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Best Practices for Data

Loading into SAP ERP Systems


Summary
An organizations ability to act swiftly and make business decisions is based on having access to
complete and accurate views of enterprise data. Companies recognize the value in leveraging all
of their corporate information and the benefits of reconciling data into consolidated views, but
the path to get there can be difficult. Getting data into the companys ERP system in a timely
and accurate manner is a critical success factor in business decisions. This white paper examines
existing data-loading methods and best practices to easily incorporate data into SAP solutions.

2012 Winshuttle, LLC. All rights reserved. 8/12

www.winshuttle.com

Introduction
It is a core business principle that to run a successful company, assets must be managed
effectively. However, there is an often overlooked asset that, if correctly harnessed, is a turning
point in competitive advantage, particularly with the increasing sophistication of enterprise
wide business management systems such as SAP ERP. This asset is the core data produced in
abundance by every company in the world. Corporate data sets include transactional data and
master data.

DATA MIGRATION

DATA MAINTENANCE

DATA INTEGRATION

DATA CREATION

Figure 1: Data loading use cases

Managing large amounts of data can be a significant challenge to most organizations. Some of
the common data management tasks include:

Data migration: loading legacy systems data into SAP applications during initial SAP
implementation or M&A activity

Data maintenance: mass changes to SAP data for price changes and payroll changes

Data integration: loading vendor invoices or bank statements into SAP applications

Mass data creation: creating new master data (materials, vendors, customers, etc.) or
transactional data (journal vouchers, invoices, etc) in SAP systems

A common theme among these data management applications is data loading loading of
data into SAP systems from external files such as spreadsheets or other databases. The limited
resources in IT and in the lines of business struggle to complete these data-related tasks in a
timely and accurate manner. However, if the best practices described in this white paper are
followed in each stage of a data loading process, these challenges can be overcome.
1.
2.
3.
4.

Planning the data load project


Developing templates and preparing the data
Running the data load process
Post data load activities

PLANNING

DEVELOPING

RUNNING

POST DATA LOAD

Figure 1: Stages of a data loading project

Best Practices for Data Loading into SAP ERP Systems

1. Planning the Data Load Project


Every data loading project should have a plan that includes quality and user acceptance as
the top priorities. Preparation is key to the success of any operation, and data loading is no
exception. Items to be considered when planning a data loading project:

Selecting the right tool for the job


For small projects affecting fewer than 50 transactions, manual data entry may be the best
choice. However, when uploading large amounts of data, such as employee records, pricing
conditions, material masters, purchase orders, or customer invoices, manually keying in the
data is resource-intensive, time-consuming and stressful for data entry personnel and IT
support teams. In addition, the manual entry of data increases the risk of errors, thereby
increasing the total cost of ownership (TCO) of SAP solutions.
Custom programming
One alternative to the manual entry of data into an SAP system is to write custom ABAP
programs. Many companies have developed custom programs for very large data loading
tasks that will remain static. These programs can streamline the repetitive entry of
hundreds of thousands to millions of records. However, creating robust programs involves
multiple iterations of requirements gathering, programming, testing, documentation,
transporting and refinement, and these programs may be used only once or twice a year,
making the effort particularly costly in terms of man hours and ROI. Using a program that
was hastily put together or one that has not been well-tested can damage or destroy data.
SAP-provided tools
If technical resources are not limited, one approach to create and change master and
transactional data is to use the data importing tools already resident in SAP applications
such as BDC and LSMW. LSMW can be a very effective way of creating data in a new
SAP implementation. However, SAP technical tools are intended to be used by technical
resources in IT departments, rather than everyday business users. In addition, any data
import scripts and programs added to the SAP system need to be maintained as SAP
versions are upgraded even if they were created as one-time-use tools. Finally, your
business users require extra authorizations to perform uploads using SAP-provided tools.
SAP-certified third-party tools
Third-party tools such as Winshuttle Transaction do not reside inside the SAP system, so
they generally do not require extra authorizations and can be used by everyday business
users. Transaction simplifies the data loading process because it does not require any
programming and does not require any technical resources. For your SAP systems, data
loading using a third-party tool is exactly the same as manually entering data, only at a
much faster speed.

Best Practices for Data Loading into SAP ERP Systems

Uploading to SAP via the correct interface


Data should never be uploaded directly to SAP tables. Writing directly to SAP tables
circumvents the data validation provided by normal SAP transactions. Always upload data
via pre-configured SAP transactions, BAPIs or IDocs, and use tools such as BDC, CATT,
LSMW or a qualified third-party tool. This maintains the validations configured in each
transaction.

Ensuring regulatory compliance


One of the most common SOX audit concerns is that users in IT departments have very
broad access to production data in SAP systems. Data uploads should be carried out by
data owners who are authorized to perform them. Check to be sure that rights and duties
are assigned to different individuals separately so that no one individual has the power to
divert business or transactions in a fraudulent manner.

Sharing templates
There is no need to re-invent the wheel for each transaction. Reuse templates developed
for previous uploads and share them among departments. Keeping a repository of
templates, in SharePoint or a shared file repository, along with a common naming
convention, will enable users to easily find a previously created template.

Planning for iterations


Due to changes in requirements and errors in data, data loading projects are iterative in
nature. Plan to create several scripts and allot time for iterations.

