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Secure and control business processes

Securing and controlling complex processes is a central task for companies today. SAP provides a number of tools that - when combined correctly - can form the technical basis for this.
Stefan Westhäußer, MHP
October 1, 2016
This text has been automatically translated from German to English.

Order to Cash

Order to Cash (OTC) has always been one of the more complex business processes. This is because OTC is one of three end-to-end processes that integrate a whole range of functions and interfaces.

In addition, unlike the "demand to supply" and "purchase to pay" processes, end customers - and therefore not professional stakeholders - play a central role in the OTC process.

You order a product (order) and arrange payment (cash).

And, of course, they not only expect the ordered goods to be delivered in the desired quality and at the agreed time. They also place high demands on the service and want constant communication.


Companies have been supporting the OTC process since the early 1990s with the help of IT systems, often from SAP.

After a long period in which nothing fundamentally changed, a new dynamic has unfolded in the course of digitalization: The process itself and IT support have become even more complex.

One reason for this is that more and more documents that have always been created along the process are being created and transmitted electronically - order forms, delivery bills or invoices.

On the other hand, new versions of the familiar individual steps have been added. For example, ordering via the Internet is more or less standard - often combined with sophisticated discount campaigns or a wide range of configuration options.

The delivery date is no longer simply communicated by telephone. In most cases, customers can track the status of a shipment online.

A similar situation can be observed with other EDI-supported business processes.

And: In view of the many Industry 4.0 scenarios, numerous other processes are still waiting in the digitalization pipeline.

For companies, the increase in complexity of all business processes - not just the OTC process - is a double-edged sword.

This is because digitalization brings considerable efficiency gains, apart from the fact that doing without it can jeopardize the relationship with customers in many respects.

Fragile processes

At the same time, however, processes have also become much more fragile. Where more and more is supposed to mesh automatically, more can simply go wrong. In this respect, it is a welcome fact that as IT penetration increases, so does the amount of information about the process and therefore - at least potentially - the possibilities for monitoring, evaluating and controlling it.

In recent years, the term "intelligent business process management" has become established for this trend of systematically securing and managing business processes.

The concept goes beyond familiar business process management because it not only models and implements processes and checks their performance cyclically, but also provides real-time technical information about the current situation.

Companies that want to implement such monitoring should work through a series of tasks in an iterative process:

Data basis: The first step is to get an overview of the data that is generally available to evaluate business processes. It is helpful to have possible KPIs in mind, and information that is generated in the course of electronic data exchange is suitable as data because it documents a change in status per se: The order has been sent by the customer, has arrived in the company's SAP system and has been integrated.On the other hand, data that is now generated by the numerous sensors in the companies can be considered: the ordered product has passed the RFID gate after final assembly and is now ready for picking.

KPIs: The best database is useless if the interest in knowledge is not clearly defined. KPIs must therefore be identified and provided with target values.time periods are among the most common KPIs for the OTC process in the automotive environment. For example, this could be the time required to supply the relevant parts; once the order has been scheduled, it is important to ensure completion. Orders must be sent to suppliers on time and receipt of the goods must be checked.

Another important KPI is the time between the posting of the goods issue in the SAP system and the creation of the invoice - due to its direct impact on cash flow, this indicator is often a target agreement in OTC management.Predictive KPIs that forecast further process progress are particularly valuable in this context. For example, it is possible to recognize at an early stage that although everything is going according to plan for an ordered car, the intended production date cannot be met because other orders are being processed too slowly. The prerequisite here is the high-performance analysis of a large database.

Modeling: As usual, the business process must be modeled. Although this already takes place in many companies, there are often gaps in the mapping of technological support or technological implementation - here, for example, we are talking about EDI processes - and, unlike in the past, the individual process steps must be logically linked to the KPIs and the required data sources.

Technological implementation: A complete technological implementation involves an initiated process automatically requesting and evaluating the information required for monitoring.If target values are exceeded or not reached, the system must notify the responsible employee - who this is depends on the current status of the business process.This IT-side implementation in particular poses major challenges for companies.The reason: areas that were never actually intended for this must be brought together. This also applies if SAP systems are mainly in use.

