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Blogs about the Enhanced Material Search:


Enhanced Material Search with Creation - Part 2: Catalog Search for Supplier Products

In my 1st blogEnhanced Material Search with Creation - Part 1: Overview, Enrichment of Search Results with Prices ... (which is a prerequisite for this blog) I explained the new search capabilities for existing materials in the Enhanced Material Search with Creation. In this (second) blogI would like to show the additional search capabilities for supplier catalog products which have no material master yet.

Catalog Search - Business Requirement
Wholesale distributors usually have several 10K to 100K materials maintained in their ERP system but can procure about 10 times as much from their suppliers. My favourite example is a plumbing wholesaler who has plenty of white bathtubes maintained in his system, but has no master data about colored bathtub models from his suppliers. So when a customer asks for a specific yellow bathtube very likely there are no master data available for such a product, and therefore it would not be found via the (existing) material search. However the yellow bathtub can procured from supplier, if only the master data for this particular item were maintained in the system.

Catalog Search Capabilities
In the new catalog search as part of the Enhanced Material Search with Creation, you can now search for supplier catalog products very intuitively and in the same way as for existing material, even within the same screen. No screen switch, different transaction etc. required. Enter (or keep) the same search criteria as for the material search and press the button "Catalog Search" instead of "Material Search" (see screenshot):

The search results are displayed in the same way as the results for existing materials, just without those field data that are not in the catalog. That's the reason why some fields here are empty, e.g. the material column with the material numbers. Well, not quite, for two of the results of the example there is a material number displayed, and all the other information of an existing material. Why's that?

These two results with material numbers are the "white bathtubes", meaning supplier products that have already been maintained in your system. But how is that recognized? Very simple: Before the search results of a catalog search request are displayed the application does an existence check for all search results by comparing the combination of "vendor" and "vendor material number" with the data of the ERP purchasing info records. And when such a combination matches with a purchasing info record the material number is known (the material obviously already exists), and then all information is pulled out of ERP to display material number, stock level, sales price etc. For all other supplier products just the information from the data respository is shown (product title/short text, EAN/UPC number if known, purchasing price, ...). When you scroll the results to the right more information like vendor, vendor material number, vendor sub range etc. is displayed.

1-Click Material Creation out of Catalog Search results

OK, now you have found the yellow bathtube, but it has no material number. How can I order it without having a material number? Very easy: Create a new material out of it! Create a new material??? Isn't this very complicated??? No, it's not - it's just one click on the button "Create Material", that's all, see here:

Hang on, one click, and a whole material master with all the material master data is created???? This can't be true - but in fact it is!

You only have to have the new material creation capabilities configured to your needs, and have reference materials for all your required vendors and reference plants for all distribution channels maintained. This sounds like a lot of work, but actually it's not at all.

Of course not the total set of all views in material master are created, but the necessary views to both sell and purchase the material:

  • Material master - material number, Basic data view - data are created in the standard tables
  • Material master - Sales data with plant data for your own plant (MVKE, MARC)
  • Purchasing info record for your purchasing org/plant
  • Optional: sales list price can be calculated automatically out of purchasing price using pricing capabilities
  • Optional, but recommended: TREX for existing materials is updated for the new material.

Of course, the sales rep has to have the necessary (standard) autorizations to create a new material.

OK, with one click you have now created a new material master, with a material number displayed in the search result. This material can now be transferred to the sales order like any other existing material. Just mark the search result that now has a material number, and press "Add to Order". That's all. Great, isn't it?

Material Creation options

Of course, there are also much more options to create a new material, e.g. using an existing material as a copy template, or completely from scratch using a small 2-step process. The complete material creation capabilities will be outlined in my 3rd and 5th blog.

Data repository options

But the one million dollar question still remains: How do I get the all the supplier product data in your system? Not in your system, but in a data repository, preferably a TREX index, or a catalog management system!

In the Enhanced Material Search with Creation as part of the SAP ERP standard Sales Order in Enhancement Pack 2, we have introduced an option to search in two repositories:

The second repository holds supplier product information from all those supplier products you would like to have searchable within Sales Order. Therefore the supplier product data have to be collected from the suppliers, have to be harmonized in terms of format and data structure, and maybe updated and enriched with own data e.g. in a catalog management system in advance. More about this supplier data preprocessing later. Let's assume for the moment the supplier catalog data are all in place in the second repository and can be searched using the catalog search.

TREX vs. Direct Search via BADI

Let's have a closer look at the repository for the supplier catalog products.

  • Option 1 is a TREX index that holds the supplier catalog data is strongly recommended. SAP provides the predefined TREX business object ("index") WSD_CAT, which must be filled with your supplier product data in advance, and of course with delta information from time to time.
  • Option 2 is to search through a BADI/user exit in a catalog management system of your choice, without using a TREX.

