Beginning Your SAP S/4 HANA Journey? Here’s What You Need to Know

Tej Rampure
Head of ERP, CMC & Corporate Function IT at Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals
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Joe Toste (00:13):

(silence) You're listening to the TechTables podcast, a weekly Q&A podcast dedicated to interviewing industry leaders from across the world, ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies, mixing it up each week with topics ranging from design and product innovation to I0T and Industry 4.0. Let's do this. Hey, guys. Welcome back for another week in the world of TechTables with me, Joe Toste. I'd love to connect with you behind the scenes on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. There, you can even message me questions for future guests coming on the show. But for today, I'm super excited. We're going to shift our focus to SAP and lean on the experience and insight of Tej Rampure, ex-CIO at Luxury Brand Holdings and head of SAP at Nagarro on the status of SAP S/4 HANA and enterprise architecture in 2020. Huge thank you to Tej for taking time out of his busy day to meet with me. But that's quite enough from me. Without further ado, I'm thrilled to welcome Tej Rampure, ex-CIO at Luxury Brand Holdings and head of SAP and Allgeier at Nagarro. How are you doing, Tej?

Tej Rampure (01:16):

Good, Joe. Thanks. This is exciting and excited to be talking to you.

Joe Toste (01:22):

Awesome. I love it. Yeah. We were actually scheduled to meet and shoot this episode in January, but I actually got really sick in New York. Hopefully, it was not the coronavirus, because we went to dinner that night. But really fun. I'm glad we got to connect right now. I know we were going to do this in person, but even better with SAP Sapphire going digital. So I'm pretty stoked that we can shoot this and get this out there to everybody. Why don't we start with a little bit of background at Luxury Brand Holdings and your move exclusively to focus on SAP. Let's start with that.

Tej Rampure (01:59):

Yeah. So this is a great opportunity and this couldn't have been in a better time. I understand January would have been good, but I think with all the things going around, Joe, the time is perfect. Sapphire being right around the time, now. So going to your question, Luxury Brand Holdings was a great opportunity from where I was with Rockport shoes. And that was a great opportunity, looking at a legacy company with dated systems and applications, not invested much in couple of decades and going there as a head of IT was a great opportunity to transform and do things that you, typically, don't get every day. So that's one of the main reasons why I took up an opportunity that would transcend or change the face of the company from the technology standpoint that would help drive the business to do things in [inaudible 00:03:01].

Joe Toste (03:01):

That's great. Can we start for people who don't know Luxury Brand Holdings? Can you give a brief overview of that company and what was the landscape before you walked in?

Tej Rampure (03:11):

So Luxury Brand Holdings has different brands. It's a retailer based out of Rhode Island in Cranston and it's 70 plus years of history. It is a retailer with two brands, Sidney Thomas and Ross-Simons. It was, at one point in time, a very big company, doing a lot of different things. But today the focus has been on few retail brick-and-mortar stores and majority of the sales coming from online. Before I joined the company, the systems where dated, as I said, the e-commerce was a homegrown application, which literally brought in more than 60, 65% of revenues with no proper governance, backup or scale-up and scale-out options. And also there were issues with the customer, knowing your customer had problems with a warehouse, inventory, merchandising systems. So overall very dated systems, a lot of them homegrown applications and no real roadmap or strategy to drive forward with the competing things that are there in today's retail landscape.

Joe Toste (04:31):

That's great. No, I really, really like that. So Luxury Brand Holdings on the retail side, can you talk a little bit about where do you see the vision and innovation taking place right now with SAP S/4 HANA and other ERP systems in the retail sector?

Tej Rampure (04:46):

SAP HANA, if you look at that SAP has vested and invested a lot in their journey with SAP S/4 HANA. One of the things, which I find really difficult for people who are not very close to the changes that happen in the SAP world, SAP has constantly changed the names and used different acronyms and knowing exactly where headed, SAP is doing lots of things to simplify and make the industry navigate through the changes of what it was there as a legacy and a complicated ERP solution that takes multiple years and hundreds and hundreds of people to go out and implement that. Today, the journey has been more towards simplification and to do less customization itself. So SAP has come a long way in that regard and provides you empowering things that the companies, especially the challenges that are there in the retail sector, to do innovation and focus on things that you want to do to sell more stuff and focus on the customer and having to deal with managing and maintaining the application itself.

