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Memories of TECHED2010 are fading and at Winshuttle we just closed out a user group meeting in New Orleans. Coming up in less than a week is the SAP Financials conference and no doubt I will find similar discoveries to those that have dawned on me in the past couple of weeks at these other gatherings.

I say ‘dawned’ but in reality I guess I knew this stuff before it was refreshed in my memory banks. As with any industry or product event you are going to meet a number of people that you don’t know, and if you posit yourself as being solution oriented, then it is only natural to try and find commonalities between the problems that one customer has and others. It is quite  natural I think, to try and console the person you are talking to, by telling them that their ‘problem’ is not so different from those experienced by others or that there is a solution to this problem and you have seen it before.Although everyone also wants their particular problem or challenge to be unique, more often than not, someone has seen it somewhere before.

In the dim past, I recall a company that I worked for, using a product called CODE1 to do zip or postal code verification by way of a user exit in the sales order processing process. Some customers implement this type of solution with some degree of hardship, others rely on the correctness of the zip and postal codes in the SAP system and some will simply rely on some basic validation mask and accept anything. By example, 90210-0000 will do!

Of course any of these methods has some limitations in data quality. If your business model is all about timely and correct dispatch of internet or call center sales orders deliveries and either the internet customer or the call center operator fat fingered an integer or misheard it, then the order could be out the door on the way to its correct destination in Beverley Hills (90210) or Méziré, France (90120). Ok, so that wasn’t a really good example, maybe San Diego (90219)? At any rate, only through the support of additional safety nets at the courier or USPS are we able to ensure that the package goes to the correct region. 

If you don’t care about zip codes, consider the problems I previously cited with respect to reverse logistics, in other words goods returns. Carriers don’t give shipping cost refunds on undeliverable packages and customers often demand a full refund on goods they never receive. All those WOOT $5 delivery charges can add up as margin losses. One online retailer I dealt with, said that if something arrived defective or damaged I should just toss it away and they would send me a replacement, this suggests that reverse logistics for them at least, was not worth the hassle.

Companies that are embarking on new business activities that extend their existing business models and leverage existing infrastructure  will often find that what they considered scalable solutions, don’t scale. Hopefully they discover this early on in the planning and implementation process but sometimes it takes a while to make a determination that there are other areas of the business or supporting technologies that need to be shored up to ensure that there isn’t literally leakage or fall-out in the smooth execution of business processes.

The better your testing plans, the more exhaustive they are, the better your SLA definition and the more refined the feedback mechanisms that you have for measuring against SLA, the sooner you are able to detect gaps or deficiencies even before go-live. The CODE1 example I cite can for example be configured in a couple of different ways, synchronous interfacing or asynchronous or what they (Code1’ers) call ‘batch’. You could architect your system as a real-time call to the zip code database or you could simply rely on the validation of the sales order against the zip code stored in customizing table TTZ5Z.

As a Order-to-Cash SAP consultant will tell you, there are a number of different ways that you can decide to set up the sales order process and some approaches may have postal code as a hard validation criteria for say Tax Jurisdiction and sales tax determination whilst others can gloss over this and deal with errors or anomalies in a different way.The point is, that correctness of postal codes attached to sales orders may be just as important to online retailers as to banks but more importantly the final solution that they respectively arrive at may be exactly the same.The SAP collaboration workspace has some good content on address validation and solutions which you can dive right into here: https://cw.sdn.sap.com/cw/docs/DOC-43044 if you are interested.

At conferences like TECHED and user group meetings like those held by ASUG and even ECOHUB partners like Winshuttle it is crucial that customers talk to other customers about how they solved particular problems and if you’re not eavesdropping on a conversation about how a particular problem was being solved then you should at least be actively introducing yourself to other people on the off chance that there may be some commonalities in the experiences and challenges that you are encountering in the use of SAP solutions and IT with business in general.

I have spoken before about technologists and some business people going-it-alone in trying to solve their problems and not asking for help and I guess on this occasion I am saying don’t just ask and solicit help, share the pain too.

By being vocal about the suffering you are or have endured in trying to resolve a particular problem you are doing the greater SAP community a service. A quick glance at the many forums on SCN and other websites you will often see posts from individuals asking very specific questions, they don’t always describe what the real problem is and ultimately they seem to think they have found the hammer with which to beat in the nail but they simply don’t know how to operate it.This approach can lead to your being successful but also potentially spending more unnecessary time and effort constructing the solution, or using a sledgehammer to smash in a thumb-tack when just your thumb will do.

From a self-serving perspective, good problem definitions and describing imaginative ways that you have solved challenges will demonstrate your credibility in the community and may land you an opportunity that you might not have been previously considered for.

For the wider community, well articulated descriptions of how you solved a particular problem help yourself and others to find faster solutions to their problems.   

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