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Life as it is… Implementing S/4HANA Cloud Essentials (ES): Warehouse Management

S/4HANA CE is a relatively new product, on the market since 2016. For the past two years, TheValueChain has been implementing this solution for our customer on a global scale. Their core business is improving safety and reducing operational costs for airports and airlines worldwide.

In this 7th blogpost I will describe the difficulties encountered along the road, share with you good things that popped up and provide you with some food for thought and pieces of advice when considering S/4HANA CE for your company.

 

In the first phase of our project, already multiple smaller warehouses and production sites went live with the standard Inventory Management (IM) best practices available in Cloud Essentials. Due to a wide variety of available IM scope items, combined with intuitive Fiori apps it was possible to cover the requirements for these sites.

With a large product portfolio and rather complex multilevel bill-of-materials, our customer validly needed a decent WMS solution to efficiently keep detailed trace of their stock inside the warehouse. Moreover, it needed to cover many of the standard warehouse processes: inbound process including putaway scanning, labeling interfaces with Bartender, QM-integration, supply to production, receipt from production and outbound picking + packing for shipping.

Fortunately, since the 1811 release, the SAP S/4HANA Cloud Essentials offers S/4HANA Cloud Warehouse Management, an embedded WMS solution that covers the key warehouse processes. It can be best considered as a greatly simplified EWM solution really relying on best practice configurations. It was most certainly a challenge, but in January we successfully went live with one of the first embedded cloud warehouses covering almost all scope items!

During this journey, we learnt all about the nice features this embedded solution in the Cloud has to offer. However, at the same time we also faced quite some challenges we needed to overcome.

 

How exactly did SAP positively surprise both our key-users as ourselves?

  1. Full-blown WMS solution

Even though the solution was only launched recently at the end of 2018, almost all key warehouse processes can be covered in a simplified way of working (Inbound, QM-integration, production integration, Kanban supply to production, internal repacking, automatic replenishment of fixed bins, posting changes, ad-hoc goods issues, resource management, outbound process and physical inventory + cycle counting).

  1. Focus on visualization, interactivity and action-driven

New, interactive Fiori apps perfectly visualize for users the progress of inbound, outbound and staging deliveries. These same apps also allow them to closely monitor the picking and putaway process and take actions on the relevant warehouse tasks if needed.

SAP also launched a brand-new interactive dashboard with Warehouse KPI’s. This can be defined according to any warehouse supervisor’s needs and provide a detailed overview of daily operational warehouse processes with option to click through to the apps mentioned above.

  1. Scanning apps to the rescue

Thanks to Resource Management, we have built the necessary picking and putaway apps for any browser-based scanning device to optimize the daily work of the warehouse operators. The entire solution solely runs on API’s and allows the customer to define its own queues for picking and putaway processes. Due to a flexible build-up of this custom solution TheValueChain is already prepared for future requirements in S/4HANA Cloud by any customer.

Additional apps were built to print box or pallet labels during inbound process or after production. As industry best-practice an integrated solution was built with Bartender to foresee in all the different label types. Similarly, we can cover scanning requirements of Physical Inventory as well. Below only a few examples of the many scanning opportunities we have already foreseen.

  1. Warehouse Monitor as reliable as ever

The Warehouse Monitor remains also in the Cloud a reliable tool to find back any information or investigate specific situations and take the necessary actions. Although users were sceptic at first sight, they soon discovered how powerful the tool really. Since then, it is being used daily by many different stakeholders.

 

Unfortunately, preparing for the go-live we also faced important pitfalls, mainly due to the configuration simplification and still some missing API’s

  1. Adapt to standard storage types

The Cloud offers several standard storage type templates to allow different strategies: bulk, standard, fixed bin and general storage. Unfortunately, there is no option to deviate from the standard configuration. Our customer had specific requirements for mixed storage and batches, thus we launched an expert configuration towards SAP which got approved to meet our storage type requirements.

Building on the above, it is important to state that SAP really considers customer feedback. Furthermore, they have included it on their roadmap to allow more storage type configurations for customers starting from 2005 release.

