One of the central goals of mySAP.com
is, of course, to help your organization work better with business partners
over the Internet. To achieve this, R/3 systems work in conjunction with
the four basic mySAP.com deliverables:
- mySAP.com Workplace, the portal solution for employees, partners,
- mySAP.com Marketplace, which offers horizontal and vertical
- SAP Collaborative Business (c-Business) Scenarios
- Application hosting
The underlying system that connects these
elements is the Internet-Business Framework (IBF), which you will see
referred to in technology overviews of mySAP.com. The SAP IBF is what
provides the open environment and flexibility you need to work with other
organizations across the Internet. This article describes some of the
tools, services, and resources you can choose from as you Web-enable your
From the Business Framework to the
Back in 1996, SAP introduced the Business
Framework to provide open interfaces (BAPIs) to all SAP components,
and to enable many complementary software partners to make use of these
interfaces. There are now more than 2,000 interfaces available and more
than 600 software partners with certified complementary solutions.
With the advent of mySAP.com in 1999,
this framework was extended to become the Internet-Business Framework,
based on Internet technology and standards. The goal was to provide ease
of access, change, and collaboration for business communities, yet to
do so in a way that allows every collaborating party to have its own choice
of hardware, operating system, programming language, etc. No specific
software (apart from standard Internet technology, such as Web browsers,
Web servers, and XML parsers) needs to be installed.
This is critically important, since from
a business point of view, collaborating parties may belong to the same
global enterprise, to the same industry, or to the same community - but
they could also belong to very different industries.
To give just one example, let's look at
real estate management (something that practically every organization
has to deal with on some level), modeled in Figure 1. With the
various interactions needed to plan, construct, finance, buy, sell, rent,
or maintain real estate, you end up with complex relationships between
very different industries and sectors: construction, the public sector,
banking, insurance, and utilities.
||Multiparty Collaboration: Real Estate Management
SAP Actively Supports XML Standards
True collaboration between business partners over the Internet
requires common languages and vocabularies, and SAP is very active
in a number of consortia for both technical and application-related
On the technical side, SAP is an active member of W3C and has contributed
to the XML schema standard. SAP also supports the standardization
efforts of Microsoft's BizTalk.org, as well as XML.ORG, which is
operated by OASIS.
As a member of the Workflow Management Coalition, SAP has actively
contributed to the creation and evolution of WF-XML for Web-based
interoperability between heterogeneous workflow systems.
On the application and business side, SAP supports a wide range
of XML. For example, SAP is an architect partner in RosettaNet,
the well-known consortium for business collaboration in the high-tech
industry. As a result of this partnership with leading high-tech
companies, SAP has set up, and gone live with, RosettaNet-based
business processes for buying hardware equipment.
SAP is also active in multiple industry-specific XML standards
groups in industries such as automotive, oil and gas, engineering
and construction, and insurance.
In the horizontal domains covered by SAP application components,
there are also many standardization activities. For example, SAP
supports and implements XML standards in HR, including job postings
and candidate profiles. At the same time, standards creation and
implementation are moving forward in the SAP Financials area (with
the IFX Forum) and for XML business reporting (in the XBRL Consortium).
Since, for the moment, the industry must live with multiple XML
formats for some common business processes and documents in the
areas of buying, selling, catalog management, and so on, good facilities
for mapping and conversion between different flavors of XML are
needed. With the Business Connector, SAP provides good mapping support
for straightforward scenarios. More sophisticated conversion solutions
can be built with certified partner products - for example, from
Mercator and Viewlocity.
The Fundamental Concept: XML-Based
XML, perhaps the most important Web standard
for application development and collaboration, provides many of the features
that are so essential to open and flexible cooperation between independent
systems and businesses - especially considering the complex relationships
that so many organizations have with their business partners. To help
its customers collaborate with business partners, SAP has already taken
several steps to embrace these Internet standards, among others:
- XML schema for description
- DOM for application access
- XSLT for transformation
An Internet service is defined by receiving
an XML request message and producing an XML response message. This can
happen in a synchronous or asynchronous way. The requester and the server
can sit anywhere on the Internet. The new XML-based paradigm for distributed
systems opens up a whole universe of opportunities.
