embrace a system designed to leverage what could arguably be described as Version 4.0 of the mission-critical Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution: SAPS/4HANA.
Naturipe realized that their legacy ERP, SAP’s ERP Central Component (ECC), would need to be upgraded by 2025, according to the current sunset date set by the German software giant. A plan was devised, a lean team assembled, and off to the races they went, going live in October 2018. Compared to most ECC customers, this puts Naturipe at the forefront of innovation.
The company recently presented at ASUG’s Annual conference in Orlando (co-located with SAP SAPPHIRE NOW), where team lead and Director of IT, Carol McMillan, regaled a packed house about their journey. “Codes tell the story,” she said. “The QR codes track all berries from Chile and the rest of the world, all the way to our tables.”
Early in her presentation, she asked where attendees were in their plans to move to SAP S/4HANA . In a room full of 400 people, 50 raised their hands for exploratory phase; two raised their hands for being live, and one raised his hand for PoC. In other words, no one had yet finished the task!
This speaks to the amount of time and effort is required to take the plunge responsibly. The good news is that organizations can do much to prepare. First on the check list? Secure executive sponsorship from the full spectrum of key stakeholders. Part and parcel to that mission, recognize and be able to articulate the key business drivers for the transformation.
“This is a perishable product,” she noted. “We work year-round, no down time, with many stakeholders: four different grower owners; a very transient workforce. And we run a very lean team; we have a fantastic team, but it’s lean because of our focus on the grower.”
She explained the reality of their business model: “Managing a supply chain is extremely manual,” she said. “Everything has to be tracked by hand, and border crossings are very tricky. It can take four hours to two days for a boat shipment. Plus we’re focused on fair labor and sustainable farming.”
These various factors combined to give the team a clear vision of what needed to be done, and importantly, a keen understanding of why. That was important for a small team of nine people (yes, nine people on the A team, as they called it) as they planned out the migration, which would ultimately serve 150-175 SAP users.
This was a brownfield migration (SAP refers to this as a system conversion), which was in no way metaphorically indicative of their farm land! They did get some help from a small team at Velocity, a systems integrator, and offered major kudos to that group of professionals. But the bulk of the work was done by the internal team. “Google was our best friend,” noted McMillan.
And just to set the stage for how amazing this conversion was? The project involved core ERP: Materials Management, Financials, Sales and Distribution, Human Resources, and Logistics. And it was all achieved in just four months! When that detail was unveiled, you could hear a collective reaction from all 400 people in the room: “ooh, ah, wow, whoa!” Yeah, it was like that!
Tricks of the Trade
Sharing anecdotes from the process, McMillan gave the audience several practical tips. She noted that Usage and Procedure Logging (UPL) provided invaluable insights for the migration.
“This tells you not only which objects you’re touching, but also which business processes they’re calling: Warehouse or inventory management? We used this to figure out what’s really being used,” with respect to custom coding.
She said the results were very promising: “What we found out, in production, is that almost 60% of the custom code developed in the last 5-10 years, was not being used! I can’t tell you how many of those custom scripts were used just once, and never touched again.”
This was fantastic news, because custom code can cause serious headaches when undergoing a migration of this magnitude. Every last bit of custom code needs to be vetted, which can be very time-consuming, and error-prone.
“Some of the most tedious parts were really challenging,” McMillan said, “having to go through object by object took a lot of time; certain tables that SAP made obsolete; fields that the type has changed. When you do the immigration, you can’t code the same way used to code.”
UPL is available in any ABAP based system that’s based on the core functionality of SAP Coverage Analyzer. It logs all called and executed ABAP units such programs, and function modules down to classes, methods and subroutines. Once you can see what’s really being used, this can greatly expedite the process of preparing for the migration.
There was more advice for the brave souls who throw down the gauntlet. Make sure you are “code-ready” for S/4HANA; and watch out for incompatible extensions! McMillan called out Winshuttle as an example, but there are many others. SAP has a massive ecosystem, and not all partners are yet toeing the line on the S/4 architecture. That is and will remain a work in progress.
Fruits of Labor
The benefits of a real-time ERP were quickly realized. One remarkable stat that raised spirits? “We do data transformation within SQL server; we use SQL for custom applications. This was taking 30 minutes on SQL on Oracle; it took 30 seconds on HANA!”
Naturipe can also now benefit from a range of fast-developing, modern technologies that support digital supply chain. Paramount among this? International blockchain can openly report info and digitally track food all along the way. This not only helps to ensure freshness, but also creates a baseline of information to help with forecasting, pricing, and other details.
Recalls can also be significantly more focused, and thus less painful. When recalls are ordered and companies cannot clearly determine which batches came from where, the result is a ton of wasted product. That will no longer be the case thanks to the combination of SAP S/4 HANA, and international blockchain.
Another powerful technology that’s now fully enabled? Using machine learning to analyze weather patterns and harvest data. This can be incredibly useful not only for harvest forecasting, but also for optimizing the labor force, and all variable costs associated with the rather unwieldy process of growing delicious berries and avocados at scale.
McMillan had her own take on the high point of the journey: