Today, we are profiling Janet Salmon, Chief Product Owner for Management Accounting at SAP. Find out how Janet got her start at SAP, what she sees as some of the most important trends in Controlling, and what she does in her free time.
How did you get your start with SAP and SAP Controlling?
I was working as a translator in London when SAP was looking for English translators for their Walldorf office. I had no idea what SAP was, but liked the idea that the offices were near Heidelberg, Germany. When I applied (late 1991), results analysis was brand new and in need of a translator. I got the job on the strength of my German (I studied languages at university) and my math (unusually for linguist, I had done a lot of math in high school). It was something of a baptism of fire as I pretty much had to invent the language of “results analysis” from scratch (all of those lovely German compounds) and couldn’t find much in the way of reference materials to help me. Things would be much easier now that we have web searches and Wikis. Anyway, in the next release SAP let me write the Cost Object Controlling handbook and that pretty much started me on my SAP Controlling journey.
What is one of the most important trends that you see currently in SAP Controlling?
My job is shaped by two trends at the moment: HANA and mobile and both of these are changing the way we see Controlling.
Let’s start with HANA. SAP Controlling was always a “big data” topic – we were always trying to handle many thousands of data records and struggling to keep within the allotted time window at period close. Over the years we had used many tricks to speed up reporting – whether it was creating summarization levels in CO-PA to best guess the clicks that an analyst would make, or pre-aggregating the product costs by plant in CO-PC. But with the HANA-based accelerators, we were able to get rid of that hard-wired aggregation and aggregate on the fly as the analyst navigated within their report. This took the pre-aggregation steps out of the period close and removed unnecessary data records from the data base. We are now going further and trying to build our entire CO reporting and period close activities so that it is entirely line item based.
Switching to Mobile, SAP Real Spend was one of the first consumer-grade applications for the iPad, providing managers on the move with budget and expense information (see https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sap-realspend/id542365336 ). The data itself (plan/actual costs per cost center) is nothing new but the speed needed to select the relevant information from SAP ERP, apply a set of rules to determine whether there has been a budget overrun, and then get those figures to the manager’s device is. It’s easy to make glib statements about new user generations expecting cost information faster and how Controlling will move from being a largely period-based backward looking application, to one that is picking up trends in spending as they happen, but we really are trying to take calculations out of the period close and make them available real time. We already have an application that calculates production variances as they happen. This brings together the line items in CO and the confirmation documents in Logistics to show each cost center and work center manager what volumes are being produced, what is being scrapped, and what the cost impact of this is as it happens. My team is now going beyond presenting the cost data captured and trying to make the cost transformation that converts, for example resource costs into cost of goods sold and work in process happen not just once a month, but more frequently. It’s certainly an exciting time to be working in Controlling, but there is still plenty of work to be done to rethink the Controlling processes in terms of what tomorrow’s businesses will need.
In your opinion, why does SAP Controlling matter?
SAP Controlling is all about the bottom line – profitability. Put simply, you can’t spend more than you earn for very long. You have to understand which market segments are making a profit and which are losing, which products are profitable and which are not. You have to understand what impacts the costs associated with a particular market segment or product and how to map the resources used in production and sales to the segments served. You have to understand how to plan those costs and what factors will impact your ability to deliver on that plan. The basics are absolutely nothing new, but the speed with which people are trying to make these decisions and react to changing commodity prices, fluctuating exchange rates, and so on has changed dramatically.
How do you stay on top of Controlling topics? What resources do you regularly use?
I’m lucky in that I’m surrounded by the people who are making some of the technology changes happen so I tend to pick their brains directly. I also read the articles on SAP Financials Expert and follow the progress of organizations like CAM-I (http://www.cam-i.org/).
What was your most important take away from Controlling 2012?
I’m not sure that I really had a “lesson learned” as such. I really enjoyed talking to all the people who are out there doing Controlling day in and day out. I particularly enjoyed hearing the Caterpillar case study about how they are looking at their quality orders from a cost perspective, because it showed how Controlling helps management to really understand what it’s spending and why, and the US Army case study about how they are trying to become a more cost-focused organization.
Where is your favorite place to vacation and why?
The Gasterntal in Switzerland. It’s a side valley from Kandersteg in the Bernese Oberland, with a couple of farms and a couple of sweetly simple hotels. We mostly hike there and enjoy the scenery. The first time we went, I had been reading “The Lorax” with my son and he looked out at this peaceful valley with the waterfalls splashing down the cliffs and said “Look, Mum, the clouds are all clean”. When my children were older we finished the sixth Harry Potter by candlelight in a hotel that has electricity for the milking machines, but not in the parlor. It encourages you to slow down and not worry about the contents of your inbox!
What is your favorite book?
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. I learned Russian on the strength of my first read (when I was 17) and I’m now on my third read… I read it again when my children were tiny and have just read the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. One day, I plan to read the Russian version in the original!