Before I begin sharing details of my professional journey being an SAP logistics consultant, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my profound personal appreciation for jointly celebrating my one decade of association with Rheinwerk Publishing (SAP PRESS).
I’ve been an integral part of Rheinwerk Publishing for such a long time and have experienced first hand how Rheinwerk Publishing has transformed from a traditional publisher to a trendsetter and trailblazer in introducing several new products and services. Recently, I read a blog post written by Florian Zimniak, managing director of SAP PRESS, on the American imprint’s 20-year anniversary, and it took me down memory lane and brought back many cherished memories of the exciting journey we’ve had together. I look forward to celebrating another decade together not just with SAP PRESS but also you, dear readers, who made it all possible! Had it not been the amazing combination of publisher/author/reader, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I am glad to have contributed and shared my knowledge and experience with the SAP community by playing a small role in furthering the careers of many SAP aspirants, and in the process, also enriching and enhancing my own experience and profile, too.
Without further ado, let’s first gain a basic understanding of logistics and supply chain management (SCM).
How Does Logistics Differ from Supply Chain Management?
Logistics itself entails moving goods from one point to another via inbound and outbound movement of goods, and hence is a subset of SCM. SCM includes the complete end-to-end movement of not just goods themselves, but also the associated business functions, such as production planning, quality management, warehouse management, and even plant maintenance business processes—thereby ensuring that a product reaches the customer when and where it is needed. SCM today is far more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, and a world-class ERP, such as SAP and its associated solutions, can help bring a decent level of sanity if used effectively.
SAP Logistics Consultant Education Background
Let’s now get down to what it takes to be an SAP logistics or SCM consultant. As a starting point, engineering and SCM knowledge and education is important, as well as having a good understanding of logistics and SCM domains. These will help you to connect the dots, so to say. In the following sections, we’ll not only discuss some of the core logistics components of SAP S/4HANA, but also how SAP consultants can upgrade themselves to increase their market worth and professional profile with the next generation, cloud-based SAP applications.
The materials management (MM) component in SAP S/4HANA manages the procurement of materials and services from suppliers, as well as related inventory processes, such as counting and reconciling physical inventory. MM also manages all goods issuance, receipts and transfers of a material from one plant or storage location to another.
SAP MM consultants can consider upskilling themselves to SAP Ariba, a cloud-based SAP application, focused on procurement and associated business processes.
The production planning (PP) component in SAP S/4HANA helps businesses align demand with manufacturing capacity so companies can plan product manufacturing and sales and distribution more effectively. PP plays a critical role in a manufacturer's supply chain and can be used for discrete, process, or repetitive manufacturing, or a combination of more than one type.
SAP PP consultants can consider upskilling to SAP Integrated Business Planning (SAP IBP) or SAP Digital Manufacturing Cloud (DMC). Both are cloud-based SAP applications focused on planning and its associated business processes.
Sales and Distribution
The SAP S/4HANA Sales line of business manages major processes of sales and distribution. This includes selling products or services through direct sales to customers or through distribution networks. It also handles customer returns, along with billing and credit issuance.
SAP S/4HANA Sales consultants can consider upskilling to SAP Customer Experience, a cloud-based SAP application, focused on sales and associated business processes.
The quality management (QM) component integrates extensively with procurement, production, sales, and equipment maintenance processes. Advanced features include managing complete internal or external audits. QM can also assist in finding root causes of product failure to ensure ongoing quality improvements to a company's business processes.
Plant Maintenance and Customer Services
The plant maintenance (PM) component monitors machines and functional locations, such as a chiller room or boiler room, to ensure that they are in proper working order. It provides alerts when issues are detected to prevent machine failures and production disruptions. Business processes such as preventive, corrective, and refurbishment maintenance are all covered in the SAP PM component. The SAP S/4HANA Services component handles the business processes for providing maintenance services to customer equipment. The option to bill customers for the maintenance services delivered is also part of this component.
Extended Warehouse Management
SAP Extended Warehouse Management (EWM) in SAP S/4HANA is now an embedded solution that caters to the complex and deep level of warehousing and logistics challenges a company faces. SAP EWM is built on top of SAP MM, and hence choosing SAP EWM as an area to upskill can also add great value to an SAP logistics consultant in general, and SAP MM consultant in particular.
Project System (PS)
SAP project system (PS) component is meant to manage large, complex projects such as setting up a new manufacturing plant or monitoring a plant's maintenance turnaround. Funneling all project-specific procurement or production through SAP PS ensures that this component can allocate a project's costs correctly while keeping them within the budget.
As I briefly touched upon in the previous sections, SAP and other ERP providers have certainly made impressive inroads into their cloud offerings. This trend is not only expected to continue, but to gain more momentum as companies are beginning to finally realize the importance of moving the current capex-oriented, on-premise solutions to opex-oriented cloud solutions. The fact that SAP is pursuing the “cloud-first” approach is also enabling it to offer faster innovations every quarter when compared to on-premise solutions, where a newer version is released annually. Solutions like SAP S/4HANA Cloud, SAP SuccessFactors, SAP IBP, and SAP Ariba are good tools to learn to provide value to customers utilizing a cloud-first approach.
It’s very important to add that SAP has been introducing innovations at a breakneck speed. Hence, it’s always best for functional consultants to upskill themselves on an ongoing and regular basis to stay ahead of the learning and growth curves, and be able to provide the best and most relevant solutions to their clients.
How Does Knowledge of Integrated Business Processes Help?
