SAP? Is up and running!


Susana Santos likes to bring order to chaos and loves clear structures. As head of IT application consulting, she oversaw implementing SAP at GEALAN. A mammoth project that needs movers and shakers. It’s good that Susana Santos likes to shake things up.

Susana Santos (43) is an early riser and very active in the morning. Her first to-do is to write a to-do list, just for that day. Susana Santos loves to-do lists. She is very good at getting things done and ticking them off. ‘It makes me feel good.’ 

IT people are often said to be nerds. Susana Santos is the exact opposite: open, communicative, endearing. The daughter of Portuguese immigrant workers had an affinity for IT at a young age. As a secondary school student, she found typing and shorthand boring and instead chose computer science, which was still an unusual subject at the beginning of the nineties. In Hof she was one of only eight seventh graders and the only girl. At sixteen, she bought her first computer, ‘with a floppy disk drive and a huge screen. I read the instructions, installed everything myself and taught myself Word and Excel.’ While other kids played Pac-Man and Tetris, Susana Santos started typing up all her exercise books, saving the contents to floppy disk and sorting them. ‘I did it just for fun.’ 

Susana Santos knew what she wanted to do after school. She wanted to study after graduating, but first she urgently wanted to work in the field. ‘After twelve years of school, I really wanted to work.’ She applied to all the big companies in the Hof region, but GEALAN was the quickest to accept her. Susana Santos became an industrial clerk and worked her way through all the departments, as is usual for trainees. ‘I still benefit from that today: I know exactly what my colleagues do, and I appreciate the personal contact.’ For Susana Santos, it was just as clear as her desire to work after school that she still wanted to study. GEALAN offered her the perfect opportunity with the dual study programme, which at that time was still called ‘study with in-depth practice’. After her apprenticeship, she studied business administration at the Hof University of Applied Sciences from 2001 onwards, working at GEALAN during the semester breaks and both practical semesters. ‘That way I always earned money and could finance my studies myself.’  

Susana Santos likes to think outside the box. Although she was studying business administration with a focus on marketing and controlling, she spontaneously said ‘Yes!’ when she was asked at GEALAN if she would like to try her hand at IT. ‘It wasn’t just a matter of setting up a computer, but of finding creative solutions. When co-workers have a problem in their workflow, we had to figure out how to solve it as cleverly as possible with the help of IT. I found that exciting.’ A scheduling system for customer orders, a feedback system for production that reports quantities, rejects, times, an upgrade for the LFS warehouse management system – Susana Santos was getting deeper and deeper into IT and never strayed from it ever since. ‘The fact that I didn’t study computer science is not a disadvantage: I see a lot of things from the business and marketing side. It helps me see the bigger picture, not just IT topics in themselves. And there are experts in the team for programming.’ Susana Santos is already writing her diploma thesis on a topic that will determine her professional future: SAP.  

In 2005, with her business administration diploma in her pocket, Susana Santos joined GEALAN as assistant to the IT division manager. In 2007, GEALAN started working with SAP solutions – initially in the commercial area and materials management. The broad introduction of SAP at GEALAN took several years and involved an investment of about 10 million euros. The largest IT project GEALAN has ever implemented became Susana Santos’ speciality. Preparations began at the headquarters in Oberkotzau in 2016. The objective of introducing SAP was to replace the ageing ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software and turn it into the central software for GEALAN to manage, control and plan almost all business processes and information flows in its supply chain. There is a suitable SAP module for each area from orders to delivery and invoicing. If a customer places an order with GEALAN, an order is created in SAP. If the goods are produced from scratch instead of being delivered from stock, the production order is created in SAP and the delivery is scheduled. When the goods are en route to the customer, SAP reports that the invoice can be created. The system also registers incoming and outgoing payments. ‘The only break in the system is picking. We wanted to continue to rely on our warehouse management system, which works very well and is tailored to us.’  

