EDRMS/ECM & SAP – The RFP questions you should be asking

Ignoring the issues of an SAP team’s lack of understanding towards the complexity of EDRMS, we will be concentrating on the other side of the equation in this post.

SAP and ECM/EDRMS teams are very similar in many respects. They both have a tendency to underestimate the level of effort required to achieve each other’s aims. Ignoring the issues of an SAP team’s lack of understanding towards the complexity of EDRMS, we will be concentrating on the other side of the equation in this post.

From an EDRMS perspective, a Records Management teams will often manage to identify 1000 prospective questions that ask exactly the same or similar questions in 7 different variations, but one of the items that has the potential to cost more than the entire EDRMS implementation is confined to a single question that asks:

“Does the Vendor’s product integrate with SAP?” or “Is the Vendor’s solution certified for integration into SAP?”

Such a question is about as conclusive as asking an vendor “Does your solution do content management?” and assuming this is sufficient to cover all your document and records management requirements. Another analogy to the usefulness of the question is like asking “Is your system secure” to which the response can be “Yes.”

The aim of this article is to educate people who might otherwise have assumed it was simple, because most records management teams only have limited experience with SAP, and until you have experience with SAP, you only have a limited capacity to understand what questions to ask. It’s not a failing within records management teams, it’s simply a case of you don’t know what you don’t know or don’t have experience with and the vast majority of records management people simply don’t have much exposure to SAP unless they have been in an implementation that includes it.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the questions, let’s start with some SAP 101 questions and answers that may help understand a little more about SAP and why the integration is so critical to companies.

Why is SAP so important?

The simple answer is it effects the company’s ability to operate. SAP is the data equivalent of an ECM solution implemented across every department, every functional area and manages all the transaction information in an organisation on a daily basis. If SAP stops running, often the organisation will grind to a halt with only limited capacity to work. If you take leave, need to buy stationary or want to get your expenses paid, ultimately this will result in an entry in SAP. SAP delivers a financial return of investment(ROI) to companies because it allows them to link processes across departments. Buying a large piece of equipment for a organisation doesn’t start or end with the purchase, it could start as a requisition or RFP, result in acquiring goods, the equipment then need to be maintained over an extended number of years, the equipment is depreciated as an asset on the books and eventually, 5-50 years later it may be decommissioned, but all of the transaction data (and documents) are relevant for the entire life of the asset, not to a single point in the assets life. From an ROI perspective, one functional area like Asset Management has the potential to save you about two thirds of your maintenance expenditure when moving from reactive to preventative maintenance, and it’s not unusual for organisations to be spending hundreds of million in maintenance. When you see a company spending millions on SAP, it’s probably because they have plans to save at least double that.

It is the author’s opinion that the data in SAP forms part of the “Record” to be managed alongside the documents/correspondence and other unstructured information stored in an ECM/EDRMS solution.

Is integration critical?

Yes and no. It really depends on the organisation and what they do, but for about 90% of organisation it is, or at least for some of the areas of SAP. If you’re an asset intensive business, then integration will be critical, if you’re government, then integration may be critical but for different reasons, such as probity in procurement, but even government is likely to have a requirement to maintain assets, because infrastructure is a form of asset.

More mature organisations question themselves around:

  • Processes need documents to initiate or evidence transactions
  • Process are organised around structures which help make the process efficient
  • Why not use the same organisation approach for documents (users then have a consistent navigation paradigm and it is more efficient for them to find things organised together)
  • Why not use the same records management regime for both the data and the documents
  • Why not use the same security approach ie if a user has access to the data then they should be able to see the documents in the majority of cases.

All the points above point to reducing time to process work ie efficiencies and reducing the overall cycle time. In some cases that can be up to 50% more productivity and a 60% reduction in cycle time.

Ultimately about 80% of companies run SAP have a very good business case for SAP integration, but whether they do it is a different story because the business case is often based on risk, and most companies don’t recognise the risk until it materialises. This is changing with ISO standards like ISO55000, but like everything in Information Governance. Although ISO standards are not legally binding in themselves they do set a benchmark for the “reasonable man” test in litigation law. This is the domain where you hear about damages and class actions.

What it is important to realise is that in many cases, it may be critical enough to enforce a change of Information Management or EDRMS solution and its not unheard of for a company to throw out a solution, even a recently acquired one, if the SAP integration of the solution does not meet their requirements. The risk of not having the integration could outweigh to cost of reimplementing a new solution, or the cost of custom building integration can exceed the cost of reimplementing, so throwing out the existing solution and buying a product with off the shelf integration could be the lesser of two evils.

Why integrate?

