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SAP Workflow an underutilized savings source with SAP ERP Financials

SAP Workflow can save companies time and money if implemented correctly. In this tutorial, get an expert overview of SAP Workflow and how it works for key financial processes.

SAP Workflow is standard functionality with SAP ERP -- yet experts such as Matt Christensen, managing partner at Phoenix Endeavors LLC, say it’s often underutilized for financial processes, where it can help organizations save time and improve auditing.

SAP Workflow automates repeatable, mundane processes, enabling organizations to set up prebuilt workflows with automated triggers. In finance, it can be particularly useful for standard processes such as accounts payable, according to Christensen. In addition, it helps coordinate processes across globally dispersed organizations -- as regional financial teams can incorporate scanned documents into a global workflow, allowing them to efficiently handle routine processes. Utilizing SAP Workflow in finance frees employees to focus on the most important business processes, Christensen said.

Some organizations have been reluctant to implement SAP Workflow because of their sensitivity to automating any financial processes. These companies fear that with the automation, they lose control over the crucial approval process, making it more difficult to ensure that they remain in compliance with company and legal policies. However, other companies have embraced the automation for error prevention. The key to success is to have fully documented, accurate business processes before setting up SAP Workflow for financial processes, Christensen said.

“You must make sure you understand all your business rules, particularly complex ones, to ensure your workflow is set up properly,” Christensen said. “Pay close attention to the user names assigned to each stage in the workflow to make sure the correct person is in the correct part of the workflow.”

Christensen said the Basis team should be able to set up basic, standard workflow items for SAP ERP Financials “in about an hour.”

“You can also use customization to incorporate your specific business rules.” Standard SAP workflow offers a number of places to add customization or, if you use SAP ERP Human Capital Management you can use your human resources organizational chart to set up the approval processes.

Several areas within SAP ERP Financials lend themselves well to SAP Workflow, Christensen said, including:

  • Accounts Payable (AP)
  • General Ledger (GL)
  • Asset Accounting (AA)
  • Auditing
  • Materials management (MM)
  • Sales and Distribution (SD)

However, there are a few best practices to incorporate and pitfalls to avoid when using SAP Workflow for SAP ERP Financials:

1.       Keep financial workflow data accessible for auditing.  As with any financial transaction, it is important to keep track of the audit data retained when using workflows. As a result of the volume of financial transactions, data can build up quickly. According to Christensen, data teams are often tempted to archive this data, or worse yet, delete it after it’s been in the system for a few months.

A better approach, according to Christensen, is to pull the data from the workflow system and move it into an SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW) InfoCube or a custom table. Then if needed for an audit, you can easily find the data you need.

2.       Carefully analyze the business processes in the financial workflow. François Logier, an SAP consultant, cautions that “workflow will be a pain in finance if you don’t first analyze the entire involved business process.” That includes pulling in the subject matter experts to figure out the way a process really works. For example, accounting clerks are often part of the overall business process but are sometimes overlooked when it comes to setting up workflows.

Ahsan Majeed, senior development consultant at Descon Engineering Limited, agreed, saying, “make sure the business process flow is clearly defined in terms of roles and authorizations.  Workflows are not intended for on-off processes.”

3.       Put the right financial workflow team together. Logier suggests, “You should try to find an experienced consultant who is able to analyze, implement and follow it” and who is also familiar with the workflow concept in general. “In other words, find someone conceptual, functional and technical. Such a person should be able to clearly explain the main objectives and KPIs to the users and the team,” Logier said.

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