Joe Toste (06:10):

No, that's really great. So rolling in, when we talk about ERP system, it's not typically something that people get too excited about. But let's talk about your experience at Luxury Brand Holdings, because I think the audience would really dive in and care about that. Especially as far as supporting the enterprise on the retail, digital marketing, e-commerce creative, merchandising and warehouse corporate functions.

Tej Rampure (06:35):

Yeah, this is a loaded question. You are covering pretty much everything.

Joe Toste (06:41):

They're all loaded, Tej. They're all loaded questions.

Tej Rampure (06:46):

Glad. It is lot, what you could walk into. And also I said, you look at things as an opportunity to make changes, because that is what defines as when you're brought in to head an IT department, to align with the business and navigate through where you really want to be. From the Luxury Brand Holdings standpoint, there were things that we had discussed even before I landed there. One of the things to us definitely replatform the e-commerce, which was bringing majority of the revenues for the company and had to sunset the homegrown application. And it was a challenge that really cut across all the pretty much departments, when you are trying to replatform something. And it was a great challenge and we did it in a record 10 months. We were able to go live and get the brands onto the new platform. Going to other things that you really touched upon, Joe. The creative merchandising. We had a lot of new initiatives that were there. Some of them really did not replatform, but I had to optimize and bring in efficiencies, especially when it came to warehouse and inventory stuff itself.

Tej Rampure (08:13):

We did some great things to reduce the cost and do things much quicker when it comes to warehouse. There were days we used to ship 10,000 packages. So we had to be very efficient and make sure there was cost savings coming from that, doing some great shopping and things like that in the warehouse management systems to tell. But the other areas, we did do a brand-new CRM implementation to make sure you know your customer better and you have things that you can really understand your customer better to do customized offering and concierge services, which was another good initiative. We did revisit a few more things, especially merchandising, which is a big process when you have a company with thousands of products, where you have to make sure you onboard a product and you have a lifecycle of that, how do you take it to the store or to the online marketplace itself? So there were a lot of innovation that happened over a period of time and we it put in place proper infrastructure and applications to support and grow the business itself.

Joe Toste (09:27):

That's great. We're going to unpack in the next question I have so great is we're talking about efficiencies and in this world where it's really complex. It's really complex multi-channel retailing and it's imperative to be able to build that flexible and scalable architecture to support customers around the globe. Walk us through the business challenges of actually implementing something like this.

Tej Rampure (09:49):

Very good question. I think it is not very easy to do something, what you just said about flexible and scalable architecture. From what I see or have experienced, Joe, is it is critical to have a flexible and scalable architecture, but also it is very important to have a reliable and a simple architecture part of the whole equation itself. The reason why I say that is there are things that happen in any of the platforms that you have when you are building something and you want to make sure it is reliable and you will be able to do things in a intuitive, simple manner, not make it very complicated just because you want to have something that is scalable. And when you're working in a global environment, the companies that you have to deal with the multi-location, different cultures, you have different business processes and the business models are different.

Tej Rampure (10:50):

So it is no longer you have a single platform at an application. You will be able to take that and look at scalability and roll out everywhere. So there are things that you need to bring in to make sure they are simple and also reliable along with being flexible to integrate and make sure you are able to support all the regions globally in order to make this thing work. So, there are a lot of examples. I've come across many different applications where they were challenging and we had to put things around in place, which you really never thought that you will do it. So it's always important to make sure that you are looking holistically and not just focusing on one problem, which doesn't transcend into all the needs that you have globally with different business needs and the business models that you really have to support.