Due to the highly integrated nature of SAP S/4HANA, in which information and data flows among various SAP components, the importance of integration cannot be emphasized enough. In fact, hardly any business process owner will work in an SAP system without coordinating and collaborating with other SAP components. These other components reflect different business functions or processes of the company. While the highly integrated nature of SAP saves time and effort in data entry and other redundant activities, it also demands that SAP logistics consultants have a good knowledge and understanding of end-to-end integrated business processes.
Since the topic of integration is so critical to SAP logistics consultants, here are some tips to follow to better manage the integration aspects of an SAP S/4HANA project:
- Prepare a list of all the important business processes in which end-to-end testing is required. For example, order-to-cash, procure-to-pay, produce-to-sell, engineer-to-order, etc. This list should be prepared on the basis of identifying two or more SAP components (and, correspondingly, the different departments of the company) involved in the business process.
- Create a process flow chart of each and every step of how the business is practically performing these steps. For example, does the planning process start with a sales forecast? How often is MRP run and who runs it? How often are changes to MRP results made? Are quality checks only performed on the finished goods or also during the production process, etc.?
- List out the relevant departments/users involved in each process step.
- List out the SAP components in which the relevant process steps are covered. This should also include the exact process steps along with the relevant transaction code. For example, create a production order with Transaction CO01, create a sales order with Transaction VA01, post goods issue with Transaction MIGO, etc. It is best to prepare a test script with each step listed in sequential order.
- Ensure that the relevant master data needed to test the processes is already in place in the SAP system, as well as in the test scripts too.
- Assemble all the business process owners and SAP consultants at the same location (if possible) and conduct the steps in the same sequence as listed in the script. Record the results and note any deviations, discrepancies, or other errors, and have the SAP consultants attend to them.
- Separately, list out all the issues and errors, resolve them, and conduct another dry run to ensure completeness and correctness.
- Attend to any missing or overlooked process steps based on the feedback and input from the business process owners.
- Finally, improve upon these steps and replicate the same in dry-run exercises on smaller and more focused levels.
Transitioning from Technical Consulting to Logistics Consulting
As an SAP logistics consultant, MM and SD always have a good scope because these are the core or basic components that any company implements when they implement SAP S/4HANA. That being said, there’s also intense competition in these areas as the availability of SAP MM- or SAP SD-certified consultants is always greater than the demand for them. Assuming that you are already in the SAP space but currently on the technical side, here are some tips to break into the functional and logistics domains:
- Get more involved in requirements gathering, business blueprints, training, and other workshops that enhance your knowledge and understanding of the SAP component of interest (either MM or SD).
- Ask your project manager to assign more MM- or SD-related development work to you so that you can gain a better understanding from the functional perspective—all the while managing the technical aspects of development.
- Attempt and pass MM or SD certification at the earliest possible chance, and position yourself as a techno-functional consultant in the company and on new SAP S/4HANA implementation projects.
- Read relevant books and blogs, and watch training videos.
- Practice the business processes in the SAP training system and resolve or address the issues faced.
- Engage a mentor or advisor who can advise you on topics/areas that you can’t or don’t find easily on the internet or online. In other words, ask smart, intelligent questions of the mentor.
- Volunteer to work as an “assistant/junior” functional consultant to a senior SAP consultant, and go out of the way to support and assist not just the senior but also the business users. Doing and taking these practical steps will lead to enormous learning and building the necessary self-confidence to tackle functional topics independently.
- Be part of the teams and workshops where integration of SD or MM is discussed in detail.
- Last but not the least, try to solve or resolve as many functional problems/issues independently for the business users so that they add to your knowledge and experience.
What Is the Key to Success As an SAP Logistics Consultant?
The fact that I work in the SAP consulting space also helps a lot in my learning and growth, as I am able to meet clients from different industries and am able to offer them solutions by first ensuring I know enough. I also invest enormous amount of time, efforts, and resources on self-learning, as I strongly believe that constant and ongoing learning is the only key to surviving and thriving in the SAP space.
Fortunately, in today’s highly connected world, we have a very large number of excellent resources available; some cost a decent amount, while others are cheap or even free! While learning and exploring new areas, I’ve failed and fallen more times than most people have even tried. Lastly, I never, ever hesitate to admit that I still don’t know everything and reach out and ask for help, guidance, and advice from the experts. I have been very fortunate that they have always extended the needed support, and I try to pay it forward to the SAP community.
My favorite learning platform has been openSAP courses, but I equally take advantage of other SAP resources, such as SAP PRESS and Espresso Tutorials books, SAP Learning Hub training, and a sheer volume of free resources available to SAP consultants on SAP PartnerEdge (an online portal for SAP Partners).
My parting advice to new SAP logistics consultants may not be much different than those other SAP experts may have already shared in the past. Continuous investment of time, efforts, and resources in self-learning and self-enablement in your SAP component/area of interest will always reap enormous benefits. Learning by doing things hands-on ensures the knowledge is retained for a much longer period of time. Similarly, sharing knowledge with a wider SAP community is not only a way to give back, but also it helps when the users ask questions that prompts the contributor/author to look for answers that may have been missed or not considered.
In short, it all comes down to the same advice given early—that is, to keep learning, reading, exploring, and staying up to date not just on theory, but also checking out the features, functionalities, tools, and innovations available in SAP S/4HANA. This, and gaining as much hands-on and practical experience as possible.
I hope these points on what it takes to be a successful SAP logistics consultant is helpful to you, and I will be glad to address any questions or guidance you may have. I wish you infinite success in your career as an SAP logistics and supply chain consultant. Please also feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.