SER Blog  Innovation & Technology

SAP system seeks ECM connection to documents

Marc Volquardsen

Finding data, documents and processes in one click and in the right context is not always easy for SAP users. Their archives only link documents to SAP that are related to transactions. There is no end-to-end document management to support the full processing of a business process with the related documents. An enterprise content management system (ECM), integrated with SAP, enables SAP customers to get a 360-degree view of their business processes.

According to a market research study, the top priorities for customers are centralized access to information and automation of standard processes.* Due to the digital transformation, the way people work is changing. Documents are only available as information when they are digitized. Business applications are constantly being added that introduce new processes, documents and data that need to be managed and connected.

Where do SAP users see themselves in terms of document management in the age of digitization? How do they rate their current access to information, the functionality of their document management system, and automation of business processes?

SAP customers miss greater functionality

SAP is an open ecosystem that quickly and efficiently executes, manages and analyzes structured data transactions. SAP is indispensable whenever users process structured data related to customers, suppliers, agreements and orders. However, not all digital challenges and requirements can be met with SAP alone, because to fully work on a business process you need the related documents.

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SAP systems offer only basic functions for document management and archiving. For example, SAP ArchiveLink only stores technical index data and does not support specialized searches for documents.

In addition, data and documents are stored in information silos that have evolved and grown over many years. These are therefore not available as bundled information in a complete context, as in an electronic file. There is also no transparency for stakeholders in terms of version control, annotations, filing and research. Audit-proof archiving of documents cannot be implemented with SAP resources alone.

SAP users rightly complain about the lack of clarity and functional limitations when managing unstructured content, which typically makes up over 80% of the information available in a company in the form of quotes, agreements, orders, correspondence, etc.

Search requests lead to incomplete results because SAP users only receive search results for structured data via transaction lists – but not for the related unstructured documents such as agreements or correspondence. As a result, SAP users state that they often do not find a lot of information (12.5%*) or sometimes information is difficult to find (67.5%*) in their daily work. Without access to this unstructured data, they may make poorer decisions, fail to fully clarify issues, and do not complete transactions. This costs time and money and leads to compliance risks. The service quality for customers and suppliers suffers and employees become frustrated.

Processes defined by system limitations

Also found on the list of areas worth improving are workflows. Some 47.4% of those surveyed were completely dissatisfied and 42.1% only partially satisfied with the fact that many processes do not run continuously across departments or even across the company.* This makes it difficult to structure processes in a simple and understandable way for affected employees.

What SAP users lack is a 360-degree view of all information related to a matter and the information related to the process in the SAP landscape, as well as across SAP boundaries, in order to find and process information more quickly

Tailored SAP and ECM combo for integrated processes

Companies often use multiple SAP modules such as FI, HR, TM, SD or MM for their different areas of application. Each department remains a silo with its data.

An ECM system adds important features for document management to the SAP landscape. It connects application areas, makes information available anytime and anywhere, and designs processes and collaboration consistently and without media disruptions.

The features are integrated in the user interface of the SAP platform and make up for deficits mentioned under one platform. When SAP and ECM work seamlessly together, you can handle all business processes in a smooth and traceable manner.

The process that users plan to map determines which system is the leading one. An ECM system is flexible and can be used as both a supporting and a lead system.

As the leading system, an agile and scalable ECM platform can serve as the main information platform. Where users need document-based processes and the documentation of business processes, ECM is generally called for as an add-on to SAP. This almost always applies for compliance requirements, e.g. from audit-proof archiving to EU GDPR.

SAP customers have recognized the benefits of integration and are already using it to varying degrees, but an end-to-end workflow for the entire business process is not yet very well defined. Document/data archiving from SAP is the most advanced with 35%*. ECM functions and document displays in SAP, SAP features and data in ECM, as well as cross-system processes in SAP and ECM, are still relatively undeveloped – only 12-15%* of SAP customers have integrated an ECM system. 25%* state that they do not have any integration of systems but are planning one. Integration activities have accelerated, but the SAP product policy of recent years may have created uncertainty among SAP customers when deciding on an integration solution or expanding their functionality. So far, other implementation projects have been more important. This may partly be the reason why these integration steps have yet to be implemented. However, a comprehensive view of documents and processes requires the ideal interplay of SAP and ECM functions.

