Building Blocks Of SAP - Material Masters

Google "SAP Material Masters" and you get this explanation:

"The material master contains information on all the materials that a company procures or produces, stores, and sells. It is the company's central source for retrieving material-specific data. This information is stored in individual material master records."

Clear as mud right?

Go a little further and you get a bit more information:

"The material master is used by all components in the SAP Logistics System. The integration of all material data in a single database object eliminates redundant data storage. In the SAP Logistics System, the data contained in the material master is required, for example, for the following functions:

Still clear as mud?

Put simply - A Material Master is the same as a part number or a stock number. A Material Master always refers to a real, physical item - be it a roofing nail or a Main Battle Tank. It's not a serial number like the unique identifier stencilled on to your personal weapon.

A Material Master catalogues an item or a group of items and might look something like this:


Focus - we're not talking about what a carbine is worth - we need a simple example that everyone recognises.

When you look at the stock listing for a given armoury each carbine will be stocked under Material Master 5589643. In fact - every single Steyr Carbine in the ADF (or at least in your service of choice) will have the same Material Master Number and Description. Weapon serial numbers will be collected and held elsewhere.

Material Masters are one of the sets of master data in SAP - and yes, it is confusing that the word "Master" is in both descriptions. Material Masters are a subordinate dataset within the Master Data tables.

The thing is - we all know that our carbine is actually made up of a set of replaceable parts. As far as SAP is concerned a carbine is a Kit - a grouped stack of Material Masters. Let's go into a little on what our carbine kit might look like to SAP. Yeah - I know - I missed bits - it's been awhile but I could probably still strip and assemble if I had to.

SS 39 643 
5936341 T 
s sSSS44 b' •eh b I Off 
5332964 Cleaning Kit 
5323955 filing pin 
s 638924SlingPin 
SS3Z46 S*ht 

In a manufacturing context Material Masters also collect production times, labour costs, incidental costs, and raw material usage valuation.

Imagine how complex the Material Master containing all of the various parts for a Main Battle Tank would look. If you think of a Material Master as a part number and description you won't be far off the mark.

ShowMe Excel - COUNTIF and Number Selector

In this video, I'll show you how to build a tool that counts rows of data that have exceeded a certain number, and how many have not.
In this lesson:

In the example, we're using BFA result data and counting the number of people who have completed a certain number of pushups against those that haven't. We then look at this as a percentage.
Download the workbook below to follow along.

This is really just scratching the surface of what can be done with Excel, for more be sure to enrol in the WithYouWithMe Data pipeline.

Building Blocks of SAP - Stakeholders

One of our Veterans asked me recently to make an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of SAP as a system.

My response?

Like every other tool or weapon SAP is only as good as the people using it.

Don't get me wrong - I think SAP is a fantastic tool that delivers on most of the promises in the sales chatter - technically. The SAP product suite includes a seemingly endless list of custom products tailored to the specifications of the user. For any given business process you want to enact there might be anything up to twenty different transaction options available for the operator to choose from. Just about every military operating SAP is operating some form of custom developed platform.

In many ways that's the problem (and in my mind the biggest barrier to user engagement). Unless the business has clearly communicated the desired option (called a Tcode or Transaction Code) to the user, the poor old data entry operator has to make a choice from a mind bogglingly long list of options - all of which achieve the same task. If the individual is poorly trained on the system, time poor and discouraged from making independent decisions (or doesn't want to) the level of engagement on the use of the Database is likely to be poor at best.

If you add in a poorly managed Change Management implementation where the "Business as Usual" phase actually does revert back to business as usual - it's likely that any gains in efficiency offered by the implementation of SAP will be shortly lost when disengaged or change resistant employees revert back to "the good old spreadsheet". Sadly, although a huge amount of learning content for SAP is available on the internet (and I mean huge) businesses are unlikely to set aside time and resources for employees to self educate. I've never even heard of a business that ran formal refresher training - even those who had a 90% turnover of staff in a 2 year period (almost completely wiping out any corporate knowledge).

