Interview with a KMAT: “Right from the start I had to carry the burden of being highly integrative”

In our profession we are used to dealing with IT systems in a sober, professional manner. We work with data structures, attributes, data entry screens and all the abstractions that are ultimately made up of only zeros and ones. But what if we were able to see more within these abstract concepts? If we were actually able to breathe life into them? How might a KMAT see the world? This imagined interview provides us with some possible answers.

I am particularly grateful to Ernst Wegener from Gebhardt Systems for his help in giving the KMAT a voice. Mr Wegener worked for many years as a consultant at SAP and has been involved with the KMAT throughout his career.

Dear KMAT, where does the term KMAT come from and what does it mean?

The KMAT was invented by SAP and stands for “configurable material”, and thus also for the central feature of the SAP R/2 and R/3 material master world. From the German “konfigurierbares Material” was formed the abbreviation KMAT, pronounced “kay-mat”.

What was your childhood like?

I grew up very quickly – in the 1970s I developed from a little sales KMAT into a universal all-rounder KMAT in just a few years, and quickly made my way into everything from construction, planning and production scheduling to purchasing.

As an SAP KMAT, I had to carry the burden of being highly integrative right from the start. No configuration was allowed without reference to a quotation or sales order. Luckily, my father, who developed me, was already incredibly far-sighted. He let me work even when there was no reference to a quotation or sales order. It was therefore no problem if I was used simultaneously, in order to test how I behaved when faced with intentional or unintentional misconfigurations.

How did you get on, and who or what influenced your career?

Well, one customer had the smart idea of using me to generate master data. That’s where my sister had to jump in: the configuration simulation. This was again only possible thanks to the foresight of our father, who included this in the simulation design right from the start.

In next to no time, terms such as high level and low level were popping up, and class nodes were being celebrated along with actions, preconditions and selection conditions.

At first, actions were still being used to help modify characteristic values, BOM items and operations suggested by me or deliberately accessed by the user. Later on it was procedures and constraints that replaced the actions and provided greater transparency and flexibility.

You talked about your family, your father and your sister. Do you have any other relatives?

Oh yes, my family has really branched out! I am, of course, very close to the material variants that I regard as my children and grandchildren. However, with increasing depth, the degree of kinship keeps decreasing, and in fact, it’s getting hard to recognise them now.

My family also includes instances and order-specific customised offshoots such as BOMs, WBS BOMs, networks and routings. Oh, I nearly forgot the specifications and maintenance task lists; I see them so rarely, they almost slipped my mind.

If I remember correctly, you are rarely referred to as KMAT in warehouses. Why is this?

This is because I am not a normal, physical material, but a smart representative for a whole family of products and often have to represent the hundreds of thousands of products and materials that can be generated from me. It is thus possible to configure whether I have to be prepared for assembly on a rail or assembled directly. And which voltages I should be designed for, what additional costs are involved with special finishes...

… so you are highly flexible?

Well yes, but always in the context of a set of rules that ensure my buildability. So yes, I am flexible, but also provide stability and consistency.

Speaking of buildability, how does that work?

For specific ordering and construction, the configuration is used to create a material variant. This can be compared to a photo that is taken of me. Some organisations actually give these photos specific material numbers. Before a new photo is taken, the archive is first searched to see if an identical photo already exists.

And these specific material numbers can then be easily found in, for example, the warehouse?

Exactly. And to ensure that the material variants really can be found in the warehouse, routings are automatically configured, and the individual items broken down into BOMs. These describe how the production has to run, and tell the purchasing staff what they have to buy.

So you really have a very complex personality!

Yes, if you like. I will take that as a compliment. Especially since I am also able to provide different profiles for individual target groups. Using a technology profile, professional engineers, for example, are able to generate designs that are much closer to the limits of feasibility than we would allow for external customers. My roots are in ERP. But I have now learned that I’m not just there to map detailed technical relationships. More and more I have to prove my skills at the interface between Sales and the customers.

Who are currently your strongest competitors and your best friends?

“Home-made” configurators with no connection to me have always made my life difficult. It is not easy to integrate this sort of high-maintenance stepchild long-term into the family circle.

I far prefer seamlessly integrated friends and relatives who enhance my skills, and get me fit for the digital era. That’s why I got to know specially developed configurators, able to generate attractive graphical front ends, map simplified sales views and even connect CAD models to me. Examples can be found in the furniture and automotive industries among others. In comparison, my traditional, purely technical use in ERP can appear difficult to understand and visually less appealing.

From the user perspective, easy-to-use, fast configurators are simply the be all and end all. For product managers and those responsible for the models, it is important that maintaining my dependencies does not require a degree in computer science.

What trends do you envisage for the near future?

Most of all I expect a further increasing digitalisation of the economy and society. And with this, the demands of my users will change. In addition, the trend towards increasing individualisation will continue. So I am facing major new challenges. At the back end I have to support standardisation and mass production, and at the same time attractively display products in batch size 1 at the customer front end. I am also required to map tasks, systems and solutions. Just recently, my display even had to be “responsive”, I had to run in the cloud and work perfectly with a whole range of mobile devices. With my technically conservative upbringing, I often find it difficult to cope with all these requirements on my own.

Fortunately, I have made friends, for example the people from encoway. They have known me for a long time and I can trust them with all my constraints, procedures and variant tables. They know how to impress the new generation of users, and dress me up smart so I can really shine in Sales and Marketing. You should take a look – it’s worth it!

Dear KMAT, I would like to thank you for this interesting interview, and wish you continued success in your career!