What can an ECM system do specifically to improve SAP performance for end-to-end document management? Accounting plays a major role in the SAP landscape, and we will therefore use it as an example for integration of an ECM system in SAP.

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SAP and ECM: A day's work done and the numbers add up

In the survey “Inbound invoices with SAP: What causes the most problems for you when processing invoices?”, most respondents cited the inefficient, time-consuming approval process, which was followed closely by the high costs of manual invoice processing and the loss of cash discounts.

SER Group's ECM solution Doxis saves a lot of time in the approval process and reduces costs for manual data entry by providing the accounting staff with all the relevant information. You will find emails, agreements and invoices – all available in the context of the SAP transaction. The inefficient attachments list is replaced by a more useful result list with metadata or by eFiles related to the process.

This provides employees with full transparency about processes. Automated invoice reading and the transfer of invoice data to the SAP system can help reduce errors in accounting related to manual data entry. Automated checking and posting of invoices via SAP-ERP integration meets the daily requirement to keep accounts payable up-to-date.

The company receives solid liquidity planning and maintains an updated overview of payables and the due dates for vendor invoices. Cash discounts can improve the company's results, because invoices are processed automatically within the cash discount periods to ensure no discount is missed.

And, should the company be audited, it is prepared. With the filing of accounting-relevant SAP data and documents in an auditable archive, nothing stands in the way of providing them to an auditor. An ECM system allows data and documents subject to retention to be archived in a legally compliant manner in their business context. It stores tax-relevant data and documents in auditable formats, and ensures they are retrievable for audits. ECM ensures compliance with retention periods and selective deletion at the end of retention periods.

So how do you connect SAP and ECM?

ECM and SAP linked via SmartBridge – without programming

SAP has recognized the need for closer integration of SAP and ECM systems, and has therefore provided ABAP developers with a tool for handling events. However, ABAP programming is also an obstacle, because these specialists are hard to find and most are constantly booked. With SmartBridge for SAP as a connector to integrate an ECM system with SAP, IT admins can now carry out the necessary changes in the system themselves. Users can define in SAP via customizing the rules that specify which ECM actions should be carried out as a response to events in SAP. As a result, a wide range of applications can be implemented related to file creation and synchronization of master data with files without complex programming.

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As personal data is found not only in structured SAP data records but also in the related documents for business cases, it is not enough to look strictly at SAP. The transaction-related, unstructured documents with EU GDPR-relevant data also have to be identified, labeled accordingly, and blocked or deleted on request.

If these documents are kept in an electronic archive as part of an ECM system, companies are able to manage these unstructured documents in compliance with EU GDPR. For information lifecycle management (ILM), an ILM solution can simply dock onto the SAP system via a certified interface and thus provide a comprehensive EU GDPR solution.

The perfect duo to take on the future

An integrated SAP and ECM solution can enable companies to efficiently manage their resources and information, and incorporate virtually any network, including complex business ecosystems – making SAP and ECM the perfect duo for a smart, connected company in the digital age.

* Study framework: SER Group study, ECM Insights 2019; survey conducted from January 2019 to January 2020; n = 1,843 CIOs, process managers and IT managers of companies from all industries in DACH with over €100 million in revenue

The article was originally published in the German language on March 30, 2020 in the magazine S@pport.

Marc Volquardsen

I am a Product Manager [&] Solution Architect and have been with the SER Group since 2004. After 15 years as a Solution Consultant for Sales, in 2020 I switched to Product Management, where I design solutions for customers based on Doxis, SAP and Salesforce. Please feel free to contact me to talk about solutions for you!

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