“Panta rhei.” The insight of the ancient philosopher Heraclitus that everything is in flux has grown into an urgent challenge for business today. Only those that react more quickly to change than their competitors can win in a time of increasing globalization and ever-tighter markets.
Product life-cycle management at Brose is also in flux. The company is a leading automobile supplier; it makes power windows, door systems, seat adjusters, and master key systems. Whenever an automobile manufacturing client requests a modification to a product configuration – even if the modification is only a drill hole in a specific part – responding to the request means that employees and machines, along with plans and processes, must be carefully coordinated. And because Brose distributes its products globally and has more than 30 locations for development and manufacturing, change management is one of the supplier’s core competencies.
The art of change management is to make modifications as manageable as possible, given that a modification generally consists of hundreds of individual steps, such as decisions, approvals, material inspections, and changes to master data. A mistake – even a little inattention – causes incalculable consequences. Heraclitus’s insight is just as apropos in the production industry. To keep everything flowing, Brose introduced SAP Records Management in the fall of 2004.
Tracing hundreds of tasks
SAP Records Management at Brose replaced the spreadsheets that the company previously used for change management. The application is now being implemented. As is still common in many production companies today, Brose used spreadsheets as an information medium to trigger and execute change processes. But the flood of entries meant that the rows and columns soon became an unmanageable wall hanging. The spreadsheet could map the processes of experienced experts in all their parts, but only a few, well-versed employees were able to maintain a good overview of it. The goal of the new solution was therefore to make change processes consisting of an average 100 to 500 individual tasks traceable and, at the same time, to maintain a view of the entire process.
The use of SAP Records Management along with mySAP Product Lifecycle Management (mySAP PLM) and the SAP NetWeaver platform opened a new chapter at Brose. The new chapter began with the definition of general data for the change process as the first step. The second step defined all the materials affected by the change. The SAP solution displays the information completely in a structured form and contextually on an easily created user interface. Employees see all customer data, as well as their vehicle types and variants – sorted by categories on their screens. They simply click to sort customer and product entries, parts, and technical drawings. For the first time, Brose can use workflow to drive and trace all the steps defined with the SAP solutions. Regardless of their Brose location – be it in Bratislava, Slovakia or in Curititiba, Brazil – the engineers responsible have secure access to change management across departmental boundaries and companywide.
Status at the click of a mouse
The service provider framework within SAP Records Management has proven to be an effective design tool for performing company-specific adjustments for Brose. xft, an SAP partner, used the framework to develop a task manager for Brose. The most important function of the task manager is to trace all tasks required to set up, check, approve, and release the processes. The xft task manager displays a good overview the persons responsible, monitors schedules, and provides information on the status of tasks.
At the same time, it provides employees direct access to an environment for handling processes. Employees receive a task list consisting of to-do lists, schedules, and status lists. They can use the assignment of persons responsible and schedule monitoring to navigate to the tasks expected of them. For example, employees who inspect and approve specific materials can change the related status after they have successfully performed these tasks.
Contracts and data at a glance
In addition to change management, Brose uses SAP Records Management to document and manage contracts. To do so, it creates a contract file. The solution works productively. In the context of SAP Records Management, such a file can be integrated with documents, business objects, transactions, or reports, depending upon their purpose.
For the most part, Brose can use the standard functions of the SAP solution for contract files, but the solution has been enhanced with some project-specific functions. The contract file allows quick access to contract documents and information on contractual partners. Brose previously stored customer data relevant to contracts in SAP R/3 and the documents themselves in a file system. SAP Records Management merges data and documents; it opens an integrated view because a business partner is only a click away from the related agreements and contractual enhancements. The contract file enables the company to structure contract documents and to quickly link the documents to existing master data.
The better they are categorized, the more quickly contract documents can be found. That’s why a file model was created for the contract file. It enables user-friendly structuring of the data according to key words and manageable compilation of the files. Users can see at a glance the stage of a business transaction at any given time. To enable efficient processing of the business transaction, the contract file offers access to the master data of contract partners stored in mySAP ERP Financials as vendors or customers. It also provides links to other electronic files directly related to the business transaction. Using drag and drop, users can easily transfer Microsoft Office documents into the contract file. Users simply select the button where the documents are to be inserted and start the “create with drag and drop” function. In another window, they can insert documents into the contract file directly from the file system.
At the end of March 2005, SAP Press will publish SAP Records Management – Electronic Files and Transaction Management with Records and Case Management by Joachim Becker, Dirk Michael Schulze, Norbert Schroeder, and Ulrich Spinola.