First Group begins digital transformation with SAP S/4HANA on HANA Enterprise Cloud

As a leading UK and US transport company, with annual revenue in excess of £5bn and 110,000 employees, First Group was looking to modernise its UK based finance and procurement processes. They chose SAP S/4HANA on Enterprise Cloud to provide a state-of-the-art user experience, best practice processes and to reduce infrastructure overheads. Keytree were chosen as the delivery partner following an extensive bidding process based on its SAP S/4HANA expertise, particularly in finance and around the company’s reputation in the technology and innovation space. Keytree successfully delivered the solution in 2018.

Throughout the UK, First Group runs an extensive infrastructure covering bus networks across a vast number of communities, including 40 of the country’s largest towns and cities – from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Manchester to Leicester and Plymouth to Taunton. Within the UK, there are three critical areas of the First Group business: Group Finance operations, Bus network and Rail operation.

The SAP S/4HANA implementation has given First Group’s Bus and Group Finance operations in the UK a wealth of business benefits including far quicker period-close processes while replacing the legacy, function-key based ERP solution with a consumer-grade user experience.

Integrating a new technology into First Group’s enterprise systems landscape

Delivery followed the ‘SAP Activate’ methodology, and Keytree adopted SAP Best Practice, an approach based on mapping First Group’s business processes to SAP Best Practice process models. Keytree delivered a system where the physical kit and infrastructure is all hosted in SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC) and was configured via SAP Best Practice ‘Building Blocks’.

Where deviation from these processes was required, or specific business requirements could not be met, business-sponsored custom developments were delivered by Keytree to achieve these. To maintain a standard approach, all custom development was made available via the Fiori user interface, ensuring users have a consumer-grade experience.

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Overcoming key challenges

Every project has its challenges but working with a new technology such as S/4HANA meant collaborating closely with the SAP HEC and SAP product teams was essential. This approach was vital for accessing support for system challenges encountered during the build and also access to the new and upcoming developments within the solution. Keytree delivery was immersed in a multi-vendor environment with SAP and ATOS, which meant independent collaboration with SAP for S/4HANA technical issues and with ATOS on legacy system development for interfaces with R/3.

The new solution was integrated with a number of pre-existing internal and external systems including SAP R/3, complex payroll, banks and a financial consolidation solution. Keytree provided technical expertise in each of these areas to ensure integration was robust and scalable.

One overarching challenging was the geographical dispersion of the team and end users. Keytree worked tirelessly to ensure that throughout the project duration, specialist consultants were always available in key locations at critical times.


“The level of collaboration between Keytree, First Group and SAP was excellent and ensured a successful outcome for the business. Collectively, we have worked very hard to deliver a high-quality solution with real benefits to First Group, while at the same time setting the organisation up to grow and evolve to meet future challenges.”

Anthony Aughterson – Director of SAP Consulting at Keytree

Delivering S/4HANA to simplify processes and create best practice

S/4HANA is digitally transforming a range of business processes that previously were very labour intensive and providing First Group with a platform that can grow with the business.

First Group no longer needs to undertake manual cross-system reconciliation activities or manually process its large number of distinct payrolls. Bank statements has been enhanced and simplified through the use of SAP standard workflows.

By moving all business processes for finance and procurement to S/4HANA, both parts of the business are now deployed within a single system as opposed to two separate systems, which also allows for a more simplified and faster period close process.

Off-system procedures are a thing of the past. Intercompany approvals and invoicing were conducted via email and featured copying data from Excel into the legacy finance system, but this is now all contained in S/4HANA.

Generating and sending invoices to customers is a seamless process and has created a much-needed level of best practice – allowing workflow approval and automated postings to drive intercompany process efficiencies. Even cheque requisitions required the completion of a form and approvals via macro stamps; S/4HANA now enables cheque requisitions to be created and approved directly within the finance system.

S/4HANA is a game changer and is leading the charge for businesses wanting to transform the way they work digitally. Keytree delivered a highly scalable platform for the future – a platform that provides access to technology innovations and a new level of transparency and speed on all finance related processes.

The business can now access up to the minute analysis and real-time reporting and analytics across a standardised company-wide platform. Importantly for First Group, Keytree has put the company on a mainstream and fully supported enterprise platform that will support their business plans and growth for the next decade and beyond.