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In SAP Workflow, experts say simple works best

Companies are best served by beginning with “out-of-the-box” financial workflows and avoiding changes to code whenever possible.

When it comes to SAP financial workflow design and implementation, companies should keep things as simple as possible, according to experts. 

For one, companies should take advantage of the financial workflow templates that come with the SAP ERP software and determine which ones fit their organization’s needs, according to Susan Keohan, an SAP Mentor and SAP Workflow expert.

“They most likely won’t meet a customer’s needs 100%, but they will dramatically decrease learning time if [they’re] able to copy what SAP has done and then [just] modify the workflow,” she said.

However, some modifications of the processes and the definitions are going to be inevitable, according to Matt Christensen, principal consultant and managing partner at Phoenix Endeavors LLC, a provider of SAP consulting services. Many companies steer clear of SAP Workflow for that very reason. 

“For the most part, people are customizing their own workflows,” Christensen said. “But that’s not something to be afraid of.”

What companies should avoid, if at all possible, is customizing the ABAP code within the application itself in order to create new functions. Those changes, which can add up in terms of time and money spent, will be lost with future upgrades, Christensen said. 

“Use standard SAP functions whenever possible,” he said. “If you do that, it makes things more standard and easier to manage on down the road.”

Education about escalation

Companies also need to educate employees and executives about escalation procedures for items if they aren’t handled within a certain number of days, according to Keohan.

SAP Workflow deadline monitoring ensures that employees know that “workflow may be in your inbox, but if you’re not acting on it, it’s going up a level, to a different person,” Keohan said.

Ahsan Majeed, senior development consultant at Descon Engineering Limited, said to always define a lifetime for each workflow. Workflow items should have a finite end date, after which the workflow expires, stopping any activity, he said. Majeed recommends this practice because “it ensures that there are no open work items left.” This prevents unused workflows from building up in the system.

When do you archive?

One of the main features of SAP workflow, in addition to financial approvals and notices, is that it creates a record of what went where and when and who approved each step in the process. That information can be invaluable in case the company is audited.

At the same time, companies need to establish some kind of procedure regarding the archiving of that information before it becomes an issue, Christensen said.

“Plan for it so that it doesn’t come up,” he said. “That way, you don’t lose data or hold on to data you don’t need.”

What isn’t needed in the near term for auditing purposes can be archived in order to free up space within the system, he said.

Fine-tune it

Companies implementing SAP Workflow should plan on fine-tuning their processes so they can cut down on the amount of SAP Workflow events, such as unnecessary notifications and approval requests sent to people within the organization, according to Craig Himmelberger, director of solution marketing for ERP financials at SAP.  

Keeping everyone in the loop with constant notifications when the workflows are designed may end up being overkill in practice, he said.

“You never know the frequency of what you’re going to get [until the system is up and running],” Himmelberger said. “You can bury them to the point they ignore all of it because if they get emails every day asking for approvals, they just stop reading them. It can be one of the pitfalls.”

When it comes to notifications, SAP Workflow enables companies to allow employees to turn off alerts if they don’t need to be notified, Himmelberger said.

In other cases, companies may want to set up a review committee to look at customizations that may affect changes to workflows as a whole, he said. That might entail collecting feedback from users or perhaps through the use of statistics or analytics, and then making the changes. 

“This can [create] better default settings for new users and save everyone from having to turn the same dial for the same process every time,” Himmelberger said.  

Companies should also think about whether an approval is really necessary for a given item, or whether a simple notification might do, according to Christensen.

For example, a company might require approvals from everyone involved before a vendor invoice even gets entered into the system. A better approach might be to notify those involved so that the invoice can at least be added to the system, but not paid out until the necessary approval is logged.

“I just don’t like the idea of holding up people, with the waiting of approvals,” Christensen said. “I think it’s more efficient to allow the business process to continue.”

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