The short answer is because documents are critical to business processes. If someone is maintaining a piece of equipment on a plant, they need access to the latest work instruction to do their job; Contracts are critical to procurement processes in SAP; Vendors, Customers, Employees, Financial Transactions all have documents relevant to the process. The list goes on.

Why is integration expensive when conducted as a bespoke/custom exercise?

The assumption for most people who aren’t familiar is that all SAP certified integration pathways are created equal. This is not true. Some SAP integration won’t allow you to apply any form of records management to documents (problematic if you subject to legislation that requires it). Some integration (ArchiveLink) simply won’t work for all areas of SAP because the confines of the integration dictate that documents are static (no versioning), when the reality is that most critical areas of SAP rely on the ability to version.

Integration is actually incredibly complex because you cannot always rely on a solution that allows you to store documents directly against SAP objects. You also have to cater for existing documents in your ECM solution to be linked to SAP objects where there is a single document that may relate to many SAP objects with is typical of Asset Management. You also need to be aware that SAP data is also a record, so any SAP integration should cater for the Archiving and Disposal of SAP data as well, and do so as a combined process rather than separate because to destroy one without the other either leaves you with half the information, or doesn’t actually comply with your records management policy.

What questions should be asked?

From a personal perspective, I would try to establish exactly how the current solution integrates using a set of increasingly complex questions. The reason I would extend the integration is that if the vendor cannot meet the initial question/s, or provides an answer that integration would be custom for the first, I would immediately exclude them if SAP integration is an critical requirement in your business.

These are my questions along with an explanation of why each question is important:

Question 1: Does the vendor have a solution with certified SAP integration.

Why: This establishes at the most basic level whether a vendor has an integrated solution. Without a yes here, you could almost assume that the cost of integration would be too high and I would exclude them because custom integration on a broad level would be too costly to build and manage long term.

Question 2: Is your certified SAP integration completely developed and owed by the Vendor or provided by middleware connector?

Why: A number of vendors use third party middleware certification to “buy” their SAP integration. It’s a simple means to get a checkbox in a tender that might otherwise exclude them. The challenge with some middleware connectors is they often become outdated or provide the most basic level of integration to meet a certification. On top of this, it’s also often poorly integrated in the vendor’s solution because they have done the bare minimum to achieve the certification with the third party. Simply put, third party developed middleware should raise the warning flags immediately which should result in further investigation (if they are short listed) to incorporate in site visits and demos of the prospective integration on a live environment.

Question 3: What SAP solutions is the ECM Vendor integrated with? I.e. ECC, SRM, CRM, EH&S etc.

Why: SAP has a number of different solutions available with a number of modules per solution. The fact that a solution may be integrated into ECC, may not mean the solution has been integrated into CRM, and although the assumption is that the solution may work, the interfaces for the different solutions may not be the same which may impact the level of custom integration required for an integrated solution. There are also cloud hosted versions of SAP that may differ from on premise solution (SAP C4C). If you are planning to do SAP integration, it’s important to understand what SAP solutions you may currently have in place and what you intend implementing in future to ensure that the ECM Vendor conforms to these.

Question 4: Is the solution certified to integration with SAP HANA? If so, at what level is the solution certified to integrate.

Why: SAP HANA is an in memory data platform that provides a substantial performance improvement over previous systems and the vast majority of new customers would be moving this direction. This question establishes on a technical level whether the solution is capable of meeting this requirement, however it also establishes whether the solution is in line with SAP’s current strategy and how up to date the integration is. In some cases, the ECM solution may even have the ability to use HANA as a database which could eliminate the requirement for additional database licenses from Oracle or Microsoft.

Question 5: Does the SAP integration allow users to navigate and retrieve content from both the SAP and native ECM solution interfaces?

Why: If a solution is using basic ArchiveLink, the level of integration limits access to only SAP or SAP DMS. What this means is that there is very little way to access documents related to SAP from a non-SAP perspective which is critical to some areas like Asset Management, where the documents may be relevant to both SAP and non-SAP users. As an example, not every engineer is an SAP user but they need access to drawings.

Question 6: Does the SAP integration allow for users to link documents already stored in the ECM solution against SAP objects from both the ECM and SAP interfaces without duplicating the document?

Why: This is an extension of the question above and really establishes whether they have the capability to use an existing controlled document library in their ECM solution and link documents against SAP objects where required. For example, drawings would be unlikely to be managed against SAP objects and are likely to exist only in a controlled document library but linked against SAP objects where required. Another example is in procurement where new suppliers provide financial evidence, and contract terms before the supplier record is created in SAP.

