When I was a kid I was always very interested in seafarers’ tales, books and movies like Treasure Island. I always found it very interesting how people in these tales would circumnavigate the world via ship in search of treasure. It’s a very cool concept. So you can imagine my enthusiasm when my SAP manager asked me to help a shipping company run better. I have worked on projects for transportation and logistics companies before but the shipping business is slightly different.
Ok, you are right, todays shipping business has little to do with those ancient tales, buccaneers or talking parrots, but still there are these special shipping terms and a distinct glossary that sometimes remind me of the adventures of Jim Hawkins. 🙂
Though this software project was not about discovering new land and finally discovering that long lost treasure, there were some similarities to “Treasure Island”. For instance, the customer wanted to implement SAP ERP and did not have any SAP applications before (new land); so the main focus was on cost and revenue processes (finding the hidden treasure, if you like). Therefore, it was my duty as a SAP consultant to help navigate this shipping company to the treasure (a best run IT system).
I work for SAP Consulting as an Integration Architect in the area of SAP NetWeaver since 2004, mainly focusing on NetWeaver XI/PI/PO, SAP Application Interface Framework (AIF) and HANA Cloud Integration (HCI). My responsibility at the beginning of this customer project was to design the general architecture for interfacing the agencies and get all relevant data into SAP ERP. The second phase was then to also define and specify the interfaces.
As you might know, the shipping business is mainly an agency business meaning that the shipping companies have agencies all over the world that handle all tasks at the ports. The agencies then send their costs and revenues to the headquarters for financial consolidation. When you think of the costs for shipping goods there are the following main blocks:
- General costs of transportation (Container charter, Vessels and personnel)
- Costs for vessel maintenance.
- “Bunker” costs (Diesel for the vessel).
- Tolls for transiting waterways (Panama Canal, Suez Canal, etc.)
- Stevedoring (costs for loading and unloading the vessel in the port)
The main challenge that we had during the specification of the interfaces was that every agency had its own account numbers (chart of accounts) as they had their own financial system locally and they would not change their account numbers. However, within SAP ERP only one Chart of Accounts would be used.
So, where in the end-to-end process should the conversion of the account numbers be done?
At that time, the SAP Application Interface Framework (AIF) was quite a new product but I soon realized that this would be the right place to convert the account numbers – this was our treasure!
Business Users would maintain the mapping tables from their local account numbers to the SAP account numbers directly in SAP AIF. Potential errors during the interface run could automatically be forwarded to the responsible business users for correction.
The customer was very happy with this solution and the interfaces were implemented using SAP NetWeaver Process Orchestration (PO) as a central Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) using the connectivity features and structural mappings between different formats. SAP AIF was implemented to convert the account numbers, doing several checks before posting the data into SAP ERP and of course for monitoring and error handling the critical interfaces from a business user point of view.
With this solution it is now very easy for the customer to do their financial closing because they do not have to look into all the treasure chests that were placed in their agencies around the world having different account numbers and different currencies. Now the customer can just open their one treasure chest within their headquarters. They can even open it every hour and they will see an update of their stock of “gold”. This saves a lot of work and gives important visibility to the customer that they did hardly have before. It’s a great feeling to help navigate the customer’s ship to treasure!