In contrast to today's HTML-based services,
XML-based services allow for a separation of content and presentation,
so they are easily personalized and adapted to various devices, portals,
XML-based Internet services offer a wealth
of possibilities for collaborative and online business scenarios. These
services can encompass typical business functions. For example, any given
organization and its partners can use the Internet to handle normal, everyday
needs for order creation, availability checks, credit-limit checks, and
pricing calculations. There are Internet services for document search,
mail, calendar handling, access to job offerings, and financial reports.
All provide easy and efficient content-sharing between enterprises and
Internet services, in fact, now often
replace local databases and file systems for certain types of content.
They provide information about the existence, location, and signature
of other Internet services, and can be transformed and composed into applications,
workflows, and higher-level Internet services. Marketplaces and business
hubs provide opportunities for hosting executable services directly, but
also allow you to host service directories that provide lookup and connection
to services from others in the Internet community.
Building Blocks of the Internet-Business Framework
The major building blocks and new services
that SAP has already delivered to support the Internet-Business Framework
- mySAP.com Workplace integration for partners
- Business Connector n XML-based certificatio
- SAP Interface Repository
- SAP Internet Adviser
These building blocks provide the technology,
knowledge, and services that are needed to set up SAP c-Business Scenarios
and leverage all the rich business functionality of the various mySAP.com
Workplace Integration for Partners
Not only does the mySAP.com Workplace
provide the main entry point to all dialog applications from SAP, it is
also a platform for the integration of partner products and services.
While the first generation of BAPI-based integration was based mainly
on backend, server-to-server interaction and was therefore invisible (for
the most part) to the end user, now partner applications can be a visible
part of the mySAP.com Workplace. This Workplace integration is a new opportunity
and benefit for mySAP.com partners.²
On the backend side, the SAP Business
Connector provides XML-based access to all existing interfaces of all
SAP components: BAPIs, IDocs, and RFCs. The SAP Business Connector is
shown in Figure 2. The Business Connector takes care of conversion
between the XML format and SAP internal formats such as RFC and IDoc.
It also supports graphical mapping to other formats, along with administration
of routing information to and from business partners. More sophisticated
extensions can be built and integrated with Java programming.
In its basic version, the Business Connector
is free of charge for all SAP customers, and allows them to connect their
components and applications to the Internet.³
||SAP Business Connector and Online Help
XML-Based Certification of Complementary Software
SAP has extended its software partner
certification program to leverage the ease and flexibility of HTTP/XML-based
connectivity provided by the Internet-Business Framework. Now, with mySAP.com,
certification and integration of software partner products and services
no longer require SAP's partners to install or maintain SAP-specific code.
On the other hand, existing certifications still remain valid, and current
integration solutions can still be used with the Internet-Business Framework.
SAP Interface Repository
To streamline interface development, the
SAP Interface Repository offers you a central location for all SAP interfaces.
The Interface Repository pulls together interfaces from all SAP components
in all versions and places them on one Web site. The structure of each
interface is provided as an XML schema as well as an XML template document.
You can access the Interface Repository at http://service.sap.com/ifr.
The templates and schemas in the SAP Interface
Repository are accessible via HTTP and can be interpreted without any
additional proprietary software. Partners and customers can easily navigate
through the Interface Repository, download interface descriptions, and
create or generate program code based on these descriptions.4
WebFlow is SAP's extension and enhancement
of SAP Business Workflow, SAP's proven standard workflow system, in order
to cover the needs of Internet-based business processes. WebFlow is designed
to support collaboration over the Internet. Figure 3 shows an example
of the WebFlow Builder, which is used to create WebFlow process definitions.
