GRC
HR
SCM
CRM
BI


Article

 

Data and Document Archiving for SAP R/3: Mission-Critical, Yet Easier Than You Think

by Ralf Klinkhammer | SAPinsider

January 1, 2001

by Ralf Klinkhammer, SAP SAPinsider - 2001 (Volume 2), January (Issue 1)
 

Many SAP users are unaware of the benefits and even necessity of archiving SAP data and business documents. The good news is that the standard SAP system includes a variety of ways to solve the problem of “too much data.” Archiving capabilities are provided across all modules by one of two built-in centralized components — ArchiveLink (or the newer Content Server) and SAP ADK (Archiving Development Kit) — and using them is simple and straightforward.

Surprising as it may seem, a fair percentage of SAP’s 24,000 worldwide users are unaware of the benefits and, more importantly, the necessity of archiving SAP data and business documents. All too often, in the intense and focused exercise of installing enterprise-wide SAP functionality, scant attention is paid to the fact that the amount of data stored in R/3 will eventually exceed certain technical and organizational limits. How quickly thresholds for real-time access to active data are reached depends on company size and transaction volume, but be sure of this: these limits will be reached. And despite the rapidly expanding capacity of hard drives and online storage systems, the reality is that you can’t simply keep adding disk space forever.

     As any database administrator will tell you, there are limitations on table and index sizes which, once breached, can cause noticeable degradation of performance of any real-time database system, including R/3. Online response time drops, record deletions take longer, and database backups and restores (infrequent, of course!) become intolerably sluggish. Suddenly, your employees — particularly those who are strictly concerned about how the system affects their ability to do their work — are throwing pencils at their screens and pointing fingers at the IT department.

     Avoiding this scenario is simple. It’s just a matter of understanding the benefits of archiving, both technical and functional, and then taking advantage of the many tools available for the job.

R/3’s Built-In Archiving Functionality

The good news is that the standard SAP system includes a variety of ways to solve the problem of “too much data.” Archiving capabilities are provided across all modules by one of two built-in, centralized components: ArchiveLink (or the newer ContentServer) and SAP ADK (Archiving Development Kit).

     In many cases, however, users are either unaware of these components or incorrectly assume that implementing the embedded R/3 archiving functionality requires expert programming knowledge. The reality is, using SAP R/3’s archiving tools is simple and straightforward.

Two Types of Archiving

Before detailing the benefits and standard elements of SAP archiving, let’s take a moment to clarify terminology. Archiving is a general term that SAP R/3 users should immediately separate into two distinct categories: data archiving and business document archiving.

  • Data archiving: Basically, all data that you enter or edit using online R/3 screen transactions resides in the R/3 database. This data may have originated from a number of sources: an inbound paper document, an automatic calculation within R/3, a barcode scan, or a manual keyboard input, among others. As data enters the database, it is considered “active,” while it is still being processed in support of business operations. At some point, the data becomes “aged,” and should be taken from the active database and stored elsewhere. In most cases, archived data should be accessible for a defined period of time before being completely deleted.

  • Business document archiving: Traditionally, this is what people think of when they hear the word “archiving,” because they are familiar with the filing and management of paper documents. SAP R/3 handles the conversion of inbound paper documents into electronic data either through manual entry of the information on the form, or through an automated scanning process, usually handled through third-party Complementary Software Provider (CSP) solutions. R/3 also generates outbound paper documents using data from its database, including numerous forms, reports, and print lists. All these paper documents can be archived in electronic format to help reduce the cost of managing paper records.

R/3 Archiving Components

As mentioned earlier, R/3 contains standard components that support data and business document archiving. In order to implement basic R/3 system archiving, users interact with SAP’s Archive Development Kit (ADK). Additional tools, in the form of the Data Retention Tool (DART) and the Archive Information System (AS), round out the standard SAP archiving functionality.

