Powell Brings SAP Upgrades Down to Size

Powell's SAP team knew they needed to upgrade. They'd been running on 4.7 since 2003; now they wanted access to new ERP 6.0 functionality. But cost was an issue. They needed to find an affordable way to upgrade SAP, minimizing the testing cycle and controlling consulting costs. 

Using Panaya's Upgrade Automation, Powell was able to cut 35% off its upgrade duration, realize significant consulting savings, and reduce 98% of its upgrade issues, compared to previous upgrades. The upgrade was accomplished ahead of time, on budget, with the team "home for the holidays."

Upgrade Synopsis

  • 63rd year of operation
  • Privately held – 220 Employees
  • 170 SAP users
  • Upgraded modules: FI/CO, SD, MM, PP, QM
  • Upgrade from 4.7

Upgrade Benefits

  • 35% shorter duration
  • Significant consulting savings
  • 98% reduction in issues
  • Ahead of time, on budget
  • Team is "home for the holidays"


Powell Electronics, based in Swedesboro, New Jersey, moved to SAP R/3 just prior to Y2K. Since that time, Powell has been a leader in the SAP SME space, frequently presenting at ASUG events. Most of Powell's SAP talent is homegrown, upskilled from mainframe backgrounds. SME does not mean local: Powell uses SAP to support ten sales offices in the U.S. and two in Europe. Employee loyalty is a hallmark at Powell. Their SAP Project Manager, Mike "Dr. SAP" Ayars, has forty years at Powell. Dave McGuire, Powell's technical lead, has 33 years. Bob Oldrati, Powell's Controller and IT Director, (a.k.a. "Mr. Network," for his ASUG activism) is considered a newcomer with "only" ten years at Powell.

The Challenge

Powell's SAP team knew they needed to upgrade. They'd been running on 4.7 since 2003; now they wanted access to new ERP 6.0 functionality. But cost was an issue. They needed to find an affordable way to upgrade SAP, minimizing the testing cycle and controlling consulting costs. Timing was also a big challenge: Powell's fiscal year ends in December, which meant the ERP 6.0 upgrade had a no excuses, "drop dead" deadline prior to year end close. Ayars and Oldrati were determined to bring SAP's Wholesale Distribution functionality to their users in 2010. They could do that by installing SAP's Business Suite 7 Enhancement Packs. But that meant one thing: they had to get the technical upgrade done in 2009.

The Solution

In the spring of 2009, Powell began evaluating tools that could make their SAP upgrade easier. For Oldrati, that meant ASUG. He puts a premium on the advice he gets from fellow SAP users. "Customers don't lie to customers," says Oldrati. "Salespeople will tell you anything you want to hear, but customers don't lie." To get those customer viewpoints, the Powell team headed to the ASUG annual conference in Orlando. And that's where Powell learned about Panaya.

"When Mike and I were down in ASUG/Sapphire this last spring, we asked people about products or services that would enable us to ease the pain of upgrading SAP," recalls Oldrati. "That's how we found out about Panaya. Once we saw the Panaya automated service, we realized: 'This is something that can save us weeks, maybe even longer in terms of time, energy, and effort.' And you know what? It did."

Powell checked some Panaya references from their peers and took advantage of the free trial. Panaya's ability to hone in on the exact issues that required testing was especially promising. Their only hesitation: Panaya's marketing message sounded pretty amazing – but how would it really do in action? Would it get Powell's SME stamp of approval?


The Panaya phase of the implementation moved quickly. Training on Panaya was quick, supported by follow up calls on an as needed basis. "When we walked out of the training, it was pretty darn clear what we needed to do," says Ayars. Bob Oldrati liked the responsiveness. "Panaya was very flexible in what we needed in order to meet our goal and our deadline," says ldrati. "We were working with a global team, but everybody had a common understanding and a common Panaya platform to work from."

The process of addressing the fixes flagged by Panaya took only two weeks. Using Panaya, Powell took the fixes needed and sent them to the ABAP team in Morocco. The off site team applied the fixes; Dave McGuire, the technical lead in New Jersey, reviewed and approved the work. The Panaya dashboard was easy for the team to use, further simplifying the process. "It was so easy I could use it, and I'm not a technical guy at all, I'm a functional guy," says Ayars.

Being able to anticipate upgrade problems made all the difference. As Oldrati put it: "To have a product that can actually tell you: 'these code lines won't work, these are critical, these you've never used' - you can see right away the value of that much time and effort. Not to mention the consulting dollars you can save."


Powell hit their December deadline. Even better – they wrapped the upgrade up before Thanksgiving. The project took eleven weeks in total. Without Panaya, Ayars estimates the project would have taken at least another six weeks, and they would have missed their December deadline. "Panaya's marketing materials said 'Hey, we're going to save you so much time on the upgrade' – and it's true," Ayars says. "I was a little skeptical, but once we got into this, I realized all the testing we didn't have to do. We didn't have to see what was broken, Panaya discovered pretty much all of it." With Panaya, there were a "half dozen" issues Powell had to deal with. Without Panaya? Ayars estimates several hundreds. 

Putting on his Controller hat, Bob Oldrati sees the benefits from another viewpoint: money saved. "Without Panaya, we would have had to have done a lot of this on our own and hired consultants to help us," says Oldrati. "The money that we spent with Panaya was more than justified." 

Powell's SAP team still has work to do: now that the technical upgrade is complete, it's time to evaluate the functional possibilities of Business Suite 7 and the Wholesale Distribution capabilities in particular. But for now, the technical upgrade is done, with plenty of time for holiday shopping.


Powell's upgrade-tested veterans offered this advice: sell the upgrade to management in smaller pieces, choose the right implementation partner for your industry, and keep your eyes open for "SME friendly" tools. Also: don't be afraid to look beyond SAP for the right solution. Even though Powell runs Solution Manager, that doesn't stop them from incorporating third party solutions where they can have an impact. "We're using Solution Manager for many functions, and I don't see a conflict between using Solution Manager and using Panaya," says Ayars.

The final piece of advice from Powell couldn't be simpler. From "Dr. SAP" himself: "Do a technical upgrade, and use Panaya."

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