A WebFlow process can include:
- Work items that are accessible over the Internet
- Creation, sending, and receiving of XML messages
- Dialog work items for any type of person or role in the enterprise
- Automatic work items executed by the system based on the evaluation
of business rules
mySAP.com WebFlows can be started and
monitored via XML messages, and can also return their results in XML format.
These capabilities are based on WF-XML, which is an open XML standard
developed by the Workflow Management Coalition for the interaction of
workflow systems and applications, regardless of vendor and system platform.
WebFlow work items are URL-addressable and can be processed by any target
recipient over the Internet. This means that you can easily send and distribute
references to work items via e-mail.
WebFlow technology provides an easy way
to define and change processes, using a graphical representation, without
programming. Some examples include:
- You can add additional steps or change the sequence of steps in any
given workflow process.
- You can use the WebFlow configuration tool to change assignments
of responsibilities to people, groups, or roles.
- You can send notifications about important events via e-mail.
WebFlow work items provide easy case-based status tracking, quality monitoring,
reduced cycle times, and greatly enhanced information flow between all
participants of a business process. WebFlow work items are found in many
of SAP's published c-Business Scenarios.
To give an example, let's take an issue
that comes up frequently in manufacturing: "deviation of quality." In
this case, the manufacturer can send an e-mail that includes a URL reference
to a work item. He can ask the customer to accept or reject a deviation
of quality that occurred during production. The customer, no matter what
systems or applications she uses, can process this work item on the manufacturer's
system from her own browser, and therefore can directly influence further
processing in the WebFlow on the producer's side.
In the mySAP.com Workplace, all work items
from all systems and components in a mySAP.com system infrastructure are
pulled together and offered through one single WebFlow MiniApp in the
mySAP.com Workplace. This WebFlow MiniApp offers all currently open work
items to a given person in a given role. By clicking on one of the work
items that appears in the MiniApp, you start the corresponding business
application without any need to sign on and navigate to a specific business
system. This means that mySAP.com users no longer have to look in various
places for a single particular open work item.5
||mySAP.com WebFlow Builder, Based on SAP Business Workflow
SAP Internet Adviser
The Internet Adviser is a central loca-tion
for the basic information you need to implement SAP's c-Business Scenarios
and online applications generally. The main purpose is to support the
actual implementation and configuration work of consultants and customers.
But it is also a reference source for the Internet technology that is
needed, and provided, in the mySAP.com context. The latest version can
always be accessed online through the Service Marketplace at http://service.sap.com/internetadviser.
For easy offline use, you can obtain the CD version of the Internet Adviser
at the same Service Marketplace site.6
The Internet-Business Framework is the
technical foundation of mySAP.com. It relies on Web standards like HTTP
and XML for open collaboration between different platforms and components.
Users, developers, and partners can use the resources of the Internet-Business
Framework - including its tools, guidelines, and partner program - for
easy and flexible collaboration in Internet business scenarios.
|¹ For more information on the resources or organizations described
here, see the "Resources and References" listed
at the end of this article.
| ² Partners can find
details on Workplace integration in the
Partner ValueNet section of www.sap.com/partner
and at the recently created SAP Service Marketplace at http://service.sap.com.
(For more information, see "A Tour of SAP's Online Service Marketplace" in
this issue of SAP Insider.)
|³ The Business Connector
is based on technology provided by webMethods.
To download the free version, visit http://service.sap.com/connectors.
|4 For more information on the Interface
Repository, see the article by Anton Deimel in this issue of SAP Insider.
more information on worklist e-mail notification
and managing worklists in the Workflow
MiniApp, see Alan Rickayzen's article "Universal Workflow Access with the mySAP.com
Workplace" in this issue of SAP Insider.
Peter Ludwig's "SAP Internet Adviser:
Your Guide to Implementing Business Scenarios with mySAP.com" in
this issue of SAP Insider.
Franz J. Fritz has a Ph.D. in mathematics
and 30 years of experience in all areas of
IT. Workflow and business process management
have been particular areas of interest for
much of his life. He has worked for SAP since
1993 as program director and vice president
with responsibility for the Business Process
Technology and Internet-Business Framework