2. Developing Templates and Preparing the Data


The following best practices should be considered while developing the data loading scripts and
templates:

Develop and test on non-production systems


Testing data loading templates thoroughly on a non-production system allows you to
detect and correct systematic errors before moving the data into production.

Use a peer-review process


To verify their accuracy and performance, any scripts or templates developed should go
through a peer-review process. This process can range from a very simple method of
looking over ones shoulder to a complete workflow-based review process.

Use a versioning method to keep track of changes


Since data loading scripts tend to change as requirements change, use a version control
system to keep track of these changes. All document management and collaboration
systems, such as Documentum or SharePoint, offer easy-to-use version control features.

Best Practices for Data Loading into SAP ERP Systems

Develop data validation methods


in conjunction with basic load
scripts
Validating data prior to loading it into
the SAP system is good way to avoid
getting and reprocessing errors during
the loading. Data can be validated in
two ways: 1) Using Excel references
and drop-downs, simple validation
rules can be built into the Excel data
file itself so that invalid data is not
created in Excel. 2) Building simple
validation scripts which simulate
entering the data into required SAP
fields, but do not post or save the data.

Create an Excel template with an embedded loading script


A data loading script is usually associated with an Excel file format since Excel fields are
typically mapped to SAP fields within the data loading script. It is significantly easier to
manage a single file than two linked files; therefore, embed the script within the Excel file
template so that only one file needs to be managed.

The following best practices should be considered while preparing the data files to load:

Keep the data in native format


Minimize the number of transformations that the data has to go through. The Excel
files that you need to load into your SAP system may need to undergo some format
conversions or field manipulations before the loading program will accept these files. Some
data loading programs will require a CSV format or a tab-delimited format, requiring you
to transform the native Excel file into a CSV file before every run. Ideally, your data loading
program should allow you to work with your native Excel file format. This will avoid the
extra conversion steps and will also allow you to use Excel formulas, such as VLOOKUP and
Excel formatting directly.

Use data cleansing tools


To avoid loading poor quality data into SAP systems, use data cleansing tools to remove
duplicate records, fill in missing values, etc. Excel 2007 includes some data quality tools
such as duplicate detection, and several other third-party data cleansing tools, such as
Trillium and Data Flux, are available in the market.

Use a data review process


To verify the accuracy of the data prior to loading it, the prepared data files should go
through a peer-review process. As before, this process can range from looking over ones
shoulder to a complete workflow-based review process.

Best Practices for Data Loading into SAP ERP Systems

3. Running the Data Load Process


When running data loading scripts, consider these best practices:

Data ownership and login credentials


Make sure that the data loading is carried out by users who own the data and who login
using their own SAP credentials. This ensures regulatory compliance and keeps the correct
audit trails in the SAP system. This also makes sure that the data goes through the correct
validation rules before being posted into the SAP system. Additionally, empowering
business users to do the upload themselves, using SAP tools or third-party tools, saves
time and money in data loading projects and frees up IT resources.

Error handling
Any data loading project is sure to have records that will not be accepted by SAP
applications due to errors, so it is important to make sure you are prepared to process
them. Ideally, the data loading tool you use will show you the SAP error messages
alongside the data records. This will make it easy to identify the cause of those errors,
allowing you to correct them in the data file and reload only the error records. If you cannot
identify the causes of the errors, the recommended method is to process those records in a
foreground (step-by-step) mode.

Log each run separately


Since you may have to run a single data file multiple times while processing the errors, it is
recommended that you log each run separately. Either keep a copy of the intermediate run
files or log the results of each run in a separate column.

Prevent double posting of transactions


Another risk of multiple runs through a data file is that some transactional data may end up
being posted twice into the SAP system. Make sure you prevent such double postings by
keeping track of the successfully posted records separately, or by ensuring that your data
loading tool prevents double posting.

Avoid data loads during high demand, peak-business hours


Some data loads, especially changes to master data, may affect other users who are
working on the system. Also, a large upload may affect the SAP system performance. Your
data loading tool should provide a scheduling feature that will allow you to schedule large
uploads during off-peak hours.

Develop a process to backup old data


When a data loading script is intended to change existing data in your SAP system, make a
backup of the old data before effecting the change. A simple way to backup data is to read
the current values of the fields that you are trying to change in your SAP system and save
that into a file. Having this will allow you to revert to the original data in case of problems
with the data loading script.

Best Practices for Data Loading into SAP ERP Systems

4. Post Data Load Activities


The following best practices should be considered after completing a successful data load run:

Archive the data file and the associated scripts


After a data file has been successfully processed, archive that file showing the log
messages into your document management system. This will ensure complete traceability
of data for regulatory compliance purposes.

Share templates
The data loading scripts and templates that you have developed should be kept in a
common repository so that they can be shared with other users within your organization.

Conclusion
Applying the best practices discussed in this white paper will ensure quicker, error-free and
compliant data loading, regardless of whether the data sets are large or small, or whether
the data is master or transactional data. Training business users to apply good processes and
enabling them with the right tools to upload data improves the decisions that a company makes
by guaranteeing their data is up to date. This improved accuracy can be a huge competitive
advantage, and when combined with the operational flexibility that users have with the right
tools and practices, can be instrumental in creating revenue growth.

Best Practices for Data Loading into SAP ERP Systems

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Best Practices for Data Loading into SAP ERP Systems