Major Retail Group Executes Europe’s Largest SAP S/4HANA Implementation with Cloud International

From 2018 – 2023, Cloud International worked with one of Europe’s best known retail groups on what would become the continent’s single largest SAP S/4HANA implementation project. Headquartered in west Germany, the retailer aimed to bring the entire implementation in-house, having previously relied on SAP talent from a global consulting firm.

Replacing an Unsustainable Consulting Model

In 2018, a major European retail group commenced work on what would become the largest SAP S/4HANA implementation in Europe. Planned over seven years the project required hundreds of personnel at all levels of seniority across the full range of SAP functions.

Initially, the group relied on a global consulting firm for talent. While this approach provided access to the necessary skills and expertise, it quickly became unsustainable from a cost perspective, with senior candidates often costing over €1,500 per day. To get costs under control while protecting quality across such a large implementation, the group decided to build its own in-house implementation function.

However, this approach came with its own challenges.

Project Outcomes: Huge Increases to Acceptance and Retention Rates

– 700+ SAP candidates interviewed and 72 placed
– Offer acceptance raised from 65% – 90%
– 80% of all candidates placed are still with the group
– Time-to-hire dramatically reduced
– Placed dozens of highly specialised personnel, including:
– SAP authorization team
– SAP sourcing and procurement team
– Niche consultants in IAM, SAP security, and many more

Placing the Senior Team

The group first needed to recruit a full in-house management structure to guide the implementation and maintain the same project rate achieved while working with the global consulting firm. They began encountering challenges immediately. Finding the senior talent needed for the project’s management structure proved difficult, and was the initial driver for partnering with a specialist SAP recruitment firm.

Cloud International began working with the retail group in 2018 on a handful of senior SAP roles. Quickly, our consultants got to grips with the group’s initial needs, and put forward candidates for a small number of senior positions that would be instrumental in managing the implementation project. Impressed with their calibre, the group hired these candidates, who would also be responsible for overseeing the talent management process going forward.

The #1 Challenge: Sourcing Talent for Hundreds of SAP Roles

With the management structure in place, our consultants worked on sourcing for junior operational roles. While there were candidates of this type available on the market, the volume needed to satisfy the group’s needs created two major challenges:

  1. Filling the group’s need for specialist talent

With the scale of the implementation, the group required a steady stream of permanent and consultant personnel across a broad range of functions, including IAM, SAP security, logistics, finance, project management, IT infrastructure, authorisation, and procurement. In many cases, finding candidates with the necessary skills is a huge challenge, as there simply aren’t many available on the market.

  1. Meeting the group’s cultural need for in-office working

The retail group didn’t want to compromise on culture, and insisted on candidates who would be physically present in the office. However, there simply weren’t enough SAP candidates in the region to support an implementation project of this scale.

The question became: how could Cloud International help the group build a huge SAP S/4HANA implementation team — including personnel with highly specialised and hard-to-find skills — based in west Germany… when there simply weren’t enough candidates in the region?

Accessing More Talent Without Compromising on Culture

To overcome the shortage of regional talent, our consultants spent several months identifying and demonstrating the business case for nearshoring — relocating qualified candidates with strong German language skills from neighbouring regions and countries.

Highlighting the number of qualified candidates available, presenting salaries, and determining the costs of relocation, our consultants demonstrated the potential to fully resource the implementation project while also realising significant cost savings compared to hiring regional talent and meeting the group’s requirement for in-office working.

The strategy was agreed, and through it the group successfully hired many highly qualified candidates from other areas of Germany and Eastern Europe. To ease the process, our consultants advised on a wide range of necessary activities, including:

  1. Attracting candidates by demonstrating improvements to quality of life and income
  2. Costs, process, and timescales for relocation
  3. Acquiring Blue Cards for candidates

While nearshoring has become more common for large projects in recent years, our consultants were ahead of the curve — and the retail group placed a great deal of trust in our team. Ultimately, more than 30% of all the placements our team made for the group were sourced from outside the region.

Later in the project, due to exhaustion of the available talent pool, our team worked with the group to place a small number of candidates with reduced German language skills. Naturally, this was not the first-choice approach, but it enabled the group to fill specific, short-term needs that would otherwise have delayed the project.

Winning Talent with Better Compensation and Deal Structures

A major challenge was the group’s unusual approach to compensation and offer structuring.

While most senior SAP candidates are accustomed to the industry standard approach, the group’s approach was more similar to a consultancy model. While this model wasn’t hugely different in outcome to the industry standard, it was more difficult for candidates to understand. On top of this, the group’s initial salary expectations for senior roles were roughly 10-15% below the market.

As a result, in the early stages of the project, offer acceptance rates were at 65% — well below the industry average of ~80% — and retention rates were also a problem. Overcoming this issue became a central concern for our team. They did it in two steps:

Step 1: Working with the retail group to understand the problem

First, our consultants worked closely with the group to understand its approach to compensation and offer structuring, and determine how it compared to the industry standard in real terms. It was through this process they determined the group’s proposed compensation for senior roles was below the market rate. While the group didn’t want candidates who were purely financially motivated, it was clear that higher compensation would be necessary to improve acceptance and retention rates.

Beyond this, our consultants worked with the group to reframe the way offers would be presented to candidates to facilitate better understanding of how they translated into real terms. The group hadn’t previously recognised that its deal structure was unusual, so some education was necessary.

Step 2: Implementing a new qualification process for candidates

Since most candidates were accustomed to the industry standard approach, education was also necessary in the recruitment process. Our consultants designed a new qualification process specifically for the group’s candidates to help them understand their offers and compare them like-for-like to more typical offers from other employers.

The result: Cloud International helped increase acceptance rates from 65% – 90%

The new approach also had a significant positive impact on retention rates — over 80% of all candidates placed by Cloud International are still employed by the group months or years later.

Completing Europe’s Largest SAP S/4HANA Implementation

After five years of cooperation with Cloud International, the retail group’s in-house function is practically complete — and the majority of the work is done. Our consultants continue to support the group by backfilling roles and placing a small number of strategic hires.

Most importantly, the group’s SAP S/4HANA implementation is almost complete. This is thanks in part to our consultants’ tireless efforts to source, interview, and place hundreds of SAP candidates and consultants — ranging from standard SAP functions to extremely niche and hard-to-find specialists across the full range of seniority.


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