Archive Development Kit (ADK)

In some ways, the name for this functional interface is misleading because many people interpret “development kit” as something that requires programming knowledge and technical savvy. In fact, the SAP Archive Development Kit is not a programming environment. It comes ready to configure and can easily be used to extend the basic functionality of SAP archiving. In order to use any of the other archiving tools, you must interact with the ADK.

     Essentially, the ADK creates archive files by utilizing data objects. These data objects enable different organizational views of R/3 database table contents. In other words, data can be logically extracted from various database tables and combined into a meaningful file of historical data. These files are then stored outside the R/3 database within the file system of your server. It is then your obligation to back up these archive files to support long-term storage and retrieval requirements. Again, terminology is important. SAP R/3 “archive files” are a special type of R/3 file that resides outside the R/3 database.

     The ADK also provides hooks into the standard SAP R/3 system. These hooks allow third-party CSPs to communicate through R/3 ArchiveLink to extend built-in R/3 archiving functionality. Note that ArchiveLink was enhanced and updated by SAP with Version 4.5, and is now called ContentServer. While ContentServer uses a different data communication method to work with external solutions, it provides the same basic functionality as ArchiveLink.

The Benefits of Archiving

There are several important reasons to regularly archive both R/3 data and R/3-related business documents: performance, cost savings, legal requirements, and streamlining of business processes.

Performance

As mentioned earlier, the long-term accumulation of data in the online, real-time R/3 database will ultimately reach a point where system response time begins to deteriorate. Data archiving (along with behind-the-scenes tuning from your friendly database administrator) helps keep the online database streamlined and responsive, which means that your business can keep pace with daily business activities.

Cost Savings

Both data and business document archiving can contribute to substantial reductions in operating expenses. In the case of data archiving, maintaining control over the size of the online database can help avoid unnecessary investment in disk capacity. A hidden cost savings comes from reduced downtime during database backups, database recoveries, and conversion and upgrade efforts. For example, as global companies convert from individual currencies to support the Euro, the database must be down for a period of time in order to update all records, deal with changes to database field sizes, etc. The more “aged” records that can be removed from the database via archiving, the less downtime will be incurred during the conversion. Major savings can be gained by minimizing paper management. By converting inbound, outbound, and print documents to electronic images, many paper management inefficiencies can be eliminated: no duplication of files, no lost documents, reduction of filing space, reduced staff, improved document retrieval speed, etc. According to many third-party optical archiving partners, the cost of an optical data and business document archiving add-on can be cost-justified even if it is only used for outbound documents. Simply by implementing an outbound optical archiving solution, the company is positioned to begin using both inbound document archiving and optical data archiving when it is ready.

Legal Requirements

Government regulations often require the retention of operational, financial, and business documents and data for long periods of time. While paper documents have served this purpose for years, response times and accuracy in audits and other legal proceedings can be greatly improved through electronic archiving, and result in further cost savings.

Streamlining of Business Processes

Archiving, in particular, business document archiving, can be the cornerstone of efforts to improve workflow efficiency. Numerous companies can attest to the enormous benefits gained from converting paper documents into scanned images. From improved security to the easy search-and-retrieval of documents that are no longer active, archiving can drive significant, positive improvements in day-to-day operations.

Data Retention Tool (DART)

The Data Retention Tool, downloadable from SAPNet, is an add-on for older versions of SAP R/3. For later versions, beginning with Release 4.5, DART is included in the standard R/3 system. DART was developed jointly over a two-year period by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and ASUG (Americas’ SAP Users’ Group). Its express purpose is to improve the ability of companies to perform IRS-compliant retrievals of archived information. DART uses a separate query-and-retrieval interface within the SAP GUI to extract IRS-related data directly from the archive files created by the ADK.

     It is important to remember that the ADK archive files reside on your server’s file system. These files contain historical operational and financial data, and your IT department must arrange to preserve these files for whatever long-term retention period is required. Often, this means backing up the files to tape. Optical jukebox storage of archive files and business documents is often an alternative or adjunct to tape backup.

