Earlier this year, ASUG sat down with Christian van Helfteren, author of the SAP Press book "Configuring Sales in SAP S/4HANA." In the first part of our conversation, we discuss van Helfteren's background along with some things customers can do with the sales functionalities in SAP S/4HANA to make their migration to the ERP solution easier.
ASUG: Can you tell us about your work experience and how it’s prepared you to write this book?
Christian: I have 30 years of working with ERP solutions, including close to 26 years with SAP. There are multiple ways you can learn the SAP S/4HANA. But if you see it in action, there's no better way for you to acquire the knowledge. You can see what happens along with the reflection of any configuration you put in. That is a very valuable experience. When writing the book, my experiences were helpful. I also tried to include not just a technical description of what a feature is, but also how often it's used and what kind of industries it is mostly used in. Some features may be country-specific. I try to highlight some of that in the book as well.
ASUG: What is an organizational structure as it applies to sales? Why is it important to develop one when using the sales functionalities in SAP S/4HANA?
Christian: That's critical, even if you're doing a public cloud implementation, which has limited configuration capabilities. But the organizational structure is always required and it's important for all sales functionalities. Everything you can do in the system is going to require you to identify which organization you're a part of. That should reflect the way the company is organized. The different departments, divisions, and business focus initiatives within the company need to be represented in the system using the organization structure elements provided by SAP.
You will find the sales organization distribution channel and division are pretty much everywhere you look in the system. The process of defining them is critical. This step comes at the beginning of an SAP S/4HANA project. You have to try to make it as lean as you can. One very common issue that I've seen in organizations is that they create too many divisions. Then they end up having to deal with the massive data impact. Every division would require you to duplicate your sales views on the customer master. Unless that's something you want, you should avoid it. The problem with this duplication is that you don't know that you don't want it when you're defining it. You're only going to find out probably when it's too late—when it's already close to your go-live or worst after you’re live. That's what makes this decision so critical in the beginning. You need to communicate all the impacts of the decisions that are being made and put together something that is lean, long-lasting, and can be expanded upon later. One of the main arches of the system is that it's built for growth.
ASUG: How can SAP S/4HANA users leverage the ERP solution’s functionalities to keep the companies and the people that they interact with organized?
Christian: Every company that your organization interacts with is now represented as a business partner in SAP S/4HANA. Before, all your customers, vendors, contract, persons, competitors, and many other classifications of business partners each had their repositories back in the day. Now that's all unified into a single repository called business partners. From there, you can have a centralized database that links together multiple roles that that same company may perform with your organization. If you have a customer that is also a vendor, both of those entities used to be represented separately in your SAP ECC system. Now in SAP S/4HANA, they're represented as a business partner. This helps with reporting. You can take a business partner snapshot and you can see everything they bought from you and everything is sold to them.
The credit check can also take advantage of the unified master data, customer credit standing could affect their vendor activity and vice-versa. Other opportunities like that are available out of the box and more can be expected during implementation.
ASUG: What are the main steps SAP S/4HANA users must take to enable the solution’s order-to-cash functionality?
Christian: When you transitioned over to SAP, more forethought and planning are required than a lot of companies used to have before. When a lot of companies look at order-to-cash solutions, it's purely order-taking features that were put together just to allow you to record what the customer wants along with some credit and debit memos. That's very commonplace on any system. But on SAP S/4HANA, the idea is that you would prepare the system to receive that order and then eliminate most of that decision-making process that you need to have as you're typing that order because you're already set it all up in the master data. With the order entry, you have to enter even less information and you achieve even more results than before. That's the magic of SAP S/4HANA.
But the problem is that it requires all that forethought and planning. The users can prepare to implement SAP S/4HANA by starting to think about what they're doing at the time of order entry and how can they anticipate that at a master data level. This will be required once you go into the blueprint phase of an implementation, or if you're doing that prototyping approach where you just show them what the solution is going to look like right off the bat. You can prepare yourself by learning how the system works, reading some books about it, talking to other companies that use SAP, or even bringing in the consultants to help you prep.
ASUG: What is the condition technique and how can SAP S/4HANA users use it?
Christian: The condition technique is a very elegant way that SAP allows you to do many features in the system, it has been around since the early version of SAP R/3. First and foremost is pricing, which can get very complicated especially if you go to trade companies that are on the IAS Trade Industry Solution. But all companies have pricing policies and you can automate a lot of the magic that takes place outside the system on another system. Now, instead of always relying on outside factors, you could build in some of the pricing components. The condition technique would allow you to be flexible. It will allow you to rely on information that you capture in many places throughout the sales order process and then affect how you calculate your prices in a dynamic fashion.
You could configure new prices on the fly. If you're on the configuration side things, changing the system is not just for pricing. You have other features like listing exclusion and output determination. The main idea of the condition technique is to allow you to make something happen on your order, such as listing exclusion pricing or output termination, based on criteria that SAP didn't think of but you and your consultant think about. You can just implement it without development and with just configuration. It’s something that can be done in a few hours that in other ERP systems, you may have to hire developers and wait a couple of weeks to get done.
In S/4HANA you can use SAP BRFplus to replace some of the condition technique configurations such as pricing and output determination, this is likely to become the norm on future versions although adoption is slow.