I love a good shortcut. There's a shortcut on my way home from work that simply makes sense for me. It cuts about 5 minutes from the traditional route and uses residential streets versus the highway. A shortcut, however, is a matter of perspective. Some may look at a map and say I take a shortcut - I look at the map and say, "This is the most logical way home - therefore it is not a shortcut. It is simply the right way to go home."
In the software world, there are "shortcuts" as well. Ways to work around known challenges, ways to circumvent current functionality in place of better functionality, and ways to compliment product by adding on more robust functionality. What I would like to talk about is not necessarily a shortcut, but more of a way to enhance the functionality of a current system. Essentially, integration of two systems to find the "most logical way home" so to speak.
I'm talking about integrating a workflow-enabled Quality Management System with SAP.
If you're reading this blog, you already know who SAP is, so I will spare you the back story. SAP is a great software product. It houses master data for employees, products, suppliers and customers. It manages inventory, inspections, engineering activities, and the supply chain. In many organizations, it is the life-blood of resource planning. However, when it comes to Quality Management, SAP's solution tends to paint with a broad brush. For organizations who need more of a fine-brush approach to Quality, something is needed to provide "the most logical route" to achieving their quality goals.
This is where we begin to re-wire Quality Management with SAP.
If you think of SAP as a light switch, when product lots come to inspection, SAP will either mark them in the system as "RELEASE" or "HOLD". Like a light switch, it's either one or the other. While lots are on HOLD, market demand and production need to recover these held lots, so more product is produced to replace. Without any visibility into what to do with these lots, they ultimately sit in the warehouse, forever waiting disposition. This is called the "Hidden Factory" - an entire series of product just waiting in production purgatory. Consider the below diagram:
However, as Quality professionals, there is more data that would be ideal to better disposition the lots, and an automated Quality Management system is needed to effectively fill in the gaps left in SAP. What Quality Management Systems offer to compliment an SAP solution is:
1. Workflow-Based Quality: Quality Management Systems need robust workflow to route information to the proper roles, on time. Automated workflow solutions such as those in Quality Management Systems, provide this.
2. Flexibility and Best Practices: QMS provide not only the platform, but also the commonly held best practices needed to effectively handle quality events. Furthermore, flexibility is important in order to enable users to make changes to the process, without programming
3. Integration Management: Of course, the most important part is ensuring that the system will seamlessly integrate with SAP. It needs to not only look up the Master data, but to also send data back to SAP. If the system cannot adequately interact with SAP, then it is not truly effective.
The most effective integration of SAP provides a two-way communication, a true extension of the SAP solution. The below diagram is a re-imagined version with SAP integration in place:
SAP clearly is the core of an organization's production. In order for a QMS integration to be successful with SAP, it must accomplish the following goals:
1. It must compliment SAP, not replace it: SAP has the core functionality organizations need. In many cases, integrated solutions need to provide a value that not only helps the SAP solution, but provides an invaluable resource to help the whole organization.
2. It must provide seamless communication to SAP: Simple one-way lookups and "workaround" integrations will not work. True SAP integration needs to be tight, seamless and robust in functionality.
3. It must integrate on many levels: The above diagrams illustrate one scenario with Inspection and Nonconformances. True SAP integration needs to operate in many other scenarios - Employee Training, Complaint Handling, Change Management, Manufacturing Execution, and more. The more integration the QMS will have with SAP, the better the complimentary relationship will be.
4. It must provide the "logical path" for the organization: Integration must provide real value and save time, effort and cost in the process. Anything less and the system will not be successful.
So, like my way home from work, your integration of a QMS with SAP needs to make sense for your business, provide you with the best possible route to success, and allow you to focus on what matters most - your organizational goals.