A New Era for Master Data Management

Considering the importance of master data for achieving operational excellence in finance, purchasing, sales, commerce, manufacturing and supply chain, it is a surprise how inadequately and ineffectively current master data management (MDM) solutions support the master data lifecycle management. We know a thing or two about Master Data because master data management (MDM) workflows are some of the most popular workflows deployed on ZFlow.

We also developed significant appreciation for Master Data because of deep support for New Product and Supply Chain Development in ZFlow. As a matter of fact, what we have seen is that much of the master data (creation/changes) is usually an outcome of product development and supply chain processes. Most certainly Master Data Management is not


In addition,

How Master Data Management Really Looks like

Instead master data management should be an outcome of business workflows like this

New Supplier Creation





Materials Master Data Management

Materials MDM needs its own post – Mastering Materials Master Data Management.

ZFlow for Master Data Management

ZFlow is a fresh and effective take on Master Data Management. Master Data Management in ZFlow is an outcome of functional business processes related to New Product Development and Introduction, Commerce, Procurement, Supply Chain Planning, Logistics and Maintenance Planning. In addition, it is reimagined take on what an effective master data management solution should support


Lastly, ZFlow also happens to be the most customer friendly solution in the market.


Mastering Materials Master Data Management

Material, also called item/part/product in other domains and solutions, is THE most important master data object as it is central to many mission-critical business processes in sales, commerce, design, manufacturing, logistics, customer service and maintenance. The creation of material is an extremely cross-functional exercise that spans the whole supply chain. What starts off as a vision and a sketch on a napkin turns into a finished product. Like the Cybertruck below.

Coming back to the topic of Materials Master Data Management. We have seen a very unfortunate pattern of data entry oriented master data management tools (MDM) trying to tackle Materials Master Data Management and failing miserably. Right off the bat we would like to establish the following

Materials master data is not something you type into a form or an Excel sheet, run some validations, and send it via an approval workflow, and call it a day. Materials master data is the outcome of analysis and decision-making by Design, Manufacturing, Purchasing, Logistics, Marketing and Sales/Customer Service stakeholders.

Facets of Material Master Data


Regardless of what some vendors advocate and would like you to believe, MDM most definitely is not the following



Design/Engineering Related Master Data

More often than not Design and Engineering functions are the starting point of the process when creating new parts/materials. While not strictly treated as master data by ERP systems, key engineering information such as Drawings, Visualization files, etc. should considered as Master Data related to Materials.

Drawings and Visualization Data

Drawings contain key dimensional and specification information that is often used by manufacturing and suppliers for properly following instructions (design, manufacturing, tooling) as well as quoting.




Bill(s) of Material

Bill of Material is element of Material Master Data. In most cases Bills of Material originate in design/engineering systems (MCAD/ECAD) and needs to be transferred to ERP/MRP/Supply Chain Planning systems so that MRP runs, purchasing and manufacturing planning can be effectively supported.


Alternate materials/parts are an important master data element. These alternate parts are used whenever for some reason (usually shortages) a plant is not able to use the primary part for manufacturing/assembly.




Master Data related to Purchasing and Supply Chain

Purchasing related information is key master data for materials that are purchased. Purchasing related information can include

Approved Suppliers

Key master data related to purchasing is approved suppliers for the materials. The related information can include manufacturer and manufacturer part information as well as cost and lead time information.


Approved Manufacturer Parts

Approved manufacturers and approved manufacturer parts are critical master data information, especially when working with electronics and semiconductor components.


Cost and Ordering Related Information

In addition, cost (agreed price), quantity discounts, minimum and standard order quantities, packaging units, order lead times are key master data related to purchasing.


Material Master Data for Lean Operations – Plan for Every Part

Plan for every part (PFEP) is the blueprint for effectively managing logistics and manufacturing aspects of a part (for Finished Goods as well as Raw Materials/Purchased Components). A “Plan For Every Part” is a plan to make sure

Right part is available where needed at the right time in the right quantity

More about Master Data related to Plan for Every Part


Master Data for Sales and Marketing

One of the best ways to understand master data for sales and marketing is to review master data needs for E-commerce. More on master data for E-commerce.


