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Embracing Microsoft Excel as an SAP Front End

by Dave Hannon | insiderPROFILES

January 1, 2011

SAP customers often turn to third-party software providers when they're looking for solutions to enhance the SAP functionality the business has in place. Z Option is an SAP partner that has both a technical and functional understanding of the nuances and challenges of using SAP solutions. And, as co-founder Jim Halepaska explains, Z Option really hit the nail on the head with its flagship product, GLSU, a financial spreadsheet uploader for SAP systems. This article introduces GLSU, as well as three case studies from Z Option customers.
 

If you’re searching for a third-party software solution to enhance your business’s existing SAP ERP Financials functionality, your standard options will include plenty of products created purely by IT folks. A closer look, however, could lead you to a solution developed by the functional people who use SAP software day in and day out.

Software provider Z Option is a great example of an SAP partner that has both a technical and functional understanding of the nuances and challenges of using SAP solutions — all the way up to the founding members. In fact, when the original founders met for the first time, it wasn’t to discuss a business plan, identify investors, or map out product lines. Instead, they gathered together like a project team, collaborating to solve an actual business challenge: how to simplify spreadsheet-based SAP ERP Financials data entry.   

In the early 1990s, Z Option co-founder Jim Halepaska was in the accounting department of an early SAP customer that was looking to streamline the entry of spreadsheet-based data into its SAP ERP Financials system. Halepaska was the user representative on a project team that eventually developed an internal spreadsheet interface that would upload the data from general ledger entries into the SAP ERP system.

       
Jim Halepaska
“GLSU was the product we knew SAP ERP Financials users would need.”
— Jim Halepaska, Co-Founder, Z Option
     
       

“As I began working on more SAP-related projects around the country as a functional consultant, I realized there was a broad need for this kind of spreadsheet interface,” he says.

It was during one of those projects that Halepaska met his fellow founders of Z Option, and they all commiserated about recreating a lot of their own work, consistently writing the same program for the spreadsheet interface. “We all wished someone out in the market would just write the elegant and comprehensive version of this functionality so we wouldn’t have to keep writing it every time and could work on other things,” he says. “When that never happened, we decided to do it ourselves. And that’s how the company was founded.”

For Business Users by Business Users

When Z Option was founded in 1999, it was not a typical “dot-com” startup of the day, flooding the market with vaporware. With a combination of both IT and business backgrounds, the founders focused on developing real solutions to real-world business challenges. Z Option’s first product was a database tool for doing data cutovers, which was in high demand at the time due to pressing Y2K-related projects. Once Y2K passed, the newborn company focused on what would become its flagship product, a financial spreadsheet uploader for SAP systems called GLSU.*

* The original name of this product, General Ledger Spreadsheet Uploader, is something of a misnomer today. What started as a spreadsheet interface for journal entries, over time, has expanded well beyond the general ledger.

“We really hit the nail on the head with GLSU 10 years ago because we knew SAP users would need this product,” says Halepaska. With GLSU, Z Option wanted to create a solution for business end users that was quick to implement, easy to learn, and flexible. “We always felt our vertical was the function, regardless of industry or company size,” Halepaska says. “And that’s turned out to be true. Our tools are end-user tools, and we knew what they should look like because we were those end users.”

Creating Flexible Solutions

One of the additions to the GLSU product since its launch has been the ability to attach supporting documentation to a journal entry made in SAP ERP. According to Halepaska, that feature came about when several customers identified the tracking of supporting documentation as a challenge in their daily work. “The standard functionality of SAP ERP allows for attaching documents, such as images and PDF files, to documents in the system, and when our users asked us if we could build this same functionality into GLSU, we did it,” says Halepaska.

GLSU reduces the amount of paper required to make general ledger entries because the supporting documentation previously had to be tracked and stored, often in paper form. GLSU now automates that process. When a user posts an entry using GLSU, it not only creates the document in SAP ERP, but packages the workbook and attaches it to the document.

This automation was a natural extension of the product’s ability to attach supporting documentation, such as travel receipts and vendor invoices, which can be packaged with the entry for easy internal access and review. In terms of flexibility, GLSU is now being used in ways its designers had not expected, including accounts payable, payroll, and the migration of legacy information from non-SAP systems.

As the need for financial spreadsheet-based tools became more evident, Z Option developed Budget Loader for retrieving and loading planning data into SAP ERP Financials systems. Businesses can use Budget Loader for company-wide budgeting or for specific project planning.

The next tool developed was LIVExpress, a spreadsheet-based tool for posting invoice verification documents. This tool provides the ability to customize spreadsheet templates for vendors that are not using an electronic data interchange (or EDI) system.

Going forward, Halepaska says Z Option will continue to focus solely on solutions that serve SAP customers well. “Almost every SAP customer has some part of the organization that wants to use Microsoft Excel as a front end for SAP software,” he says. “And so many companies are feeling cost pressure and being forced to do more with less, or at least do more with the same. And that’s what we help them do.”

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