Use EDI infrastructure

In our experience, it makes sense to use the existing EDI infrastructure as a starting point for setting up intelligent business process management. On the one hand, it is a suitable source because the transfer of electronic documents generates information that provides information about the progress of the business process - end-to-end.

On the other hand, most companies already have structures in place that make it easier to collect, merge and evaluate the data. In addition to the EDI data, further information from various sources can then be successively added. In order to make the data already available in every company usable for Intelligent Business Process Management, SAP offers a number of tools that deliver good results when combined correctly.

Sybase PowerDesigner (SAP PD): For some time now, companies have been using applications such as Aris Enterprise Architecture to map existing or new processes.

A standardized, mostly graphical notation allows "non-IT experts" to design and document processes, data models, interfaces and much more. The representation of workflows and processes is an important step on the path to digitalization - especially with regard to maintainability.

If you take the digital transformation approach further, many of these process steps result in interfaces and messages, which in turn need to be exchanged, controlled and monitored. This is where the SAP Sybase PowerDesigner comes in. It offers convenient, dual integration into the other SAP components. This goes beyond a pure data interface. The saying that what belongs together grows together is finally fulfilled.

As a middleware component of SAP Process Orchestration (SAP PO), SAP Process Integration (PI) handles data exchange between SAP and non-SAP data sources (EAI) or the external systems of business partners (EDI).

Whereas previously established software providers such as Seeburger and Axway (formerly known as ACTIS) set the tone here, SAP has not only made a name for itself with the new versions and in particular through the possibilities of simple yet deep integration into existing SAP landscapes, but has also assumed a significant position.

This area is now well developed and is usually involved in the overall process. If you look at an entire process flow, EDI messages are exchanged at various stations or integrated into another sub-system - for example a production control system. Technical acknowledgement or status messages are common here and can therefore be used. If sub-steps are not monitored, these can simply be implemented - familiar territory.

With SAP Business Process Management (BPM), business processes can not only be modeled, but also controlled and brought to life. This creates a transition between paper or charts and an executive layer.

The general standard BPMN 2.0 is used as the notation, which can be supplemented with your own SAP components if required. Other modeling environments can also be connected using import functions. A connection to the Enterprise Service Repository is useful to enable automatic integration into other systems.

Not only SAP systems

In this context, it is interesting to note the widespread but incorrect assumption that only SAP systems or SAP PO can be connected here. This is because the open design of the interfaces in the implementation project means that the EDI systems described, such as Seeburger and Axway (ACTIS), can also be used as data suppliers.

As with the middleware, a major advantage of SAP BPM is its deep integration with other SAP products and cloud solutions. SAP Operational Process Intelligence (OPINT) is difficult to distinguish from BPM at first glance. After all, both work with modeled process images and offer notification and control functions.

However, while the aim of BPM is to automate and control processes, OPINT tends to promote a way of working that is geared towards current and predictive management.

While measurements and predictive functions first have to be developed in BPM, they can be configured with OPINT and are available in an overview management view. Both SAP components can escalate and notify, both components use the same tools for this and both components complement each other perfectly.

OPINT only becomes truly performant through the merging of different BPM processes into one process, through the simple integration of third-party systems and through the direct integration of status information on SAP objects.

Even if SAP provides all the necessary technological components, the implementation of intelligent business process management remains difficult or very time-consuming for many users.

This is due to the fact that the components are highly integrated and offer a wide range of options - although this is a plus point in terms of performance, it also represents a hurdle when getting started.

For this reason, MHP has developed the Business Process Visualizer add-on, which is part of the MHP Business Solution EDI Solution. The add-on provides companies with a range of ready-made templates and useful KPIs for a selection of common business processes - e.g. order to cash.

A kind of kickstarter for EDI deluxe - if you like.
Stefan Westhäußer, MHP

Stefan Westhäußer is a manager at MHP.

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