SAP Material Master

Many companies use SAP ERP as the primary system for Finance, Sales and Distribution, Purchasing, Production Planning, MRP, Maintenance and other business processes. SAP Material Master plays an outsized role on how well business processes are designed and implemented for the companies that use SAP. We created an entirely different post for delving deep into SAP Material Master – Anatomy of SAP Material Master.


Material Master Data Workflows in the Real World

New Material Creation

If you ask a design engineer, product engineer or material management stakeholder they will actually say that creating new materials might look something like below (for illustration only)

Changing Materials

And changing materials might look something like below. And typically an Engineering Change Request and/or Change Order is used to change materials.




Adding/Changing Bill of Materials (BOM)

Bill of Material (BOM) is a key aspect of material master data. New BOMs and changes to existing BOMs are actually related to new material creation or changes to existing materials. Any MDM solution that cannot handle BOMs will not be an effective MDM solution for Materials.


A BOM change is a change to Material


Collecting Right Information from the Right Person

Since many people are involved in creating material master data it is best to get the right information from the right person. For example, a design engineer is in the best position to provide information related to “Weight” for example. On the other hand purchasing and manufacturing stakeholders are better able to obtain lead time and lot sizing information.





Validation at the Right Time, and By the Right Person

It is still a good idea to add validations (required fields, ranges, etc.) for materials master data. But there is a right time for validation. Too much validation right in the beginning can frustrate users and users that have no idea will select incorrect information or may just give up. Validation at later stages of the master data process can make sure that accurate master data makes it into downstream systems.





Materials Master Data Management is one of the most cross-functional process in the organization and the extended supply chain and is connected to many upstream and downstream processes in design/engineering, sales, marketing, purchasing, manufacturing and logistics. Treating it as a cross-functional business process leads to many advantages and benefits to individuals, teams and organizations.

Welcome to the (Business Workflow) Jungle, ServiceNow

We welcome ServiceNow’s entry into business process workflow market. Our strong belief is that more competition is always better for the customers. Usually more competition leads to lower prices, better products and higher quality. We are not very confident that such a scenario will reveal itself in the case of ServiceNow.

But first let’s evaluate the merits of one approach vs. another based on the needs, desires and aspirations of people that take part in, own, or design business processes for various functional domains. Many of these functional domains such as sales, commerce, marketing, design and engineering, manufacturing, order fulfillment, logistics, supply chain are interrelated. We can argue that ERP and various specialized application suites (CRM, Supply Chain, Human Resources..) already support many of the business processes. The problem has been that ERP and application suites due to their transaction oriented design, complexity and cost, have left huge swaths of people that are central to business process out of the business process. These huge swaths of people have neither the visibility, nor take part in the business process.

ZFlow was designed and has been in use among many medium-sized to large customers for several years to address the above problems that many of these companies faced with ERP systems and application suites. Our customers have designed (themselves) business process workflows in many functional domains, including sales, engineering, manufacturing, order fulfillment, quality, finance and maintenance. What we learned from that experience is that workflow systems are best when they

  • Can support simple to sophisticated workflows that can bring user oriented activities (data preparation, reviews, approvals, etc.) and system integration (now called automation) activities into one process
  • Can handle process data, some of which can be fairly complex, that provides rich context to the process and often drives workflow logic
  • Provides an easy and methodical way for a very large number of people from within the organization and the supply chain to take part in and complete workflow activities
  • Do not charge for every user that participates in the workflow as it can be cost-prohibitive and counter-productive to the whole concept of collaborative workflow
  • Support invitation and participation of users dynamically as part of workflows
  • Require minimal or no programming (We definitely understand the need for programming for sophisticated workflows. In our experience, any introduction of code in a workflow system makes it less dynamic, but in some cases that is what is needed to provide meaningful and useful workflows)
  • Allow continuous updates and improvements to workflow easily. What’s the point of having a workflow if it cannot be improved as and when needed.

In all of the above facets, ZFlow has proven to be one of the best and remains unmatched. We don’t see that changing even with ServiceNow entering the market.

