The topic of a Support Package upgrade is usually an unpopular and debatable one because of the downtime required and the impact on business processes. If the thought of Support Package upgrades is so unpopular, then it’s worth asking why the regular updating of the system with Support Packages is so important and what benefits can be derived. Apart from highlighting the importance of regular upgrades, I will reflect on planning, strategy and practical practices associated with upgrading Employee Central Payroll (ECP). Although ECP is SAP’s cloud payroll offering, it still requires customers to plan and request Support Package upgrades through SAP Support.
Support Packages are applied to ensure that the system is up-to-date with all legislative and modular changes. They also aim to fix known problems with SAP software or make adjustments to reflect broader changes in the business environment.
When Support Packages are not applied regularly, the gap between the current level on your SAP ECP system and the newly released level by SAP widens. This can cause diverse dependencies and impede overall SAP Development Support delivery, making it more difficult the further you move away from the latest Support Package level.
The benefits of regular Support Package upgrades
- The closer you are to the latest level, the faster new errors can be eliminated together with more efficient support from SAP. This means that when a call is logged with SAP support, they can react to a problem immediately, instead of first requesting that certain SAP notes or Support Packages are applied to the system before further investigation.
- Considering the number of corrections in a Support Package (with some containing over 200 individual SAP corrections), it could reduce the risk of operating your business with a system that has known errors.
- When implementing or activating new functionality, it may reduce the number of issues experienced.
- By applying Support Packages as part of a proactive preventative maintenance strategy, it could reduce business downtime and pain associated with reactive support.
- Performing regular upgrades reduces the time needed for testing as the number of changes introduced by the Support Packages are limited and a more focused approach can be taken.
- When focusing on the integration between SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central (EC) and ECP, updated Support Package levels ensure alignment between the various systems to which it might integrate. For example, for the Point to Point (PTP) connection that provides the mechanism for the integration between EC and ECP, new integration functionality can ONLY be rolled out if on the correct level. With the added functionality of Payroll Control Center (PCC) in EC, it is vital to be on the latest version in order to utilise the full set of new and great functionalities offered by PCC for use in EC and ECP.
Planning and strategy
SAP ECP Support Packages are released every month and provide customers around the globe with the latest legal requirements and corrections. They include all updates for international functions, country versions, and crucial integration updates between EC and ECP.
Each Support Package contains updates and legislative requirements. In some cases, individual SAP notes may be applied directly if an error has been detected which needs urgent correction. SAP recommends that even in the absence of specific issues or problems, there should be a planned maintenance at least once (or even better, two to four times) per year to avoid having the risks become too great. SAP assumes that during the planned, proactive maintenance, the latest available Support Package Stacks are implemented.
Failure to apply Support Packages can have detrimental effects on the accuracy and validity of SAP Standard functionality. SAP also releases a Synchronisation Pack twice each year (May and November) and individual notes are – more often than not – dependent on having the latest Sync Pack installed. If these are not applied regularly, crucial notes cannot be applied when needed which could then impact accuracy and stability of the ECP system as well as defined submissions to legal entities.
A third option available to upgrade the ECP system, dependent on a prerequisite level (normally as per last Sync Package), is the Country Legal Change (CLC) Package. CLC Packages are offered in addition to Support Packages and represent a different method of delivering legal changes. CLC Packages include country-specific legal changes – one CLC Package per country. CLC Packages enable you to decide when to implement legal changes for your country versions, reducing test efforts and risks significantly.
With a proactive, preventative maintenance mindset, it is recommended that clear fixed dates are planned for SAP ECP upgrades. For example, if your decision is to upgrade twice a year (every six months), these dates should be fixed on the company’s internal maintenance calendar and should be kept at the same date each year. This ensures that the upgrades become a habit and everybody knows “it is ECP Support Pack upgrade time again”.
Before you start the actual upgrade, you must plan it carefully so that downtime is reduced to a minimum and the upgrade runs as efficiently as possible. We recommend that you start planning your update at least two weeks before you begin.
Important note: For SAP ECP system upgrades, an SAP Support Call must be logged well in advance for SAP Support to complete the tasks as per planned schedule. This differs slightly from an on-premise SAP system upgrade, where planned downtime must be arranged with the BASIS support team.
Some of the items that should be considered when upgrading include:
- Review the SAP correction details that will be implemented via the Support Packages before determining final timelines. Enough time should be allocated to clearly understand and document the impact of the changes that will be introduced into the system and the associated impact on the existing business processes. Keeping in mind that new functionality can also be introduced with upgrades, it is important to understand and confirm if this should be activated during upgrade or left till after upgrade. This pre-work could save time during testing.
- Testing of the Support Package changes is a crucial part of the plan. It is advised to have a re-usable, detailed test plan with associated test cases for testing of existing business processes and to ensure that it makes provisions for focused testing of important changes identified during the review of SAP corrections.
- Legal requirements per country might drive the dates of these upgrades and should be planned for best alignment to suit as many countries as possible. For example, the tax year-end for the United States is at the end of the calendar year and for a country like South Africa, it is end of February. In this case it would make sense to align the dates and do an upgrade after the November Synchronization Packages have been released. The result would be that the system is up-to-date for the United States for the year-end and thus meeting prerequisites for applying CLC Packages for South Africa.
How can I identify the ECP Support Package status of my system?
Log on to your ERP system and click on the menu entry System, then Status. By clicking the button “Component information”, you will find the latest applied patch name in the section “SAP System data”. Check the release and SP-level of the software component SAP_HR, EA-HR.
The SAP_HRCxx and EA-HRCxx (where xx is the ISO-code of a country) are related to the HR-CLC level. The SAP_HRGXX, SAP_HRRXX and EA-HRGXX, EA-HRRXX are related to the HR Support Package level (SAP_HR and EA-HR).
Useful links (Requires valid SAP Service Marketplace ID)
Search for legal changes – https://launchpad.support.sap.com/#/legalchangenotification
Scheduled release dates of Support Packages – https://support.sap.com/en/release-upgrade-maintenance/maintenance-information/schedules-for-maintenance-deliveries/hrsp.html
How can iXerv help you?
iXerv’s team of payroll experts can help SAP SuccessFactors customers proactively plan for the tasks, resources and effort required to successfully implement and support Employee Central Payroll. We can help you define a global proactive preventative maintenance strategy and plan together for the future. Contact us here.
Sven Ringling is Head of UK/Europe at iXerv. He has over 20 years of HRIS experience, working with organisations that need to optimise their HR & Payroll processes or want to drive Digital Transformation in the cloud.