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Author's profile photo Clinton Jones

The right data in the right place at the right time with desktop tools

ROI (1).jpgA colleague recently polled a number of companies on their use of desktop data loading products for business data updates in their SAP systems and he provided me with the outputs from those interviews for analysis.

In the past I have typically seen companies using MS Office integration tools for only a few scenarios however I was surprised to find that at least one was using these types of tools for more than fifty transaction scenarios including a couple of Z transactions.

The scenarios covered everything from business partner maintenance and recipe management to finance, plant maintenance, materials management and Human Resources in both R/3 and CRM systems.

When looking at the top ten transactions for which the tools were being used, it was interesting to see that these were the same transactions that we have consistently seen over the years for use namely:

  • MM02 Modify Material Master Item
  • MM01 Create Material Master Item
  • VA02 Modify Sales Order
  • VA01 Create Sales Order
  • ME22N Change Purchase Order
  • XD01 Create Customer Data
  • XD02 Change Customer Data
  • KP06 Change Cost Elements/Activity Input Planning
  • IE02  Change Equipment
  • VK11 Create Condition Records

Of particular interest was the frequency with which these transactions were being executed against. In some instances these transactions were being executed daily, in other instances only weekly.

ROI on Extracting Data

Some particularly interesting revelations were that some customers were using transaction based recording to in fact execute input parameter insertion in a consistent way for SQVI and SE16 executions that they needed to do for the business on a regular basis.

When looking at these transactions individually it becomes apparent very quickly that the reason these transactions are often candidates for automation, is that they are key to the operational needs of most businesses. Depending on the industry segment and the specifics of the business sector, order entry is by far one of the most frequently exercised business operations. Order entry of course relies on three key pieces of data; the customer record, the record for the item(s) being sold and the pricing.

Pricing maintenance – a top data processing activity

In this list of top ten material master, order creation and maintenance, customer record maintenance and pricing records occupy 70% of the positions and certainly the top 40%. So what of other industry segments and other business sectors? The remaining 30% of the transactions speak somewhat to their needs. Every organisation undertakes procurement in some form or fashion and many businesses engage in cost center planning and analysis. Some industries are very service centric and in such cases equipment maintenance and planning are core.

The most characteristic element of all of these business activities is however the fact that they are structured activities; that they use a largely fixed format and that there are minimum critical pieces of information that are required for the activity to be executed. This trait is not of course true for the tens of thousands of transactions contained with any given SAP system, there are free form pieces of data that require maintenance such as many of those containing long text. Maintenance of data in those areas is a little trickier but the use of automation goes a long way to being able to relieve staff to add more value to the more complex transaction processing.

Data re-entry has low value add

It can be hardly disputed that mobile sales or back-office personnel for example, add very little value by physically entering pre-planned sales orders captured in excel spreadsheets or paper order forms in the field into the SAP system. The real value comes from being able to get those orders into the system in an accurate and timely manner. For many years, manual transcription has been the only way that many small to medium business with mobile workers and no means of systematic integration have been able to achieve their data capture objectives.

Customer self service for order capture does have penetration at the business level but it still remains more focal to B-to-C than B-to-B. When getting orders from disparate systems into the core SAP system for execution becomes a recurring problem of timing invariably the solution is to either embark on an ambitious B-to-B order entry automation project which may involve hundreds if not thousands of costly ABAP, EDI analyst and custom development hours or to ramp up business units with more personnel to perform data capture. Software development of course takes time to ramp up, produce a solution and put it in production; staffing up is more attainable in the short term but with it comes the challenges of ensuring manpower efficiency, maintaining personnel to business unit productivity ratios and all the costs associated with additional headcount.

In the short to medium term, particularly for visibly recurring scenarios that require high volume data capture or transcription from pre-existing electronic sources like excel spreadsheets; desk top integration solutions should always be considered for maximum operational efficiency.

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