Limiting the scope of SAP MII projects is key to success

One of the common challenges that organizations face with SAP MII projects is trying to do too many things at once.

Sweet Ovations encountered a common challenge with its SAP Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence (MII) project--...

trying to do too much with the toolkit too soon.

When the food ingredients manufacturer tried to integrate multiple systems and automate several reporting processes, it struggled to realize the benefits it planned for the first six to seven months of the project.

Sweet Ovations decided to simplify by implementing the tool by production line, focusing on bringing the production schedule down through each of the production lines and getting reports back first. It had robust reporting from all of the lines in four to five months.

Thinking that the integration toolkit is a silver bullet is one of the most common mistakes when starting SAP MII projects.

"You can do a lot with MII, but just because you have a big hammer, [it] doesn't mean all the world's a nail," said Doug Holtke, senior solutions engineer at  SeeIT, a consultancy that specializes in MII implementations.

Integrating ERP with manufacturing systems on the floor is generally unfamiliar territory for SAP shops, so defining the scope of an MII project can be challenge. Manufacturers often have difficulty understanding how shop floor systems work, how data is collected and where efficiencies may be, and it's tempting to try to tackle these issues all at once.

Joe Cleary, Sweet Ovations' vice president of finance, advises organizations to "build a little, test a little, learn a little, test it, revise it and move forward."

Since going live with the MII projects in 2008, Sweet Ovations has rolled out its planned projects, and the company is expanding MII to use for tracking containers. It has automated the production-reporting process, improving accuracy to nearly 100%. Workers can enter required information in only one screen instead of the six to seven they used to have to navigate through. Supervisors have real-time visibility into where each line is on the schedule.

"We're finding new ways and new uses of it consistently. It's limited as much by our time and imagination," Cleary said. "It's a very nice tool."

In turn, "temper enthusiasm for cool new reports," advised Roy Wildeman, analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. Once connections are up, some developers start producing queries and webpages that don't bring actual value to the business. Finalize the entire data model and business requirements before developers start implementing projects at random, Wildeman said.

Keep in mind that the development time for MII can be significant for some projects. Take a look at the development time in MII versus that of another tool the organization already owns that may be more effective, such as the SAP graphical user interface, Holtke said. Creating a notification can often be a multistep process inside an SAP GUI that a maintenance operator or supervisor doing the same thing 10 times a day doesn't necessarily need. The screen-simplification tools that MII provides are an excellent solution for this. For the "what-ifs," the added complexity can be solved by adding a SAP GUI, according to Holtke.

Make sure that your MII team has the right skills to help limit the project's scope.

"You need that strong marriage between IT and operations to really move this forward," including a CIO or a director of IT with strong operations support, Holtke said.

The business side often needs to try out the reporting capabilities that MII applications can deliver before it figures out what it needs, according to Wildeman.

IT will need skills in data manipulation and Web programming and the ability to use the MII toolkit to properly implement it. While a Web programmer with Java scripting skills can build a competent MII application, integration projects will require the Basis team.

"You really need to develop a team of specialists," Holtke said. "That's part of an adjustment companies have to realize."

Sweet Ovations had the president of the company and the head of IT on its project team, and it hired a consultancy to implement the tool.

And remember, MII won't replace good business processes. Sweet Ovations ended up changing some of its key managers in manufacturing.

"This is a great tool for a solid manager," a remark Cleary said he'd heard more than once about the tool. "It won't put control where it doesn't exist."

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