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Process Description

For many wholesale distributors, the important part of the value they add is to have the right material in the right place – when and where your customers need it. But of course this isn’t always possible.  Some items are too costly to stock, or expected demand results in an out of stock situation.   Or it could just be that this is a low volume C or D item that you are choosing not to stock and your strategy is to source it from the supplier as needed. 

In any of these cases, it’s important to be able to tell the customer that although you don’t have the item in stock, you can get it.  Not only do you need to be able to tell the customer that you can get it, but you need to be able to tell the customer when you can get it.  Standard supplier lead times are always helpful, but in this situation, where you have the customer on the phone or standing in front of you at the counter, you need to be able to tell the customer exactly when you will get it.  He’s counting on you. 

After you’ve checked in your nearby branches and distribution centers and identified that the item really does need to be sourced from the supplier directly, you need to contact the supplier to make sure he has the material in stock.  You don’t want to find yourself promising your customer based on standard lead times that assume your supplier has stock available, you need to be sure. 

The traditional method is to place the customer on hold, or tell him you will call him back.  Then, call the supplier – or maybe send him an email – asking about availability.  Someone on in the supplier’s call center will look up the answer in their system and get you the information you need.  Then, you can call your customer back. 

The better method is to check in the supplier’s system directly from the SAP Sales Order Entry screen.Since you have already positively identified the material and the desired quantity and the date you need it, you can now send this information to the supplier with the click of a button.  The system determines the supplier and formats a message in a standard format.  This message is sent using SAP NetWeaver PI to the supplier’s ERP system.  The response is formulated to contain a list of supplier locations and the availability at each one.  The supplier may also choose to include additional information such as minimum order quantity. 

Armed with this information, you can now give your customer an accurate and confident answer about when the material will be in their hands.

Technical Infrastructure 

The realized solution to meet the requirements described in the previous section is based on enterprise services following SAP’s Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) concept. 

Due to the special nature of the required communication – a synchronous business-to-business (B2B) communication which will become a standard interface in a future software version – the required enterprise services had to be implemented in a customer project supported by SAP Consulting.  

At the beginning of the project the customer’s project and development team was made familiar with the basics of SAP’s SOA concepts which are also subject of the special SOA curriculum that is offered by SAP Education. The curriculum provides you with all the information needed to successfully do SOA projects in general and moreover imparts detailed knowledge on SAP’s SOA best practices especially in the area of service definition and deployment. 

Thus prepared the project team was able to specify and model the appropriate enterprise service operations along with the special signature of the enterprise service messages that are used for the communication. The service signature based on global data types (GDT) was defined in the enterprise service Repository (ES Repository) which is part of SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (SAP NetWeaver PI) and allows to build, model and manage web services[1].  

With the enterprise services provided by the development team the user interface was designed according to the usability requirements mentioned above and integrated into the standard application screen for Sales Order Entry. At the click of a button for the selected material item an enterprise service call is made which results in an outbound request message that is sent to the supplier. In a synchronous communication mode the supplier system determines and returns the availability information.  

On the supplier side the in- and outbound messages had to be mapped to the appropriate API of the availability check application function. With the future availability of the communication interface in SAP’s the standard shipment and the usage by both parties this step will no longer necessary. 

Future Benefits

Now that the infrastructure is in place, a standard and supported communication protocol can be communicated to all of the trading partners.  This protocol can then be easily adopted by all industry members using SAP and non SAP systems alike to improve their supplier availability check processes. 


[1] Detailed information on the relationship of enterprise services and web services can be found  in the SAP Developer Network or in the SAP Enterprise Services WIKI e.g. at http://wiki.sdn.sap.com/wiki/display/ESpackages/Enterprise+Services
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