The Need for Smarter SAP Data Management and Process Automation

by Kumar Singh, Research Director, Automation & Analytics, Supply Chain Management, SAPinsider

 

There is no doubt that SAP technologies, whether it is SAP  ECC or S/4HANA ERP or other SAP products, are complex systems. If you are familiar with SAP ERP systems, you know the complexities of these systems, like myriad of tables holding data for multiple business processes across several modules. With systems this complex, also comes the complexity associated with creating data in large batches, data migration and data quality management. These process management aspects are manual in many organizations, leading to inefficiencies and inaccuracies, which in turn impact data quality, data governance and may impact business operations as well. There is an urgent need for organizations to streamline their data management and governance process and also improve data quality and meet compliance requirements while doing so.

The need for smarter SAP data management

Complexity of SAP systems makes associated SAP data management and governance complex as well. The process is fragmented, sits with multiple teams, and managed manually in many organizations. Challenges of these inefficient processes get exacerbated when mass processing of data needs to happen. It may lead to massive inaccuracies and data security and integrity issues. Organizations today realize these challenges and are actively looking to replace existing tribal approaches of data management and governance with more robust solutions and automation of data management process is one such solution. There is a need for data management solutions that are designed specifically for SAP business process automation, SAP data management, and have capability to seamlessly integrate with SAP.

This massive business need has led to emergence of SAP data management and governance automation tools that strive to address the challenges mentioned above. Organizations are looking for solutions that not only make the task of the business users who perform these data management and governance tasks easier but also adhere to SAP security, can align with customized SAP S/4HANA environments, and help manage data quality issues as well. This need is becoming more and more prominent as organizations scale their businesses, digitalize and the amount of data that they generate increases exponentially.

The imperative of having a robust solution

As organizations embark on their digital transformation journey and strive to automate their business processes, they lean heavily on their core ERP systems to help facilitate this transformation. This makes immaculate management, governance and security of data that flows in these ERP systems extremely important since it forms the foundation of any organization’s digital journey. Lack of robust SAP data management and governance tools and processes can impact not only strategic transformation initiatives but tactical processing as well and, in some instances, may end up bringing your business processes to a screeching halt.

A key aspect of selecting an optimal data management automation solution is to understand what some of the key essential features of a robust SAP Data management and governance solution are. While there are many features embedded in these tools, to start with, at a high level, these tools should support the following three aspects:

Data Movement: A data management automation tool should be able to facilitate creation, extraction, and transformation of SAP data, at scale. This movement aspect should be able to support large data exercises like master data management as well as process level transactions in areas like plant maintenance, order to cash, procure to pay etc. Two critical issues that arises during data movement are data security and data quality. A robust tool should be able to address these two aspects by respecting all SAP security standards and validating & simulating the data before the changes are finalized in SAP.

Workflow processes: A key feature of these tools is the automation of data-centric business processes using workflows. This is critical in today’s rapidly evolving business environment where organizations must move fast to make sure that the process of data capture, creation and flow is seamless.  Hence automated workflows that support critical end to end business processes, ranging from sales order automation, plant maintenance to new vendor onboarding, are a must have in these tools. And since many organizations have customized their SAP environment, these tools should be able to support those customized environments.

Data Governance: Streamlining data management through these tools not only improve data quality but also put more structure around data governance. A data management tool should be able to provide sufficient control as far as key aspects like discovering, managing, and monitoring the data, which in turn will also help facilitate strategic decision-making and daily operations. If you do not already have a data governance framework in place, these tools can help you understand what the best way is to design such a framework.

The need for flexibility and agility

While the features described in the previous section are must haves, organizations today seek SAP data management and governance solutions that help them align with today’s business realities- which is that as organizations are entering the digital era, they need to react and respond fast. Among many capabilities that they need to build to support this need, accelerating their business process is an important one. Accelerated business processes, facilitated by agile data management, combined with enhanced data quality and world class data governance are key to thrive in the digital era. Some features in data management tools than can help build these capabilities are:

Leverages familiar workspaces: An example of this can be leveraging familiar environments, like MS Excel to perform automated data management and governance. A robust tool should be able to support mass update of SAP data leveraging familiar tools and interfaces like Excel, SharePoint, other familiar databases and even Emails.

Intuitive and easy to use: As mentioned previously, the tool should be able to support any unique customizations (T-codes) within SAP, in an easy to navigate interface. The ability to be able to record their process workflows that they leverage frequently.

Agile: While automation and ease of use are important, agility is very critical as far as accelerating business processes within SAP environment goes. A well-researched and designed tool, focused on SAP should have thousands of pre-designed templates that are most frequently used in SAP user base across industries, thereby accelerating the process of data management exponentially.

Easy to implement: For a tool that has been designed specifically for SAP environment, the tool should be able to plug into SAP rather seamlessly. Simplicity and ease of implementation are also indicative of how well the tool has been designed around SAP ERP and hence may be an indicator of ease of use post implementation as well.

What Does This Mean for SAPinsiders?

Organizations using or planning to use RPA or BPM solutions must:

  • Evaluate the potential impact of automating data migration and testing for SAP S/4HANA. Many SAPinsiders see SAP S/4HANA as an opportunity to standardize and optimize processes and implement automation. To do this, however, they must implement SAP S/4HANA and migrate data and operations from their legacy ERP.
  • Do not try to use automation to fix bad processes. Based on our experience, companies that tried to fix bad processes by automating them often found that these projects took more time than they saved because automating bad processes only gets bad results faster.
  • Standardize, document, and optimize processes before automating them. When you look at the whole context of process automation, the automation does the same manual work but at a faster and continuous speed. Also, without well-documented processes, programming and maintaining the RPA can cost more time and money than it saves. RPA tends to run most smoothly on more standardized processes, which also work well with more pre-built bots and pre-defined content.
  • Implement automation solutions that can execute processes across multiple applications, both SAP and non-SAP. No matter how standardized the processes, most organizations need to collect or re-enter some information into non-SAP systems. To automate processes end-to-end as much as possible, SAPinsider Community members will need automation solutions that can execute within SAP products as well as non-SAP products.

 

Kumar Singh, Research Director, Automation & Analytics can be reached at kumar.singh@wispubs.com