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Author's profile photo Ramesh Babu Nagarajan

Global numbers for master data – Is it time to accept it as a best practice?

Every organization is now muddled with multi system ERP landscape. No matter how many IT consolidation projects are undertaken, after a few years it is back to square one. The dynamic business environment always allows evolution of niche IT solutions while the big brothers SAP & Oracle can keep gobbling them and enhance their portfolio but still within their portfolio of applications, the niche solution tend to maintain their uniqueness and all SAP & Oracle will do is to create a bolt on to their core product that will make the integration simplified.

The biggest pain area due to the multiplicity of IT or ERP systems is master data numbers being different in different systems. To make transactions pass through such multiple systems, interfaces will have all sorts of logic built-in to ensure the different master data numbers are somehow logically matched so that in all the systems same material/vendor/customer or any common master data is being transaction upon. But this turns out to be the weak link that breaks regularly.

Best practice on numbers for master data is never to build logic or intelligence in the numbering systems. Put it differently make it non-speaking so it will not identify itself to you. But this is the rule that is always broken in the environment I have painted above as the end users want the master data numbers to be intelligent and identify itself. Also in an environment where-in you have multiple applications or ERP systems, achieving common numbering systems means it has to be external numbering system. Sometimes this is called “Global Number”.

Let us take for discussion the concept of “Global Material Number”. By default this number will be externally defined which means some sort of logical process have to be defined. I would say it need not be very intelligent numbering system, but a simple program that can generate sequential numbers with say one character prefix or a suffix. There is no need to even list down the advantages of having a common number like “Global Material Number” across the IT or ERP systems as the benefits far outweigh the shortcomings of such a system.

Hence I strongly feel that having Global numbers that are externally defined in a multi IT or ERP system landscape should be considered a best practice too.

Any thoughts or counter views to my conclusion?

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      Author's profile photo Paul Hardy
      Paul Hardy

      It all depends if the nature of the object can ever change.

      For example = a customer number in your ERP system based on the customer name was BLOGS would be invalidated if BLOGS LTD ever changed their name.

      However if you had a material which was water and called the material number H2O I cannot think of any circumstance in which that number would be invalidated unless we were thrown into an alternate universe where the laws of chemistry changed.

      I believe that what we output to the user should be as human friendly as possible. By all means call a blue bicycle material number A0ERRT657HHHJIKL0999 in the background, as long as it that number is never shown to a human.

      Remember - computers as there to serve us humans, we are not their slaves, even though most days it may seem that way. If we keep thinking - oh, let's do something that is easier for the system even if it makes life harder for the users, what path are we going down?

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      But many users have extraordinary ability, without so much as suspecting they might be doing somthing unreasonable, to find creative ways to abuse every identification and classification means (like external "numbers", types or categories) made specifically for them - so they can "encode" and then find and use "their stuff"... They don't ask the "stupid programmers" if doing so an so is a good idea, they just do whatever looks like a good idea for the moment. And then, when the unmanegable mess is created, it gets delivered to programmers to sort it out πŸ™‚

      I'm also a small time user of IBANs and payment reference numbers, and I don't like having to type 20 digit (or 34, Heaven forbid) IDs, but I don't come to the idea that they were invented just to make my life difficult and that I shouldn't have to deal with nonsense like that...

      "a simple program that can generate sequential numbers with say one character prefix or a suffix"

      Nope, the extremist within me thinks: no prefix/suffix, no semantics, just numbers πŸ™‚



      Author's profile photo Ramesh Babu Nagarajan
      Ramesh Babu Nagarajan
      Blog Post Author

      The feedback I keep hearing from end users is that why I should run a report to know a material or vendor is what, in a single ERP system landscape the best practice of not having an intelligent numbering system is acceptable, but in a multi ERP system, have a common number across the systems is really major factor in making the processes run smoothly and simplify interfacing. So in such scenario achieving a Global number is definitely a valuable goal.

      Author's profile photo Paul Hardy
      Paul Hardy

      ℹ I am not in favour of end users being able to choose numbers for materials or any object for that matter. In has to be some sort of central master data team, or a program that chooses the name for you based on the nature (characteristics) of the material.

      (2) If you go to the coal face and see that the users have pinned up pieces of paper everywhere with list of numbers for customers, or numbers for materials, then it means that searching for the number in SAP is so difficult they just don't bother. This could in fact be the nub of the problem - it does not matter how obscure the number is, if the search is easy to use everything will be fine which is why you have those matchcode fields in SAP search helps. People still don't like them.

      I don;t know the answer, but I do know that whatever solution we choose it should be one that makes life easier for the end user rather than easier for us "stupid programmers" or the team who deals with integration of multiple systems.

      In my company the core ERP SAP system calls the shots when it comes to material numbers. We bitterly regretted the decision our consultants made for us to have internal number ranges for materials, but we get round that by living off the MARA-BISMT field which is an "intelligent" number like WATER and is what the poor old humans sitting in front of the screen see and interact with.  The number like WATER is what gets sent to the multitude of systems that interact with SAP and it means the same thing to them all.

      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva

      That reminds me of a real life story when one morning the whole bunch of invoices from Company X went out with 'Do not use' material descriptions because some people at Company Y (who started using same SAP system first and got used to it being their "own") decided to revamp their portfolio and just went ahead and changed the whole bunch of materials unbeknownst to their new SAP neighbor.

      After that some authorizations were promptly reassigned to a single team. And even then there were endless discussions on whether non-vintage Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon should have different material numbers. Good times. πŸ™‚

      Author's profile photo Ramesh Babu Nagarajan
      Ramesh Babu Nagarajan
      Blog Post Author

      Indeed there were lot of such comical stories in my experience too. One system making some changes without knowing the impact on other system and every body feigning ignorance how in the world there is such unknown linkage.