Practical Tips for SAP ERP Financials Transactions

by Gary Byrne

July 26, 2011

In a recent interview with Dave Hanon of SAPInsider, Financials Expert author and technical advisor Paul Ogivele offered some practical tips and work-arounds for SAP ERP financials transactions. Listen to the podcast or read the entire interview below. Paul has written articles for Financials Expert on topics such as financial reporting and tax procedures, and he has a practical approach to getting around common FI challenges.

Paul will be taking questions on technical tips for getting the most out of your FI transactions on Thursday, July 28, at 12:30 EDT during a one-hour moderated forum on Insider Learning Network. Register here for full details, and for access to a sampling of tips from his newly released SAP PRESS book, 100 Things You Should Know About Financial Accounting with SAP

Dave Hannon: Hello, this is Dave Hannon with SAPinsider. I'm speaking with Paul Ovigele, the author of 100 Things You Should Know About Financial Accounting with SAP, available now from SAP PRESS.

Paul will also be hosting a live Q&A here on the Insider Learning Network on Thursday, July 28, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Welcome, Paul.

Paul Ovigele:  Thanks for having me, Dave.

Dave: Paul, I know the book provides some great tips and work-arounds for SAP users, so I thought we'd start our conversation there. What would you say is one of the work-arounds that you think most SAP users might not be aware of in the financials area particularly?

Paul: That's a good question, Dave. There are actually a number of work-arounds. In fact that's what motivated me to write the book. The one that stands out, because I've had a lot of questions about this is, "How do you prevent general ledger accounts from being entered in purchase orders?"

Now the reason why this is something a lot of finance users don't know about is because the setting for this is not based in the finance module. And what normally happens with purchase orders is that if it's not a material that’s been bought, the purchaser will need to enter a GL account. And sometimes the purchaser will enter the wrong account, and the finance team will have to make journal entries at month end.

So they like to have a way for the purchaser not to enter an account, but to enter something else that's more meaningful to them. So the work-around is to have material groups created with very simple titles like office supplies, or light bulbs, or pallets, and the purchaser will select those. And then behind the scenes the finance team will configure an account to attach to that material group, and it will go to the general ledger account.

Now this is something that sounds very simple, but a lot of companies have a problem with that, and they really want to find a solution to having to prevent purchasers from manually entering these general ledger accounts.

Dave: That's interesting. A very practical tip. I know you also cover some self-service aspects in the book. Do you have any advice for how SAP financials users can do more themselves; that is, minimize their reliance on the IT organization?

Paul: Yes. One of the benefits of SAP is that you're meant to become, each area is meant to become, more self-sufficient, and the IT department is meant to do less. However, because a lot of companies are used to having a lot of duties especially at month end by the IT team, a lot of time the finance team still relies on them to do things, like run a report or create an ABAP report, things like that.

But there are tools available at every finance person's disposal that they can use that will minimize things like that. An example of this kind of tool is the LSMW tool, which instead of creating an upload program you can create an LSMW, which will help you create an Excel template and load that into SAP.

There's the Report Painter tool and the SAP Query tool, both of which will help you to create your own reports without needing any ABAP code. If you also learn things like Creed and Variance, that will help you customize certain fields in reports and transactions, so you can easily execute a transaction without having to do so much data entry.

So a lot of these things, again, they sound pretty simple, but just because of habit, instead of trying to find out exactly what you need to do to accomplish your goal, you would just rather go to the IT department.

Now aside from all those, what I like to tell people is this: we live in the information age. There's a lot of information out there either on the Internet, SAP books, SAP PRESS books, mine being one of them, of course. You have the Financials Expert Online Journal; you have conferences. There's a lot of information about how to optimize the SAP FICO module. And I think finance users should utilize these a little more than they are right now.

Dave: That's very good advice . Another section of your book covers adding fields to fixed asset reports, and I thought that was interesting. What advice or tips do you have for SAP users in that area?

