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SAP, chemical firm work through MDM issues

Some problems with the first version of SAP's SRM-MDM content management offering have slowed Rhodia's project but haven't stopped the company from seeing benefits.

A new SAP Supplier Relationship Management-Master Data Management (SRM-MDM) implementation is helping Rhodia, a chemical company based in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, manage its data despite some lingering problems that forced the company to hold onto its legacy content-management system.

Rhodia relies on content-management technology to speed up its Web-based supplier catalogs. About a year ago, the firm was looking forward to moving from its legacy content-management system, Requisite, to SAP SRM-MDM, said Jean-Christophe Coppeau, a Rhodia employee closely involved in the implementation process.

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"When I arrived two years ago," he said, "there were a lot of problems [with Requisite] -- technical problems and CPU load problems that made the application unavailable regularly. SAP told us that at this time they were in fact leaving their current catalog system, which was CCM [Catalog Content Management], and that they were building a new one under MDM, so we asked for a ramp-up at the end of 2006."

But when Rhodia went live with SAP SRM-MDM Version 1, it became clear that a few problems would prevent the company from moving its many global offices off Requisite completely.

One issue, Coppeau said, centered on the fact that end users found they had no drop-down list in their search utility -- something that had made their jobs considerably easier in the past. But that wasn't the only problem.

"There was only a free text search," he said. "There was no possibility of searching attributes, so the fields were limited to searching only part of the catalog."

The user interface often failed to display the proper language, and Rhodia didn't like the way product prices were managed, Coppeau said. The second version of SRM-MDM resolved these two problems, he added, and SRM-MDM is still a better fit for his firm than Requisite.

"[SRM-MDM] is still a very new solution, so there [are] still some problems to solve in Version 1," he said. "That's why we still have Requisite right now."

Despite the problems, Rhodia has still benefited from SAP SRM-MDM and is pleased with the project overall. For example, SAP MDM's ability to validate data while loading and to eliminate false data inside catalogs has been a major improvement.

"With [SAP] MDM, there is a much better way to control the data that is loaded into the system," Coppeau said. "It is much better than Requisite was."

Sage advice

Coppeau's experience with SRM-MDM has taught him both philosophical and technological lessons.

On the philosophical side, a readily available program with problems is better than an often-unavailable program with problems, he said.

On the technological side, he learned that when dealing with SAP content-management technology, it's important to avoid playing with the basic features of the repository.

"If you do feel the need to modify a feature slightly, it's better to recreate the feature than modify the [standard SAP-given] one," Coppeau explained. "If you don't, you may run into problems because of the deep integration with what was given by SAP and what exists in the Web interface."

Plans for the future

By March 2008, Rhodia will have more than 1,300,000 items cataloged within the MDM application.

In addition, Coppeau said, the company is planning to conduct an analysis to determine which of the system's unused functions they might benefit from but have not yet considered.

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