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Achieving Successful Business Collaboration Using SAP C-Business Scenarios

by Cay Rademann | SAPinsider

January 1, 2001

by Cay Rademann, SAP AG SAPinsider - 2001 (Volume 2), January (Issue 1)
 

How do you begin to implement successful business collaboration across often very different enterprises? SAP gives you a starting point with templates for these partnerships in Collaborative Business Scenarios (C-Business Scenarios).

It’s no secret that the Internet offers great opportunities for improved communication and integration of very different enterprises — an opportunity for collaboration of business partners that promises higher value for both the partners themselves and their customers. But how do you begin to implement such collaboration? SAP gives you a place to start with templates for these partnerships: Collaborative Business Scenarios.

     These C-Business Scenarios are processes that transcend the borders of individual enterprises by using Internet technology and services to involve multiple parties and people. In C-Business Scenarios, each participant is assigned a specific role and performs a set of defined activities.

     Implementing C-Business Scenarios not only requires frontend integration between business partners, it also involves the integration of partners’ backend systems. For example, if a customer orders a product at your Web site, fulfillment and delivery requires integration with your logistics execution system. It could also mean integration with your finance system for control of the payment process, or with your business intelligence system for viewing information needed for your reporting efforts.

     This article outlines crucial issues that you and your partners must consider when planning this level of integration — from the basic decisions you need to make with your partners before implementation, to the components and applications that SAP and partners offer to facilitate successful business collaboration.

A Sample C-Business Scenario Until recently, most application implementation projects focused on customizing local business applications to support a business process within a single company. However, the focus of the implementation of SAP C-Business Scenarios has now shifted toward integration between business partners, where cross-company process flows and interfaces then become more important, and drive the local implementation projects of the participating partners. For these reasons, C-Business Scenarios require new ways of running implementation projects.

     SAP has developed more than 80 scenarios for various industries, and makes them available at www.sap.com/c-bs. Examples of C-Business Scenarios include scenarios for buying/selling and collaborative planning, and the collaborative engineering scenario shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 A C-Business Scenario for Collaborative Engineering and Project Management

     In this scenario, the manufacturer owns the project, and is collaborating with a client of the company and an application development partner. The scenario shown in Figure 1 facilitates the exchange of information and knowledge between the manufacturer and its external development partners. Via the Internet, the manufacturer sends documents, projects, and product structures to chosen development partners for further processing. These partners can then comment on, modify, and evaluate these objects, and, if desired, transfer them back to the manufacturer. In this scenario, the manufacturer also updates the client on the project status in order to verify acceptance and check for specification conformity.

     After you select the business partner you want to collaborate with, integrating your business processes involves three steps:

  • First, you and your business partner have to agree on how you want to collaborate, i.e., the process flow.
  • Second, you must address how you want to integrate your processes.
  • Finally, each partner has to implement parts of the scenario on its own systems.

Step 1: Negotiating the Process Flow

Once you have selected a business partner for collaboration, the project will start with negotiations to define the exact process flow of the business scenario. At this stage, you and your partner determine which activities are involved in the scenario, which partner has to perform each activity, and in which sequence the activities will be executed.

     This includes both the “business-as-usual” scenario flow and the inevitable exceptions. For example, if your business partner is a supplier, it is possible that, due to stock shortages, your partner can deliver only a partial order. Will you accept this, or will the entire order be canceled? Both you and your partner also need to define service levels for each activity (e.g., How much time does the partner have to confirm or neglect an order?) and specify what will happen if a service level is not met (e.g., Will the partner have to pay a penalty, or will the whole order be canceled?).

Step 2: Integration
Browser- or Message-Based Integration?

Whenever the process flow of the scenario switches from one partner to another, some integration is required. Since there are multiple types of integration, you have to decide which type to use. You first need to decide whether integration will be browser- or message-based.

     With browser-based integration, one partner uses a Web browser for online access to the other partner’s system. This enables the first partner to read information from this system or to perform transactions directly on the system.

     In Figure 1, the client uses a Web browser to access the manufacturer’s system. From there, the client can obtain information about the project status and the final review. With browser-based integration, the information is only available in the system of one partner and is not automatically transferred to the second partner’s system. In this case, the client’s staff will have to manually retype the manufacturer’s information into their own system if they require that data.

     With message-based integration, the systems communicate directly with each other. This message exchange automates information/data processing, which can help reduce the number of errors caused when you have to manually input the information. (See the section on “Messaging.”)

     However, the complexity of message-based integration is higher than browser-based integration. With message-based integration, you must define all processing logic in the systems. In contrast, with browser-based integration, at least part of the process logic is performed by user intervention and does not need to be implemented on the system.

Synchronous or Asynchronous Communication?

When planning the integration of processes with your business partners, you must determine whether the communication between organizations will be synchronous or asynchronous.

     With synchronous communication, the sender and receiver can have a continuous dialog with each other and can respond immediately to the messages of their partners. With asynchronous communication, the receiver cannot respond to a message directly, but instead has to create a new message and return it separately.