Only two significant things happen with data in SAP - it gets entered and it gets analysed. Data quality becomes shaky when people manually enter data. If the data entry operator is ill informed, careless, tired or malignant then the potential for harm is quite significant. For example; I knew of a case where one data entry operator caused a $60000 stock write off in her plant because she either didn't know or didn't care about the consequences of making an extra manufacturing item (value $180.00) to stock every day to use up leftover raw materials. She made the managers daily waste KPI's look good but masked the problem of wastage in mix production. The cost impact on the plant would have been much lower had she scrapped the mix from stock - but no-one ever checked her work (or she hid it well).  Worse - her manager didn't know she was doing it.

SAP has an extremely powerful analytics capability suite - which is useless if no-one ever runs or understands the reports. The real "Bang for Buck" in SAP analytics lies with the ability to compile custom searches for targeted analysis. On the old Graphical User Interface (GUI) the extremely powerful custom search capability is confronting for the average user without a basic understanding of your standard search operators - >, <, >=, <= and the wildcard search operator *. If you haven't been taught how to search - you haven't got a hope. If no-one has taught you that you can look at the report using an Excel compatibility Business Add In (BADI), or export a .csv file - it's unlikely you'll work that out for yourself - especially if the interface makes you grind your teeth in frustration. Fortunately S4 HANA has improved on this quite a bit.

In the hands of a trained and motivated individual SAP is a force multiplier - in the hands of a team of trained, motivated and curious individuals the possibilities multiply exponentially.

SAP is only as good as the people using it. 

Building Blocks of SAP - Role Based Authorizations

The concept of Role Based Authorizations in SAP would be one of the areas where SAP structure and management of information aligns fairly neatly with the military mindset.

Do you believe me?

Lets look at the similarities.

In the military individuals are posted in to Roles. Command responsibilities and authorizations go with the role and do not stay with the individual on posting.

Lets start with the way the military handles strategic and tactical intelligence reports (after all - SAP exists to manage, categorize and control information). Tactical intelligence reports from certain units in certain areas are "Eyes only" and fed into the system from the ground up. Information is only made available to selected predetermined roles on a "need to know" basis. Anyone outside the predetermined classification of "need to know" is not allowed access to the information. Ground level units can only see information pertinent to their AO and some designated partner units.  Some individuals can only enter reports on a predetermined format. Some can read the reports but not comment. Some can read and comment - and a very select few can read, comment, edit and delete. Only those Roles at the top levels of security classification have visibility on the whole picture in the AO. Roles which are not necessarily dependent on Rank and/or Seniority.

The individual who has full and open access to everything will lose that access when they are posted into a new role.

Why is SAP the same?

Authorizations on visibility and management of information as well as Limits of Authority for spending are predetermined for a given role. This function controls which datasets can be seen by an individual, which datasets can be changed (or approved) by an individual and which datasets can be edited and/or deleted by an individual. Level of seniority and accessibility are not necessarily related - in most cases a manager can not change a purchase order after it has been raised - a mechanism designed to discourage fraud and theft.

As in the military, only designated roles can authorize the issue of a quote, the spending of money or the write off of stock. Individual access to information is restricted according to the role the individual is employed in. Only certain roles can hire and fire people. Only certain roles have total visibility on company strategic or proprietary information. Proprietary information  is the business version of Top Secret - information that could bring the company down if it is leaked to the opposition.

Role Based Authorizations work almost exactly the same way in both examples.

From Infantry Reservist to Data Analysts

My journey with the military began when I was 17, in 2011 with the Army reserves. That
November, my best mate and I decided to sign up as infantryman, planning to go through
Kapooka together over the summer break and see where the adventure would take us.

At the time, I never would have thought this journey would lead to opportunities in data
analytics. But here we are. So let me explain…

Following Kapooka, I loved my time in the reserves. I completed my infantry modules as
early as I could, going during the school holidays and putting my hand up for every training,
weekend and opportunity I could for the next 2 years. Eventually, however, I found myself
putting more time into my university studies and career development. Around the
beginning of 2015, I decided to transfer into standby reserves to pursue a career interstate
in the field of business and management.

