SAP at WYWM - My Rare SAP Skill Set

Mel O'Sullivan - September 22, 2021

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.  

  • SAP S/4 HANA Enterpise Management Overview- this just talks about the training content and basic history of the system – read on.  
  • SAP Fiori. Fiori is a User Interface (how the system looks and behaves for the user) product which I didn’t have access to. I wish I had. It’s a lot nicer, more attractive and easier to use than the version I learned.  
  • System Wide Concepts. In the military we have a thing called an Order of Battle or ORBAT. An ORBAT is more or less a mind map of the way the business is organised. In SAP it basically means a mind map of how the Business Data is organised, how it moves, where it goes, who can see and use the data. If you understand what an ORBAT is and how it works you can understand how SAP data is organised in real life. SAP even numbers and categorizes its Units and people much like the military does.   

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. 

  • Record to Report Processing. On The Job Learning. I didn’t really know that much about high level strategic finance management and I still don’t. I know what general ledgers, cost centres and profit centres are and how to allocate them for cost/profit analysis. I can also conduct analysis on the data available and make recommendations.  I’ll leave the legalities of high level finance management to those better qualified. Essentially I know enough about this to know when I need to defer to an accountant or a Business Analyst.  
  • Hire to Retire Processing. Direct Responsibility. I learned most of what I know about HR management as an Army Officer. I had experience running crews of people in multi-specialty logistics units both in Australia and in East Timor. One of my first jobs out of the Army was in Occupational Rehabilitation which covered any gaps in my knowledge around OH&S in the civilian sector. My only responsibility strictly speaking in SAP was the data entry of time sheets. In SAP the Cross Application Time Sheet (CATS) transaction also collects labour hours for production cost and maintenance cost tracking. CATS also tracks and manages leave and troops to task. About the only thing I didn’t do was pick who was hired, what they got paid and who got fired – but I ended up doing most of the paperwork. 
  • Source to Pay Processing. Direct Responsibility. Successfully operating the Purchase to Pay Processing in SAP is a detail and deadline heavy process. When you put a trained military logistician in a purchasing role in SAP you automatically get a Logistics/Resupply manager. Source to pay in SAP also touches on inventory and fleet/asset management with more than a sprinkling of Project Management. I tracked and managed international supply chains for Just In Time Delivery and in nine years in the job I was only ever late with one delivery by one day. I also maintained perfect results in Vendor/Supplier Payment KPIS for most of my time in the role. I am not inflating anything when I say I was the best in the company. 
  • Warehouse and Inventory Management. Direct Responsibility. I first learned the fundamentals of warehousing and stock control in the military. Strictly speaking my SAP Role was to enter data to administer Stocktakes. The goal was to make the inventory in SAP match the actual stock on the ground perfectly – not nearly as easy as it sounds. I couldn’t even approve stock adjustments. Attention to detail and rigid adherence to process is the name of the game here. Again – when you put a Military trained Logistician into a role like this you automatically get an Inventory Manager. In my time at the company Annual Stocktake Stock level variances in my plant went from around 20% to about 1.5% (with the right management support). Inventory Management in SAP also touches on Production Recording and Dispatch. Because my job also included Production Entry I could see and resolve every problem at every step of the process. I don’t mean change the Data to make it look good. As an ex Army Officer I would find the root cause of the problem (usually training/education) and do what I could to fix that. I spent a lot of time educating and working with Yard Operators on the importance of correct reconciliation of Picking Tickets and Delivery Dockets.  
  • Design to Operate Processing. Direct Responsibility. Design to Operate is the process of making things. I thought I knew nothing about Production when I started entering daily production data into SAP. I knew a lot more than I first realised. I planned and executed all of the purchasing for production. It’s a Project heavy process so I leaned heavily on my military resource and time management experience. I conducted root cause analysis for problem solving and implemented solutions within my limited area of influence (remember – I was “only the office lady”). When you put a military trained logistics officer into a role like this you shortly get something that looks very much like an Assistant Production Planner. With the right Management support the accuracy of the production planning data and production reporting improved to within a 1.5% inventory variance tolerance - and our cost capture was top notch. 
  • Lead to Cash Processing. Sales and Distribution. I didn’t operate directly in this area. I had to lean about sales but I was an Army Road Transport truckie. I knew exactly what the Dispatcher needed from the inventory data to be able to do his job – and I made sure he got it.  
  • SAP Project Systems. Learned in the Military. We had the SAP Project System module but we did not use it. I spent some time several years ago exploring the capability to see if it might be appropriate to use for Capital Asset Acquisition but we did not need that level of complexity. It is my firm belief that nobody trains better project managers than the military. Troops to task, budget management, time line planning, staged implementation, cost tracking. It’s all there. Just put the appropriate data in the right box.  
  • SAP Enterprise Asset Management. Learned in the Military. Transport truckie = fleet management. Not a great leap from there to Asset Management. Because I was operating procurement I picked up a pretty good working knowledge of Capital Asset Acquisition and management. If you can plan and implement preventative maintenance on fleet – you can do the same for Buildings and Capital Assets. Because of high management turnover the National Asset Manager and I worked fairly closely on the Capital Asset Maintenance in the plant – simply because I was the constant in the workforce – and I knew what a Condition Report was and what to do with it. I could also forward plan, implement and cost track maintenance services.  

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.  

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