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Want faster SAP financial reporting? Experts share how to get it

Experts share advice on how companies can make their SAP ERP Financials reporting more efficient.

Companies looking for a higher degree of control when it comes to SAP financial reporting should look to the close calendar function with SAP’s General Ledger Accounting (FI-GL) module, according to Lynn Arnn, a corporate controller and former director of his company’s SAP support center.

The feature allows IT staff to prevent anyone from posting in months once they’ve been closed, Arnn said. This avoids complications that undermine confidence in the accuracy of the data and can slow the closing process. Using the feature gives him more assurance that the statements are accurate.

And since it resides in the SAP General Ledger accounting calendar, it serves as a central reference point for other modules and functions, including those in order management and financial reporting.

“I’m sitting here, October 3rd, and I’m trying to prepare reports for September 30th, and I want to freeze any posting into the September, because September is over,” said Arnn, who is based outside of Dallas.

BI not the end-all
Despite the popularity of business intelligence (BI) tools, SAP customers also need to remember that they’re not the end-all to reporting, according to Nathan Genez, an SAP ERP Financials and BI consultant with Serio Consulting LLC in Atlanta.

There’s something to be said for maintaining reports in the ERP system, including custom ABAP reports, he said.

“Sometimes it’s going to make the process more efficient for nightly extractions or hourly extractions, and bypassing BEx [Business Explorer] front end or whatever [a company is using],” according to Genez.

“If you’re going to be doing any processing around something like a purchase order or a financial entry, then you’re going to want the reporting right there, because you’re already in that system. You’ve already got that GUI [graphical user interface] launched. You’re touching that document at that moment. It doesn’t make sense to move to a totally different system. ”

Using BI for all reporting is the most common mistake companies make, Genez said. “People need to continue to invest in basic ERP reporting.”

Go with standard reports -- when you need them

Companies should rely on custom financial reports only when it’s absolutely necessary, Arnn said.

“ECC has tons of reports, but a lot of them may not work for your external reporting,” he said.  Companies may require specialized reports that meet company- or industry-specific needs, he said. “But you want to go live with as few of those reports as possible.”

John Jordan, a controlling expert with ERP Corp. in San Diego, agreed.  For one, much-needed support may not be there if things go awry, he said.

“When you’re using standard reports, you have the full support of SAP if you have any problems or are trying to figure out how it works,” Jordan said. “And there’s a lot of standard documentation on the standard reports. As soon as you have a custom report, you’re on your own. It’s up to you to maintain.”

Arnn also suggested using as few reports as possible, looking for overlaps in reporting, and then doing due diligence to make sure all of the data within the reports are accurate.

“Come up with a rationalized list of reports that you want out of BW, and test them,” Arnn said.  “You load historical data into SAP and then do a parallel run of the income statement, for example. You just want to test the heck out of them.”

Cross-application reporting
SAP users interested in cross-application reports should be aware of the time and effort that’s involved before they start down that path, Genez said.

“The notion of cross-application reporting has always been extremely difficult,” Genez said. “SAP ERP obviously is highly integrated, but the data still exists in separate modules. It’s recorded there and to marry them, backup has always been difficult. Procurement data is different from financial data,” he said.

If customers are intent on creating a cross-application report, such as a comprehensive procurement-to-pay that includes procurement as well as invoicing information or the date payment was received, they should make sure they have the skills on board to manage that kind of process, whether it’s coding an ABAP report or a creating a BW report, which needs to be modeled correctly.

“Sometimes you have a difficult procurement scenario and you have business events occurring at different times; they just need to make sure they’re modeled or recognized correctly. And that’s always been a bit difficult to do,” Genez said.

‘Post mortems’
Companies should also consider implementing some kind of “post mortem” evaluation after a financial close to review any problems or questions that might have come up during the process, according to Tim Cooper, a principal with DataXstream LLC, a systems integration and consulting firm that focuses on SAP technology. 

“If there were any kinds of issues or problems, then you can look at what happened, what was the underlying cause, and if there’s something that can be done differently to improve it or change it so that there aren’t any doubts or ambiguity about the information that is generated or used in reporting,” Cooper said.

“I think that one of the toughest things with any reporting is, ‘Do I believe the data? Do I believe the underlying data?” Cooper said. “And if people have doubts about that, then the whole thing gets called into question.”   

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