Option 2 is not recommended. As the index for existing materials is always a TREX index (TREX Business object BUS1001006), and so the search semantics would be different between the two repositories if the respository for catalog products is not TREX. Another good argument for a TREX is it's extreme performance combined with low hardware costs. The indices are held completely in memory, so a small actual dual processor server with 2-4 GByte RAM and RAID 5 can already be sufficient.

Therefore I only outline the necessary tasks to get the supplier data into a TREX.

How to built a supplier catalog TREX

This, in fact, is the most effort in the whole setup. Supplier catalogs are received in plenty of formats, in excel, xml, csv, access, flatfiles, ..., all with a different data structure. To harmonize and enrich these data is a tremendous amount of work, but depending on your usage of the catalog search, an electronic catalog can be a huge benefit to your sales reps and can be worth the effort.

These are the general steps for a simple catalog data management solution:

  • Import of the supplier product data (conversion into a common file or table format - individually for each incoming catalog format)
  • Data harmonization (to have the same data structure among all catalog imports)
  • Data enrichment (optional step, but you may want to enrich ERP data like SAP vendor number, but also material group, product hierarchy to use the keyword search even within the catalog search, ...)
  • Import (or activation) of the processed data into one master catalog
    Master catalog data import from TREX SES import interface.

This work is certainly not done for ALL your supplier catalogs, only for the important ones. Fewer times requested products from niche vendors can be certainly handled as before, or a material can be created out of the information a paper catalog provides.

So first, you have to find an application with which import a catalog. Unfortuntely, SAP does not offer an out-of-the-box solution here, that fits perfect to the whole Catalog Search process of supplier data import, harmonization and import triggered from TREX.

Best would be, of course, a catalog management system or kind of mass master data handling,e.g. directly within SAP ERP:

  • A professional Catalog Management like a hybris Product Catalog Managementor a 3rd party PIM solution is best suited for all kinds of data processing and management, with subscription, import rules, template support etc.
  • SAP Retail customers can use PRICAT (from EhP5) in combination with the SAP Enterprise Search. Supplier catalog data are managed in PRICAT and exported to the TREX index WSD_CAT in the SAP Enterprise Search. See my Enhanced Material Search - Part 5: Major improvements in Enhancement Package 5 for more information.
  • SAP Partner solutions are a good option. I personally worked with FIS GmbH and itelligence AG. Both have long-established SAP ERP based Business All-in-One solutions (FIS/wws by FIS GmbH, it.trade/it.wholesale by itelligence) with a catalog management application in place. I'm sure there are more partner solutions out there with such solutions.
  • A simple low-comfort option is to create an own z-table within SAP ERP, with a data structure that fits to the total of all important catalog field data. SAP note 1127400 explains the necessary steps in detail.
  • Microsoft Excel 2003 is suitable for test purposes only, because it is limited to 65535 lines - by far not enough for typical supplier catalogs. So it should be an application or table with unlimited lines, best a Catalog Management system. With Microsoft Excel 2007 you can maintain ~1 Mio lines, which might be sufficient for some customers. No idea how many lines Excel 2010/2013 can manage.

As an alternative you can bypass the search engine for the Catalog Search and the SES business object WSD_CAT, by implementing the Business Add-In BADI_WSD_CATALOG with method DO_SEARCH, to search directly in an external catalog management system.

Where to get info material?
You can find an infokit about the Enhanced Material Search and other Sales Order Enhancements in the Sales Order Enhancement Series: Overview.

Next blogs:
In my 3rd and 4th blog Enhanced Material Search with Creation - Part 3: How to further enhance the new search capabilities ... and Enhanced Material Search with Creation - Part 4: How to create new Search Criteria w/o modification you can read about how to further enhance the Enhanced Material Search and adapt it to your individual needs while staying modification-free.

In my 5th blog Enhanced Material Search - Part 5: Major improvements in Enhancement Package 5 you can read about major enhancements and improvements done in ERP EhP5.

Best regards,

Dr. Ingo Woesner
Product Manager
Application Innovation - Retail and Multi Channel

P.S. The Enhanced Material Search with Creation is available from SAP ERP Core 6.0 EhP2, contained in SAP_APPL 602 in Business Function SD_01, to be activated with transaction SFW5. No industry switch is required. The Enhanced Material Search is designed as a module that can be implemented in other applications as well. This must be done on project basis. Customizing is specific to the calling application. For the EhP5 extensions please read Enhanced Material Search - Part 5: Major improvements in Enhancement Package 5.

P.P.S Please check my blog about more Sales Order Enhancements: Sales Order Enhancement Series: Overview