Simplifying Planning Processes for Casual Users

Planning is an unpleasant task in companies because it isn’t done often enough. None of the employees involved in day-to-day operations can justifiably consider themselves experts in planning. Planning processes include a variety of activities that must be handled in the correct sequence and with information and additional input from various sources.
That’s why the same questions arise to confront casual users:

  • Which planning environment and which systems must actually be used to deal with a concrete step in the planning process?
  • How does a user find the correct planning application for each planning activity?
  • Where do users find the required input data – like actual values or stock figures?
  • Has someone made sure that the correct version of the planning layout is being used?
  • How can the approval tasks be coordinated to minimize frictional losses and keep planning processes efficient?
  • How can the associated communications processes, such as approval procedures, be shifted to a common and collaborative environment?

A Framework for Planning Tasks

With the addition of express planning functionality, SAP ERP 2005 offers – for the first time – a framework that simplifies planning tasks and integrates steps like approval and monitoring the status of the planning process. Express planning enables users to work through and conclude planning rounds based on fundamental scenarios. The scenarios are not variable; they run periodically over long periods and are repeated in individual planning rounds.
Express planning is a cross-application function of mySAP ERP. The framework uses SAP NetWeaver Portal as a front end and takes advantage of its role concept and navigation functions. For example, one option for accessing active planning rounds involves opening them in the SAP Manager Self-Service application after logging on to SAP NetWeaver Portal. With this approach, users don’t ever have to leave the work environment during a planning round. In the ideal case, they can find all the required tools, relevant data, detailed instructions, and required means of communication in the portal.

Storing and Documenting the Road Map

A scenario that contains the road map and the required planning services must first be defined for each planning task. The planning administrator must also communicate the dates of the planning year to the SAP software and indicate which versions are to store the temporary and final numbers. Both informational items are periodically stored alternately in instances. Each execution cycle is its own planning round. Each planning round is based on the unchanging scenario, but is also linked to a concrete planning year with the instance.
The required planning services are then assigned to the scenario. In principle, the road map must contain a planning service for each step, be it a step that involves inspection of master data, SAP Interactive Forms by Adobe, or primary cost planning. An object type is used to control the planning object (like internal orders or cost centers) to which the planning service refers. This area also configures the input structure that users find in SAP NetWeaver Portal, the column of the input area in which plan data is entered, and, for example, the periods from which actual data is to be output.
Users can define detailed instructions for each planning step, which results are used in individual activities, and which substeps are required to do so. Planning administrators should absolutely make use of this option. This documentation offers casual users invaluable help, especially for planning tasks that occur only once a year. It means that users do not have to define and manage an activity list themselves. They navigate intuitively, but with direction, along the road map through the planning round. A status overview displays the status of activities at all times.

Familiar Technical Planning Functionality

While using express planning functionality, users can also work with technical planning functionality like integrated planning tools from SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence (SAP NetWeaver BI), a variety of planning tools from SAP R/3, or business planning and simulation from SAP Strategic Enterprise Management (SAP SEM). Although a variety of planning services are needed to use such tools, users never notice. For users, it’s important only that the project team or the planning administrator inserted the required service into the road map and made the data available when setting up express planning.
No object type is required to embed a planning application based on SAP NetWeaver BI. A planning service that permits entry of a URL is used instead. But the URL must be supplemented to guarantee the transfer of parameters from express planning with the correct selection parameters. In this case, the URL ensures selection of the object. For each planning service, users can define if the service must be handled before transmitting planning or if it must be handled before the next step – and do so either as a requirement or as an option.

Example: Cost Center Planning

Consider the following example. An individual planning round occurs annually for cost center planning. It is based on a concrete scenario that requires planning of the cost center budget, activity types, and statistical key figures. At the start of cost center planning, for example, those responsible for planning must check to see if the cost centers have been assigned correctly. The actual and estimated costs of the current year must also be looked up in SAP NetWeaver BI. Actual planning begins only after completion of these tasks, when personnel costs, travel costs, investments, and many other considerations are defined.
This planning is then ideally processed in a planning application based on SAP NetWeaver BI. But situations might develop in a given year in which planning services from the original SAP R/3 software are used. The planning step is then processed later on with SAP SEM.
An internal service request notifies the responsible administrator of incorrect or missing assignments – like inconsistent master data for planning and reporting. The activity of inspecting master data is nothing other than a planning service delivered with mySAP ERP that had been added to the road map and configured.
Additional services are also available: plan–forecast deviation of costs for the current year, analyses of plan–actual deviations for previous periods, the presentation of load as activity types, overviews of statistical key figures like assigned personnel or equipment, and entry of plan values.
Express planning functionality from SAP simplifies things a great deal for those involved in planning processes, but it does require effort to maintain the framework. The net effect of using express planning to improve productivity depends on the complexity of the overall planning process.

Martin Strohmeier