Archive Information System (AS)

This SAP archiving component provides enhanced retrieval capabilities against previously archived data (not business documents). Again, archive files created by the ADK are the source of the information. SAP’s AS requires that the archive files be loaded into new tables within the database. In this approach, AS requires some detailed, technical knowledge of the database table structure and field layouts, because the current database structure may not be identical to what existed when the archive file was originally created. Because of this requirement, AS is R/3’s least-used archiving component. The good news is that SAP is working to improve the AS function to make it easier to use.

Optical Archiving

Clearly, SAP R/3 includes various options for getting your archiving function up and running. Through ArchiveLink and ContentServer, SAP also makes it possible for CSPs to extend archiving beyond the basics.

     Many SAP R/3 users have found that supplementing standard R/3 archive functionality with an integrated optical archiving solution is beneficial and extremely cost-effective. These solutions are offered by a number of third-party CSPs. Typically, these products provide, to varying degrees, the capability to:

  • Scan paper documents
  • Route them electronically
  • Store the images on write-once optical media (which means the document cannot be altered)
  • Search and retrieve archived items quickly

     Optical archiving also supports the long-term storage and searching of print lists and reports, which can be a tremendous time saver for many organizations.

Business Workflow to Streamline Business Processes

Most optical archiving solutions provide some level of integration and support for SAP’s Business Workflow functionality. Business Workflow allows users to define and automate the flow of paper and documents through their business. There are two primary scenarios for using optical archiving, “early” and “late,” both of which are supported within a standard R/3 system.

     Users who are just getting started with optical archiving will find that late archiving is easy to implement. The main reason is that late archiving literally requires no changes to business processes. The company processes paper documents and data as it normally does, then adds a concluding step of scanning the paper into an electronic format for permanent storage. This eliminates the normal, inefficient filing of paper in cabinets, or of boxing reams of paper for shipping to a long-term storage facility. In addition to the obvious benefits of reduced paper filing time, late archiving provides substantially improved retrieval time. It also makes the company more comfortable with electronic archiving in preparation for a possible move to early archiving.

     Companies looking to substantially improve their operations and streamline their business processes will implement the early archiving scenario. Here, documents are converted to electronic images and files before normal processing begins. This enables many additional benefits, such as automated identification and routing of documents, and elimination of multiple paper copies. In fact, many companies find that implementing an early archive scenario allows them to thoroughly review and revamp their existing business workflow and lower the costs of conducting daily business.

SAP R/3 Archiving: Time to Get Started

Archiving is an absolutely essential element of a complete and efficient implementation of SAP R/3. Experience has shown that the biggest drawbacks to establishing an effective archiving capability is that users are relatively unfamiliar with the existing R/3 archiving tools and functions or they perceive that archiving is too complex. Archiving is not something to fear, but something to embrace. If you want to keep key people happy — accountants, auditors, database administrators, and end users — then take the time to learn more about archiving. With just a little effort, you can help your company get the most out of SAP R/3 and save a tremendous amount of money along the way.


Ralf Klinkhammer has more than 12 years of systems consulting and implementation experience in the data archiving and imaging systems markets. Since 1995, he has served as the Project Manager and co-developer of EASY-LINK for R/3, the SAP ArchiveLink interface from EASY SOFTWARE. Mr. Klinkhammer was directly responsible for the creation of the EASY SOFTWARE Channel for ArchiveLink consulting services practices and has been directly involved in the successful implementation of more than 50 SAP ArchiveLink projects. He can be reached at ralf.klinkhammer@easy-software.net.

EASY SOFTWARE is a leading provider of full-text data archiving and document management solutions with more than 5,500 corporate customers and 400 partners worldwide. All EASYWARE modules are interface-certified by SAP and support SAP security, Business Workflow, and mySAP.com. EASYWARE solutions are easily implemented and extremely cost-effective. For more information, visit www.easy-software.net.


An email has been sent to:






More from SAPinsider



COMMENTS

Please log in to post a comment.

No comments have been submitted on this article. Be the first to comment!


SAPinsider
FAQ