Safeguard the SAP master data creation process with SAP ECM

With SAP Engineering Change Management (SAP ECM) businesses can get a better handle on the master data creation process, expert Jawad Akhtar writes.

Companies wanting to optimize existing business processes or needing greater control over the master data creation process should consider deploying SAP Engineering Change Management (ECM) within their operations.

SAP ECM is a tool that companies can use to gain better visibility, as well as checks and balances, over the master data creation process. Engineering Change Management does that by recording all changes or updates to the SAP master data. It also ensures that business process owners validate and confirm every step of the master data creation process by updating the relevant system statuses available for this purpose. Organizations can also automate some of the master data creation or change validation steps by configuring the system to automatically set a particular status as soon as its predecessor status is set. Further optimization to ECM is also possible when companies integrate ECM with the SAP Workflow and SAP Digital Signature processes.

SAP ECM is delivered as standard SAP functionality, which a business also can implement even after SAP ERP implementation is complete. ECM also is cross-modular, which allows companies the flexibility to implement it in some or all of the SAP modules they have deployed.

These are some of the SAP modules and master data in which you can use ECM:

  • Materials Management (MM) module: Material Master
  • Production Planning (PP) module: Material Bill of Material (BOM), Master Recipe and Rate Routing
  • Plant Maintenance (PM) module: Equipment BOM, Functional Location BOM, Equipment Task list and Functional Location Task list
  • Quality Management (QM) module: Inspection Plan
  • Classification: Characteristic and Class
  • Document Management System

Currently, if the maintenance engineer wants to procure a spare part for which no item code, known as the "material master" in SAP, exists, the maintenance engineer asks the master data controller to create a new material master for that item. The master data controller has to gather information from various business process owners. Further, the request to create a new material master goes through a series of checks and validations before it becomes available. Some of these checks and validations ensure that:

  • A material master does not already exist for the same item.
  • A new code opening is in fact necessary. If the company can procure it as a one-time item and charge it off to a cost center, there is no need for a material master.
  • Information from various departments has been collected and validated, including the exact material description of the product, and whether the material will undergo a quality check upon receipt.
  • The material is categorized as either a spare part or a consumable.
  • The material is categorized as either imported or procured locally.

To gather the above information, the master data controller involves various departments of the company. However, along the way to creating the new material master, the master data controller may forget to follow up on the information from the departments involved. On top of that, the master data controller may decide he or she needs additional information or to update the existing information, often leading to more delays. Eventually, the start of the procurement process is also delayed, because the material master has to exist in the system before a purchase order can be sent to a vendor.

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Implementing ECM enables the company to ensure that creation of new master data goes through a complete and consistent approval process in a more efficient, automated way. It is easy to integrate ECM with existing master data, so that any changes made to the data are comprehensively recorded and later available for reference in ECM reporting.

In SAP ECM, the request to create new master data begins when a business process owner, such as a maintenance engineer, creates an Engineering Change Request (ECR). An ECR is the formal request in the system to begin the master data creation process. The system assigns the ECR a unique internal identification number. The master data controller sets the initial ECR status to "Check ECR," and begins the actual checks of the ECR and the validation process. At the same time, the maintenance engineer who initiated the ECR remains updated on its status, including when the master data controller has checked the ECR and updated its status from "ECR Checked" to "Approve ECR." Some of the ECR statuses available in the system are:

  • Check ECR
  • ECR Checked
  • Approve ECR
  • Withdraw approval (of ECR)
  • Reject ECR
  • Convert ECR to ECO

When all necessary validation steps and checks are successful, the master data controller can finally approve the ECR and set the status to "Approve ECR." An approved ECR can now be converted into an Engineering Change Order (ECO). It is not possible to change master data until an ECR is converted into an ECO. Further, to keep track of all the steps involved in converting an ECR into an ECO, the system assigns the same unique internal identification number to the ECO that it had previously assigned to the ECR. The ECO now becomes the single control function to manage changes and updates made to the master data. Further, changes made to the master data with reference to an ECO are comprehensively recorded and available in standard ECM Reporting. ECM Reporting provides traceability of the information that has been updated or changed, including the old and new values in any field.

Finally, ECM can also integrate with SAP digital signatures to validate the signature and status change process:

SAP, ECM, engineering, change order
Figure 1: The digital signature dialog box appears when the 'ECR Checked' status is checked.

This figure shows that when the master data controller clicks on the status "ECR Checked" (1), the system brings up a dialog box (2), wherein the master data controller can enter the digital signature and SAP password, to validate the status change.

About the author: 
Jawad Akhtar is assistant vice president and SAP project manager at Abacus Consulting, where he focuses on SCM issues. Abacus Consulting is based in Pakistan.

This was first published in August 2013

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