The upcoming 1811 release of SAP S/4HANA Cloud will announce the arrival of Warehouse Management (WM) functionality, pallet tracking, transport management and increased Machine Learning scenarios in Supply Chain. These are all welcomed updates, which will be embraced with open arms but to bridge the gap from the 1708 release onwards for WM – Keytree developed and deployed a series of WM system apps using SAP Cloud Platform.

The apps were kept simple to allow easy use on a handheld device (to enable scanning) or on a conventional PC. The WM app managed all movements from production receipt through to outbound delivery picking and printing QR code labels for all products – raw and finished.

To make scanning super-simple, the labels incorporated a Stock Keeping Unit (SKU), plus batch and quantity so the operative only needed to scan the label and the bin locations. ‘Reprint Label’ options were also provided to allow for an in-situ stock count or adjustment of pallet contents. The WM app was delivered in less than eight weeks.

Irene Gordon

Solution Architect

A new direction to overcome familiar challenges

One difference in SAP’s direction as opposed to the direction taken by Keytree is our use of QR codes – most warehouses operate on more conventional barcodes. During an assessment of the various handheld devices available, it was noted that QR codes enabled greater accuracy and scanning range over and above the more conventional barcodes.

A common challenge in any warehouse is the time it takes to find a suitable piece of equipment such as a lift to scan pallets located at the top or at the rear of racking. QR codes doubled the range available and thus made scanning and stock counts much quicker. Most scanners will read both conventional barcodes and QR codes so it is worth considering other methods of encoding. The WM app delivered exactly what was required but also had some unexpected benefits.

As it was built in SAP Cloud Platform and only used S/4HANA Cloud for material/batch lookup, the 24×7 warehouse could continue scanning even when S/4HANA Cloud was unavailable (due to maintenance and upgrades), and the inventory postings were then ‘caught up’ once S/4HANA Cloud was back online. The exciting news is that S/4HANA Cloud 1811 will include all this functionality.

The S/4HANA Cloud solution is a hybrid of the original SAP ECC Warehouse Management functions plus Extended Warehouse Management – it also includes SAP’s equivalent of pallet tracking known as “Handling Unit Management”. In addition, standard output forms have been included with automated barcoding which suits a warehouse controlled by scanners – all good news for those considering S/4HANA Cloud or about to implement the technology.

The screens could be deployed on handheld scanners and barcode reading used to populated screen fields but it remains to be seen if these are user-friendly enough on a small screen. From my experience, a screen holding much more than SKU, batch, quantity and bin is perceived as being “too busy” in the eyes of a warehouse operative.

What is promising is that SAP appears to have not just reinvented the Warehouse Management solution of years gone by, but incorporated some of the Extended Warehouse Management functionality – accepting that all warehouse operations are looking for efficiencies using scanners, hence the barcodes coming as standard ‘out of the box’.

With the WM gap now addressed, the new Machine Learning and predictive analytics will come into their own as all stock will be updated in real-time and not be reliant on interfaces to another WM system.

New scenarios in S/4HANA Cloud 1811 include predictive analysis for receipts of goods based on the end to end process of creating the purchase order, the average time to approve, and typical supplier/material lead time – with shortages predicted before they happen so they can be addressed. An opportunity will be presented for an organisation to not only implement an ERP solution but to also learn and/or prove where their supply chain weak spots lie and attack those points before they impact downstream activity.

Machine Learning is a good example of where waiting for all the functionality to be available before jumping in is not necessarily the best approach. Clients who have already made the move to S/4HANA Cloud and temporarily plugged the functionality gaps such as WM will now stand to immediately gain from all the AI/Machine Learning coming into play – the history is already available and ready to be analysed. Another light has been switched on in the Supply Chain. It bodes well for those who lead from the front with confidence that future functionality will come quickly and take the plunge early.