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Universal Workflow Access with the Workplace

by Alan Rickayzen | SAPinsider

October 1, 2000

by Alan Rickayzen, SAP AG SAPinsider - 2000 (Volume 1), October (Issue 2)
Workflow solutions have two characteristics that send consultants scrambling for the Workplace. First, workflow processes often need to accommodate two very different groups of users: small groups of very highly skilled power users (such as accountants) and a large group of occasional users (such as employees confirming that their PC has been repaired). Second, workflow processes have a tendency to expand their reach after the initial process has been implemented.

This tendency to expand is by design - and is one of the strong advantages of using workflow. Once a company successfully automates the core workflow process, it can extend the workflow definition to control the fringe areas of the process, reducing costs further. And this can be done at any time in the software lifecycle, not just during release upgrades. But this leaves the company faced with the following question: How can we integrate into the process more users - with more general needs - than were originally intended? While training is not necessarily a problem, because task descriptions will include links to online help, there are two major challenges:

  • How to enable these users without installing additional software on their PCs

  • How to make sure users work from the simplest interfaces possible

Extending the Reach of Your Workflow Without Overextending Your Resources

The Workplace, and its Workflow MiniApp, makes these challenges easy to manage. If you are already using another method for integration into SAP Business Workflow for your high-volume workflow users (such as Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Domino), this article will be helpful when it comes to deciding how to add new users to your existing process.

The Solution? and a Web Browser

For occasional users of the Workflow process - those who need to access workflow information several times per week, rather than the power users who may need workflow information several times a day - the Workplace includes a Workflow MiniApp that displays all the tasks dispatched to a user (see Figure 1). A user can process the task and research previously executed tasks directly from this MiniApp without the need for any significant additional desktop software - just a standard Web browser. So occasional users can be added to the workflow process, and you don't need to update the software on their desktops.

Figure 1 Workflow MiniApp in Workplace

In a nutshell, this is what the Workflow MiniApp offers from a standard Web browser:

  • It provides a work list showing the user's tasks awaiting execution (otherwise referred to as "work items")

  • This work list shows all tasks, irrespective of the SAP system hosting the process

  • The work list is periodically refreshed automatically

  • The work items can be processed directly irrespective of the task's intended GUI type n Users can navigate directly to other workflow information

Functional Requirements for the Workflow MiniApp

The prerequisite for this MiniApp - in addition to your Web browser - is the Workplace, including the Workplace and ITS servers for each of the SAP systems being queried for work items. The Workplace server must be at least Release 2.00. The R/3 satellite systems must be at least Release 3.1H (not a problem for most SAP customers these days). For the latest information on the Web browsers and releases that are supported by, visit the SAP Service Marketplace at

The Workflow MiniApp Mechanism

The Workflow MiniApp highlighted in Figure 1 shows the Workflow Inbox view. The Workplace can be configured to display only the MiniApps your users need, according to their roles. Users can find the MiniApp they need by scrolling up or down the screen, past the other MiniApps provided by SAP or partners. If the user doesn't expect to receive work items very often, the administrator can configure the Workflow MiniApp to display at the bottom of the list. For added convenience, users can minimize the MiniApp by selecting the yellow triangle (t) to the left of the MiniApp title. Two workflow mechanisms can be used to remind the occasional users to check their Workflow Inbox:

  1. E-mail notifications can be sent out automatically when a work item is created. This is a subscribe mechanism that gives power users the chance to unsubscribe to avoid being innundated by mails. OSS Note 131795 describes how to implement this.

    TIP: When designing e-mail notification, include the URL of the Workplace in the text of the message. Users then can link directly from the e-mail to the specific Workplace they need.

  2. Deadline handling automatically notifies users (or supervisors!) when the task has not been performed within a preset time interval. The Workflow MiniApp displays work items only. E-mail is not displayed, so there is no conflict for customers that have restrictions on which software may be used for processing e-mail. Several systems can be polled periodically to update the work list displayed in the Workflow MiniApp. You can configure the system to poll only the SAP systems that are needed by that particular user, based on the user's role. For example, an accountant will probably receive work items in a different system from someone in Purchasing, so it makes sense to configure the Workplace so that the accountant's Workplace does not waste time polling the purchasing system. And for a wider scope of information, the systems polled are not limited to R/3 systems; CRM or APO systems can also be polled, along with other SAP components.

