Improve Imports process in SAP Materials Management with a workaround

The Imports process in the SAP Materials Management procurement function is not as good as it should be. Here's how to fix it, writes Jawad Akhtar.

The quality of the integration between SAP's core accounting functions and the business-process modules that handle foreign imports and exports can vary greatly. In some cases, companies may need to look to "workarounds" in SAP Materials Management in order to gain the functionality they need.

For example, compared with the highly integrated financial documents feature for exports processing Sales & Distribution (SD) module, the Imports process in the SAP Materials Management (MM) procurement function is not nearly as comprehensive. SAP only provides an Imports tab with very limited fields that can't handle the complexities of procuring materials from a foreign country.

Imagine the difficulties facing the business-process owner who finds little to no provisions for recording the following information in SAP ERP:

  • Letter of Credit (LC): A vital financial instrument that a company needs to send payment to overseas suppliers; the entire imports process is tied to it. Not only does the LC contain banking information, it also holds financial details of the transaction and exchange rates, both spot and forward. The LC also contains validation details for the entire transaction, as well as shipping terms and ports of shipment and arrival.
  • Bill of Lading (BL): When the supplier ships the goods, be it by air or by sea, the BL becomes the reference document for tracking the shipment. When the goods arrive in the importing country, the custom official refers to the BL to calculate import charges and surcharges. It also contains such shipment information as country of origin and trans-shipment destinations.

There is no provision in SAP ERP to enter the information listed in the LC or BL, so the business process owner either manages it outside the ERP system or uses a custom-developed ABAP interface to input and store all the information.

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The information that import personnel have to manage is not only diverse, but dynamic, too. For example, they might conduct transactions through four banks. To add a new bank, they must first add it as an option in the ABAP interface. Similarly, if ports of shipment or arrival change, it's hard to amend the information in SAP because it was custom coded.

A company that opts for an ABAP or a custom-developed solution to manage the standard module's shortcomings will find itself needing the constant engagement of an ABAP programmer. The other choice is for the business-process owner to maintain the information outside SAP ERP or in a third-party application, and both present challenges in making information instantly available in SAP.

So what's the solution?

But there is a workaround. The company can implement SAP Document Management System (DMS) and integrate it with the SAP Materials Management Imports process. Such integration has the following advantages:

  • Using the DMS Classification function, it is easy for the business-process owner to add new fields, make changes to existing ones or delete fields that are no longer needed. This is a much easier way, for example, to add the fifth bank in the example above. It is equally easy to add a new user-defined field to record information for monitoring and evaluation purposes. You can add up to 999 custom fields in each document type, and the field types can be character, number (with or without unit of measure), date and time, with additional options for range, negative value, etc.
  • Classification also has a search feature. For example, when an LC expiry date has been entered in a DMS document, you can search for all the documents that are about to expire in the next five days.
  • You can attach all kinds of import documents, including Microsoft Word and Excel files and scans of hard copies, and store them in DMS for reference. This function is known as Original and is standard in DMS.
  • With the Object Link function, you can link your Classification and original documents to the SAP purchase orders. This, in effect, creates three-way comprehensive mapping: classification to record important data, storage of original documents and link both of these with the relevant purchase order in the ERP system. DMS is also available in other procurement elements, such as quantity contracts and value contracts.
  • You can use Status Network in DMS to keep track of various import documents. It also facilitates searching for DMS documents that have a particular status.
  • Digital Signature adds verification and validation controls to DMS. For example, once the entire imports process is completed, you can set the DMS document status to Complete and digitally sign it so no further changes can be made.

Though you will need to engage a DMS consultant to integrate your existing imports process, this workaround is proven to save significant time, efforts and resources -- especially compared to a completely custom-developed system or an out-of-SAP one.

About the author
Jawad Akhtar is an assistant vice president and SAP project manager for AbacusConsulting, where he focuses on supply chain management issues. AbacusConsulting is based in Pakistan.

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