Fast forward a few years to October 2020 when I received an email explaining the Army, in
collaboration with WithYouWithMe (WYWM), were looking for those with or without
technical experience, to build a new data team. I remember thinking, "Really? An
organisation that's willing to take someone like me, with very limited technology experience
and almost none in data analytics, train them up from scratch and get them working in the
field? Surely this is too good to be true?" Well, I was half right. That's exactly who they were
looking for. I was just wrong about it being too good to be true. I sent in my expression of
interest and the next thing I knew, I was enrolled in one of the best, most engaging training
courses I'd ever done.

Provided I had the will to learn, WYWM had the will to teach. As I would learn over the next
6 weeks of training and team building, this is exactly what WYWM sets out to achieve, and
they do a damn good job at it.

And so here I am. From an infantry reservist, to trainee data analyst.

Throughout the delivery of the course, you really feel WYWM’s commitment to their
learning mantra, "learn by doing". Lessons consist of easy-to-follow videos and
opportunities to follow along. Right from Module 1 of the Data Analytics Course, instructors
Ben and Jimmy (absolute legends) begin with a very brief overview of what you'll be doing,
saying only what needs to be said before allowing you to go straight in and get hands on
with Excel. The course material and lessons are delivered in such a practical and
straightforward manner that by the time you reach the next phase, you almost don’t even
realise you've just picked up something really useful and even a bit technical.

Without giving you any answers, you are visually guided through the course with clearly
explained, screen recorded demonstrations of how to use different data analysis
techniques. Put simply, each lesson follows a fairly simple formula:

  1. Briefly outline what's about to be taught
  2. Provide a demonstration and allow you to follow along
  3. Give you a scenario to practise the same techniques you just observed

This allowed me to learn data analytics at my own pace, with minimal confusion, and
eventually understand how to use slightly more advanced analytics methods as the course

If I was ever stuck or interested in diving deeper into a particular topic, the WYWM team
was always available and happy for me to get in touch. Not only that, because I’d gotten to
know my classmates really well through the daily catch ups set up by our instructors every
morning, I felt comfortable reaching out to them at any time. This was one area where
WYWM really stood out compared to previous institutions I'd learned at.

No weird, artificial, awkward friendship making games, we just began by chatting casually in
the mornings before starting our lessons. Before I knew it, eventually questions like 'hey
mate, how was the weekend?' just made their way into our conversations. As someone with
a fair amount of experience in classrooms, I found this pretty exceptional for a course that
was entirely online, which more often than not struggle to generate this kind of culture.

Not only was WYWM able to make us feel like mates throughout the course, I reckon the
culture of our classroom was more closely-knit than most face-to-face courses I've done.

It was obvious right from the beginning that WYWM is so effective at achieving this because
they really live and breathe their values. Be fierce in chasing your dreams, transparent in
your behaviours and intentions and curious throughout your learning journey and life. It’s a
catchy tune, and it inspired me and my classmates to hold the same values as we learned

It wasn’t WYWM's mission and values that made them stand out, rather it was their
commitment to fulfilling these through action. I felt they were genuinely committed to
helping me and other veterans learn skills relevant to today’s workforce and help us find
suitable jobs. I experienced first-hand the 4 steps they took to do this, from discovering my
skills and interests, training me up to be career ready, helping me find a relevant job
opportunity, and keeping in touch with me about further opportunities to learn and grow.

It’s still crazy to think where I’ve ended up from my start in the reserves as an infantryman,
and my journey hasn’t even finished. Around the corner is a data analytics team project I’ll
be starting with the same classmates I just studied with, to build a Data Hub for the
Australian Army. I feel ready to tackle the challenge, excited to see what other opportunities
lie ahead with my new skills and keen to see what else WYWM has in store for me down the

Building Blocks of SAP - Limits of Authority

A Limit of Authority in SAP is a maximum dollar value that a nominated role can authorise to either spend in purchasing, or stock adjust in inventory management.

The system works in almost exactly the same way a military command structure does. I think that's why I found an understanding of Limits of Authority and Need to Know Visibility/Authorisations so easy to operate in comparison to civilian learners on the system.

