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Master Data in Customizing Gold: WHAT and WHY

The short answer to the question of WHAT — to plagiarize a phrase — is that your customizing golden client should contain no unnecessary master data, “for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

Defining What

The definition of what’s “necessary” must be from the point of view of the customizing golden client, not master data writ large. Your customizing golden client isn’t a master data management client.

Site Master Distribution is Best Practice in S/4HANA should not be read as advocacy for creating master data in your customizing golden client and distributing master data as one version of the truth. The opposite is true. Site Master falls squarely into the category of “necessary” because it’s uniquely and properly understood as customizing. Site Master is “necessary” precisely because it’s a dependency for other customizing in the customizing golden client.

There are other similarly necessary master data objects, but it’s a darn short list!

With Site Masters ensconced in the customizing golden client, you might suspect that Merchandise Category Hierarchy, Merchandise Categories, and Reference Articles should likewise be distributed from the customizing golden client. Recently, I heard exactly this proposal made by a consultant. I’m not pointing fingers here; a younger me made the same mistake.

Among other intriguing rationalizations offered was this nugget:  “If I create this manually in each environment then I know the entire process of Merchandise Category conversion will take at least a day.” To that we must say: Bullfeathers!

The proper unit of measure for end-to-end data migration of Merchandise Category Hierarchy, Merchandise Categories, and Reference Articles is minutes, not hours. If not, you better fix that problem. But that’s another story (in the works).

See what just happened here?  A misunderstanding of what’s possible contributed to a bad master data business process design. A violation of what’s necessary isn’t sanctified by explanations of convenience.

Understanding Why

Merchandise Category Hierarchy and Merchandise Categories are innocuous bits of classification master data. Standard transactions exist to create and to delete these as pure master data, and there’s no underlying customizing. What’s the fuss all about?

Where the proposal goes off the rails is the (more or less mandatory) inclusion of Reference Articles (Materials). Reference Articles are logically added to the mix because they’re assigned to Merchandise Categories.

If Merchandise Categories are to be distributed from the customizing golden client, then Reference Articles are desirable in the customizing golden client, so they can be assigned to Merchandise Categories.  If Reference Articles aren’t available, they cannot be assigned to Merchandise Categories, and when Merchandise Categories are distributed (without assigned  Reference Articles) to recipient system-clients, the result is likewise.  Merchandise Categories will not have Reference Articles assigned.

The central problem with this scenario is that Reference Articles are clearly not innocuous bits of master data.

  • There’s no standard transaction code  for deletion of Material Masters. Archiving is the process for physical deletion, and Archiving cannot be considered a normal business process.
  • Material Masters existing in the customizing golden client will restrict customizing activities and master data activities.
  • Reference Articles are extended to Reference Sites (that’s the entire point of Reference Articles).  Reference Articles with quantity and value updating cannot be extended to Reference Sites unless Material Ledger is made productive for those Reference Sites. Regardless of whether you wanted Material Ledger made productive in your customizing golden client or not, flexibility is sacrificed. And Reference Articles shouldn’t be an input into such a decision.
  • The presence of Material Masters will limit Material Master related configuration changes in the customizing golden client.  It’s a bad idea to artificially introduce limits.
  • Reference Articles, like all Article Masters, are assigned to a Merchandise Category at the time of creation.  Standard T-Codes do not support Reference Articles being reclassified to another Merchandise Category! Therefore, the presence of Reference Articles in customizing golden client will constrain master data activities in the customizing golden client. You can’t delete the Merchandise Category of a Reference Article.  Again, it doesn’t matter whether such data exists downstream to be dealt with.  It’s a bad idea to build a “one version of the truth” master data process on top of such constraints.

Best Practices

  • First Principle: Your customizing golden client should contain no unnecessary master data, “for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
  • Avoid complexity.
  • Don’t introduce constraints without good reason.
  • Avoid creating anything that can’t easily be deleted. Hint: for most practical purposes, there is no “delete” in SAP ERP.
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