Ulrich Stegmann, head of IT at steute Schaltgeräte GmbH & Co. KG, leans back in his chair. His company has just gone live with the business application SAP ERP in three locations – its German headquarters in Löhne, at steute Online Schaltgeräte GmbH & Co. KG in Bünde, and its offices in France – all at the same time.
SAP rollout now in China
For Stegmann, this transition is meant to consolidate steute’s IT landscape and data storage, which will enable the company to reap the benefits of a more modern and future-proof IT architecture and optimized business processes. Having a central SAP client makes it easy to integrate new locations abroad, as well: The steute branch in Italy, for instance, has since begun working with the new SAP ERP installation. The company is currently also rolling its SAP application out to its production and assembly plant in China, which commenced operations in April 2013.
The company steute specializes in developing and producing switchgears, sensors, and control units for industrial and building automation, as well as for medical equipment. The company is steadily growing, having seen its annual revenues rise from just over €20 million in 2006 to more than €30 million in 2011. Its development, production, and warehouse capacities are also in a constant state of expansion. In 2012, steute began constructing a new manufacturing facility and an additional warehouse while also moving into a newly built development center.
Among its latest product are safety switches that communicate with machines by means of wireless signals. These devices are even capable of drawing the electricity they require from heat, vibrations, air currents, and other sources in their immediate environment based on the principle of energy harvesting.
Next page: SAP ERP replaces sprawling IT landscape
steute is using SAP ERP to replace a heterogeneous IT landscape that had begun to sprawl over the years. It consisted of the InforAS ERP system, the company’s own in-house developments, and IT solutions from third parties. “Our IT landscape resembled a large ship that has trouble maneuvering because of the number of dinghies hanging from its sides,” Stegmann says of the difference between then and now. “SAP ERP is more like a speed boat that can be steered flexibly.”
The project was launched after steute had an external consultancy conduct an analysis of their business and IT processes. The results indicated that with optimized processes and better IT support, the company could save hundreds of thousands of euros every year. The analysis also provided a basis which steute could use to compile a list of specifications that its chosen software would need to meet.
SAP Global Trade Services and SAP BusinessObjects BI along with SAP ERP
During their SAP implementation – which took just 15 months from kickoff to go-live – steute’s project managers counted on the support of treorbis, an SAP partner based in Hamburg, Germany. Along with SAP ERP, steute had decided to start handling its customs and foreign-trade processes with SAP Global Trade Services and use the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence platform to analyze data for its reporting. The company also took this project as an opportunity to completely rebuild its IT infrastructure.
For everything from order entry and the creation of production orders to picking and accounting, steute now uses SAP ERP. The integrated application and central database ensure that data and operations always flow smoothly, from initial orders and production planning all the way to financial accounting and controlling. SAP ERP also enables steute to conduct its business processes quickly, securely, and at a high level of quality and transparency. “Our performance in delivering to our customers has improved as a result,” Stegmann adds. “Our SAP system is always ready to tell us whether we have the materials, machinery, and other resources necessary to fill a given order, which also enables us to provide an exact projection of the production and delivery timeline.”
Meanwhile, the 180 employees currently using steute’s SAP landscape find that they can do their work more easily and more quickly, leaving them more time for their core tasks. In sales and distribution, for instance, this includes customer-side order processing, packing, and picking. Employees in this area used to have to print out delivery slips and export and customs documents before running them over to the shipping department. Shipping now receives this information automatically thanks to steute’s SAP document flow, which results in faster packing, picking, and delivery. To make this possible, steute restructured and realigned its workflows to SAP ERP processes as part of its implementation project. The company’s shipping department – rather than sales – has since been commissioning its logistics service providers.
Elsewhere, the legal requirements concerning the handling of dangerous goods are now available at the push of a button in the SAP system, meaning that the knowledge of whether a product needs to be labeled as such is no longer limited to certain employees.
Purchasing cockpit further enhances SAP ERP
steute now uses SAP ERP to handle all of its procurement processes involving external suppliers, as well. Here, the company takes advantage of a purchasing cockpit add-on from treorbis that assembles all of the relevant information in a structured interface. It also enables steute to process orders from its open-source-based online store more efficiently thanks to the site’s direct, predefined interfaces to SAP ERP. Orders are now retrieved by FTP every 10 minutes and automatically imported into the application, where they are processed before being dispatched by steute’s delivery center in Löhne. In addition, the company has been able to link the solution it uses for product data management with SAP ERP.
The top-level managers at steute now receive informative reports on the company’s current sales and revenue figures, costs and profit margins, key opportunities to improve their sales activities with respect to orders received, and to help with the company’s financial planning. To this end, sales and financial data are exported into SAP BusinessObjects BI for staging and then presented to the corresponding decision-makers in report form.
Additional analyses for purchasing and materials management
While this is currently handled by steute’s internal IT department, BI users will eventually be able to call up these reports as required through self-service functions. The company is also planning to design additional analyses for purchasing and materials management. Ulrich Stegmann, meanwhile, is thinking about automating the processing of incoming invoices in steute’s SAP system. This would make it possible to process vendor invoices more quickly, relieve employees of various manual tasks, and reduce the company’s use of paper.