The Sauerland-based electronics specialist is one of the first SMBs to have implemented SAP Exchange Infrastructure (SAP XI). The investment has been worthwhile, as Jürgen Bechtel, Head of IT and authorized signatory at Mennekes, emphasizes: “Not only does the solution make it easier to exchange data, it also reduces the number of interfaces. Moreover, the solution can be implemented without great outlay and can be operated with a low level of resources. It is therefore ideal for SMBs.”
The decision to use SAP XI was an obvious one for Mennekes. The company’s main business processes – from financial accounting and controlling to logistics and sales – are already covered by SAP R/3. In 2000, Mennekes introduced the ERP solution complete with almost all its modules. Its goal in doing so was to deliver an end-to-end solution and ensure transparency across multiple sectors of its operations. The company was also able to improve key workflows. For example, the sales department now has a constantly up-to-date and detailed overview of stock availability. Since all sales branches can access the data stored in SAP R/3, customers worldwide now have a rapid source of information on products and delivery times. This is a huge advantage for manufacturers in the increasingly internationalized electrical engineering market. Exports account for 50 percent of Mennekes’ sales and the company sees further opportunities for growth in this area.
Mennekes sells its plug connectors, which are largely used for industrial purposes, via electrical wholesalers who in turn sell to electricians and electrical fitters. The wholesalers produce comprehensive catalogs for their customers, containing information on products from a variety of manufacturers. The outlay involved is considerable due to the need to gather together a very wide range of data from numerous suppliers. This is why wholesalers are increasingly calling on manufacturers to provide this information in a specific format. One of these is the standardized classification to ETIM (Electrotechnical Information Model), which encompasses the technical product characteristics. In addition, the Zentralverband Elektrotechnik und Elektronikindustrie (ZVEI – the Central Association of Electrical Engineering and Electronics Industry) requires the standardized BMEcat exchange format for product master and marketing data.
This gave Mennekes the opportunity to improve its business processes and customer service. The previous procedure when creating and distributing product data involved considerable outlay both for the manufacturer and his customers. The information had to be gathered from a variety of systems and distributed partly in electronic form and partly on paper. An automated process would in future remove the need for the various process steps.
Investing in the future
At the start of 2003, Jürgen Bechtel, authorized signatory and Head of IT at Mennekes, began to look for a suitable solution for exchanging catalog data electronically. In the end, he decided on SAP Exchange Infrastructure (SAP XI), a solution from the SAP NetWeaver technology suite. The key criteria on which the decision was based was its capacity to adapt to future challenges, as Jürgen Bechtel explains: “It was important to me that SAP XI would allow us to carry out tasks other than catalog production in the future. One of these tasks is consolidating our interface landscape.” Due to the fact that Mennekes uses SAP R/3 as a strategic solution, the ease with which the ERP software could be integrated with SAP XI was a further argument in favor of the decision. “We are certain that the SAP software is the best possible solution to our requirements”, continues Jürgen Bechtel.
Project completed on schedule and to budget
Mennekes commissioned All For One Systemhaus AG with developing and implementing a solution for producing catalogs on the basis of SAP Exchange Infrastructure. The first step was to enter the ETIM classification into SAP R/3. The required classification tools are included in the SAP standard. SAP XI was then installed on a separate server. The project was completed within just a few weeks, on schedule and to budget.
Ever since the solution went live in August 2003, Mennekes has been creating the product data required for the catalogs according to the ETIM classification. The data from SAP R/3 is converted from SAP IDOC to the BMEcat transfer format using automated procedures. Detailed text information, images and drawings are stored for each product. All the data can be sent securely using SAP XI. This means that Mennekes can provide its business partners with data formatted to allow direct transfer into their system.
Moreover, the solution gives Mennekes the important benefit of being able to give users customized prices with different terms and conditions almost at the press of a button. This previously involved considerable input. End-to-end electronic business processes have now done away with the need for manual tasks. “Our wholesalers, who are already processing data in line with the new standard, are delighted with the simplified procedure and the quality of the information”, says Jürgen Bechtel when describing the initial response from customers.
The greatest benefit is open standards
“SAP XI is based on an open architecture and uses open standards”, explains Jochen Kleimann, project manager at All for One Systemhaus AG, referring to the technological characteristics of the solution. “The capacity of SAP XI to record, store and display shared business management semantics such as integration scenarios, mapping and interfaces make the task of combining internal and external components much easier.”
“Our expectations have been met in full. The combination of SAP R/3 and SAP Exchange Infrastructure ensures that the ETIM product classification is mapped in the SAP R/3 standard and that SAP IDOC is converted to BMEcat”, adds Jürgen Bechtel on a positive note. Moreover, looking to the future, he says: “The catalog data project was the first step in consolidating our interface landscape. With SAP R/3 and the integration resulting from SAP XI, we don’t need a separate system to create and send the catalog data in the appropriate format. We will now be able to do away with further interface systems one-by-one.” The next step will focus on exchanging document data via EDI (Electronic Data Interchange). This data is currently exchanged via an EDI converter linked to SAP R/3. The future objective is to send invoices, orders, order confirmations and delivery notes directly via SAP XI to business partners.