What use is the most sophisticated system configurations if the modifications in the various components are not consistent? When new software is implemented or change management projects are carried out, companies therefore need to coordinate and harmonize all customizing activities. Uniform customizing data is an absolute must, particularly in complex IT landscapes that consist of different applications and their corresponding development, quality, and production systems. In these scenarios in particular, day-to-day business is adversely affected by inconsistencies, for example if customizing changes have not been transported into the production system, and users are therefore accessing outdated data.
A comparison of customizing activities reveals discrepancies in the configuration. SAP offers the Customizing Cross-System Viewer and Customizing Scout tools to support these comparisons. The Customizing Cross-System Viewer, which has been available since SAP R/3 4.0A, compares the customizing objects of a particular component. Customizing settings are made via customizing objects, such as views or view clusters, which are accessed through the SAP Implementation Guide (IMG). The Customizing Cross-System Viewer allows both system-specific comparisons between different clients of a system, and cross-client comparison, for example between one SAP R/3 System and another SAP R/3 System. This is based on selected IMG structures and objects in transports or in Business Configuration Sets (BC sets).
The Customizing Scout is a logical enhancement to the Customizing Cross-System Viewer. The tool, which is an integral part of the SAP Solution Manager, compares customizing objects in different components, for example SAP R/3 and SAP Customer Relationship Management (SAP CRM). The tool enables comparisons on the basis of “synchronization groups”, which are the information containers for the customizing objects that need to be mapped to each other across the components.
A customizing comparison reveals the following information:
- Where customizing differences occur between the development, test and quality assurance systems
- Which discrepancies are intentional, and which are not
- Which corrections in the quality assurance system were not transported back to the development system
- Where the customizing deviates from the initial settings that SAP delivers with a solution
Harmonizing system modifications
Customizing distribution can be used to eliminate the discrepancies found during the comparison. The tool is also a part of the SAP Solution Manager and distributes customizing data both within a component and across several components. In this way, system modifications can be harmonized automatically in complex environments.
Customizing distribution can be flexibly controlled using various options, and thus can be used for consolidated functionalities that were previously distributed among different tools, for example the initial download via the CRM middleware or customizing distribution via ALE. As a result, it can be used for a number of different scenarios, for example, the initial supply of customizing data to training, demo, or test systems, regular ALE customizing distribution, or the harmonization of components in cross-system business processes. In addition, the tool supports rollout within the group. This means, for example, that business procedures can be harmonized in accordance with instructions from the company headquarters, or that standardized processes can be introduced in a particular area, such as Financial Accounting. In addition, customizing distribution creates a basis for the efficient management of master data. The customizing of a prototype can also be distributed easily.
Synchronization objects “know” the most important information
In order to use customizing distribution in a project, you first need to define the scope in which changes to the source system need to be distributed to the target system. A number of preconfigured synchronization objects provide support in this respect. They contain the specific mapping information that indicates how customizing objects from SAP R/3 are to be mapped to customizing objects in SAP CRM, for example. As a result, customizing data from SAP R/3 can be converted to an SAP-CRM-compatible format. In this way, the synchronization objects considerably reduce the time and costs for distribution projects. At the moment, SAP offers predefined synchronization objects for SAP CRM 3.1, for SAP Human Resources (SAP HR) on the basis of SAP Web Application Server 6.20, and for SAP Master Data Management 2.0 (SAP MDM). Objects for further applications, such as SAP Advanced Planner and Optimizer 4.1 (SAP APO), are planned.
A second step is then required, in which the distribution landscapes – which indicate the systems that customizing data is to be distributed from and to – and the distribution options – that is, the time of distribution – must be defined in the central system. With customizing distribution, users are able to synchronize the distribution from one source system to several target systems and to determine the time of synchronization themselves. For example, the initial supply of customizing data (initial distribution) is possible. In the case of distribution from SAP R/3 to SAP CRM, this corresponds (with a few restrictions) to an initial download – used during implementation – of customizing data via the CRM middleware. There are also several options for the delta distribution of customizing data, in which an already configured system is harmonized with additional customizing data. This option is equivalent to the ALE distribution type CONDA2, which distributes customizing data between SAP R/3 systems.
Manual effort is reduced
The distribution of the customizing data itself is carried out automatically. In contrast to the ALE distribution of customizing data, it is therefore not necessary to transfer a distribution model to the recipient system or to manually trigger the export and import of the relevant requests between the source and target system. Once the distribution options, the source and target systems, and the objects to be synchronized have been defined, the harmonization process is started. Changed customizing data, such as time zones or currencies, are listed in a transport request. The SAP Solution Manager – as the central system – receives a message about the customizing changes, and converts the data for synchronization into a format that is compatible with the system in accordance with certain mapping rules. BC sets transport the data to the target systems, are activated automatically, and write the data to a transport order that has already been created and to the relevant customizing tables. All the activities required for distribution can be controlled centrally in one transaction.
Sophisticated logging mechanisms permit the flexible evaluation and control either of all transports for a defined distribution project, or of specific transports in the source and target systems. In addition, logging can be coupled with certain time-based criteria. This means that a user is able to evaluate all transport requests for which he or she distributed customizing data in a particular week, for example.
SAP is constantly adapting customizing distribution to its customers’ requirements. For example, transport management has been improved so that it now enables all the transport orders relevant for customizing distribution to be explicitly controlled. In addition, it is possible to distribute customizing entries in all the available languages. Initial, positive reactions from pilot customers and consultants show that the tool is helping to reduce the time and costs for a customizing comparison and enabling better control of harmonization and centralization.
A plus point for security and efficiency
The advantages of customizing distribution are clear. The tool plays a part in increasing efficiency, because it reduces the time and costs for data distribution and also manages all transport orders centrally. In a survey on the use of SAP Solution Manager, the firm of consultants IBIS Prof. Thome AG found that the benefits of customizing distribution increase proportionally as the number of transport orders managed in the installation grows. In addition, customizing distribution guarantees the highest level of security, because the data is automatically replicated, and the risk of errors is therefore reduced. Consistency is also ensured, not just through logging, but also with the help of the Customizing Scout. As the customizing settings and data only have to be entered once, and the management of customizing requests is reduced to a minimum, customizing distribution plays a key role in achieving the return on investment.
SAP Solution Manager, which is currently available as Release 2.2, is needed for customizing distribution. The ramp-up phase for Release 3.1 concludes in the fourth quarter of 2003, and will then be generally available. Information on SAP Solution Manager is available on the SAP Service Marketplace at http://www.service.sap.com/solutionmanager (password required).
Information on the subject of customizing distribution is available at http://www.service.sap.com/rkt-solman . E-learning material providing a detailed insight into customizing distribution is available at http://www.service.sap.com/rkt-solman