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One of the most common misconceptions about implementing SAP is that it takes a long time and that it is very costly. It doesn’t have to be. Some SAP-GTS projects I’ve been involved in have taken as little as 16-18 weeks from “project preparation” all the way through “go live and support”. How is this possible?  By focusing on some of the key areas that affect project duration:
1. Scope
2. Data Quality
3. Mitigation of risks from the involvement of third parties

Managing scope is key for any kind of project and implementing SAP-GTS is no exception.  You need to start by defining what you want out of the solution.  Was the trigger for the project an internal audit report that revealed weaknesses in your denied party list checks and license tracking? Are you trying to speed up the process of clearing exports and imports with the customs authorities? Are you trying to reduce duty payments for goods that qualify for preferential duty rates? Do you want to focus on export or import processes? 

In my experience, many companies choose to start with the implementation of SAP-GTS Compliance Management which will automate screening of your business partners against official denied party lists and ensure automatic checks for import and export licenses are carried out. Another key focus area is clearing exports electronically with the customs authorities’ AES systems in the US and Europe.  SAP Customs Management provides a standard interface in this area which allows for rapid implementation. 
Your focus may be similar or different but the key is to limit your implementation focus to the functionality that will address your most critical business objectives or vulnerabilities and give you the biggest “bang for the buck”. 

When implementing other modules of SAP, one common reason for scope change and scope creep are the large number of requirements that are specific to your organization’s processes.  In the case of SAP-GTS this is less of an issue because most processes are shaped by legal requirements and government regulations and restrictions. In other words, these processes apply the same way for everybody who ships goods of particular HTS, ECCN or ITAR classifications.

Data quality or lack thereof can impact your implementation timeline significantly.  SAP-GTS uses the feeder system’s materials and partner addresses and it becomes the system of record for master data that is foreign-trade-specific, notably material classifications (by HTS, ECCN, ITAR and other numbering schemes) and duty-related data.  You can control data quality even before your GTS implementation starts by ensuring that you understand exactly which materials are imported and exported and by making sure that these materials are classified correctly, either within the SAP ECC foreign trade solution or your foreign trade legacy system or, temporarily, in Microsoft Excel or another desktop application.  If data quality is questionable, it is highly advisable to cleanse and update your data before you kick of the GTS implementation project.

Lastly, delays in your implementation timeline can occur because third parties must be involved and because these third parties aren’t affected by the success, failure or delay of your implementation.  In the case of SAP-GTS this means government entities.  Customs authorities may require electronic filing of exports and imports but they won’t bend over backwards or adjust their processes to meet your implementation timeline.  Just as with the quality of your data, it is advisable that you research and understand government requirements and processes thoroughly for the countries in scope before your GTS implementation starts.

Even though GTS is certified for communication with customs’ electronic systems in many countries, you may need to apply for permission for electronic filing and/or complete a “test script” before they allow you to start sending real-life transactions.  Make sure you have a contact at customs who can confirm the required procedures and guide you through the process.  It is also important to communicate with this person throughout your implementation to ensure that you have completed all required application and test processes to the government’s satisfaction and are ready to go live.

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