     The big advantage of asynchronous communication is that the sender is independent of the availability of the receiving system. The sender can finish an activity — even if the partner system is momentarily unable to receive the message that triggers further processing of the scenario down the line. This is not possible for synchronous integration, where you are more dependent on the technical infrastructure of your business partner.

Point-to-Point or Marketplace Connection? Another consideration that will determine the type of integration is whether the connections between the partners are direct point-to-point, or via a marketplace.

     With point-to-point connections, you implement the technical integration individually for each of your business partners. On one hand, this gives you the flexibility to install the connection according to special requirements of a partner. On the other hand, it will become laborious if you want to connect to multiple partners.

     The other alternative is a marketplace connection, which can work as a central hub. All business partners only need to set up a connection to one central destination, even if they are dealing with many partners. A marketplace provides not only the technical integration but also additional services for supporting the business scenario. The downside is that marketplace connections are not as flexible as point-to-point connections. This is because you may be restricted by the marketplace provider’s rules and standards, which may prevent you from adapting your processes to the special requirements of an individual partner.

Browser- or Message-Based Interface?

Based on the type of integration you choose, you and your partners also must agree on the interfaces that will be used for transferring information. This information is required for the implementation process, and includes both the syntax (the format) and the semantic (the meaning of the data) of the interface.

     For browser-based interfaces, you will have to define which data and functions are available online. Message-based interfaces, on the other hand, require a detailed description of the messages to be exchanged. For this, you can use eXtensible Markup Language (XML) as an open standard. But since a large number of possible XML messages exist, you and your partners will still need to define the structure and content of the messages. You both must come to an agreement about which fields to use and what the content of each field will contain.

     To integrate with business partners using message-based interfaces, some standardization might also be required. This can be done using standards provided by software providers or standards organizations, such as SAP, RosettaNet, ANSI, or ISO. SAP, for example, publishes its XML interfaces in the SAP Interface Repository at http://ifr.sap.com (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 The SAP Interface Repository

Step 3: Local Implementation

The results of your negotiations are of paramount importance because they are the foundation of the local scenario implementation. Each partner has to make sure that the results of the negotiations are implemented, as agreed on (at its local systems), and that they are integrated with other processes within the company. This involves the customizing of both the technical infrastructure and the application processing.

How to Achieve Browser-Based SAP Integration

The foundation for browser-based access to SAP systems is the SAP Internet Transaction Server (ITS). The Its converts SAP screens into HTML format, making it possible to access SAP functionality via the Internet. The SAP ITS is used by the SAP GUI for HTML, by Internet Application Components (IACs), and by the mySAP Workplace.

SAP GUI for HTML

By using the SAP GUI for HTML, the majority of SAP transactions and reports can be executed via a Web browser without any additional programming or conversion work. If you install the SAP GUI for HTML and create a user with the appropriate authorizations, your partner can access a transaction online in your system via a Web browser using a specific URL.

Internet Application Components

Additionally, you can use special Web transactions like Internet Application Components, which you can adapt to your own requirements by using templates and flow logic. Templates and flow logic enable you to adjust the functionality to your corporate design and to special requirements in the process flow.

mySAP Workplace

If your partner has to perform different functions on your systems, you can also use the mySAP Workplace to offer an outward-facing portal to your partner. Via a single URL, users can access all required functionality instead of handling multiple URLs for multiple functions (see Figure 3). For this, you would install the mySAP Workplace server, define a specific role for the partner in the mySAP Workplace, and then assign the required transactions and authorizations to this role.

     The partner accessing the system does not need to install any additional software other than the Web browser. Messaging Message-based integration uses either XML or e-mail messages.

Figure 3 The mySAP Workplace

XML Messages

XML messages can be used for a direct machine-to-machine connection (to directly update information from one system to another). To achieve this, the systems of both partners have to be able to process XML messages — the XML message contains the information required by the partner system for continuing the processing of the scenario. But XML messages can also be used if only one system supports XML, because the messages can be displayed in Web browsers, or can be created using Web forms. So XML can be used for user-to-system connections (e.g., manual data entry) as well.

     For XML messaging, SAP provides the SAP Business Connector (BC). This tool supports the sending and receiving of XML documents for all major SAP interfaces (BAPIs, IDocs, and RFCs). The SAP Business Connector is available for all SAP customers from R/3 Release 3.1G onward and can be downloaded from the SAP Service Marketplace free of charge at http://service.sap.com/connectors.

     The SAP Business Connector sends and receives SAP-XML messages. If another XML message is required, special mapping is necessary. This can be done either directly in the SAP Business Connector or by using third-party mapping tools certified by SAP.

E-Mail Messages

Another approach to messaging is via e-mail. In this approach, e-mail messages are sent to the business partner’s e-mail system. Since most business partners have their own e-mail systems, they can easily use this kind of integration. In most cases, e-mail is used for sending information to users. Machine-to-machine connection via e-mail is also possible, since some application systems also support sending and receiving e-mail. However, for application systems, it is much easier to interpret the contents of XML messages than of e-mail. So the main reason to use e-mail for messaging in business scenarios will be system-to-user integration — in other words, to send automatic updates to users.