Military personnel management always makes a clear distinction between the person and the role - the Ships Captain assumes the same responsibilities and authorizations regardless of the name of the individual occupying the Post. Roles always have fairly well understood limits to authority. A sailor knows what decisions she can reasonably make without having to consult the Leading Seaman. The Leader knows her limits of authority before she has to refer the decision to the Petty Officer. The Petty Officer knows when the decision should be run past the Chief Petty Officer or Warrant Officer. The Warrant Officer is fairly clear on the left & right of arc when advising the Midshipman or Lieutenant and so on & so forth all the way up the chain to the Prime Minister. Everyone has a fair idea on what resources they can "spend" independently to achieve a task. Spend limit increases according to the responsibility of the role.

SAP imposes limits of authority as a <= equation against an assigned approval authority - assigned to the role - not the individual.

A quick explanation of the purchasing process provides the simplest example. Lets talk about the purchasing of food for ships. The cook on the STS Young Endeavour (yep its an Australian Navy crewed ship) needs to restock the galley with fresh apples. For the sake of the example we'll say that Cookie has no purchasing authority - that is - the Navy will not honour any bills the cook as an individual incurs in purchasing. Cookie does not have a Navy credit card for procurement and must buy everything using a purchase order.

Cookie would choose one of the pre-approved suppliers of the best quality apples within budget constraints in port and obtain a quote for the required quantity of apples. Cookie would then raise a requisition in SAP which specifies preferred supplier, quantity, item description, quoted price, required delivery time and delivery location. A copy of the quote is attached to the requisition for verification of due purchasing process. SAP assigns a unique identifier number to the requisition and it goes into a queue to be processed by the Buyer who might be sitting in Sydney. When the Requisition passes the required Buyers checks it will be converted into a purchase order and given a Purchase Order Number which is then assigned to the Approving Authority for approval. The Approving Authority might be the Ships Executive Officer (XO). If the total value of the order is under the XO's approval limit (let's say $500 per order) the XO can approve. SAP sends the Purchase order to the supplier - supplier fills the order and invoices the Navy for payment. If the Purchase order totals $500.01 the XO bounces it to the next role with a suitable Limit of Authority- might be the ship's Captain. SAP does not send the order to the supplier until the Approval check box is ticked by the Role with the appropriate authority. Suppliers are not paid until receipt of the delivery is verified and a Goods Receipt entered into SAP against the Purchase Order.

I know victualling for ships of the line is handled differently but we need a simple example.

In short - people can only spend what Navy authorises them to spend - with the suppliers Navy has pre approved. SAP polices the limits on spend and provides total transparency on procurement due diligence. Every transaction is recorded and all users are protected against accusations of fraud by the global built in transparency of the process.  Some loss of flexibility in response time is unavoidable - but it is nothing that can not be mitigated by good planning and time management.

Box Plots and Japanese Candlesticks

What do Box Plots and Japanese Candlesticks have in common?

I have a confession to make. When I first came across Box Plots in Data Analytics my first thought was "I've never seen these used in real life". So I kind of discarded them as interesting but unlikely to ever be really useful to me personally.

Yesterday I was working at a hot desk in a local Small Business Incubator facility in my home town while I waited for a Networking function to start. I was working away when a loud and confident gentleman walked in, sat down at the desk next to me, stuck his hand out and introduced himself.

We got to chatting (he was fascinated to learn more about WYWM) and I learned that he was a Stock Broker. I confessed that although I call myself a Data Analyst, I don't know anything about stock trading and would he mind showing me a bit about what he does. I explained that I was always looking for opportunities to raise awareness for our Data Analytics students on where Data is used in business.

Quite happily, he turned his screen around and there were what he called his Japanese Candlesticks. A great big long line of Green and Red Box plots in time sequence tracking the trading history of a publicly listed company (complete with outliers). I got side tracked and forgot to ask him what Software his company used.

HIB9.25 C"9.25 
0 .11, 
189.25 1.10 (0.58%) 
% auto 
self-driving partnership is 
the next phase of •Apple as a 
. • Munster 
App:e adjusted its 
Volkswagen, to 
Apples and

My google query "best stock trading analysis dashboard" gave me "About 2000000 results in 0.46 seconds". I'm not making an endorsement (I already told you I don't have a clue about this stuff) but one product that seems to come up regularly is some software called Trading View. Their webpage has some really cool visualisations and you can book in for a free trial if you want to give it a try. There are Box Plots everywhere.

Study Data Science: Sydney

At its core, data science is all about solving problems using data.

