SÜDSALZ Combines Upgrade to SAP ERP 6.0 with Conversion to Unicode

Product diversity is a major challenge: The SAP system has to map everything - from tiny one-gram salt shakers to barge loads of industrial salt weighing several tons. (Photo: SÜDSALZ)

SÜDSALZ, a wholly owned subsidiary of SWS (Südwestdeutsche Salzwerke) has a product range spanning table salt, de-icing salt and salt for chemical industry, salt for animal feedstuffs, and pharmaceutical and industrial salt. What’s more, the company – headquartered in Heilbronn, Germany – operates in many areas, including mining, tourism, waste disposal, and shipping.

Product diversity places great demands on the database

Storing company data is a huge task involving mapping the different industry products in a central database. Such product diversity is a major challenge. The SAP system has to map everything from tiny one-gram salt shakers to barge loads of industrial salt weighing several tons – as well as manage the myriad of interfaces that connect the different business areas and third-party systems. Only then can this complex logistics machine work smoothly, selling and distributing SÜDSALZ products throughout Europe.

Long SAP tradition at SÜDSALZ

Famous salt by Bad Reichenhaller (Photo: SÜDSALZ)

“We have been working very successfully with SAP solutions since 1998. The upgrade to SAP ERP 6.0 was a logical step forward. It will enable us to implement new functions and applications based on a service-oriented architecture in the coming years,” explains Dr. Angelika Schwartz, head of group IT at SÜDSALZ.

The move to the worldwide character standard Unicode came as a result of the upgrade, she continues, because Unicode was a prerequisite for SAP ERP 6.0. Going ahead with both projects at the same time was a conscious – if bold – decision. Because, if two separate projects are merged into one, there is a great risk of not being able to clearly identify the cause of any errors.

“Many midsize companies don’t have the nerve to complete the SAP ERP upgrade with the transition to Unicode, even though this significantly reduces costs in terms of time and work involved,” Schwarz says. “That’s why we selected XEPTUM Consulting as our partner – they specialize in such projects.”

Unicode is an international standard that assigns a unique digital code to every character and letter from all languages. Without this standardization, globally operating companies often have difficulty managing data from different countries, because not all character sets can be installed at the same time. With Unicode, it is possible to display and process all the characters in the known languages of the world in one database.

Thorough test phase

So that the business processes could continue as usual throughout the eight-month project, Schwartz and Peter Eisele, CEO of XEPTUM, opted for a method that was both effective and pragmatic – the sandbox.

This separate hardware architecture was set up as a one-to-one copy of the SAP production system, including all interfaces to external third-party systems.

“The sandbox enabled us to rehearse the entire upgrade. This meant that we could thoroughly test all developments, processes, and interfaces before the upgrade to SAP ERP 6.0 and the conversion to Unicode went ahead in the production system,” Eisele explains.

Benefits of the sandbox solution

  • The existing three-system landscape with development, quality assurance, and production system is not affected.
  • Development freezes have no impact on current projects.
  • Only once the major hurdles have been overcome is work done on the development system.
  • It is possible to rehearse the upgrade process several times.

Testing was divided into three phases, and was organized and performed using SAP Solution Manager.

  • Phase 1: Unit testing using the sandbox system – checking all programs and interfaces for connection setup and data exchange
  • Phase 2: Unit testing on the future development system, with additional content check of all connected interfaces
  • Phase 3: Integration testing on the future quality assurance system: Here, all processes were run through again as a whole.

All three systems were copies of the production system. Both the upgrade and the conversion to Unicode were performed on each one.

SAP Solution Manager proved to be a great asset for coordinating and supporting the tests. It was used to draw up an overall plan for all the procedures and processes to be tested, in cooperation with the user departments involved.

After each line of business had identified the most important transactions, reports, and interfaces, the project team dissected the complete system architecture into more than 3,300 individual test cases. Case by case and with the help of SAP Solution Manager, the entire IT system was checked for internal and external interface compatibility – for both the upgrade and transition to Unicode.

SAP Solution Manager

comprises tools, methods, and preconfigured content to operate and manage SAP software. The set of tools helps companies centrally administer all systems that are based on SAP NetWeaver technology. From the implementation of new solutions and upgrades through test runs and production operation, SAP Solution Manager monitors, defines, and documents each process step.

Upgrade over the weekend

After comprehensive test runs – around 770 programs were revised and 160 new ones were written – all errors were eliminated. “Compared with the test phase of almost eight months, the upgrade itself was really quick,” says Schwartz.

To ensure business operations underwent as little disruption as possible, the project team set an ambitious time window – the SAP production system went live with the new SAP ERP version after just three days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) and four nights.

25 more SAP projects in the pipeline

Dr. Angelika Schwartz, head of group IT, and Dr. Roland Dietl, managing director of SÜDSALZ (Photo: SÜDSALZ)

With this ambitious upgrade, SÜDSALZ created a future-proof and flexible foundation for the exacting demands of a conglomerate. “We were satisfied with both the successful outcome and our collaboration with XEPTUM,” Dr. Roland Dietl, managing director of SÜDSALZ, confirms. The project ran according to plan, even though new challenges had to be mastered throughout, he adds.

“To start with, employees and administrators had be trained to use SAP Solution Manager,” Schwartz explains. During the series of tests, incompatible interfaces were detected again and again, making third-party system upgrades imperative, she continues. “Because such additional issues were already specified and included in the XEPTUM quotation based on experience, we could be safe in the knowledge that they would not cause us to go over budget,” Eisele adds.

For 2009, Schwartz is planning around 25 more SAP projects: “Among other things, we want to enhance our SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse, implement a module for warehouse management, and revise our authorization concept.”

Leading salt manufacturer

SWS (Südwestdeutsche Salzwerke), headquartered in Heilbronn, Germany, and its subsidiary SÜDSALZ are among the most important salt manufacturers in Europe. With a comprehensive portfolio of high-quality rock and evaporated salt products, SWS and SÜDSALZ also meet the diverse demands of the market for pharmaceutical, industrial business, de-icing, and salt for chemical industry. The Bad Reichenhaller brand is synonymous with successful solutions in the food-grade salt and specialty salt sector – as well as numerous innovative healthcare products.

The salt is extracted at the mines in Heilbronn and Berchtesgaden as well as the natural brines at Bad Reichenhall. It is processed and refined to evaporated salt in the salt works of Bad Friedrichshall and Bad Reichenhall. The SWS Group has also diversified into waste disposal, shipping, tourism, and an underground archiving facility.