Question 7: Does the SAP integration allow for users to store documents directly against SAP objects from both the SAP and ECM interfaces?

Why: Again usability is key here. Much like you wouldn’t want to go through a cumbersome screen changes, navigation in 2 systems to retrieve the document and then attach it we want to avoid that for end users now. E.g. if you are in a supplier master record screen in SAP, you would want to be able to attach the document while you are in that user interface, rather than leaving the screen, going to your ECM solution, finding the vendor there and then storing the document.

Question 8: Does the SAP integration allow for the ongoing synchronisation and search of SAP metadata against documents stored in the ECM solution, and ensure that when SAP metadata is updated, the ECM metadata is automatically updated. I.e. the Vendor or Equipment Description.

Why: This is helpful in the sense that you have a lot of information already in SAP which pertains to the documents in the ECM solution. Without this synchronization, every piece of metadata would have to be manually replicated and manually updated every time the SAP object changes. In a real world, manual updates are unlikely to happen so inevitably the information will become outdated and out of synchronization.

Question 9: Does the SAP integration allow for methods of structuring documents against SAP objects where there may be large numbers of documents against a single SAP object. I.e. Project Folders Structures against an SAP Project Object.

Why: In some cases, the amount of documents relating to a single SAP object could be large. A typical example is a large project which may have hundreds of documents. If you simply have an attachment list, you could have 400 documents and no option to break them down by Phase for ease of navigation or basic structure.

Question 10: Does the SAP integration allow the ECM solution to leverage the permission model in SAP and apply the permissions to the ECM content accessed via the ECM integration as opposed to the SAP Interface.

Why: SAP permissions are fairly critical from an ECM perspective and can be complex to maintain. Its very important to be able to map these permissions to ensure that users can’t see documents relating to SAP objects they are not allowed to see or this could expose the company to a substantial amount of risk. I.e. If you have more than one company within a single SAP system, you may want to limit the access to sensitive vendor information by company.

Question 11: Does the SAP integration allow the ECM solution to leverage the SAP metadata for the creation of documents from templates. I.e. use SAP metadata in the content of documents in the same way that a user would imbed document properties.

Why: If you create a document like a contract for a customer in your ECM solution, you may want the capability to use all the customer information already populated in SAP rather than manually inserting it in the document to ensure the up to date information is populated. This could apply to a number of areas in SAP including customers, vendors, projects, quotes etc.

Question 12: Does the SAP integration allow ECM solution to use SAP metadata, or changes to it as a means to trigger records management in ECM.

Why: Realistically, SAP data is a record and it’s important to maintain some form of integrity between the data and the supporting documents. If the data is deleted, the documents are often useless so having one master as a triggering point to dispose of data is important to ensure all the retentions are synchronized. I.e. you mark the vendor master for deletion and the associated documents can be deleted at the same time, or you retain everything for a defined period of time before deleting.

Question 13: Does the solution allow for linking of documents at operation level in a SAP Task List and Work Order

Why: This question is specific to plant maintenance and is critical for this area. If you aren’t using Asset Management, feel free to ignore this. The challenge with operations in a Task List and Work Order is you have to have a solution specifically built to achieve this or custom building this component can be costly. The reason for this is that operations are essentially tasks, and the requirement in asset management is to link a document to a specific task, and then copy the task and the associated document to the work order when they are ready to do work. When a maintenance technician is issued with a work order, they need to be issued with each document associated with the work order so they can safely conduct maintenance work.

Question 14: Does the solution allow for the integration and accessibility of SAP process related content in Microsoft applications including MS Office, Explorer and SharePoint?

Why: Obviously this question is specifically aimed at those companies using Microsoft products. For most organisations using SAP, Microsoft is fairly entrenched and forms one of the major components in the organisation, so it’s important for the SAP integration to incorporate the ability to leverage Microsoft products as part of the integration. This could include general desktop applications such as Outlook, Word and Excel or the ability to surface SAP related content via SharePoint where the organisation is using SharePoint as an accessibility layer.

Question 15: Does the solution allow for the integration and accessibility of SAP process related content in SAP mobile applications such as SAP Work Order Manager? Please provide a list of the SAP Mobile Applications supported by the integration.

Why: This question considers the mobile application requirements of organisations who now use SAP mobility as a means to access content. SAP Work Order Manager is an application specifically aimed at Asset Management where maintenance technicians can do maintenance work from mobile tablets while having access to the documents (safe work instructions, drawings) required to perform the maintenance safely. There are a number of mobility solutions from SAP so it is important to identify which are relevant to your organisation and list them where appropriate.

That’s my list. If you have any additional questions, or questions relating to this post, please feel free to send them through.