Our Data Science Courses can be studied anywhere including Sydney, Melbourne or even in the comfort of your own home with self-paced learning and assessments with 24/7 instructor support.

Our Data Science Course takes about 140 hours to complete focusing on four main concepts.

  1. Define: "What questions do we ask our data?"
  2. Transform: "How do we prepare data for analysis?"
  3. Analyse: "How can we generate meaningful insights and findings?"
  4. Communicate: "Learn how to present your key findings"

The demand for data scientists has increased 663% in five years and this is only expected to keep growing.

If you'd like to learn data science in Sydney, Melbourne, or anywhere in the world, click the button below.

What Can You Do With Data?

Among many other applications, you can apply the skills learnt during our Data Science pathway to build interactive dashboards and visualisations.

Below is an example if what you'll learn how to build within the Data Visualisation and Power BI Course.

Power BI Dashboard Visualisation

Building Blocks of SAP - What is Master Data and why does it matter?

Wikipedia devotes just under a page to the subject of Master Data. A surprisingly small amount given the crucial role Master Data plays in managing profitability in business. It doesn't matter what software you are using - get your master data wrong and you can watch your profits walk out the door and wash down the drains.

I know this, I've seen it happen.

First, let's talk about what master data is - then we'll talk about why it needs to be accurate and well managed.

According to Scott Taylor (a gent who styles himself as a Data Whisperer) "Master Data is a single source of common business data used across multiple systems, applications and processes." Great - that tells me what I already knew; it gets used everywhere in the business - but what exactly is it?

SAP divides Data into two basic categories:

Master Data, and;

Transactional Data

To understand how SAP manages data it's best to think of SAP (especially in a whole of business application like ERP) as a virtual version of the business it is working in. It works in a similar way to a tactical operations map which creates a virtual battlefield - except it uses numbers instead of symbols. It parallels physical assets, people, processes, purchasing, production, distribution and sales. For example - every real person working for the business exists as an entity in SAP, every building and fleet item exists as an entity in SAP. Every item purchased and placed on a warehouse shelf exists in SAP. Every time a customer buys something, SAP parallels the process - right down to picking the stock off the shelf and managing the payment. Labour time spent to do all of these things is tracked in SAP. It's not a precise analogy, but it is a good place to start.

Master Data more or less mimics the physical and actual (or fixed) things - assets, fleet, stock, people, suppliers, and customers. Most importantly, master data collects and tracks the dollars $$$$$ - General Ledgers and Cost/Profit Centre Datasets are always Master Data - they do not change. 

Master Data includes (but is not limited to) the following datasets:

Transactional Data roughly parallels processes (makes something happen with, or to, Master Data) - eg the process of buying an item, selling an item, making an item, moving an item, breaking an item, hiring someone, transferring someone, firing someone or paying someone. Transactional data moves the dollars $$$$$ around. 

Good management of master data is crucial to the profitability of a business. It all boils down to ensuring that the data matches reality as closely as possible - which is not nearly as easy as it sounds. The real world is involved, and in the real world the numbers do not always line up perfectly.

Let's start with stock values and purchase prices. In the military ammunition is always a stocked item. It is assigned a stock (or barcode) number which does not change regardless of where the ammunition goes in the organization. Unless the Master Data is maintained in accordance with real world price rise cycles the stock value given to the item in SAP Master Data is almost never the same as the price paid for it on purchase. We’re going to leave fixed price purchase contracts aside for the sake of a simple explanation. Lets say a 7.62 round is assigned barcode number 5551555. The master Data in SAP for the 7.62 round might look something like this:

5551555 AMMUNITION SMALL ARMS 7.62 NATO LIVE $0.20 Qty 1

When the purchaser pays for the ammunition they might accept a price rise of 5c per round - giving the round a real world value of 25c. When the round is accepted into stock and valued SAP will still value the round at the barcode value of 20c - the Army pays 25c for it. Immediately there is a difference of 5c per round between theoretical or planned stock value and the actual commercial value of the round. If the Army buys a million rounds there is an immediate dollar value variance of $50 000 between the planned value of the stock and the price paid for it. 

