The integration issue that dare not speak its name ….

Posted on: March 25th, 2014 by Patrick Teunissen 2 Comments

Having worked with multinational companies running SAP ERP systems for many years, I know that they (nearly) always have more than one SAP system to record their transactional data. Yet it is never discussed -- and it seems to be the 'Macbeth' of the SAP world, a fact that should not be uttered out loud…

My first experience with SAP's software solutions dates back to1989 whilst at Shell Chemicals in the Netherlands, exactly 25 years ago. What strikes me most after all these years is that people talk about SAP as if it is one system covering everything that is important to business.

Undoubtedly SAP has had a huge impact on enterprise computing. I remember at Shell, prior to the implementation of SAP that we ran a vast quantity of transaction systems. The purchasing and stock management systems for example, were stand alone and not integrated with the general ledger system. The integration of these transaction systems had to be done via interfaces some of which were manual (information had to be typed over) At the month end, only after all interfaces had run, would the ledger show the proper stock value and accounts payable. So thanks to SAP the number of transaction systems has been dramatically reduced.

But of course the Shell Refining Company had its own SAP system just like the businesses in the UK, Germany etc etc. So in the late 80’s Shell ran multiple and numerous different SAP systems.

However this contradicts one of SAP’s key messages, their ability to integrate all sorts of transactional information to provide relevant data for analytical purposes in one hypothetical system (reference Dr. Plattner’s 2011 Beijing speech ).

I have always struggled with the definition of “relevant data” as I believe that what is relevant is dependent on 3 things: the user, the context and time. For an operator of a chemical plant for example, the current temperature of the unit and product conversion yields is likely to be “relevant” as this is the data needed to steer the current process. For the plant director the volumes produced and the overall processing efficiency of the last month maybe “relevant” as this is what his peers in the management team will challenge him on. SAP systems are as far as I know, not used to operate manufacturing plants, in which case the only conclusion can be that not all relevant data is in SAP. What you could say though, is that it is very likely that the “accounting” data is in SAP hence SAP could be the source for the plant’s management team reports.

 

However when businesses are running multiple SAP systems, as described earlier, the     conclusion cannot be that there is a (as in 1) SAP system in which all the relevant accounting data is processed. So a regional director responsible for numerous manufacturing sites may have to deal with data collected from multiple SAP systems when he/she needs to analyze the total costs of manufacturing of the last quarter.Probably because this does not really fit with SAP’s key message - one system for both transaction processing and analytics - they have no solution. I googled “analytics for multiple SAP systems” the results of which are shown above. As you can see other than the Teradata link there is no solution that will help our regional director. Even when the irrelevant words “analytics for” are removed only very technical and specific solutions are found.

Some people believe that this problem with analytics will be solved over time. Quite a few larger enterprises start with what I call re-implementations of the SAP software. Five years after my first exposure to SAP at Shell Chemicals in the Netherlands I became a member of the team responsible for the “re-implementation” of the software for Shell’s European Chemicals business. Of course there were cost benefits (less SAP systems = lower operational cost for the enterprise) and some supply chain related transactions could be processed more efficiently from the single system. But the region was still not really benefitting from it as the (national / legal) company in SAP is the most important object around which a lot has been organized (or configured) . Hence most multinational enterprises use another software product into which data is interfaced for the purpose of regional consolidation.

I was employed by Shell for almost 10 years. It is a special company and I am still in contact with a few people that I worked with. The other day I asked about the SAP landscape as it is today and was told that, 25 years after my first SAP experience they are still running multiple SAP systems and re-implementation projects. As I consider myself an expert in SAP I am sure I could have built a career on the re-implementation of the SAP systems.

The point that I want to make with this post is that many businesses need to take into account that they run multiple SAP systems, and more importantly that these systems are not automatically integrated. This fact has a huge impact on the analytics of the SAP data and the work required to provide an enterprise view of the business. So if you are involved in the delivery of analytical solutions to the organization then you should factor in “the Scottish play” issue into the heart of your design even if nobody else wants to talk about it.

Notes:

1 http://events.sap.com/sapphirenow/en/session/871 

2 This is why an appreciated colleague, a manufacturing consultant leader, always refers to SAP as the “Standard Accounting Package”.

3 In SAP the “Company” (T001-BUKRS) is probably the most important data object around which a lot has been organized (configured). Within SAP consolidation of these “companies’ is not an obvious thing to do. Extensions of the financial module (FI)designed to consolidate are difficult to operate and hardly ever used. Add to this the fact that almost every larger Enterprise has multiple SAP systems and the fact that consolidation takes place in “another” system is explained.

4 In 2007 SAP acquired OutlookSoft now known as SAP BPC (Business Planning & Consolidation) for this very purpose.

2 Responses

  1. Mark Marty

    March 26, 2014

    Having spent years working with similar type of companies, both inside and outside of Teradata, I too am convinced that the purists purposely ignore this fact. Multiple SAP systems do not provide integrated Anlaytics, and the only solution is to reimplement a global SAP system. Only problem, I’ve yet to see one work very well, if at all, and in fact, most places are like Shell…still running multiple systems years later. The IDW/EDW is the only place they are going to get corporate /global analytics.

    Reply
  2. Glen Sartain

    April 17, 2014

    This blog speaks to the fundamental issues of most ERP implementations! Settling for limited or aggregated reporting function in no way passes for Analytic capabilities.

    In addition, the latest in-memory technology only slightly enhances the reporting environment while still not addressing a companies analytic needs.

    It’s time to build a new box…not just think outside the box.

    Reply

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