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Where SAP systems reach their limits

Here are problems with the standard

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SAP is one of the market leaders in ERP systems. The solutions from Walldorf are particularly widespread among German companies. At the same time, users of the software are often dissatisfied. Where do SAP systems reach their limits, what do users need and how can the problems be solved?

Table of contents

1. why do companies use SAP?

When you ask people about SAP, the answer is very often the same, namely rejection. SAP sucks. And yet almost everyone has an opinion about SAP because it is so widespread anyway. 

Why is SAP so successful? SAP was one of the pioneers in the digital handling of corporate processes, especially all accounting processes. And SAP has created a standard here that has become established in many companies. SAP processes, i.e. the digitized version of, for example, incoming orders from debtors, the preparation of quotations or invoices, are deeply anchored in companies. So deeply, in fact, that companies can hardly get away from them today.

In addition, SAP has created a large landscape of different modules that can map everything across the company in one system (or at least in one system world): From financial accounting and controlling (SAP FICO) to logistics and production processes (EWM and MES) to state-of-the-art analytics solutions (SAP Analyticcs Cloud), virtually all areas of the company are covered by SAP. This breadth of functions is very unique and offers the great advantage: An SAP landscape gets by without system breaks, without interfaces and without media breaks. At least within the self-imposed limits.

2. what are the alternatives to SAP?

Today, SAP is one of the market leaders of ERP systems. According to the Fraunhofer Institute, there were over 120 providers of ERP systems on the German market in 2021. In addition to SAP, the systems from Microsoft, Infor, Sage, Oracle and IBM are well-known and widely used.

In addition, there are also alternatives for individual modules of SAP. Warehouse management systems, for example, are provided by many suppliers, so that one is not dependent on WM or EWM. But these often have the decisive disadvantage that they do not communicate and function as harmoniously with the ERP system as is the case with an integrated system landscape from SAP. 

3. the limits of SAP

3.1 Usability - SAP interfaces and usability

We start with the elephant in the room: SAP solutions don't win any awards for ease of use. Especially the last generation (before Fiori and S/4HANA) looks like what it is: software from the decade before last: SAP ERP Central Compontent (ECC) has been around since 2004. And we're not used to that anymore: we spend our daily lives in modern apps and on websites that are designed to make it as easy and fun to use as possible. SAP ECC is the complete opposite of that.

Of course, one could now argue that business processes don't have to be fun. But the reluctance of users to perform cumbersome transactions in multiple interfaces at once or to resort to alternatives like Excel or handouts is still a problem: Poor usability leads to frustration, rejection and lost time. The biggest problem with poor usability, however, are the resulting errors.

SAP has now responded to some extent with the modern Fiori interfaces. However, compared to other modern interfaces, this is not true usability and user-friendliness. Operation is still not self-explanatory, so new users have to undergo extensive training.

3.2 Master data and SAP

SAP systems use data to map processes. The same data can be evaluated to check the progress of processes or to create analyses. But this doesn't always work everywhere, and certainly not in the long term: Master data maintenance is an ongoing challenge for every company that uses SAP.

Data forms the basis for all of a company's business processes. However, the data for this must be Be present, harmonized and free of errors. However, there are several problems with SAP systems:

  • Not all data can be captured at all because it is not intended. This can also affect data that is required for business processes. Or incoming data from other systems (for example, from customers or authorities) cannot be captured at all.
  • Different processes may require data in different systems, formats and with different values. They are then available, but you cannot use them for evaluations or analyses. To do this, you must first export all the data from the systems so that you can then align them and then evaluate them.
  • As described above, poor usability often leads to input errors. Users then fill out input fields incorrectly, not at all, or incorrectly. Such errors - if they are discovered at all - have to be corrected afterwards at great expense. 

 

Such data problems can not only hinder the smooth running of your processes. They can also limit the use of your data for analyses. Missing evaluations, for example, even of central company key figures, damage your company: Only with transparent evaluations of your processes can you make informed decisions and continue to grow operationally.