Susana Santos is an optimist. ‘I always had the advantages SAP offers us in mind: a modern user interface that is much nicer to work with than old-fashioned green screens, as well as the intuitive menu navigation, the better availability of data and easier work. I no longer have to click and scroll through segment numbers. I finally see all information, like all orders of a customer, immediately.’ SAP is an integrated system, which means that every change at the beginning of the chain immediately results in changes further down the chain. A new sales order directly triggers a planned order in production. Of course, SAP also enables true automation. A term that makes some people think of rationalisation and fear for their jobs. ‘That’s why it was incredibly important for us to involve all employees right from the start, to explain to everyone that they will of course continue to be needed.’ Like many important GEALAN projects, the SAP implementation does not run top-down. The project staff, called key users, come from all departments and undergo further training on SAP. They incorporate expertise from their department into SAP. In other words, they stipulate what should be included and how. They also act as multipliers in their department by explaining to their colleagues how to use the SAP software and by answering questions. ‘Such change management is important’, says Susana Santos. ‘We shape change together.’  


There are people who wait for things to come to them, but not Susana Santos. She is a consummate planner. When she travels, which she loves to do with her family, she starts by doing a lot of research on what everyone in the family wants to experience. Then she meticulously plans out every day of the holiday – in Excel, of course: arrival in Antwerp at 9 a.m., city centre, city hall, cathedral, lunch at the Wafflehouse, 2 p.m. departure for Calais, ferry to Dover, then White Cliffs, etc. This way, every day of the holiday is used perfectly. A great holiday trip consists of a list of successive actions. Susana Santos approached SAP in a very similar manner. At the beginning there was a comprehensive analysis; then the large-scale project of introducing SAP was broken down into smaller actions that were processed step by step. ‘You can’t forget anything in this phase. All departments have to do their part. The colleagues have a lot of information in their heads, in Excel tables, in Word documents. We had to extract all that information (how do you work? What are your processes like?) and then integrate it into the software so that it ultimately does what we want.’  

Next was the blueprint phase. The SAP project team wrote a concept for each SAP module, tested everything extensively and trained employees. Only after making absolutely sure that everything was right was data transferred from the old to the new system. Then the employees were activated as users and items were transferred from the old system. Then came the big moment: the go-live in Oberkotzau on 1 January 2019. ‘I arrived very early; a bit nervous of course. We had a precise cutover plan, when which action would be transferred from the old system to SAP, and of course a fallback plan that would have brought our old system back up and running, just in case things went wrong.’ The first customer order is in progress. The first delivery is on its way. ‘Step by step we moved forward. Such a changeover is no small matter. The project team spent weeks looking over the shoulders of colleagues, solving problems.’ Good preparation and close support paid off! The changeover to SAP worked and became a huge success – and Susana Santos was promoted to group leader in IT application consulting in 2019.  

GEALAN is also rolling out SAP in its international affiliates, starting with Croatia in 2020, followed by France, Poland and Romania in annual increments; GEALAN BALTIC will follow in 2025. Since 2021, Susana Santos has overseen the SAP implementation project. It is important to her that the rollout always takes place on equal footing. ‘Sure, we standardise our IT processes so that we all speak the same IT language, but that’s not a one-way street. We also get input from our foreign colleagues: Poland was much further ahead than we are in terms of digitalisation. Their order entry was almost completely electronic. Of course, we learn from that.’ 

According to Susana Santos, the introduction of SAP is not just about ones and zeros, but about the people who work with it. For 2024, she is planning a meeting with all key users from all GEALAN locations. ‘My goal is for us to really grow together as a team, to get to know each other and to exchange ideas. IT projects can also be managed internationally, so I see great new opportunities.’ Susana Santos is convinced that SAP accelerates business processes, and speed allows GEALAN to grow even faster. ‘Of course, SAP is never finished’, she says. ‘We are constantly improving software and processes, for example, on a large scale, with a cloud solution for our  customer relationship management and a new SAP module for toolmaking, on a smaller scale, with improved container management and electronic package information. These are just four of many examples.’ In 2024, GEALAN will switch to   S4/HANA, the next SAP technology with more storage space, an even more modern interface and new functions: Traditional transactions will become apps. For example, analysing data for sales will then work via app, even mobile.  

SAP? Runs smoothly at GEALAN. Every last SAP hook is in place and more will follow. Everything on Susana Santos’ To-Do list becomes reality. 


Marc Schenk


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