Paul: That's another area where if you take some of these fixed asset reports, the standard reports as they're given by SAP, they don't always have all the fields you need. And it is very easy to look at the report and say, "Hey, I don't have this field that I need to satisfy my requirement, so I'm going to create a Z program,” or “I'm going to ask the IT team or an external consultant to come in and create a custom report.”

Now there's this functionality in configuration using sort versions. If you create a sort version, you can add new fields from most of the fixed asset tables to this sort version. And you can specify this sort version in the fixed asset report so that when you run the report, these new fields will be available.

This tool — actually, I first implemented it probably in the year 2000 — and I thought by now it was common knowledge. But I'm actually surprised by the number of users who don't take advantage of this functionality. Because when I've gone into companies to do optimization projects, they have custom fixed asset reports, with fields that you can easily get just by using the sort version.

So this is just one of the examples of having functionality that's there, but if you don't do your research to know about it, you might end up spending money going outside to someone else or creating reports which are not standard by SAP.

Dave: Another great tip. You're hosting a live Q&A on Thursday, and I was curious to find out if there are any topics you expect people will want information about, what's hot right now in the financials space?

Paul: Well, in the financial space there are a few things. First of all acc ount determination is a big thing. It's always been; it always will be. Account determination is how the general ledger accounts are assigned to different keys so that if you post something from a different module, it flows seamlessly into the general ledger.

Now the reason why that always causes issues for users is that most of the time SAP has already preconfigured these account assignment keys, or your consultant has already configured them. And you don't really know the source of them until you look at a general ledger report and wonder, why did this post thing happen?  or why did this take place?

And there are a variety of things that could cause an account determination issue. I have a few of them in the book, but there are so many different reasons, and they all have their own different solutions. But account determination is a huge thing. It's also the reason why SAP is an integrated system.

If we didn't have account determination, then if someone posted something in a different module, it wouldn't hit the general ledger; you'll still have to do a journal entry. So it's a huge thing, and knowing exactly what you need to do when there's an error is a huge thing. So I expect in most conferences I have and presentations I always get account determination questions.

Another thing obviously is reporting. Finance users want to get their information out of the system in a timely and accurate manner. They want to make sure what they put in is what they get out. I always tell people, SAP has probably all the reports that you need to run your business. I would say about 80 percent.

However, they may not look the way you want. You may have to run two reports to get one report that you used in your legacy system. So with reports, and I would like to say before you go out there and try to explore other ways of getting your reports of SAP, look at the standard reports. Because in most of cases you just h ave to tweak a little button here, or something, that will get you the report that you want.

In some cases you do have to go outside, create an ABAP report, or even use an external reporting tool, but there is enough data. Users asked me this all the time, “Now why can't SAP give us the report? We actually put in all the information; it's all there in the system. Why can't we get it out?”

You just have to know where to find the right reports; you have to know what to do with the right reports to get it in the format you want. I have a few tips in my book about what you can do to standard SAP reports to make them look better, to add different fields to them, or just put them in the format that you would expect.

The third thing that I would expect in the forum is the SAP general ledger. You can't escape this. This is probably the biggest functionality in SAP in the FI space since release 3.0. There's a lot of new functionality with the SAP general ledger; there's document splitting, parallel evaluation segment reporting.

And it's also surprising to me that a lot of users, and a lot of businesses haven't turned it on. And there are a lot of businesses that have turned it on, but actually don't know what the functionality is.

So I'm very happy to talk about SAP general ledger, both with document splitting segment reporting, migration, and things like that. And hopefully that will be one of the topics that we talk about in the forum.

Dave: Again, Paul's forum is going to be on Thursday at 12:30 in the Insider Learning Network. Paul is also the author of 100 Things You Should Know About Financial Accounting with SAP from SAP PRESS. Thank you very much for joining us today, Paul.

Paul: Thanks a lot, Dave.

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