Joe Toste (11:49):

Wow, that's really good. So there was a lot that you said in there, and if I'm the CIO and I'm sitting at my desk and I'm probably thinking about how complex this is going to be to build out something like this. How do organizations start? How do they migrate from R/3 ECC to S/4 HANA? I'm sure there's so many potholes, so many things they have to look out for. Let's unpack a little bit of that. If you're the CIO sitting at your desk, thinking about these problems, making that move to S/4 HANA, what are you looking for? What do you think they're looking for?

Tej Rampure (12:24):

Changing of the gear here, I think coming back to more specific to SAP, Joe, as a CIO, number one thing is what is that that makes me comfortable to talk to the board or the CEO or the COO's of the world? The information. I need to be comfortable knowing what are the things that the board or the C-level people are going to challenge me. So the first thing that I would really say is the CIOs need to be prepared to understand where they are in the journey. Understand the ECC is up and running. It's very stable. The operations are taking care of it. You're keeping the lights on and stuff. But not knowing where you stand, what it really takes to get into S/4 HANA is something that makes very uncomfortable for me being a CIO, because I understand it's a difficult journey. I don't even know what it really takes to make it happen.

Tej Rampure (13:29):

So few things that you really need to put together as to understand what it takes in order for my organization to get onto S/4 HANA. Knowing what it takes and how much work it is, it makes more comfortable. If it might take six months or eight months or one and a half years, it really doesn't matter. But knowing is very comfort. You do see a very comfortable feeling of sharing that information with whoever comes to you asking questions, because now I have the answers. I know I can put a plan in place to make the journey happen, putting all the things that is supposed to be put from the talent standpoint, the resources standpoint, the processes, budget, and everything else. So what I would recommend first is to make sure that you have the right information and what exactly are the things that you need to bring in place in order to start a journey and make it successful getting into the HANA itself.

Joe Toste (14:34):

I love it. Okay. So a quick follow-up would be what advice would you give to the CIO, who's looking at greenfield versus brownfield and whether they should use a single tenant customized or a multi-tenant, which is typically tends to be the cheapest cloud options for the organization?

Tej Rampure (14:50):

Yeah, this is, again, one of, I would say, a loaded question too. See, it is not very straightforward, Joe, when it comes to doing whether it is a greenfield, brownfield or going to a single tenant or the multi-tenant itself. There are few things that you need to understand the platform better. Because if you want to do a Greenfield implementation, some of the things that you have in your existing platform would, might not allow you to get into areas that you cannot go there. In the sense, you probably have governments or the compliance needs that for an organization might not let you get into multi-tenant. You might have to stay with a single tenant, because of the compliance needs. Or there are things that are there, you won't be able to do it in a cloud environment. Example is if you want to be a brownfield, which you are taking your existing landscape and you want to do a conversion lift and shift onto the cloud, a cloud doesn't allow you to bring in your customizations and put it in the cloud itself.

Tej Rampure (16:08):

So there are some basic foundation questions that you need to be really clear about where you stand. So going back to your previous question is what I would advise is know where you stand, what are the options you have, understand the terminology that SAP has from the cloud standpoint, as well as the on-premise itself. And a single tenant can be an on-premise and can be in the cloud too. So a multi-tenant can be only in the cloud. So you need to first grasp with where you stand and what are the options you have. You take certain path, there might be options that gets eliminated as a CIO. So getting to know where you stand and understand where your company wants to head towards is what I would recommend first before making a decision of a brownfield or greenfield.

Joe Toste (17:05):

That's great. Yeah. And you're right. It was a loaded question. I told you they're all loaded questions. So rolling in, when we think about ecosystem and software platforms on the market today, we won't be able to cover everything because we're barely scratching the surface with this podcast alone. But one very important topic I hear from CEOs in all industries across the board is reporting. What advice would you give to VPs and CEOs who are looking to layer on a robust reporting strategy and implementation?

