Enterprise systems: Wella Corp. ‘shuttles’ production data into SAP

By Control Engineering Staff March 15, 2007

Linking the production floor with business systems is no simple task. Creating and updating business systems that use production data requires access to real data and frequent testing. Wella Corp., a worldwide leader in the hair care, cosmetics and fragrances industries, uses SAP R/3 modules to manage its business functions, and its IT team needs to constantly adapt and develop new modules and interfaces.

The company recently got a boost in agility and productivity through a tool that lets them run tests with actual production data as they make changes to their applications. ‘It saves a lot of heartache,’ says Gregory Nelson, manager of the SAP Technical Competency Center at Wella.

Part of Wella’s testing practice is to do a complete client-copy of data three times a year, replicating the production environment into the testing ‘sandbox.’ However, until recently, there was no way to quickly test changes directly in development without manually entering data. Manual data entry requires managers dedicate time to keying credible information into the system. For example, because Wella sells products through large distributor stores and national salon accounts, a single ‘sold to’ account could represent hundreds of ‘ship to’ addresses. These ship-to addresses are related data of each sold-to account. To test an order with this configuration, a manager might spend several days entering data.

Wella installed InfoShuttle from Gamma Enterprises Technology to help short-circuit this process and gain the ability to run frequent tests right in development. The shuttle is configured to move data directly from the production environment into SAP-appropriate format. In the case of customer records, InfoShuttle knows to bring along the customer partner data automatically. This means the team can test its code immediately upon completing a change in the application.

Moving data with the shuttle takes only a few minutes and the information coming over to development is as current as the system in production, says Nelson. But the most significant gains have come from the ability to reuse the shuttles to reload development or QA systems as often as needed.

‘I would say that InfoShuttle has become an invaluable part of our SAP operations and it saves a lot of heartache,’ says Nelson. ‘It gets us real life data. This is not some mock data keyed into test, where there are vital pieces of the record missing or chances of mismatch. This is data that is from production, so it is exactly the data that we have to deal with, as in the live system.’

The tool also brings along relational data. ‘This has saved countless hours,’ says Nelson. ‘We are able to routinely move up to 15,000 materials from production to development in a background process that takes between two and three hours to run. Just being able to use a shuttle over and over, we are saving countless days in testing. It only takes seconds to move each individual customer, or minutes to move hundreds of materials and all the dependent data. If I had to do this manually or use BDCs, for example, it would take literally hours or days.’

Wella has used InfoShuttle to speed up the testing associated with merging the SAP system from a recent acquisition, as well as for testing its EDI (electronic data interchange) subsystem and other key SAP processes.

— Renee Robbins , editorial director, Control Engineering