With the SAP S/4HANA Cloud 2111 release a new business object for managing supplier confirmations will be introduced. This is the first step of a new journey to improve the handling of order confirmations. Within this blog post, I as the responsible Area Engineering Lead for Purchase Order Processing, would like to give you some insights in the new business object, the development process and the outlook on what is planned next.
Do you have any ideas and want to influence the future of supplier confirmations? Feel free to submit your request via https://influence.sap.com/
Remark: The new business object is only covering order acknowledgements as inbound deliveries can already be handled separately. Hence, whenever the word “confirmation” is used in this blog post, it is used in the context of order acknowledgements. All information in this post is based on the current state of planning and subject to change.
Table of content
Introduction to business context
Insights in new business object
1. Introduction to business context “Supplier Confirmation”
Let’s imagine you are a purchaser in a mid-sized IT company. In a month from now, 8 new trainees will start at your company and will need a laptop. Therefore, you are checking your suppliers and want to order 8 new laptops. As you need them within in a month, you need to ensure that they are delivered in time. Hence you are requesting a confirmation from your supplier that the purchase order will be delivered as ordered. The supplier will confirm it and you will have 8 new laptops and happy trainees.
In this ideal scenario you might even question why would we need a confirmation? There might be deviations. Imagine, they would be only able to deliver 6 laptops in time. Then you need to think about alternatives. Would it be fine if the supplier can deliver them 1 day later? Is this too late? What are alternative suppliers? Can they deliver in time? And so on. Deviations could be in quantity, date/time, price, etc.
The complexity increases fast and you need to keep track of all those information.
2. Insights in new business object
Until now the confirmations are a very integral part of the purchase order; you can enter them in the tab “Confirmations” and of course monitor them. But how are you handling deviations? What if a customer just confirms parts or confirmations might change? How to connect a confirmation via mail to this? What if someone else is entering the data on behalf of you? Why do I need authorizations for changing the purchase order in cases where I just want to maintain confirmations?
Those are a few questions you might have already. We want to tackle those with the new business object “Supplier Confirmations” and the connected new app “Manage Supplier Confirmations”.
What is the difference between a new business object and a new app?
A business object is an independent object (like Purchase Order, Purchase Contract, Purchase Requisition) while apps are using those information (and might combine multiple business objects) to show this data. With the apps you can interact with the business object and maintain data.
With that we are moving the confirmation to another level. We are not only making it available as an integral part of the purchase order, but put it on the same level as other business objects, e.g. the Service Entry Sheet. You always need a reference to a purchasing document for posting, but apart from that it is independent. In the first version, the app is delivered to be able to manually manage supplier confirmations with an own number range for easy maintenance. And the authorizations are separated, so that you can assign this app to someone without assigning the whole change authorization of a purchase order.
What are the capabilities of the new app “Manage Supplier Confirmations”?
Create new supplier confirmations from scratch
Enter confirmations for a purchase order as a whole
Process single or a series of confirmations at once
Manage Supplier Confirmations – List Report showing all existing confirmations
Manage Supplier Confirmations – Object Page of a single confirmation
Manage Supplier Confirmations – Object Page of a single confirmation item
You can decide on how to enter confirmations, either in the established way via Change Purchase Order app or via the new Manage Supplier Confirmations app. You cannot mix both for one document, but you can decide per purchase order.
To ensure a smooth transition we decided to copy the data from the new confirmation object in the old tables of a purchase order. So you can still see the data in the older apps, but no edit will be possible.
Of course, this is just the beginning of the journey to next level supplier confirmations. As the majority of customers are using the manual process of entering confirmations, SAP wants to automate this as much as possible. If you think about the volume customers are ordering from suppliers on a daily basis, the potential for cost savings is enormous. Therefore, an API is in preparation for the upcoming releases as well as other features around confirmations. As of today, we are planning the following:
API & Integration to other SAP solutions (especially Ariba)
Workflow for confirmations (for confirmations send by API & for confirmations entered manually by a student, external, etc.)
Adding attachments to the business object
Handling of price deviation
And most likely, we will integrate confirmations for scheduling agreements in the new business object as well in the future.
If you are developing a new business object out of a highly integrated object like a Purchase Order, you need to consider the compatibility, user experience and the benefits of separation carefully. If this would be just done by a single development team without any involvement from other parts within SAP, but also from our customers, we would not be able to deliver it in good quality.
So after the idea was born different work streams were established.
The user experience was one of the crucial ones. It all started with usability sessions based on mock-ups, which were later repeated with a first version of the app. And, finally, the app was in a so called phased roll-out where selected customers could try it out in their own test landscape and provide feedback on the user experience. With that, further adoptions were done immediately, and some were taken up as backlog items for later releases. Additionally, we obtained guidance from our own consultants.
In parallel the technical discussion about building a new business object while keeping the compatibility with the old confirmations was started. For that, we also included our support organization as they know customer pain points from the past and we want to avoid those in the object and continuously improve. So, after a Proof-Of-Concept the development including a lot of test automation (backend and frontend) was started.
Of course, during the development process questions were raised and consequent adoptions were needed, but due to our good connection to customers and internal colleagues as well as our agile development setup we were able to ensure a fast and smooth feedback process from the beginning and throughout the complete process until the final acceptance tests for the first general available version.