How Excel and ZFlow solve the complex sales quote problem elegantly

While selling is an art, quoting can be maddeningly bureaucratic, riddled with errors, and the pace plodding. The Configure, Price and Quote (CPQ) software experience has been, like many things that come out of the world of enterprise software, mostly disappointing. Part of the problem is that there is no end to configurability of quotes and selling is pretty elastic. As a result sales people and analysts run into the hard constraints and rigidity that CPQ systems impose. And the cost of CPQ systems and related implementation can rival GDPs of small nations. Hence the popularity of Excel as the CPQ system of choice. However, just using Excel as the quoting system can lead to process, visibility, search and query related issues.

A few of our customers that have complex CPQ logic and processes have instead decided to use their existing CPQ engines built in Excel and ZFlow (which has tight integration with Excel) to get the best of both worlds. Below is one such scenario. The advantages of this approach are many, including

  • Ability to continue using CPQ logic developed (often over many years) in Excel
  • Sales analysts can still retain control over the CPQ logic as opposed to heavy customization of CPQ, which is usually hard to do and not accessible
  • Support comprehensive workflow that is based on business rules dependent of quote values (for example, a million dollar quote needs to CFO approval)
  • Full visibility of the quote process to all participants
  • A much more flexible and usable CPQ process at a fraction of the cost of CPQ systems



Simple workflows are usually more effective than procure-to-pay solutions

As the Digital Workflow for the Modern Supply Chain we often support procurement workflows. Here we sometimes encounter the poorer cousins of finance and ERP solutions in the shape of procure-to-pay (aka P2P) solutions. Don’t blame us for that unimaginative, and slightly icky, acronym.

What is odd about procure-to-pay solutions is that they tend to equate procurement to buying papers and pencils. We, however, equate procurement to the full lifecycle of supply chain relationship, which includes the dating that happens before companies become supply chain partners, collaboration that happens throughout and not just when a purchase order (PO) is issued, internal processes for purchase requisitions, on-boarding new suppliers, quality and continuous improvement processes, audits, sharing forecasts, etc.

Our experience indicates that most companies gain very little value, and zero competitive advantage, by adopting procure-to-pay solutions that focus on paper and pencil buying processes. In fact, because of ever changing supply chain relationships, procure-to-pay solutions are severely under used and often replicate what is already in place in ERP solutions. A simple Purchase Requisition workflow on top of existing ERP can often provide 50% or more value of the procure-to-pay solution for many customers. Here is a little secret. In most cases, payment processes are triggered in ERP solutions. So the “pay” part of procure-to-pay is seldom used.

ZFlow provides a continuum of workflows that support the full lifecycle of supply chain partnership, including

  • Supplier Research, Qualification and Selection
  • Request for Information/Proposal
  • Design/Engineering Collaboration
  • New Supplier On-boarding
  • Purchase Requisition
  • Purchase Order Collaboration
  • Forecast Sharing
  • Non-conformance Reporting
  • Failure Reporting and Corrective Action System
  • Supplier PPAP (Production Part Approval Process)
  • Supplier Audit
  • Kaizen Events

Yes, we have a bit more complete view of the supply chain relationship unlike the paper-and-pencil pushing procure-to-pay solutions. That is because Procurement is a lot more than just buying paper and pencils.

How to get S/4HANA style benefits without migrating to S/4HANA

The business case for SAP S/4HANA is predicated on intelligent business processes that drive operational excellence, as well as improved user experience, agility and collaboration. For many organizations a move to S/4HANA does make technological and business sense, but may still require a strong financial business case. Or it is quite possible that the money needed, which can be substantial and does not grow on trees, can be hard to come by for many reasons. In addition, the time commitment and resource needs can be daunting and the risk of disrupting underlying business processes high. So it is only natural that many organizations are being careful and taking time. It is a good thing that there is time till 2025 to make the switch.

However, the world is moving at a rapid pace and there is immediate and urgent need for improved user experience, simplicity, agility and collaboration for many business processes in Finance, Purchasing, Sales and Distribution, Manufacturing, Logistics, Maintenance and others.

We bring you ZFlow for SAP in light of this immediate and urgent need as your company’s S/4HANA roadmap is taking shape. For a mere fraction of the cost of S/4HANA migration, ZFlow brings simplicity, intuitiveness, agility and collaboration capabilities that will delight business stakeholders.