3.3 Special processes and SAP

As already mentioned, a wide variety of SAP modules cover different business areas. However, this is only worthwhile for SAP for process areas that are widely used. This means that every manufacturing or trading company has logistics processes, but not all companies need to ensure just-in-sequence delivery. The SAP standard has numerous functions for the former (there are separate modules for warehousing and transportation), but SAP systems only map the latter to a limited extent. The same applies to numerous other industry or process-related requirements.

The more special your requirements are, the more likely you are to have to deviate from the SAP standard: Either you find alternative options in your processes, you switch to alternative software solutions from third-party providers for your special processes, or you expand and modify your SAP systems until they fit your requirements.

4. how to deal with the limitations of SAP systems: The deviation from the standard as standard

An SAP system is always a framework that must first be adapted to the conditions in your company. Therefore, hardly any implemented SAP system is the same as another. Furthermore, additional functions or routines can be added. We list here which possibilities there are overall to adapt and extend the SAP standard:

4.1 SAP Customizing

Customizing is the general term for adapting an SAP system to your specific requirements in the company. This means: SAP systems can often only be used at all when your processes are stored in the system. However, these are still the functions that are available in SAP as standard.

For example, you can use customizing to define the currencies you use. However, customizing does not involve programming, but is, so to speak, the basic setting of the SAP system. 

 

An experienced SAP consulting company usually provides support during implementation, as experts here have already gained a lot of experience with customizing and with different processes.

4.2 Z programs

We speak of Z programs when additional programs that are not available in the SAP standard are developed. The "Z" or "Y" stands for the name environment of the programs. Usually, Z programs are developed individually for a customer by the SAP service provider during implementation or added later for the customer.

The problem of Z programs is that they can lead to errors in the system in the event of poor programming or ignorance. Put simply, Z programs must always exchange information with the standard system. If something is programmed incorrectly here or if the data exchange does not function correctly, a Z program can also completely paralyze an SAP system.

Developers must be particularly careful if numerous Z programs are installed and these may influence each other. Subsequent customizing or a release upgrade can then also become a problem.

So to ensure that no problems occur, you need to be sure that either your internal SAP experts or your external service provider is doing a good job. Or that problems and errors will also be discovered quickly and then rectified just as quickly.

The advantage of Z programs is that every SAP system can be adapted to the individual requirements of a company and its processes. For example, the conditions at an automotive supplier that has to ensure sequential delivery are fundamentally different from those at a pharmaceutical company that has to map batches.

Z programs allow many transactions or process steps to be automated or even executed in the background. Users thus save themselves cumbersome work processes. Well-programmed extensions that are neatly integrated into the SAP standard can therefore increase your productivity and minimize errors. The know-how of your SAP experts is crucial here. The better they understand your process requirements and SAP programming, the better you can use your SAP systems.

4.3 SAP enhancements and add-ons

Even though Z programs are mostly intended to map individual requirements, there are of course some processes or functions that are not available in the SAP standard, but from which many companies can benefit. For example, these may be requirements that are common to a particular industry. Here, each company could have its own Z programs coded. Alternatively, there are also providers for ready-made extensions.

These vendors often specialize in specific industries or processes for which they have developed extensions and then sell them as standardized add-ons.

The advantages of such add-ons are:
  • The solutions are usually tried and tested, work smoothly accordingly and do not require extensive testing.
  • Add-ons are made to be used by many companies and can therefore be implemented easily and quickly.
  • Companies that choose add-ons save the IT resources to develop their own solutions.
  • Most providers ensure that the add-ons are release-proof. This means that even changes or upgrades to the SAP system do not affect the add-ons and they continue to function without errors.
  • A specialized provider knows the exact requirements of its customers and has the necessary process expertise to offer exactly the functions that are needed for special processes.
  • Unlike Z programs, there is usually no danger here of extensions influencing each other and causing errors in the process sequences.
The disadvantages of add-ons are:
  • Completely individual wishes are usually not taken into account or must be programmed additionally.
  • You give a piece of flexibility out of your hand and usually have to rely on the add-on provider for support or maintenance.
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