As at so many other companies, Aspen was not giving data the full attention it deserved. With no clear data plan, the knock-on effect of this was evident in the company’s processes. That was, until Aspen changed tack and set up a solid data management approach. Simon van Dingstee, Supply Chain Director at Aspen, explains how the company is now reaping the benefits.

Proper input is half the battle

“Our data was often entered manually,” explains Van Dingstee. “We wanted to define in detail how we did this. First of all, we examined which data fields we actually had. We then categorised and defined them. We found that our data fields fall broadly into four categories: empty, linked, serial and special fields.”

The four data field categories defined by Aspen were:

  1. Empty fields: fields that must be left blank or are supplied externally.
  2. Linked fields: fields that depend on each other’s values. For example, if the value in field A is 12, the value of field B is always 24.
  3.  Serial fields: locked fields with a limited number of fixed selection options.
  4. Special fields: fields that cannot be checked automatically and always require a manual check.

“After defining the fields, we created “business rules” to ensure the data was entered correctly,” states Van Dingstee. “We then implemented control mechanisms to enforce the rules. Thanks to the level of standardisation we achieved with this, we were able to automate the controls as much as possible.”

“Employees became enthusiastic when they thought about how we could better organise the data processes.”

Simon van Dingstee, Supply Chain Director at Aspen Oss

The solution: supporting data management software

Van Dingstee explains that when implementing the data management approach, there are a few ingredients that are indispensable: “We use a data extraction tool to check, structure and clean up our data. We can upload our data to SAP in bulk using the Winshuttle software that Ctac supplied and implemented. We use the Winshuttle workflow solution to record data processes and automate operations. Finally, it is important that the SAP data is easily accessible and presented in an understandable manner so that everyone can work with it – including business colleagues.”

The impact: fewer errors, a reduced workload and less static

Although Aspen’s approach took some time and effort to implement, Van Dingstee states that it is now paying off. “Now that we have our data in order, the problems of the past will soon be forgotten. It goes without saying that stock numbers are correct and that purchasing and sales are running smoothly. We know this is largely because we have invested in data management.”

The problems involving incorrect invoices have virtually disappeared. This is one reason that the employees who work with SAP are now far less stressed. Van Dingstee: “They no longer need to make things add up or spend a long time searching for information. Much of the previous static has disappeared from our processes. This is especially noticeable at times when the pressure is on. Where things used to break down, processes now keep running as normal despite the pressure. This does not mean that we are done with it – there is always room for improvement.”

Find initiators and start small

Aspen has gained much from this data management initiative. Even so, every successful journey starts with a first step. “The ball began to roll because we no longer treated data management as an administrative job for someone else, but as a potential value creator.” Van Dingstee also finds it important to involve people who enjoy delving into the master data. “Personal motivation is the most important thing; knowledge of data and analytical skills are an advantage,” he states. “To gain traction and understanding within your organisation, it is advisable to have other employees working alongside your data management team.”

“Finally, don’t be frightened by the time you need to invest or the complexity involved,” states Van Dingstee. “It’s not as complicated or comprehensive as you might think. Just get started with one data set as a trial. Make sure the data set you choose is large enough. Your supplier data is a good option here. Then the added value becomes clearer sooner, because you discover links, discrepancies and patterns. Initially, this takes time, but if you do it right it will save you a lot more time in the long run. So just get started, and don’t give up too quickly.”

“Need help? Call in an expert – like Ctac. And if you want to know more about how we approached this at Aspen, please contact me. I will be happy to answer your questions.”

Aspen Oss, part of the South African Aspen Pharmacare Group, produces active ingredients for pharmaceutical companies all over the world. These APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients) are used in countless medicines. Areas of application range from contraception and anaesthesia to neurological diseases.


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