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Take the Detective Work Out of Supply Chain Troubleshooting

by Dave Suffecool | insiderPROFILES

April 1, 2013

Many companies lack centralized B2B process visibility inside the ERP system, which can lead to an inability to answer seemingly simple supply chain questions, such as where a customer order is in the process or why an order has yet to ship. To help in this endeavor, SEEBURGER AG has developed a solution that expedites problem identification and resolution by providing centralized B2B process visibility.
 

For organizations that use an ERP system, simple questions like “Where is my customer’s order?” or “Why didn’t the order ship?” can sometimes require hours to answer. During the time it takes to research the query, customers are worried, supply chains are stalling, service-level agreements (SLAs) are inching closer to penalty thresholds, and hours of expensive labor are wasted slogging through disparate data silos to track down the requested information.  

The problem is a lack of centralized B2B process visibility inside the ERP system. EDI/B2B transaction messages tend to be stored separately from associated business documents, such as purchase orders (POs). When a question arises, these standalone information repositories must be searched independently and then laboriously correlated to determine where a process misfired.

SAP environments are no exception. Intermediate documents (IDOCs) created to link EDI/B2B transaction messages with SAP systems sit in one silo, while POs, delivery documents, invoices, and other order-related process files can reside in as many as 10 different SAP applications. Troubleshooting requires extensive detective work, including knowledge of arcane information such as IDOC numbers and communication protocols.

Only IT technicians or EDI specialists have the know-how to do the research, and even then it may take three or four hours to respond to a single inquiry. With constantly rising volumes of both incoming and outgoing transaction messages and a corresponding increase in error rates, these lengthy investigations become a bottleneck that can cause excessive IT/EDI overhead, serious damage to customer relationships, and even production outages in the event that message errors delay shipments of needed materials. 

Investigating B2B Process Failures

By some estimates, dedicated EDI personnel or IT staffers who have EDI/B2B responsibilities spend as much as half their time identifying and resolving B2B process problems. That heavy workload is driven in part by the fact that more trading partners are using EDI/B2B technology to automate supply chain communications, creating more messages and therefore more opportunities for error.

In fact, according to an AMR Research study, 34% of the data feeding ERP systems is now generated from external sources such as customers, suppliers, logistics providers, and financial institutions.1 In the same study, 79% of the organizations surveyed indicated that exceptions or problems occur on more than 1% of inbound B2B transactions. For an ERP system that receives one million transactions annually from outside trading partners, that translates into 10,000 transactions that require some level of manual problem resolution.

A portion of these failed interactions will inevitably trigger inquiries or complaints from trading partners waiting for their next order acknowledgement or product shipment. That influx of inquiries, in turn, will touch off a hunt by EDI or IT specialists for the root cause of the trouble. Errors can range from invalid customer or product IDs to communication glitches that cause document delivery snags.

In addition, B2B messages can easily get lost as they navigate internal systems, such as SAP, JMS, IBM MQ Series, EDI translators, BEA, and Cyclone interchange applications. Transaction and log file contents are challenging to analyze, and disparate document content formats complicate the effort. Many specialists often need to be involved to solve one problem, again squandering in-house IT resources on inefficient, decentralized business process monitoring.

Centralized Visibility in SAP ERP

Fortunately for SAP users, there is no longer a need to be crushed under the weight of problems caused by B2B transaction failures. Longtime SAP business integration partner SEEBURGER AG has developed a solution that expedites problem identification and resolution by providing centralized B2B process visibility in a monitoring tool that is displayed adjacent to the SAP interface. Within the familiar interface, business users, EDI specialists, and IT technicians can now have a single consolidated view that links all IDOCs representing supply chain messages with related SAP documents, such as POs, sales orders, delivery documents, and invoices.

This tool — the SEEBURGER Monitor for SAP — is delivered as a fully integrated and preconfigured rapid-deployment add-on to SAP ERP for fast end-user adoption. It functions as a standalone tool or as an extension of the SEEBURGER Business Integration Suite (BIS), making it possible to automatically match EDI/B2B documents that have passed through the SEEBURGER gateway to the appropriate IDOC numbers for seamless tracing of transaction processing chains at both the technical and business levels.

The result is faster, simpler error analysis — including determining whether an exception is technical (such as a communication fault or document structure issue) or functional (such as an incorrect supplier ID, part number, or customer record) — with little or no need for IT assistance. Both technical and non-technical users can now:

  • Quickly pinpoint B2B process errors using SEEBURGER Monitor as a one-stop, real-time dashboard, eliminating the delays associated with piecing the picture together from multiple monitoring tools and tedious transaction and log file analysis.
  • Receive automatic alerts of critical process errors using SEEBURGER’s workflow-controlled process monitoring and escalation management, shortening resolution time and potentially avoiding problem detection by trading partners.
  • Customize error investigations by virtually any parameter and view, including document type (PO, ASN, order acknowledgement, invoice, etc.), all documents with errors, customer name, and more. Views can also be customized for specific users, such as shipping personnel, and sorted by transaction status (in progress, successful, error, etc.).
  • Navigate to SAP master data, documents, and process transactions for more detail, or access process-specific functions, such as tolerance checks with a single click.

These capabilities yield business benefits ranging from improved customer service to cost savings. Faster problem resolution minimizes issues, such as lost orders and late shipments, that can wreak havoc on production lines as well as customer goodwill. Proactive monitoring not only shortens resolution times but also frequently identifies problems before customers, suppliers, and other partners notice them. Relieving IT staff of the bulk of B2B problem identification and resolution responsibilities reduces operating costs. Avoiding SLA violations caused by a failure to address problems in a timely manner minimizes SLA-related fines and penalties. 

In addition, the SEEBURGER Monitor for SAP enables enterprises to further leverage their SAP investment with a packaged solution that complements SAP workflows and is easily customizable to the individual system. By using this new tool to centralize supply chain monitoring within an SAP system, organizations gain a new SAP best practice as well as a whole new B2B process view that provides never-before-possible transparency, traceability, and accountability across the supply chain.

Learn More

To learn more about simplifying supply chain activity tracking with the SEEBURGER Monitor for SAP, visit seeburger.com/tools-for-sap/monitoring-and-analysis-for-sap.html.

         
SEEBURGER
     

Dave Suffecool, Director of Solutions Architects at SEEBURGER AG, has more than 20 years of experience in web-based technologies and is responsible for a team that investigates clients’ strategic business goals and initiatives and matches products and services to meet those goals.

         
         

1 AMR Research, “Today’s Challenges with Managing ERP/B2B Integration” (November 2009). [back]

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