Tej Rampure (17:35):

This is, again, one more, but this is a very challenging thing. One thing, as a CIO, it's a very, very, very tricky situation when it comes to the BI and reporting world itself. Because today the marketplace has so many different tools and technologies and the things that you can do, you can use your credit card, get some subscription and start doing stuff. So what I would recommend is, first of all, it is very important, the data that you have is very, very critical for the organization. If you look at year over year, the companies have holded a lot of information and that is structured data, that is unstructured data. You are getting data from external sources, you generate a lot of stuff internally. So this is a very difficult topic and getting buy-in from the business is very, very important. You need to make sure the best use of information that is available, be a need to penetrate into the business process and help the enterprise in many different ways. Example like it should be strategic. It should be tactical and you should help in making the operational decisions.

Tej Rampure (19:00):

Because if you look at it from the long-term standpoint, it should be strategic. You are tactical, it's a medium term. People are looking at it to make things happen. And from the operation standpoint, it's a day to day. How you're running the business, what are the things that you are learning from it, and what are the things that you need to take action to make things happen next day in your retail sales or whatever you're looking at from your day-to-day operations standpoint? So it is very critical to, again, look at this from the holistic standpoint and make sure that you get the proper view of where the business really wants to go and what are the information that they need that is complete, consistent, and reliable. And also it is important to give them in the timely manner, because if you're giving something that is one week old and that has already passed, it is water under the bridge. So you need to put things in place, some things that are time, some things can be one-day or two-day old.

Tej Rampure (20:10):

It is something that you need to think about from the strategic standpoint for the organization to make sure that you have a proper platform to build all those things from the security standpoint, from the governance standpoint and the quality of the data. All those things needs to be looked at before you go ahead and put something just by a few things from the market on the ad-hoc reporting or reporting services that are there available just to support something for the small group of departments within the organization. So having a holistic and going across the departments to understand the needs and then putting a roadmap is very critical and roll it out. And one more thing that I would say here is it's a long-winding answer for the question that you asked, there are certain don'ts that is also very important. When we are looking at ERP, BI is also very critical to make or break the organization, the way you provide the information itself.

Tej Rampure (21:16):

So you want to make sure that you implement things in a staggered manner. You don't just because it's a BI, you have the data, you're going to go big bang across the globe. So I think knowing your business and making sure you set the expectation and do it in a staggered manner is also very critical for us to be successful.

Joe Toste (21:35):

Yeah, that's really great. And I think with everything, just to wrap up what you said, just really making it actionable across all the different business units and stakeholders and decision makers. And, yeah, I thought your answer was really, really great. And obviously we'll have to unpack that on a later level, but as far as digital transformation, it's a king buzzword in the tech space these days. And, but I do want to talk about the guts of digital transformation, specifically on companies future-proofing it's orgs and speeding up IT innovations at a rapid pace. Where are you seeing great examples of this today in the retail space?

Tej Rampure (22:15):

I'll first go to your king buzzword. This digital transformation has been more used, Joe. Because for everything the people use, as you said, as a buzzword for something very small to something very big. Example, if we have something like Uber, which came in and did a transformation of the same taxi business, that is a transformation, for me, but taking something that was a legacy application, sitting on an on-premise and putting into the cloud, people refer that as a digital transformation too. So it is, first of all, very critical, important to differentiate what is the digital transformation. Because most of the things for a company, which is just moving things around is not a digital transformation. But I can touch on to your next question or part of the question, which what are some of the things that are happening in retail space.?

Tej Rampure (23:20):

Retail space is very challenging and, I would say, we are there in a mode where it demands more innovation, because you are challenged to understand a customer better because the brick-and-mortar business, as you know, is facing lot of challenges. And how do you understand your customer better? So in the retail space in the last couple of years, the things that I've seen, there has been lot of investment that is happening around the CRM and the CDP itself, where most of the things are to understand your customer better. And what are the things that you would really do from the personalization standpoint? How would you appreciate the loyalty that is given from the customer towards a certain brand? So most of the innovation that are happening in the company's investments that are happening today is towards these platforms to understand and give better services to the customer.

