Solving document management for SAP

Organisations using SAP as a core business system should have a flying start in providing information contained in the database to decision makers through the transaction systems – but what about the information not in the SAP database? Abie Spies sets out the challenge.

Effective organisations runs on good decisions; good decision-making is dependent on availability of good information, and business information is usually contained in databases and documents. A well-implemented SAP system still only manages to capture around one third of corporate information in the database. A good two thirds of organisational knowledge floats around outside the database, and most of it is captured and stored in documents.

A major challenge for organisations is therefore to liberate the information contained in documents, and to deliver the right (and only the right) information in the quickest and the most effective way possible to whoever needs it. It stands to reason that a decision maker who has all the information needed at their fingertips in one system will be more efficient than one who has to hunt for information in different systems. Therefore, integrating document management and SAP systems, and providing access to the right document from within the SAP transaction will lead to increased productivity and more informed decisions. Fortunately for SAP users, this is entirely possible.

There are many options for SAP users to manage documents. Which one is ‘right’ for a particular organisation depends on many factors, not least of which is cost and efficiency. The following is an illustration of a number of options, and some of their pro’s and con’s. It is not an exhaustive list, but contains the main contenders.

Open Text Extended ECM for SAP

The solution currently recommended by SAP for consideration by its user community is the ‘Open Text Extended ECM for SAP Solutions’. Open Text is one of the best known ECM suite vendors, and their products are well known and respected. For SAP users, Open Text makes sense over other third party systems due to its deep integration and strong alliance with SAP. SAP has a reseller agreement with Open Text, which allows SAP to bundle and sell these Open Text applications with standard SAP licenses.

The main advantage is that it is a safe choice. The systems are deeply integrated, and SAP’s support means that tight integration and support will probably be maintained through new releases. Open Text is widely used outside the SAP arena, and the system will also cater for non-SAP users.

The Open Text solutions require significant additional licensing and infrastructure, but part of this may be offset against other SAP costs when purchasing licenses through the SAP licensing system.
In-built document management

One of SAP’s best kept secrets is that it has excellent document management functionality in the core ERP application, with different modules designed to provide document management functionality for different document types. The modules that can be used to manage documents in SAP include:
The SAP Document Management System SAP has an excellent document management system (the SAP DMS) contained in the core ERP application. Using it has three distinct advantages, namely
cost – no additional license fees, maintenance cost, maintenance skills, hardware etc. required. It is available on every SAP GUI. Full robust document management functionality – everything you will probably ever need, including excellent version control, secure storage and access control, workflow, object linking to SAP objects, comprehensive search and fund functionality etc.
Full native integration in SAP, which means delivering documented information to SAP transactional users are intuitive, easy and reliable, particularly through SAP object linking.
The SAP DMS was developed primarily for management of technical documents (including CAD drawings), but is widely used for virtually any business process where documents need to be managed and accessed via object links.
SAP Easy Document Management Any SAP user will know that it has been hamstrung by complaints about the usability of the standard SAP interface, and the SAP DMS was no exception. SAP responded by developing SAP EasyDMS, a Microsoft Explorer based interface to the SAP DMS that makes using and managing documents as easy as dragging and dropping files in Explorer. This is another ‘in the box’ application from SAP that is available free of charge for every SAP licensed user. SAP EasyDMS is strictly speaking not another application (it runs on the SAP DMS infrastructure) but the intuitive ease of use that it brings to ‘non-SAP’ users, while retaining the ability to link documents to SAP objects makes it a serious business performance enhancer.
SAP ArchiveLink Despite the name of this module, it has great application in storing and retrieving documents that are not subject to change, like scanned documents, invoices etc. Used in conjunction with SAP workflow, great solutions are available for managing HR documents, accounts payable documents, photos etc. This functionality is also part of the standard SAP system, and carries no additional cost for licensed SAP users.
SAP Netweaver While not strictly speaking a document management system, the ‘SAP Netweaver Folder Management’ functionality SAP unveiled in 2010 has distinct value for managing certain classes of documents in association with folders and other objects. It is essentially a re-badging of SAP’s Records Management module, primarily in recognition that the module has much wider potential business application than just the narrow confines of records management. With Case Management becoming such a strong basis for many business processes, it allows business documents and information to be managed in folders in conjunction with many ‘case related’ processes, like CRM, SRM, grants management, machine records etc. Depending on an organisation’s SAP licensing structure, this product comes at a relatively modest additional cost to SAP users. The main advantage is the deep integration in SAP transaction processes.

Most ECM Suite vendors have document management systems that integrate to SAP to a greater or lesser extent. Popular stand-alone document management products include Microsoft SharePoint, Documentum, FileNet, and Open Text, but there are many more. These products are very successful at managing documents in a ‘stand-alone’ and ‘best of breed’ basis, but often lack thorough business process integration.

In recognition of the importance of integrating ERP and ECM systems, most of the stand-alone ECM Suites offer some level of integration with SAP. While it provides an ability to integrate ECM and ERP, organisations should be careful to check the extent and cost of the specific integration module, as some suffer from lack of specific functionality and version upgrade incompatibility, even though they may be certified by SAP.

Organisations going the route of implementing ERP Suites, do so for various reasons, including the perceived need for ‘one central ECM system’, need for specific and unique functionality, etc. Often the ERP and ECM drivers in organisations are very different, and therefore driven by different groups with different solution outcomes.

Whatever the reason for an independent ECM system, if organisations want to reap the benefit of delivering all the required information to decision makers seamlessly, they should pay particular attention to SAP integration during implementation of the ECM system. Great care should be taken to break down ’information silos’ in organisations, and the seamless delivery of all required information to decision makers. The main advantage of stand-alone document management systems is their total independence from what happens with other systems in an organisation. The main disadvantages include cost (licensing, infrastructure, maintenance and other costs related to a major IT system) and lack of integration to business processes and systems.

Microsoft SharePoint

While SharePoint could be bundled into the previous category, it is becoming such a dominant technology; it deserves a mention on its own. SharePoint 2010 has significantly improved document management capabilities, and integration products to SAP are being developed by various organisations, such as iNet.DM of ERP-Link, which makes a solution based on a combination of the two technologies a very viable option.

The main advantage of SharePoint is its ubiquity and low cost; virtually every major organisation owns it as part of their Microsoft licensing. It is a great vehicle to extend document management deep into organisations where SAP is not used extensively. If not planned and regulated well, implementations tend to happen sporadically in silos in departments, which make it very difficult to regain document integrity on a corporate level.


The purpose of document management systems is in the first instance to deliver information when and where required. This requirement often gets buried and downgraded in technical wish lists when selecting ECM systems, but it shouldn’t.

Integrating document management into SAP just makes business sense for progressive organisations looking to supply their business decision makers with all the information needed to take the best decisions. Which product an organisation selects is dependent on many unique factors, and there are many software products that may foot the bill. Before getting consumed by the technical decision, however, organisations should take a stance on the business process and business benefits a document management system brings, and make sure their technology decisions are driven by business imperatives.

Abie Spies is founder and Managing Director of Engineering Informatics, a product independent Enterprise Content Management (ECM) consulting company.