by Pierce Owen, VP, Research & Publishing, SAPinsider
According to SAPinsider’s upcoming research on “Process Automation and SAP S/4HANA,” of the 56% of SAPinsider Community members that have or will automate financial processes, only 28% have or plan to automate capital expenditure (CAPEX) requests. However, within that group, Solenis — an American specialty chemicals manufacturer headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, with approximately 5,200 employees in 120 countries — has started to automate this process and expects it to have a significant impact on customer equipment deployment times based on its proof of concept (PoC).
SAPinsider recently interviewed John Marquart, Director of Enterprise Technology and Architecture at Solenis, to understand how the company plans to improve CAPEX request management.
Need for Faster Deployment of Dosing Solutions for Customers
Currently, most of Solenis runs CAPEX requests and approvals primarily through a legacy HCL Notes (formerly Lotus Notes) system, but the process crosses into several different systems, including Microsoft Excel, SAP ERP, and Salesforce. “Lotus Notes was flexible. You could do anything with it, and we did,” shared Marquart. “Despite this, the approvers hated Lotus Notes. They really wanted a mobile-optimized solution.”
Unfortunately, this highly customized system ran a very loosely defined and documented process with no automated financial authority validations and limited visibility into the approvals process. Request submitters had no easy way to see if something or someone held up their request for any reason. It also had weak integration with Solenis’s SAP ERP system and lacked mechanisms for automated process reminders for the approvers, and mobile capabilities.
The customer equipment team demanded a change. This team submits thousands of capital requests each year to deploy dosing solutions that blend and produce chemicals at customer sites. These types of requests make up more than half of the CAPEX requests at Solenis. The CAPEX request and approval process took several weeks, but customers often needed their Solenis dosing solutions deployed in days.
“We made one attempt to move it to SharePoint, but our complicated integrations and approvals process caused it to fail. So, we killed that project,” said Marquart.
SAP Fiori Apps Lead to Big Efficiency Gains
Like most business automation and transformation projects, Solenis had to start by mapping and documenting its processes. This took eight people two full days to accomplish. This exercise helped Marquart and his team realize that the business users wasted a significant amount of time due to the confusing legacy process.
“We have about 300 people that participate in the CAPEX request submitting and approval process, including plant managers, customer equipment engineers, and senior management. All of these stakeholders had different requirements to make this process successful,” said Marquart.
Eventually, the team at Solenis decided to develop an application using SAP Fiori technology and run a PoC. The integration between SAP Fiori apps and SAP ERP can empower users to perform real-time lookups for active lists of ship-to-sites and include the financial authority matrix. The resulting app included a series of built-in checks and balances that pulled active spend and commitments against budget lines to see if the request fit within the existing budget. Under the Lotus Notes system, submitters could not easily see if the request conflicted with the budget until after they submitted the request.
“We had some limited previous experience building native Fiori apps, but we do not have a huge development shop, so we turned to the IQX AppBuilder for SAP Fiori, which made it straightforward with low-code development. We only had to build the logic. We found IQX extremely helpful,” said Marquart.
A key benefit of the SAP Fiori app is that its user interface is optimized for both desktops and mobile devices, the need for which was a big driver behind Solenis’s project. Now, the senior managers can use the mobile version of the app together with IQX OneList, which empowers them to perform one-click approvals with all the necessary information.
“The execs hated having to bounce between Lotus Notes and SAP to approve requests and reconcile information in the ERP system,” said Marquart.
The PoC has successfully proven that the SAP Fiori app will shorten the fulfillment and deployment of customer orders for dosing solutions from over four weeks to less than two weeks on average.
“It’s easy to see how it will cut down on customer order fulfillment times. We have gotten lots of feedback over several weeks, and everyone likes it. We are now doing user acceptance testing to make sure there are no bugs, and we will go live in early June,” concluded Marquart.
What Does This Mean for SAPinsiders?
Based on our research and the interview with Marquart, the following considerations can help the SAPinsider Community better automate processes:
- Map and document processes that need streamlining. Technologies generally do not turn bad processes into good ones. They accelerate processes. To apply any process automation or process management tool, first map out and understand the process. If the process is not helping the right people accomplish their tasks in the right way, re-engineer it to ensure that it does.
- Ask stakeholders what they need to make the process successful. Solenis knew its senior management and the commercial team both needed mobile capabilities, and its business users needed improved visibility into the CAPEX approval process. Everyone needed better integration between the CAPEX request tool and the SAP ERP system. Marquart’s team worked with IQX to fulfill the most important requirements of all stakeholders.
- If a process requires accurate, real-time data from the SAP ERP system or needs to report results back into that system, build strong integrations. No one wants to bounce back and forth between different systems or to manually copy information from one system into another. SAP Fiori technology can extend the capabilities of SAP ERP into custom apps without needing to customize the core.
- Innovate in house but leverage third-party expertise. SAP Fiori technology offers opportunities for IT departments to build innovative custom apps to solve their business users’ problems. IT managers should take advantage of these opportunities, but if they hit a wall with app development like Solenis did, they should evaluate whether any third-party solutions on the market can best fulfill their business needs.
Following this strategic guidance should help the SAPinsider Community implement SAP Fiori apps in a way that saves time and money on internal processes.
Pierce Owen, Vice President of Research & Publishing, SAPinsider, can be reached at Pierce.Owen@wispubs.com.