Tej Rampure (24:31):

And there are different touch points. We all know if we look at today's world, if I'm shopping at my favorite brand, I'm walking into the retail store and probably the next day I'm going there on the same company's e-commerce site, I'm doing something. So how would the company really understand what are the touch points the customer is having with the brand and how can I really understand the customer better to make sure the customer is happy and how to grow the business and keep them loyal with the brand itself? So most of the companies in today's retail space are jumping onto the journey towards making sure they understand the customer journeys better and put in place platforms that understand and help them to go after the customers itself.

Joe Toste (25:30):

That's so great. Yeah, definitely have to define digital transformation. Some people think digital transformation is hopping on Zoom right now as their business [crosstalk 00:25:38].

Tej Rampure (25:38):

Definitely. It was a digital transformation a few years back, if you want to call that. But today with everyone working virtually, it is very critical thing for people to have it.

Joe Toste (25:55):

Yeah, totally. No, and just being in the tech space, I hear digital transformation all the time. And my daughter's fifth grade teacher was using it as far as the fifth graders are hopping on Zoom. It's a digital transformation for the school. I'm like, "It's overused, if they're using it in fifth grade." So, yeah, that's pretty funny. So let's just move on real quick. Allgeier and Nagarro, we've done 14 plus SAP S/4 HANA Greenfield implementations. That's impressive. What advice would you give to potential clients looking to take the leap sooner rather than later?

Tej Rampure (26:29):

So a few things. I think one of the things that I wanted to say before is, with Allgeier and Nagarro we are one of the premier SAP partners that have done this many S/4 HANA projects, which takes pride in saying that. But also the same time, SAP made some changes in the last couple of months. They extended the shelf life of SAP ECC by two more years. That means the customers who are they're on the fence, trying to make a decision, they have couple more years to make that decision. But here's the thing. The reason why I would recommend companies to take a leap sooner is there are very good innovations that SAP has done. And you really want to take advantage of those things, especially when you talk in the ECC world, most of the things that are done is batch process. That means you are waiting for something to happen. You take it, you churn it. And I work with companies where you have terabytes of data and it takes long time.

Tej Rampure (27:37):

Things are very different when you look at ECC itself, but today the innovation happens as everything is real time. When you're looking in memory database that SAP has, it has given an opportunity to get out of that more of working in batch-time mode. Companies are expecting things to happen quick. What are the decisions you can make when you have things that are happening in real time? So one of the biggest advantage is, obviously, as I said, having real time is a big advantage, but also the same time, you don't have to run a terabyte or two terabytes of databases anymore. SAP has simplified the backend and the things that are there today are very fast. And you, probably, if you have a couple of terabytes of database, you probably will end up with 500 gigabytes of database, even if you do a conversion.

Tej Rampure (28:33):

So it all depends on where you are and what advantageous you can really take from the innovation SAP has done and simplified HANA [inaudible 00:28:44]. So I think there is lot of benefit the CIO's and the companies can leverage on. And get onto the innovation sooner than later. You don't have to wait until the last minute to get into the journey itself. And SAP is, again, coming along way. And S/4 HANA is very stable. There is releases that come constantly. They are more consistent and robust. So if I was there to make a decision, this is the time that I would do and not wait until the last minute that you will have to get into resource crunch are unable to find more people, things like that. So I would definitely hop on now, Joe, rather than to wait.

Joe Toste (29:25):

That's great. Looking forward to that. So lastly, before we hit the 60 Second TechTable segment. What's the number one problem that you were seeking to solve while you were the CIO at Luxury Brand Holdings?

Tej Rampure (29:36):

I think there are a few things. When you have a company that people are there, there's good and bad. When you have people working in an organization for 20 plus years, you need to really change the culture and the attitude and how you look at things. Folks are really close and something that was homegrown and very difficult for people to let it go. So it was making that change, that bringing an innovation is not losing a job. Getting away from what they do day to day, because having an innovation or if bringing efficiency means we can do a lot more and grow the business. So there were things that we had. We did few things, especially, as I told you earlier, the e-commerce was one, streamlining the merchandising warehouse management and also inventory, which is very critical. When you have expensive luxury goods, you don't want to hold on to a lot of big things, expensive ones. And also we did implement a CRM, knowing your customer better, which was another critical thing.

