GIS Blog Series – Part 3: The System of Record

This is the third in a series of blogs designed to address Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in conjunction with SAP. We will do this by addressing the most important customer challenges.

Almost every customer we work with raises the question of the “System of Record”. What is the “System of Record” and why is it important?

System of Record (SOR) defines the system responsible for maintaining the true representation of an asset or a portion of the asset. This system maintains the “true definition” of the asset for the organization.

  • SOR is vital in defining the most cost-efficient path for system integration.

    • For example, a map based business application like SAP Work Manager should get spatial data from GIS, and asset data from SAP, without intermediaries.

  • To reduce system complexity, data entry should occur in the SOR and flow out to the end users of the system.

Many people could say that their system of record is SAP, or that their system of record is GIS. However, there’s not necessarily a way to govern data without an interface comprising a) a data transfer mechanism and b) data controls on each side.  Data governance ends up being more dependent on training or people following the business process, but sometimes it’s hard to establish that business process or even enforce it.  Even though one system is deemed the system of record, you’re maintaining the data in multiple places.

With an interface, the opportunity presents itself to enforce the system of record by:

  • Identifying the system of record at the individual field level

  • Identifying the source system which supplied the data

  • Creating/updating fields received from the system of record in other systems

  • Hiding fields or making fields uneditable in the non “System of Record” system

  • Programmatically enforcing system of record processing

  • Capturing interface processing for subsequent audit purposes

GIS or SAP: Which is the System of Record?

  • Both systems may own certain attributes specific to an asset

  • In many cases, attributes will overlap across systems

  • Currently, SAP trends to be the System of Record for assets

Sample Scenarios for System of Record

An example for identifying and acting upon the system of record:

The following is a portion of a production mapping table for a live GIS to SAP interface, with the “System of Record” indicated in the LAM Owner column (G=GIS, S=SAP).

Every field passed by the interface resides in the mapping table with the SOR field populated.  The two highlighted fields are examples of system of record ownership.  As can be expected, asset geometry is owned by the GIS system and passed to SAP, where it can be stored in characteristic fields or forwarded to some other GIS reporting system (i.e. GEF).  SAP will not be permitted to update the geometry field.  On the other hand, SAP_ID (i.e. equipment number) is owned by SAP and will never be updated by the GIS system.  The interface program must consider the contents of the SOR field prior to creating or altering fields in the respective systems.  If the geometry entry was inadvertently updated in SAP, the next time that record was processed by the interface program, the correct GIS value would be restored.  The same would hold true in the reverse direction with the SAP_ID.

How to designate the “System of Record”

On the surface, deriving the “System of Record” could be viewed as a simple process, but a great deal of thought and effort must be expended to get it right.  The field mapping exercise should identify all relevant fields passed by the interface, including any transforms required.  Once the fields are identified, the ownership column should be marked accordingly.  Lastly, the interface program should be developed in such a fashion to take the ownership column into consideration prior to creating or updating asset records.  Once all the above steps are completed, “System of Record” identification will assure the correct data resides in both the SAP and GIS systems.

“System of Record” on steroids

Another technology you could apply to the above scenario is master data governance.  Master data governance or a master data governance tool that sits on top of SAP can also control where data comes from and what data gets updated from different systems.  It has the capability to control the master data that gets through the interface, making sure it’s compliant with all the standards, whether that’s system of record, allowed values or anything of the sort.  It enforces those records with both automated and manual checks.  Ultimately, it helps to keep not only the systems in sync, but your business and data standards enforced.


Regardless of your approach (i.e. manual or programmatic) for implementing and enforcing the “System of Record” strategy, the concept is necessary to assure the “true” system that owns the data is identified and that safeguards are implemented to assure the data is never compromised.

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