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SAP sales order management a behemoth that works, analysts say

SAP’s strategy of offering customers an end-to-end sales order management system gets high marks, according to analysts.

Managing sales orders in SAP can be a complicated and cumbersome process, but that’s simply a reflection of the complicated nature of business itself.

It’s also one of SAP’s greatest strengths, according to some.

SAP has tried to address the long list of challenges and inefficiencies throughout the sales order chain by offering an end-to-end system that encompasses every step along the way. Other vendors specialize in one part of the process in a “scope beats focus” kind of approach, according to analyst Craig Le Clair of Forrester Research Inc.  

“Their approach is to be an all-encompassing infrastructure solution,” he said. “They’re trying to bring in the ERP financials; they’re trying to provide, in certain industries, manufacturing and supply chain management.”

Getting the right fit

Sales order management is an “untamed process,” according to Forrester. Order management isn’t something contained within any one application, but can span eight or nine different departments and 15 or 20 integration points, according to Le Clair.

With SAP sales order management, the customer data, including leads and other marketing information, resides in the CRM system. The order moves to the ERP side for tasks ranging from order fulfillment to billing. Order management is integrated with the supply chain management (SCM) component for more sophisticated products.

SAP sales order management comes as a set of core capabilities, ranging from inquiries and processing to contract negotiation and billing, while additional capabilities can be added depending on the industry and how the business is run.

A manufacturer that’s shipping a product that’s been prebuilt, for example, won’t need the configuration component that would be needed if the product was being made to order. 

“After all, rules and processes often vary from industry to industry,” said Prashant Dube, product manager for SAP CRM.

Another example can be found with SAP Apparel and Footwear Solution, which allows a manufacturer to assign one number in the database for each size and color associated with a particular style, rather than a separate number based on style.

Selecting an industry-specific version of SAP’s sales order management application can give a company roughly 90% of what it needs, right out of the box, according to Jeanne Hedman, lead SAP consultant with Panorama Consulting Group LLC in Denver.

“It’s very important,” she said. “It comes down to needing less detailed configuration.”

Strengths and weaknesses

While SAP sales order management’s biggest asset is its breadth of scope, according to Le Clair and other analysts, SAP gets credit for the strength of its CRM, according to Holger Kisker, another analyst with Forrester.

That includes its support for the full range of inbound sales order channels, including online, telephone and now mobile sales, Kisker said.

SAP also provides customers with a number of other sales order management features, according to Panorama’s Hedman. For example, SAP’s “document flow” system allows detailed information to be recorded for each product at every step in the order management process. That information can help resolve any problems a customer has, before or after the product is shipped. That’s something that other vendors don’t have, Hedman said.   

SAP also gives its users the ability to handle more than one “ship-to” on one label. That allows companies to send inventory to a specific customer warehouse, but at the same time indicate that the goods will then be sent on to a specific store.

On the other hand, one weakness with SAP’s sales order management software has been that it has traditionally only been able to tell a customer when a product was going to be shipped, not when it was going to be delivered, as most customers want to know, Hedman added.

Yet SAP’s do-it-all approach also works against the company in many ways, according to Michael Dunne, an analyst with Gartner Inc. Users aren’t always sure what they have and how it all fits together. 

“People are confused as to what’s in there,” he said. “It’s pretty broad.”

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