     In general, an e-mail message contains its information in the body of the message. But e-mail can also be used to transfer URL links to specific Web pages or to send further information as attachments. The SAP Business Communication Center (previously known as SAPoffice) provides the required functionality for creating, sending, and receiving e-mail messages between collaborating business partners.

Security

Security is an important issue for all Internet scenarios. You need to address issues such as secure communication channels, authentication, authorization, and the provision of evidence of the business transactions.

Secure Communication Channels

For secure communication channels, you can use Internet standards like Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or firewalls, and Secure Network Configuration (SNC), a security layer included in the SAP system architecture. These technologies are supported by SAP application components, as well as by the SAP Business Connector and the SAP Internet Transaction Server.

Authentication and Authorization

In addition to secure communication, you must ensure that only the right people can access the systems and that they can use only the functions you specify. Authentication — making sure the right person is accessing your system — is accomplished through a combination of user ID and password. Digital certificates can be used as well to allow single sign-on to multiple systems via the mySAP Workplace. The authorization of the different users — making sure a user accesses only the data and functions he or she is allowed to — is implemented by assigning roles to the user and authorization objects to the roles. The roles define which transactions the user may use on the system, and the authorization objects define which information the user may access.

     For example, you may specify that a partner can only retrieve information about the orders that it has created at your system, and not get any information about the orders of one of its competitors who is also one of your business partners. This can be achieved by following SAP’s authorization procedures. With the correct authorizations, you can make sure that users get permission to display only information belonging to their own customer or vendor number on your system.

     To avoid disputes over a business transaction, you can use the digital signature services in the C-Business Scenario. Digital signatures specifically identify the “signer” of a digital document and also protect the integrity of the document. With digital signatures, you can also state that a partner has created a document with specific content (for example, an approval of a request), or you can confirm each party’s obligation to the terms of the document (for example, the terms of a contract).

Process Control

The implementation of a scenario is more than just setting up interfaces and securing the connections between the systems. It also involves customized processing of your business applica- tions. It is important that the process of the whole scenario runs smoothly and that it is integrated with your other processes. For example, if you receive an order from a business partner, you need to make sure that related processes like availability checks, credit limit checks, and pricing processing work correctly. For this, you must perform the required customizing of your system. These settings are specific to the selected scenario and application.

Triggers for Message Processing

To keep your system up to date, determine the appropriate trigger for message processing. The sending system always has to create and send a message when a specific event has occurred in the scenario (e.g., if you have created a purchase order, send the order to the supplier). Likewise, the receiving system has to make sure that the right processing begins when a message arrives (e.g., when an order comes in, it triggers an availability check and an order confirmation). SAP offers tools that can be used to trigger messages: WebFlow (an enhancement of SAP Business Workflow), Application Link Enabling (ALE), and WebProjector.

Long-Term Planning: Troubleshooting Measures

Exceptions

Even if everything is set up correctly, some exceptions can occur when running the scenario. These could be due to technical problems, like connection failures, or for business reasons, such as a business partner that cannot confirm an order in time. So, during pre-implementation, it is very important to install an exception-handling process as well. SAP Business Workflow can be used to check if any exception has occurred, and to start the required processing for dealing with it.

     In any case, since you cannot anticipate all the possible reasons for exceptions, it will also be necessary to set up organizational rules in addition to the technical implementation of the exception handling.

Monitoring Processes

After implementation, you will want to have monitoring processes in place to check the activities in the scenario — from both the technical and business side. SAP provides different tools for this. The technical monitoring can be done with the Computing Center Management System (CCMS). For monitoring system security, SAP provides the Security Audit Log and an Audit Information System. And for monitoring of the business processes and the service levels defined with your business partner, you can use tools like the SAP Workflow log, the SAP Workflow information system, or information systems and application logs for each application component.

     In the monitoring process, it is important that you not only implement monitoring tools, but also define the procedures and responsibilities for monitoring within your organization.

For More Information

Since the details of implementing a specific scenario vary, this article cannot describe all required implementation steps in detail. The detailed documentation for the application you are using will have more information on the local implementation of a business scenario. For further details on SAP applications and resources to support C-Business Scenarios that were discussed in this article, see the SAP Online Resources listed in this issue of SAP Insider.

      The mySAP Internet Adviser also provides documentation that will be helpful when planning to implement C-Business Scenarios. The Internet Adviser is a central pool of information about Internet technology, mySAP architecture, and Internet scenarios. It is available online at http://service.sap.com/internetadviser, and can also be ordered as a CD version (Material number: 50039393).


Cay Rademann joined SAP AG in 1994. Since then, he has had a great deal of experience in distributed scenarios and system integration, both as a developer and a consultant. Cay currently works as product manager in the SAP Technology Group with a focus on the design and implementation of Internet business scenarios.

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