Digital labeling in SAP provides agility during crisis

July 24, 2020
How can you upgrade legacy labeling methods that may be crippling operations and supply chains?

By Lee Patty, VP & general manager, NiceLabel Americas 

More than 200 million workers globally rely on SAP’s ERP software to manage their warehousing and supply chain operations. But that doesn’t guarantee they’re operating as efficiently as possible or are fully prepared for times of crisis.

NiceLabel's Lee Patty

During a crisis, companies using SAP may need to move inventory rapidly to those in need. Speed and agility are always a priority; however, these can be increasingly hard to achieve when borders close and stay-at-home mandates are in effect. Ensuring that labeling is optimized for SAP can make all the difference.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Outdated methods of labeling in SAP ERP, such as SAPscript (hard-coding label templates) and Smart Forms (complex form layouts), typically require IT intervention and, during a time when technicians are unable to leave their homes, this can cause even longer delays. Likewise, manual quality-assurance (QA) practices also complicate the label change process and increase chances for human error. 

This puts the brakes on agility and is unacceptable for today’s businesses, which need to move product quickly and respond to potential disruptions at the drop of a dime. So, how can you upgrade legacy labeling methods that may be crippling operations and supply chains? The answer is by moving to a cloud-hosted label-management system, whether integrating with SAP ERP on-premise or in a private cloud environment.

Here’s how that can help:

  • Collaboration from anywhere—With cloud-based labeling, no one is required on site to create labels or troubleshoot problems, as any authorized remote user can quickly access, alter and print labels from anywhere at any location. Not only does this enable label management anywhere, but it also promotes supply chain consistency while improving QA and traceability. 
  • Minimize the IT burden to make label design and changes faster—A built-in label designer should let IT or business users access universal templates and content to quickly design or alter complex labels for any printer or model in minutes, without coding. This drastically reduces the number of templates an organization must maintain, and frees up overtaxed IT teams, which may have had to spend weeks troubleshooting. This, ultimately, speeds time-to-market.
  • Prevent errors instead of catching them—Manual and paper-based QA methods are time-consuming and error-0prone. A modern label management system can digitize QA and provide a fully integrated document-management system (DMS). 

This includes electronic change and approval workflows, and a centralized database of label templates that provides visibility into who accessed, changed and printed labels. This enables easier, more proactive QA, instead of reacting frantically to errors. It also eliminates repetitive maintenance and paper-based processes.  

Reduce label print time and improve quality—A common legacy approach to SAP labeling is sending “raw data” via the spooler to legacy labeling software. This offers no return path for print previews or a final quality check before label printing, leading to errors and time-consuming reprints. The spooler approach is also built for high-volume batch printing of documents, not on-demand label printing, and therefore, slows down the entire printing process.

Another approach involves building custom SAP integrations in-house, which may take months and be costly. But cloud-based label-management systems can provide built-in software packages for integration with SAP, which can be installed quickly, and enable seamless, on-demand printing with print previews in the SAP user interface. This enables business leaders to: 

  • Automate and upgrade the logic governing the label process—Many workflow and business rules can be automated, such as which label should be printed for a particular customer, or which languages must be on the label for a specific region. The data for this logic can be stored in the LMS’s DMS or, alternatively, within SAP to automate decision-making workflows, which reduces human error and increases efficiency. This also allows organizations to quickly customize workflows for industry or customer requirements.
  • Seamless, remote deployment and integration with business systems—With a label-management system, the DMS can centralize label printing-and-tracking processes. This is useful for many business systems beyond SAP, such as manufacturing-execution systems, warehouse-management systems or in-house built applications. Achieving this level of integration can be done in one day from any location with a cloud-based label-management system that has the right package built into the software.  

It's difficult to predict when a disaster will occur, but even if a new normal necessitates drastic and immediate changes, business must go on. In this regard, labeling cannot go overlooked.   

For those who depend on SAP ERP and other business systems, it’s easy to deploy and integrate a highly efficient cloud-based label-management system from any location. Whether workers are remote or not, this will fully digitize QA, reduce labeling errors and shipping delays, and significantly increase efficiency and ROI.