SAP at WYWM - My Rare SAP Skill Set

It’s no secret that I am mostly self taught when it comes to SAP. 

I first encountered the system when I started at job at Holcim Humes Australia which was titled “Production Works Clerk”. It was a bottom level data entry/administration role in a small country concrete manufacturing plant which was part of a large multinational specializing in quarrying and concrete products. The Humes subsidiary was the only part of the company which manufactured finished concrete products. Holcim (now Lafarge Holcim) focusses on quarrying and bulk concrete delivery in mobile agitator trucks.  

It has only been in the last twelve months or so that I have dived into formal SAP learning. I think I received maybe 1 week on the job introduction to SAP when I started in the role. Crucially – the person handing the job over to me still operated a paper based office and was clearly uncomfortable with the database. 

I remember I was introduced somewhat tentatively to the Graphical User Interface (GUI) version of SAP that the Company was running.  There was no way the other ladies in the office were going to be able to teach me much - they were too afraid of the database and both always stayed well inside their designated lanes. I won’t lie – the interface was confronting and somewhat clunky but I applied the veteran concept of “this is the tool I’ve been given – I'd better learn how to use it”. 

So I did. 

I’ve only just recently realised that the exposure I gained in operating SAP Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) functions in that little country plant has made me somewhat of a rare animal when it comes to SAP.  

Let me explain.  

I am an Operator – a very good one – referred to as a Super User. I am the person who enters, uses and maintains the data all day, every day.  

Normally a person operating SAP within a company will only operate in one area of specialty. The person paid to do Payroll will only do Payroll. The person doing Inventory Management will have nothing to do with Purchasing or Dispatch. The person who takes sales orders might not even be in the same location as the person doing Production Entry. SAPs role based authorization system is designed to segregate incompatible roles. More on that in another article.  

My company ran the full SAP Enterprise Resource Planning Suite to varying levels.  

The topic list for SAP’s TS410 Integrated Business Systems Course (S/4 HANA ERP) looks like this: 

  1. SAP S/4 HANA Enterpise Management Overview 
  1. SAP Fiori 
  1. System Wide Concepts 
  1. Record to Report Processing 
  1. Hire to Retire Processing 
  1. Source to Pay Processing 
  1. Warehouse and Inventory Management 
  1. Design to Operate Processing 
  1. Lead to Cash Processing 
  1. SAP Project Systems 
  1. SAP Enterprise Asset Management 

We were a very small Plant so all of the office staff had multiple areas of responsibility and we all at one time or another swapped and shared roles. No one would have ever been able to take leave if we didn’t.  

My military training was in Army Road Transport Supply Chain Logistics and Human Resources Management. I was woefully underemployed in the role but that’s another story.  

Honestly – putting me in that job was like using a Main Battle Tank to eradicate mice in your loungeroom. Lets just say I became known (if not loved) for using the information in SAP to challenge the status quo and drive improvement. I even managed to make SAP sort of fall over more than once when I ran large scale searches for analysis.  

If you want to know how much I know about SAP ERP, or how my military experience applied to my SAP Operator roles – read on.  

Enough of the general information.  

Why is my SAP skill set rare? 

Because I made myself into a Super User in four of the branches of ERP. I had experience in three others thanks to my military training. I made it my business to learn the eighth (although a lot of it still goes over my head). I more or less did the Army Officer thing of wanting to know everything that was going on around me. I didn’t stay in my lanes and was constantly asking “Why has this gone wrong?” and “How can it be done better?”.  

It almost never happens in business where one person will operate more than one branch of SAP ERP. I’ve covered all of them to some extent. 

The sum of my experiences make me a rare animal in the SAP ERP Space. That’s why I get to mentor the WYWM SAP Squad Training Programme.  

Got questions?

Click here to ask the WYWM SAP Community on Discord

Building Blocks of SAP - Mel's Golden Rules

Got Questions?

Click here to ask the WYWM SAP Community on Discord

Build an LP Calculator for League of Legends in Excel

In this quick lesson, learn how to build an LP Calculator for League of Legends using Excel.
We'll use the following tools/functions:

Moving Averages for Time Series Data Analysis

Let’s look at how we can use moving averages to spot trends in time-series data.

Time series are one of the most common datasets that you will come across in your Data Analytics career. A time series data-set is a collection of sequential data that is recorded in time intervals.

Some of the many examples include:

One of the main challenges when working with a time series is that there can be strong fluctuations, or noise, in the data. This can make it difficult to spot trends and key features that would otherwise be hidden under these fluctuations.

In this video we use a simple moving average to explore the trend in a time series of historical business revenue using MS Excel. We then go on to use this moving average as a baseline to measure monthly revenue against.

You can find the data-set on Kaggle (some columns & rows were deleted in this example to simplify things): https://www.kaggle.com/podsyp/time-series-starter-dataset

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:

5589643 RIFLE,PERSONAL,AUSTEYR,CARBINE. $100.00

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 
s:€3298 
5936341 T 
s7423z6sto.,kAssembS 
ss6392ZBart.l 
s sSSS44 b' •eh b I Off 
sssS333saf.tyse.itch 
5332964 Cleaning Kit 
s238643Sigtt 
5323955 filing pin 
3329641 
s 638924SlingPin 
SS3Z46 S*ht 
5638926

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.

Got questions?

Click here to ask the WYWM SAP Community on Discord


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. 

Got questions?

Click here to ask the WYWM SAP Community on Discord

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.

Got questions?

Click here to ask the WYWM SAP Community on Discord


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
progressed.

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
together.

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
track.

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.

Got questions?

Click here to join the WYWM SAP Community Discord channel