  1. Future release to cover requirements

Only after our go-live (2002 release) SAP would release EWM supply area’s and serial numbers on document level in EWM. Therefore, temporarily we went live with an IM shop floor and are currently analyzing the option to switch over to an EWM shop floor as well as using serial numbers.

  1. Simplified packing process

Unfortunately the standard packing process fell a bit short to cover our customer requirements due to several reasons: no option to change the dimensions, nor an API to source or change HU data, no generic solution for both IM as WM warehouses and no packaging instructions/specifications are available. Luckily, the tools and API’s were available to create a custom app for packing in both an IM/EWM environment. At the same time the app is used to integrate with an external shipping system.

Again, SAP carefully considers constructive feedback of its partners and since 2002 release enabled the IM packing functionalities for outbound deliveries and already launched an API to source HU information. At this phase, we will soon be reviewing the opportunity to adapt back to the standard way of working.

  1. Other small struggles

Other challenges are of a much smaller scale. For example, we are missing features of setting up a storage type search procedure or using availability groups. Moreover, although our inbound process is already fully integrated with QM, this option does not exist yet for inspection lot creation on stock transfers (inspection lot origin 08). For situations like this, a creative mind of the consultant and customer is required to find a solid workaround.

 

Food for thought

I believe it is important to state that companies with complex putaway, picking and packing strategies should study closely the relevant best practices in their fit-to-standard workshops. Still, if there would be any doubts about the features a best practice has to offer, it is always important in the Cloud to keep a close eye on the roadmap. A new release with many new features and optimizations is being launched by SAP every three months. Because of this we already have managed to further optimize many business processes up until now. It is really exciting to look forward into the future knowing that SAP maintains such a fast rate of innovation.

 

Conclusion

Overall, we can honestly say that SAP has succeeded in delivering a very usable WMS system embedded into the Cloud Essentials product. As described above, most key warehouse processes are covered and visual apps enable efficient guidance of daily picking and putaway processes. Still, there are certainly some pitfalls and then it is our job as your trusted SAP Partner to advise our customers in adapting their processes correctly. As warehouse processes are very often automized, this has been a great opportunity to learn the newest technologies for integrating scanning and labeling solutions into the Cloud.

 

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below or contact me directly.

If you want to discover more, please follow our blog post series about S/4Hana Cloud Essentials: click.

4 Comments
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  • Hi Jens,

    thank you for these valuable insights!

    We are currently implementing S4HC including WM as well. Most of what you are writing is very familiar to me.

    Most painful for us is the missing of any Apps for mobile devices for picking and putaway.

    Yes the APIs are there, and we have started working on a concept to develop the needed apps.

    You are writing:

    Due to a flexible build-up of this custom solution TheValueChain is already prepared for future requirements in S/4HANA Cloud by any customer.

    Does this mean you have apps ready that we could deploy and use? This would be super interesting. If yes, please let me know more!

    Thank you!

    Johannes

     

    • Hello Johannes,

      Thank you for your feedback! I am very glad to hear that also other Cloud customers can relate to the topics discussed in the article.

      Regarding your question about the scanning apps: yes, we have already build scanning apps with the API’s and scope items available and they are already up and running in a live environment.

      If you are interested, please contact me personally and we can discuss in more detail.

      Kind regards,
      Jens Koyen

  • Hi Jens,

    Thank you for a summary of your WM implementation. I was curious about the performance for your custom scanning apps. Typically, even in a simple warehouse, there is a requirement to scan pallets or goods quite quickly during the pick and putaway processes. Have you seen any latency or performance issues with the custom scan apps making quick API calls?

    All the best,

    Joe

    • Hello Joseph,

      I have to say that the performance of our custom scanning apps is good and stable. Up until now, we have never really been faced with performance issues even though quite some API calls are made.

      I guess the scanning performance also depends upon the choice of scanning device and could also be dependent upon the amount of scanning transactions per resource.

      If you need any more information, do not hesitate to contact me personally.

      Best regards,
      Jens Koyen