The process of revaluing the Master Data is not always automatic. SAP will not automatically see the difference between master data value and purchase price and automatically update (unless you have set it up to do so). A person has to initiate the process of revaluing the master data. Revaluation does not always happen in real time. Unless the procedures are watertight and strictly adhered to, master data valuations can often be over five years old.

When SAP reports on stock value & usage for future procurement planning it draws the Report from the Master Data valuation - not the Purchasing Spend Transactional Data. If the master data is not up to date and the person doing the planning does not look at the purchasing spend, the planned spend on restocking might as well be a fairy tale.  

Building Blocks of SAP - What are Cost Centres, Profit Centres and General Ledgers?

Unless you worked in a military Q store or in Project Management it's unlikely that your military service gave you much exposure to General Ledgers, Cost Centres and Profit Centres (mine didn't).

The only reason I knew anything at all about the subject when I first started using SAP was due to a basic Bookkeeping course I completed in transition. Yeah - A highly trained Army Logistics Officer did a Double Entry Bookkeeping course because she thought it might be of use to her getting a job! I really had no idea about planning transition. Strangely - that little three day course proved to be an invaluable building block to later understanding (not that I knew it at the time).

If you ask Google about General Ledgers and Cost/Profit Centres in SAP it's likely you'll get the usual brain frying deluge of answers that you need an Accountant to interpret. We can leave the highly detailed technicalities to the accountants.

Veterans have to learn to be cost and profit oriented when we move into business after transition. Who cares what ammunition costs when you need to be using it right? If you're anything like me your habit is to place more value on time than on money in business decisions - at least at first.

Civilian businesses exist to make a profit or they don't exist at all. In order to know if you are making a profit you first need to know where your costs are. General ledger and cost/profit centre accounting is mostly about visibility on where your business is spending money, wasting money and making money.

General Ledgers mostly track the "What?" Cost and Profit Centres track the "Where and the Who?" Cost and Profit Centres are subordinate to the General Ledgers in the SAP Organisation hierarchy. We'll let the Business Accountants worry about the technical details for now. General Ledgers might be called Strategic and Cost/Profit Centres might be called Tactical in their areas of impact. Let me try and explain.

Say you are running a small retail business with two separate locations(East & West). Each location is identical in terms of Buildings, Equipment, Stockholdings, Inventory and Labour force. Sounds a bit like the ideal military unit doesn't it? At some point you are going to want to see a comparison on the profitability of each location. We'll focus on cost tracking for the moment. You want to know what money is being spent on and where. A very basic list of General ledgers (What) for your business might be:

600001 Advertising

600002 Salaries & Wages

600003 Buildings

600004 Equipment - Repairs & Maintenance (R&M), New (Capital)Acquisition, Fleet turnover

600005 Rent

600006 Inventory

The above GL list tells you what money is being spent on but not where it is being spent or who is spending it. Maintaining separate ledgers for each location is inefficient for top down Data visibility so Cost Centres are used to isolate costs for each location. Think of the General Ledger as the Big Bucket of Gold and the cost/profit centres as the scoops that fill or empty it.

Each location has a forklift and a truck. Two sets of cost centres are necessary.

East Location

701463 - R&M Parts East

701464 - R&M Maintenance Labour East

West Location

801463 R&M Parts West

801464 R&M Maintenance Labour West

If you want to see your whole of business equipment costs/profit analysis you would conduct a Data Search on GL 600004. If you want to see how much parts are costing you, you would search on Cost Centres 701463 and 801463. If you want to see what your maintenance contractors are costing you a search on Cost Centres 701464 and 801464 would get the right result. If you suspected someone was stealing parts from you in the East location a detailed audit on all spend in cost centre 701463 might yield leads on your investigation.

Profit Centres work in a similar fashion tracking sales and income.

As a SAP operator you simply choose the appropriate number (with description) from a drop down list and fill in the mandatory field- either in purchasing, labour cost tracking or sales. Actual numbers and list tables are decided by The Business. If you're stepping into a SAP picture in a military context all of these number tables already exist independent of the software using them. They would simply be moved from one database to another.

Not all small businesses use General Ledger and Cost/Profit Centre accounting - but all of the multinationals pretty much have to (regardless of the software application they operate). Well worth the effort to at least get yourself a basic understanding of the concepts.