Viewing the Work List

As you can see in Figure 2, at the top of the Workflow MiniApp there is a filter, also referred to as the "work item shuffler." If your users have small screens or need to display many MiniApps, and if space is limited for the Workflow MiniApp, you may want to configure the MiniApp so that the shuffler does not display at all. However, think twice before doing this; users with longer work item lists will find the work item shuffler very convenient. This filter allows users to select which tasks they want displayed, or to see only the work items of a particular status. For example, users can view a list of work items that they reserved, or view work items selectively - so they can look at, for example, purchase requisitions, but not the work items for travel expenses. The response of the filter is virtually instantaneous, since all the CPU processing takes place in the desktop browser and not the backend system. Again, this configuration can be done on a role-by-role basis.

Figure 2 Work List Options and the Work Item Shuffler


The Outbox tab (refer back to Figure 2) displays work items that a user has already processed. This is especially useful when users need to check the status of a process they have already been involved in. For example, if an employee has submitted a purchase order, he may wonder if it has been approved at the next level. He can look in his outbox to check on the status of the purchase order.

Resubmission Queue

By clicking on the Resubmission tab, users can display the work items they have moved to the resubmission queue. Work items can move to resubmission (automatically or manually) when it is clear that they cannot be processed immediately. For example, if a user is waiting for a surface mail response from a customer, she sends the work item to the resubmission queue for three days. However, if the customer makes a phone call, responding earlier than the three days expected, the user will need to access that queued work item immediately. She can do this by calling up the resubmission queue directly from the Resubmission tab.

Updating the Inbox

Users can select the Update button to refresh the Workflow Inbox, but most users will probably simply rely on the auto-refresh settings. In that case, they can easily scroll down to the Workflow Inbox to check the status of their work items. The advantage of the auto-refresh option is that it saves time. If the MiniApp has to poll several systems, users have an instantaneous view of their Inbox as of the latest auto-poll, without having to wait the two or three seconds that would normally be needed for a refresh. The auto-refresh rate can also be customized. The usual rate is on the order of an hour, but you can increase the auto-refresh rate or switch it off altogether.

Processing Work Items

The real beauty of the Workplace is that you can launch the work items from it directly. As you can see in Figure 3, the Workplace displays a work item in one of four ways:

  • SAP GUI for HTML

  • SAP GUI for Java

  • SAP Easy Web Transactions

  • SAP GUI for Windows

Figure 3 Four Ways to Display Work Items (from left): HTML GUI, Java GUI, Easy Web Transactions, and Windows GUI

In the Workplace, the default is set to use SAP GUI for HTML to display the standard SAP task in the browser, instead of in the SAP GUI for Windows. However, if the task is based on an Easy Web Transaction (e.g., Web forms), the corresponding Easy Web Transaction is automatically called directly, GIFs and all! You can also customize particular tasks in the workflow to run in the SAP GUI for Java or even the SAP GUI for Windows.

Users not only can execute work items from the Workplace, but they also can access most ad hoc workflow functionality: add attachments, forward work items, and inspect related business objects. In short, the Workplace makes life much easier for the occasional workflow user.

Matching the Right Workflow Solution to Your Users

While the Workflow MiniApp is very useful, it does not replace the R/3 Business Workplace. The MiniApp simply does not offer the same sort of extensive functionality. The R/3 Business Workplace is aimed at the power operator who processes many work items per day. While the Workflow MiniApp has some reduction in functionality (e.g., less sophisticated filters and context menus), this is more than offset by the simplicity of the user interface and the permanent availability of the work list in the user's Workplace.

So don't hold back on extending business process management to increase your customer's competitive edge. Expanding an existing workflow definition to encompass more of the business process - and more of the people involved in the process - is no longer held up by questions about how to efficiently give these users access to their work items. The Workplace with the Workflow MiniApp is the solution.

Alan Rickayzen has been with SAP since 1992 and in data processing since 1988. In 1995, he joined the SAP Business Workflow group, performing development work as well as consulting for various major US customers, and as a result amassed a good technical knowledge of the product. In 1998, he moved to the area of workflow product management. The author may be contacted at For more information about SAP Workflow, please visit our Web site at

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