Since the emergence of e-mail, your company's written communications
have never been the same. Unlike those handwritten or typed letters of
an earlier era, an e-mail can be hammered out in seconds and dispatched
to hundreds at the push of a button. But it's precisely because
e-mail is so easy to use that it's so hard to manage: Which should you
read first? Which can be ignored? Which inquiries have been sent to 20
colleagues in the hopes of getting just one answer? And which of those
questions have been answered already?
With business intelligence problems like
these, you'd think that e-mail would be pretty close to extinction - but,
of course, quite the opposite is true. So how can you use e-mail to maximize
workflow processes and productivity? If it weren't for a couple of simple
PC utilities that I've relied on for the past few years, this information
flood would have burst the banks of my inbox long ago.
This column describes Generic Object Services
(GOS), a utility included in SAP Release 4.0 and up. Like most freeware,
it works, it's child's play to use, and it requires no customizing.
Although its name might not sound very
glamorous, Generic Object Services moves beyond e-mail to add a whole
fistful of services to any transaction that activates it. These services
help you maximize workflow features, get automatic updates on your most
important records (or "objects"), and improve exception-handling processes.
This article describes what GOS offers, how you can access its services,
and how they can boost your productivity.
Use GOS to Send Messages Straight from a Transaction
Within the SAP environment, most e-mail communication is related to data
in the SAP system. You might want to query a purchase requisition, notify
someone about a customer's change of address, or ask for input to complete
a sales order. GOS allows you to send an e-mail directly from the transaction
that you are using. This is possible from the system menu and, in more
recent SAP releases (4.6 and up), as part of the toolbar just below the
menu, both indicated in Figure 1.
||Using the Generic Object Services Tool to Send
a Message from a Transaction
By selecting "Send object with note," you
then reach the "Create Document and Send" screen shown in Figure 2.
Type in your message and send it along - the record you are looking at
is included as an attachment in the e-mail message. The recipients see
a screen like the one in Figure 3. They can then read your message
and view the record directly by clicking on the link shown in the screen.
When they click on the attachment, the relevant transaction is called
and recipients can navigate through the record (as long as they have sufficient
The beauty of this is that it involves
no messy cut-and-paste. If you attach a record, the data is passed by
reference. If the data is updated immediately by one of many recipients,
this is reflected globally in the attachment of each message - so when
another recipient gets around to reading the message later, he will see
a completely up-to-date record. He can then simply delete the message
without wasting further time on it.
But the real benefit is that this e-mail
links directly to the record, which can be viewed by anyone else within
the organization (again, authorization issues aside). This is real business
intelligence: it encourages communication and helps eliminate the duplicated
effort that can occur when colleagues are left out of the loop. Correspondence,
decisions, and changes are visible in the messages, so they become transparent
to anyone with access. (Of course, if you want any correspondence to remain
private, you can simply supplement the public GOS correspondences with
your own private e-mails or phone calls.)
If you're using Basis Technology Release
4.6C, you can view the original record in your Web browser. A URL reference
is attached to the mail so that the HTML GUI is called directly. This
works even if the e-mail is forwarded to another groupware product such
as Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes, or Netscape Communicator.
||Sending a Message with the Attached Record
||Receiving a Message with the Attached Record
Evolving from Mail to Workflow Automation
GOS mail can cut down on the processing required for ad hoc inquiries
and requests in the production environment. I have also seen it used very
effectively while setting up an SAP system, for example. In any testing
or customizing setting, you often notice errors or inconsistencies. Using
GOS mail, you can pass these on directly, without interrupting your own
work. You simply type the message, and the reference is added automatically
- much easier than making a note on paper in the faint hope that you'll
make out an official report later.
For more formal exception handling, use
GOS to start a workflow. The workflow can be very simple (built in less
than half an hour) but still effective, because it can automatically route
the task to the correct group of people. To start the workflow, you don't
even necessarily need to know who will be handling the process. You simply
start the relevant workflow from the system menu (adding a message, if
you like) and the system does the rest: routes it to the correct people,
handles the deadlines, and notifies the initiator when processing is complete.
GOS works off-the-shelf without customizing. However, if your users
access their e-mail outside SAP, then some customizing makes sense.
Configure auto-forwarding so that e-mail is passed to the standard
e-mail client, and also set up a mail gateway between the SAP system
and the e-mail system. This can be done with either SAP Lotus Connector,
SAP Exchange Connector, or the SMTP Gateway. SAP MS Outlook Integration
at the client level is also an option.
