In a typical day or week SAP system users complete routine, time-consuming tasks that require minimal judgment. If these system tasks were removed from their daily or weekly routines, these users would have more time to focus on matters of more importance.
Robotic process automation (RPA) provides an opportunity to automate such mundane activities. In an SAP system an RPA tool completes tasks as if a human is doing them.
Consider these points when you are exploring what tasks could be accomplished by RPA:
- Is the task routine? Can the task be performed automatically at regular intervals or after specific system events occur?
- Is the task time-consuming? Does the user have to stay in the front of the system for several hours just to watch the task being completed?
- Does the task require minimal inputs? Are there very limited variations of the task that can be defined and run automatically?
- Is the task executed in the same manner as documented?
- Is the volume of transactions high enough to justify the cost of an RPA implementation?
There also can be other points to consider, but if you can answer yes to the above questions, then the task in question is a candidate for RPA.
Here I suggest a few RPA use cases that are worth exploring in an SAP landscape and that I think could provide value to your organization.
Keeping track of suppliers’ performances is important to an organization. This information helps the purchasing department to negotiate the best rates and also helps an organization ensure timely delivery of material and services.
A vendor evaluation can consider the following parameters:
- Price of the materials or services – Is the vendor giving the best price when compared with prices offered by other suppliers? Which supplier can give the best price?
- Delivery of goods or services – How often has the vendor deviated from an agreed-upon delivery date? Which vendor is always on time?
- Goods receipt – Which vendor’s supplies are always delivered in the required quantity and packaging? Which vendor has the highest variation in quantities or has delivered damaged material?
- Invoice verification – Which vendor has no issues in a three-way match? Which supplier has the most discrepancies regarding invoices?
- Quality – Which vendor has the most quality notifications against it? How many times have goods been returned because of quality issues?
- Price changes – How many times has a vendor increased the price after acknowledging the purchase order or after accepting the purchasing contract?
Standard SAP reports can be run to get data pertaining to these parameters, including Logistics Information System (LO-LIS) information structure in table S013 and reports from SAP Quality Management. Data can be exported to multiple Excel sheets and then compared against each other so that you can create one report and publish it weekly.
I think an RPA program would be helpful here.
In a typical enterprise, an SAP environment is connected to many SAP and non-SAP systems across various business processes. The interface can be connected through SAP Process Integration, SAP Process Orchestration, third-party middleware, or all these solutions.
These interfaces help complete numerous transactions daily, and there are also many interface failures. In most cases the business users are unaware of interface failures unless they realize that a particular business transaction has not been completed.
The business user depends on support teams to identify the problem and fix it so that the business transaction can be completed on time. The support team first has to identify where the problem has occurred. To identify the problem, the support team requires multiple skills, such as functional SAP system skills, experience with SAP Process Integration and SAP Process Orchestration, third-party middleware skills, and legacy system knowledge. This entire process is reactive and starts only when a business user realizes that something is wrong with a transaction.
A better approach would be to have someone complete daily monitoring of all the interfaces across all SAP domains, check the interface status in middleware, check the transaction status in non-SAP systems, and then prepare a report of all interface failures that occurred and where. This report can be used by support teams to notify the business users of failures proactively. Support teams could then focus attention on solving issues before a support ticket is raised by business users.
I think an RPA program can help here by generating daily reports about your SAP environment’s interfaces and transactions.
All SAP application implementations have approval workflows. These can be for approvals of purchase orders, invoices, or creation of materials; supplier onboarding; or anything else. Multiple approvals happen daily. Often these workflows are complex and customized to the organization’s need.
Because transactions happen daily, workflow failures happen. Workflow failures can stop an important business process at key times.
Workflow support consultants have to be engaged to identify and resolve the issue. In most cases the workflow support team needs to run data fixes and restart a particular step of the workflow. In most cases support consultants use a workflow administration transaction to identify and solve the issue. Based on my experience, fewer than 10% of the cases involve coding changes.
I believe an RPA tool can be used along with workflow administration steps to identify what the issue is and then fix it. This process can be done regularly without a business user opening a support ticket. Workflow consultants would need to be involved only for issues requiring code changes.
Purchase Order Follow-Up
After a purchase order is sent to a vendor, the purchasing department does many follow-ups with the vendor to ensure on-time delivery of goods and services. Here are examples of follow-up questions:
- Has the vendor received the purchase order?
- Has the vendor accepted and confirmed the purchase order?
- Has the vendor sent the acknowledgment for the purchase order?
- Is a reminder sent to the vendor?
- Is the inbound delivery created for the purchase order?
- Is the shipment created for the delivery?
- Is the goods receipt done for the purchase order?
- Are there any returns for the purchase order?
- Is the invoice received for the purchase order?
- Is the invoice paid for the purchase order?
These are typical status checks done on each purchase order. A single SAP report cannot address all these follow-ups. Users have to rely on various different reports, and some actions are done outside of reports. In only a few cases would users have to act outside of an SAP system — for example, making a phone call to a vendor, checking gate entry records at warehouse, or making verifications with a bank over payments.
If an RPA were implemented, then a report could be generated daily on all open purchase orders. The RPA would access various SAP reports and transactions to provide a summary of purchase orders where follow-up outside of the SAP system is required. Business users could then focus their attention only on the few cases that require follow-up outside of the SAP system, while the rest could be handled by the RPA tool.
Data Consistency Check
Data consistency can be a big issue in a live production environment. Inconsistent data causes business transactions to break or not even to start. Here are a few examples of data inconsistency:
- The material master is not extended to the proper organizational structure
- Purchasing information records are not updated or are already expired
- Purchasing contracts in SAP ERP Central Component (SAP ECC) or SAP Ariba are already expired
- Vendor master fields are not updated correctly as per business rules
- Customer master fields are not updated as per business rules
There can be other cases as well. A typical user would have to run multiple reports, download data to Excel, and then compare the Excel spreadsheets to find out what is missing.
An RPA program could be used to automatically perform data consistency checks regularly and send a report to all stakeholders.
I have highlighted a few use cases of RPA based on my experience. I believe RPA technology has the potential to automate more business tasks and ease the life of an SAP system user.
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