Very often a FI consultant faces this question and there is no text-book answer to this. SAP ECC field for Vendor number (LIFNR) is 10 characters long and it could be both numeric and alpha-numeric depending on how we configure the number-range. But do we use all the 10 digits? What about future growth? What is correct length? Consultants almost quote standard practice or best practice and their own past project experience.
There are various factors that we need to consider before we settle on the length of Vendor number in SAP. And the life of a consultant becomes relatively easy if SAP ECC is not the source for Vendor Master.
What is the source system for Vendor Master?
- If this is not SAP ECC, then a SAP consultant can do little about the vendor number because the legacy precedent over-rules in almost all cases. Although we can create a new vendor number for every legacy vendor number in SAP, this will increase redundancy of data. Which number will we communicate to the vendor? Which number will the vendor use to send this invoices/credit memos into SAP? The best possible solution will most often be using legacy vendor numbers as External numbers in SAP.
- If SAP ECC is the source system for Vendor then the consultant has lot more flexibility. The consultant can choose internal numbering because it is numeric, improves SAP performance in terms of data fetching for processing and reporting.
What are the non-SAP systems that will be using this Vendor number?
- If there are other legacy systems that dependent on this vendor number then, the length chosen should be less than the maximum length the legacy systems can handle, assuming that the legacy system length cannot be increased, which is most often the case.
- Again if SAP is not the source and if we choose to assign internal numbers, then we need to think about converting the data back from SAP number to the legacy number.
What is the most productive vendor number length for the users when working in SAP?
- If an organization is implementing SAP, then it could be safely said that this organization has well laid-out processes that use vendor number in their non-SAP world. If so, the Accounts Payable users have been well-trained to use their legacy number length. Most often than not it is in the consultant’s best interest to stick with the same length even in SAP. This avoids keying errors, training overhead, unnecessary learning curve to get used to the new number length.
- In my experience, I have seen 7 digits/characters as the most commonly used length although there is no documented proof supporting this length and its efficiencies.
There are some pit-falls to note as well:
- If SAP ECC is used for Vendor related processes, then there will some level of data conversion involved from legacy to SAP. It is in our best interests to quantify this amount of conversion work so that we can decide whether to clean-up the legacy data (assuming it is not clean to begin-with) and being a fresh start in SAP or whether to perpetuate the madness even in SAP ECC. This is a tough call to make. Some examples of clean-up/conversion include vendor numbers not in correct account groups, smaller length vendor numbers, same vendor having multiple numbers in different systems, different vendors having same number in different systems etc.
- Given that an organization has signed-up for SAP implementation, there is always a potential for future improvements or add-on functionality. The chosen vendor number length should sustain the future processes as well. As an example, if an organization is implementing only Financials to begin with but at a later date decides to implement procurement, then enough number ranges have to be available for Sites/Plants/DCs (inter-company vendor) and there has to be clear distinction between the vendor numbers used for Financials processes and for Procurement processes.
I sometimes wonder, as a consultant myself, how much thought has to be put to answer this seemingly simple and common question.