Joe Toste (30:44):

That's great. And no CIO only has one problem or one big problem. Okay. So 60 Second TechTables segment. Number one. What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your journey?

Tej Rampure (30:57):

I think it is very critical to understand, in a company, what are the things that would impact the business if something stops? Example, I would say I never really gave it much thought until we could not get the product out of the door. There were packages that were all packed up and you could not take it out of the door because the printer that prints a shipping label could not print the shipping label to be stuck on the package and get out of the door. So you really need to understand the important things that are there in the critical path of what is the outcome the business is looking for and what are those things and how you are supporting and making sure it's fail proof or you have things to make it work and it doesn't go down.

Joe Toste (31:54):

That's awesome. Okay. Number two. What were your three most important priorities as the CIO at Luxury Brand Holdings?

Tej Rampure (32:01):

Making sure we have the right talent to support and grow the business. And also e-commerce replatforming was very critical, because we were growing big in e-commerce and having a scalable, flexible, and also reliable platform was very, very critical. So we replatform. That was another big one. And also going back, I think I touched upon multiple times the CDP, CRM was another critical one to make sure that you understand your customer better and you can have proper services wrapped around when you are going after your customer itself.

Joe Toste (32:39):

That's great. Okay. And last one, number three, what keeps the CIO up at night?

Tej Rampure (32:44):

There is a lot. It depends on where you are and what you're really doing. I think, for me, compliance was one because the ever-changing things and also security, which is very difficult. You don't want your brand or name of your company to be out there in the news. So I think that took a lot of things. And not just one, but I would say there are a few things. Aging infrastructure, if you're not in the cloud also keeps you up in the night, because you don't want your things to go down. I think keeping talent is also very critical, good talent, especially. The budget and also how the technology would enable the business to contribute and grow the business. So it is not one thing, Joe. If you feel looking for one, I'm sorry. But there are multiple things that really keeps you up to make sure that you provide proper support for your business to grow and be successful.

Joe Toste (33:50):

That's awesome. Okay. Well, that's going to wrap up this episode with TechTables. Where can people find you, Tej?

Tej Rampure (33:56):

I'm there on the LinkedIn and there Nagarra. I got Twitter handle too. But I think the best way is you can reach me through LinkedIn or at Nagarro itself. It's tejaswi.rampure@nagarro.com.

Joe Toste (34:12):

Awesome. We'll put that in the show notes, so people can easily find you and link to you on LinkedIn, Twitter and Nagarro. Awesome. Thank you, Tej.

Tej Rampure (34:21):

Thank you. It was great, Joe, and good luck. This is awesome. I enjoyed talking to you and we'll be in touch.

Joe Toste (34:30):

Love it. Thanks for coming on. If you're interested in seeing what Nagarro, a high-end technology solutions company to some of the world's leading organizations, can do for your business. You can email Joe at joe.toste@nagarro.com, J-O-E dot T-O-S-T-E at nagarro.com or message Joe on LinkedIn. For all information on Nagarro, checkout nagarro.com. That's N-A-G-A-R-R-O dot com. You've been listening to the TechTables podcast to make sure you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you have an iPhone, we'd love for you to open the Apple podcast app and leave a review. Thank you so much for listening. To catch more TechTables episodes, you can go to techtablespodcast.com. And to learn more about our sponsor, please visit nagarro.com. That's iN-A-G-A-R-R-O dot com. And, of course, you can find Joe Toste, your podcast host, on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. That's Joe Toste, T-O-S-T-E. Thanks for listening.

Joe Toste
Joe Toste
Host of TechTables Podcast

Host of TechTables 🎙- Conversations with Top Technology Leaders