Albany International Expects to Save 800 Hours of Work Annually by Automating Capital Expenditure Requests
CASE STUDY BY SAPinsider
Automation application expedites CERs and reduces emergency troubleshooting
Streamlining financial workflows emerged as the top strategic action and the theme of SAPinsider’s Streamlining Financial Processes in the Cloud research. One SAP customer, Albany International, has found some success with this strategy by automating its capital expenditure request (CER) process.
SAPinsider recently interviewed Anand Padmanabhan, Manager of Business Systems for Supply Chain and Finance at Albany International, a global textiles and materials processing company. Albany International has around 4,400 employees working in eleven countries with its headquarters located in Rochester, New Hampshire.
Growth Drives Demand for Flexible Integrated Systems
Albany International has two core lines of business: Machine Clothing and Albany Engineered Composites (AEC). Its Machine Clothing business has produced fabrics since 1895. The AEC business supplies composite parts for the aerospace industry.
Over the past several years, the AEC business has grown from about $2 million per year in revenue to close to $500 million through a combination of organic growth and acquisitions. In the industrial manufacturing sector, organic growth requires a significant amount of capex activity as the firm builds or buys more manufacturing plants.
When it first started growing, Albany International executed its CER process with emails and spreadsheet attachments. From there, it attempted to run the CER process over SharePoint with a front-end form creator to capture data.
“The SharePoint-based process routed workflows to the right people and the job okay, but as the AEC business hit $200 million in a year, the increase in the number of plants demanded systems that integrated better with SAP ERP. We needed a seamless feel,” said Padmanabhan.
The SharePoint based forms would go to multiple people to fill in data. For instance, facilities managers might enter where in the plant they would install the asset, and capital project managers would enter details from their budget. After that, the forms would all come together for senior management to align the request with the business plan and approve it.
Albany International experienced problems because after that whole process, someone would have to go into SharePoint and the forms to manually collect the data and then enter it into the SAP ERP. Additionally, the whole workflow lacked flexibility, and did not have capabilities to delegate responsibility if a manager went on vacation. Also, managers did not have an easy way to reject individual data points.
“The workflow did not tell us when or where users got stuck or were waiting. We needed shorter turnaround, but users constantly had to go back to our IT folks to get updates on where it was stuck or who the next approver was,” said Padmanabhan.
Automating the CER
As the AEC business hit $200 million, Albany International already used SAP ERP and SAP Fiori-based applications for timesheet and order confirmations. Unfortunately, capex does not have a standard process in SAP ERP. Albany International needed to capture requests, requirements, discussion, and ROI documentation for capex in a workflow, but standard SAP ERP did not have an existing process for all that.
At this point, Albany International found IQX AppBuilder for SAP Fiori. This product made it easy for Albany International to build an app on SAP Fiori that acted as an add-on for SAP ERP with visibility into all the necessary data and the ability to create objects in the ERP system.
In pilots of the new SAP Fiori-based application, Albany International has experienced much faster turnaround of CERs. With all the emails and calls to correct errors and individual data points and reach the necessary stakeholders, an expedited CER would take six weeks in the SharePoint process. In the new application, the turnaround and approval process for CERs was just two weeks.
With the SAP Fiori CER application accessible as a mobile app, managers can now approve CERs even if they are away from their computers. Alternatively, they can use an add-in for Outlook.
Prior to automating the CER process, manual data collection from SharePoint and entry into the SAP ERP would take half a day and was subject to potential transcription errors. But the integration of SAP Fiori applications with SAP ERP allows this process to be automated. With approximately 200 CERs per year, this will save the company over 600 hours of work.
Under the SharePoint-based system, IT would end up chasing stakeholders and managers to move the projects along, which required significant support.
“We spent about 200 hours each year chasing managers for CERs, which caused a lot of heartburn. We expect this will now essentially vanish with the new SAP Fiori CER application. Across the board, we expect to save 800 hours of work annually,” concluded Padmanabhan.
What Does This Mean for SAPinsiders?
Based on our research and the interview with Anand Padmanabhan, the following considerations can help SAP customers improve process management:
- Leverage SAP Fiori application development to automate data collection in a way that integrates with SAP ERP. Albany International wasted hundreds of hours and committed unnecessary errors manually collecting data and entering it into SAP ERP. Implementing the SAP Fiori CER application automated this process and eliminated the time and effort needed to collect and re-enter this data.
- Expand access to SAP ERP and data ownership to the business users. Both IT and business users at Albany International would waste time and effort chasing the responsible people to enter data and approve CERs. By developing and implementing the SAP Fiori CER application as both a mobile app and an Outlook Add-in, it handed ownership of the data to the actual business users and empowered them to expedite their own processes.
- If SAP ERP lacks necessary functionality out of the box, innovate in a way that integrates. SAP ERP does not have an existing process for CERs; so, Albany International went out, found the IQX AppBuilder for SAP Fiori and developed its own application to fit its processes in a way that improved data flow into the SAP ERP without customizing it.
- Standardize and automate processes to accelerate growth. Albany International did not start to grow because it had automated processes, but once it did start growing, it adapted and automated its processes to improve efficiency and accelerate growth. Implemented effectively, technology can accelerate growth when applied to necessary business processes.
Following this strategic guidance should help SAP customers get the most out of SAP Fiori-based applications in a way that automates processes to save time and money in operations.
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