Its time someone brought up the fact that configuration management in SAP APO / SCM is a mess, and is getting worse with each release.
What This Article Covers
- Why configuration is so problematic in APO.
- What are some of the major issues?
- How the configuration effort in APO compares to best of breed solutions.
- A far superior approach to configuration which could greatly improve implementations.
I have long felt that the configuration screens in SAP could be greatly simplified and improved. On the IMG side, essentially all that is being done is parameters are being defined. However, there are far too many screens and objects to navigate to configure what are essentially simple items. Most of the screens in the IMG are either a text entry or a drop down, which connects to a different field in the IMG. I have documented roughly 700 configuration areas of SAP EWM, and can say that most of those screens are simple data mappings that would be easily represented by a few columns in a spreadsheet. On the SAP Easy Access side, at least in the SCM space most of the activity is just connecting specific product, location and or product location combinations to different options that have been setup already in the IMG. Overall, as the complexity of the solution increases this issue is getting worse and is making SAP SCM a less and less sustainable solution. Also the focus is changing in terms of skill sets. It is not more important that the person configuring the system understand simply the particularities of the configuration setup rather than understand the business reasons for these configurations. This is a sign of an exceedingly poor interface design. Configuration is not supposed to consume so much effort from the configuration consultant that they do not have the bandwidth to match the requirements to the configuration.
How the Configuration Effort in APO Compares to Best of Breed Solutions
I have over 10 years of experience in different supply chain planning software and have configured a number of systems, SAP SCM is at least 5x more involved and time-consuming to configure than any other systems I have ever worked with. I have heard about a number of new modules in the past few years, however, I have not seen any effort on the part of SAP to improve the configuration management of their system. SAP development is wasting my time by requiring that myself and other consultants expend enormous effort to set up even things that are elementary to set up in other systems. Clients end up paying for this inefficient design. I would like to see SAP move people from doing things like coming up with glossy PDF documents and terms like “Netweaver” and place those people onto making the infrastructure more usable and maintainable.
A Better Configuration Approach
Setting up configuration from a spreadsheet or relational database is something SAP should consider. The company Demand Works sets the standard in this area by allowing entire models to be created in spreadsheets with different tabs representing different tables in the ProgressSQL database. After initial modeling is complete and the company is ready to move to production, an intermediate database can be created to feed the application database. To read about how Demand Works allows its system to be configured see this link. If SAP were to follow the simple principles outlined by Demand Works, their implementation success would increase dramatically.
These issues with configuration are why I never recommend to clients performing any prototyping or simulation in SAP SCM as the effort is both too large and too error prone. For the money that can be spent in configuration it is far easier to model in a third-party application. This also helps validate the results in the SCM system. Many third-party vendors offer desktop solutions of their software (ToolsGroup, MCA Solutions, Demand Works among many others). While executives often cannot tolerate using third-party systems for production, they are often more amenable to buying these systems as an adjunct the SAP SCM system. Generally this approach needs to begin to be more widely utilized because the current approach of trying to use SCM for either supply chain simulation or modeling is retarding the supply chains of companies. The fact is that the configuration management in SAP SCM is so onerous that neither modeling nor simulating in SAP SCM is cost-effective or sustainable.