How do you choose which workflow is relevant?
The system basically decides for you - it automatically selects only the
workflows that you have the authorization to start and those that apply
to the type of record you are currently processing. Again, this feature
is automatic; no customizing is necessary. So you will probably only have
two or three workflows to choose from in the first place.
These workflows are very useful for exception
handling from the user perspective as well. Users may notice problems
or inconsistencies in an application, but may not be motivated to report
them because the process is so time consuming: they need to track down
the right person, explain the problem, and send the e-mail. Workflow automates
this task and makes it easier for users to identify problem spots immediately.
As with e-mail services, with GOS any user
can navigate directly from the record to any workflow process this record
is involved in. The workflow log is visible, too, so all users are kept
up-to-date on the progress of the workflow. With time, you can improve
frequently called workflows, so an ad hoc process can evolve into a fully
structured, automated process, with all the bells and whistles that can
save your company lots of money and boost your customer or partner satisfaction
ratings. (When you get to this stage, you'll use SAP's Workflow Information
System, since it will locate these automated processes for you directly.)
Add Sticky Notes to Records
You can also add your own attachments, which will be visible to everyone.
These attachments to the record can be descriptions, PC documents such
as MS Word files, barcodes, or links to other archived documents. In addition
to these public documents, in Release 4.5 you can also create your own
private notes. A private note is automatically visible (but only to you)
when you view that particular record and can be edited. This way, you
don't clutter up your monitor with "stickies."
Subscribe to Records
for Ad Hoc Updates A very useful GOS service, available in 4.6D, is
the ability to subscribe to a record. You do this at the touch of a button
from the transaction itself, and it allows you to receive an e-mail notification
whenever a particular record is changed or deleted. This allows you to
keep track of master records that you are responsible for. For example,
if your biggest customer's address changes in a record, you can choose
to be automatically notified. You then have the opportunity to contact
them directly, see that they have moved from one office to another, and
ensure that they have had uninterrupted service during the move.
The possibilities of the subscribe feature
are unlimited, and it is up to you to decide which records you subscribe
to. A word of warning, though: automatic notifications about changes that
take place with business objects, where it is imperative that specific
users are informed (information broadcast) - as opposed to the ad hoc
subscription described here (voluntary information request) - is still
best handled by workflow.
Access "Favorites" and Object History
You can think of MyObject as a "favorites" list within the SAP R/3 4.6D
environment. By making a record - such as a material, customer, or account
- one of your "favorites" (via the system menu), you can later access
it directly from the SMY2 Easy Web Transaction. SMY2 polls all mySAP.com
satellite systems so you can access all your favorites from one Web page,
no matter which SAP system (for example, HR, Logistics, or CRM) the MyObject
To make good use of this very helpful transaction, include it in your
mySAP Workplace Launchpad.
In Release 4.6C, the most recently accessed
objects are automatically recorded whenever you call up a transaction.
When you access it, you will see a list of the last records that you viewed,
independent of the record type (see Figure 4).
For example, in your history list, you
may see the customer orders that you created earlier in the day, together
with the customer records and perhaps a leave of absence request that
you created for yourself. Select any item from the list, and you will
be whisked away to the relevant transaction. To make this service available
wherever you are in the system, the history list is accessed directly
from the system menu.
||List of Recently Viewed Records
Implementing GOS in Your Homegrown Transactions
The key to GOS is the way SAP record types are consistently handled by
the system. Most record types are accessible directly by transactions
or function modules, and have been encapsulated as business objects in
SAP's Business Object Repository (BOR).¹ You can add this functionality
to your own homegrown transactions, too - and it's really quite simple.
GOS Functionality for Your Own Business Objects
If you're working in SAP releases before 4.6C, after first checking
that no appropriate SAP BOR object already exists, create a BOR object
to represent your record. You may already have done this in order to use
it with Workflow or Drag and Relate functionality. If not, don't worry.
BOR simply requires you to specify:
- The key of the object (a Data Dictionary, or ddic, reference)
- The transaction or function module to display the record (BOR generates
the necessary ABAP code automatically)
- A default attribute (ddic reference again) that shows the user, in
a readable form, which record (object instance) is being referred to.
This might be the customer name, plant location, or a user's full name.
In the transaction that is used to process the record (e.g., "Edit"
or "Display"), you publish this object to GOS by calling a single function
module. Listing 1 is all you need - that's it!