Reaping the rewards of lean manufacturing

For companies operating complex SAP environments, improving processing efficiencies can deliver a variety of gains including lower costs, faster order delivery, improved customer service and timelier management reporting.

Ensuring business success today depends on finding ways to reduce system complexity and maximise employee usage. For companies operating complex SAP environments, improving processing efficiencies can deliver a variety of gains including lower costs, faster order delivery, improved customer service and timelier management reporting. However, many companies don’t realise that specialised tools can help achieve these goals.

Manufacturers, as well as their sales and distribution organisations, capture a vast array of information into their back-end systems on a daily basis. They then rely on these back-end systems to process everything from customer orders to stock inventories. As the complexity of these systems increases, and the volume of data grows, so does the time it takes to process this information. This issue of time-consuming processing is an inherent feature of most major corporate applications.

There are more than 17,000 companies around the world that rely on SAP solutions to achieve processing efficiencies within their financial, manufacturing and distribution operations. Inevitably, one of the environments where lengthy processing time is particularly noticeable is within the SAP R/3 application. As companies go live and extend their current use of SAP R/3 technology, or implement new mySAP Cross Industry Solutions, such as mySAP BW or mySAP CRM, they are faced with increasing batch-processing challenges.

Typically, companies have thousands of customer orders coming in on a daily basis, creating a huge amount of back-end processing. With the need to provide end-users with responsive systems, it often makes practical sense to utilise batch jobs to handle this back-end workload. These batch jobs include daily orders, stock reconciliation, invoice runs and other housekeeping tasks, which are manually set up and submitted for asynchronous processing. Typically, low activity high frequency tasks, such as order processing, are executed during the day, while high volume jobs, like financial reporting, are run overnight. However, as swift order fulfilment remains essential to ensuring customer retention, this batch-processing environment necessitates a large, dedicated workforce.

Tools for managing complexity

In trying to administer these batch jobs, IT managers face some serious challenges. This is not an environment that operates in seconds; large batch jobs can easily take well over 24 hours to process, while demanding the attention of numerous available operational staff. In addition, significant systems administration overheads can be incurred when creating and maintaining high frequency batch jobs that are running repeatedly during the day. Some of the typical constraints include the length of time it takes to process jobs, and the amount of labour involved in setting up and submitting jobs into the system.

However, there are things that IT Managers can do. Close inspection of SAP’s CCMS (Computing Center Management System) reveals that there is significant scope for improvement in managing, monitoring and controlling SAP batch jobs.

To address this need, a range of complementary solutions are available for the SAP application. These add-ons help to streamline the flow of scheduled batch jobs into the SAP environment and improve processing efficiency. However, in order to gain significant performance improvements in the throughput of background jobs, IT Managers need a solution that proactively monitors the status of each application server, checks system metrics and automatically reacts to external events. One such solution is Redwood Software’s process management and control tool, Cronacle.

Benefits inside

Getting the management of batch processing right can provide numerous benefits, including more productive SAP users, more responsive service to end-users, increased throughput of back-end systems and the ability to derive an improved return on investment.

For instance, Actebis, a multi-billion Euro IT manufacturer and distributor, operates a highly complex SAP environment that handles massive volumes of data from the company’s offices throughout Europe. Previously, it required six SAP Basis administrators to manage the creation and submission of some 46,000 batch jobs. To improve the situation, it implemented Cronacle to proactively manage the scheduled execution of background tasks. This allowed it to reallocate five of its administrators onto other SAP tasks, while cutting the job processing count to just 470. In doing so, it reduced the complexity of the system, optimised staff utilisation and realised an important bottom-line saving on its employee payroll.

Aside from reducing some of the complexity of large SAP systems, processing time can also be significantly reduced by introducing tools that dynamically manage the distribution of batch work across available system resources. Following the implementation of Cronacle, a major European manufacturing company, Freudenberg, cut the processing time on one of its batch jobs from 36 hours to just six hours, enabling it to avoid the cost of an expensive hardware upgrade. In addition, management are also provided with access to daily, rather than weekly, plant productivity reports as a result.

and out

These examples illustrate how an improvement in the efficiency of background processing tasks, can help companies cut costs, maximise staff productivity and gain access to timelier reporting. However, the benefits of improved job processing extend beyond internal gains to directly impact on an organisation’s customer service.

Another illustration of this was seen when one of the world’s largest confectionary manufacturers wanted to reduce the delay between when it received an order to when the order was processed. To do so, it added Cronacle to its SAP system. The event-driven scheduling tool enabled it to increase the volume of orders shipped the next working day from around 70% to over 90%. This has in turn, helped the company improve its customer service and retention and has increased revenues.

The bottom line

Companies become more responsive to customer demands when back-end systems are efficiently managed and controlled. A better return on investment can be achieved through dynamic distribution of batch work across available system resources. Overall, by optimising batch throughput in a SAP environment, companies can make a significant positive impact on their business productivity and competitiveness in the marketplace.

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