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Are Hard Times the Right Time to Implement an Enterprise Portal?

by Greg Crider | SAPinsider

July 1, 2002

by Greg Crider, SAP AG SAPinsider - 2002 (Volume 3), July (Issue 3)
 

With IT budgets under pressure and service level expectations growing, you may wonder why so many organizations are taking on an enterprise portal. In these hard times, do enterprise portals really make good business sense? Based on the experiences of the many companies now rolling them out, it’s clear that enterprise portals extend the lifespan and renew the value of existing IT investments, yield significant returns from increased operating efficiencies, and enhance communication between employees, customers, and partners.

How do enterprise portals do this? The leading portal products, like SAP’s offering, mySAP Enterprise Portals, tie together applications, reports, desktop documents, and web sites in easy-to-use packages tailored for specific user communities and business functions. There is no need to “rip and replace” working systems. mySAP Enterprise Portals allows you to leverage your current technology in place and seamlessly integrates all types of tools, documents, and databases using open technology standards like Java, XML, and Microsoft .NET. Its user-friendly interface is available through web browsers, PDAs, and wireless devices, and provides integrated knowledge management,1 “Business Packages,” and “Unification.” (I’ll discuss the latter two elements in just a minute.)

Industry analysts and the trade press credit SAP with setting a new benchmark by creating today’s most comprehensive portal framework for unifying the diverse applications, databases, unstructured documents, and web content found at a typical enterprise. The mySAP Enterprise Portals solution is clearly not just a web-based frontend for SAP applications. It was designed from the ground up for use in heterogeneous environments where different generations of SAP applications work alongside tools from PeopleSoft, Siebel, Baan, Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft. SAP’s company-wide commitment to open solutions is demonstrated by the ability of mySAP Enterprise Portals to provide access to all the critical applications and data sources that your enterprise relies on, regardless of vendor. Other portal companies claim similar advantages, so what allows mySAP Enterprise Portals to assert technology and market leadership? Let’s answer that by looking at the two technologies I mentioned earlier: “Unification” and “Business Packages.”

Unification

In a general sense, mySAP Enterprise Portals provides Unification by melding business intelligence, an open knowledge management platform, and personalized, real-time content like Yahoo! news to create a collaborative environment that spans traditional silos of information. SAP then extends the concept of Unification through its patented Drag & Relate technology, adding an additional dimension of intelligence. Here, the portal actually automates the process of connecting information drawn from unconnected sources.

For example, a user can drag a customer name from a list displayed by a call center application to an icon for another vendor’s order tracking system and, without any additional input, the system will create a report on the status of orders pending for the selected customer (see Figure 1). mySAP Enterprise Portals enables this through adapters known as “Unifiers” that automatically link the otherwise unrelated systems together and ensure that only relevant results are retrieved, even if the two systems identify each account differently.


Figure 1 Unification with Drag & Relate Technology

SAP’s Unification technology reduces the complexity and cost of coordinating the hundreds or even thousands of sources of information that eventually need to be included in an enterprise portal. Its highly scalable architecture eliminates the need to create a spider web of connections between individual portal components, and allows you to control your development and maintenance costs without sacrificing the ability to integrate all the applications and data sources that your business requires.

mySAP Enterprise Portals includes built-in Unifiers for SAP R/3, Baan, and Oracle applications, and will soon provide support for PeopleSoft and Siebel. Customers and partners have also created Unifiers for many other popular and legacy systems using a well-documented development procedure.

Business Packages

Business Packages are sets of pre-assembled portal components installed on top of the mySAP Enterprise Portals platform that enable targeted user communities to efficiently address specific business tasks. They come ready-to-use with access to popular enterprise applications, attractively laid out portal pages, and pre-defined “roles” that allow you to quickly assign distinct capabilities to individual users and groups. Different packages include support for SAP applications like mySAP Human Resources, mySAP Financials, mySAP PLM, and SAP Business Information Warehouse (see the sidebar below).

You can see an example of the Manager Self-Service Business Package in Figure 2. This Business Package offers line managers, department heads, and project leaders a means to efficiently and securely manage their staff and HR budgets. It addresses many time-consuming HR issues — things like personnel recruitment, staff administration, compensation planning, annual budgets, and cost monitoring.


Figure 2 Manager Self-Service Business Package

Role-based security assures that only authorized users will see the Business Package’s pages in the portal and that those pages will only display information for the business units the current user oversees. Managers using this Business Package do not waste time chasing down information scattered across unconnected systems, but can see everything they need in one place and immediately access the applications they need to accomplish their HR tasks. The Manager Self-Service Business Package is able to accomplish this high level of visual integration by accessing applications behind the scenes, using a powerful Single Sign-On (SSO) capability. SSO promotes the dual goals of security and convenience by transparently logging a user into applications without their needing to re-enter passwords.2

Business Packages also utilize the ability of mySAP Enterprise Portals to synchronize content using a next-generation technology called “eventing.” Eventing allows a selection made in one portal component to update each of the other components on that and other portal pages.

For example, a manager can select an employee from a list displayed in one portal window, and through “eventing” all the other windows on the portal page will be updated to show the selected employee’s personnel record, salary history, and even badge photograph. Other portal pages can also be automatically updated, so in this case, the Budget page could be refreshed to focus on the department in which the selected user works. In the same way, in the Assets Business Package, a user who chooses a particular asset (in Figure 3, location 0410) would automatically see other appropriate windows — notifications, orders, etc. — updated to display information about the selected location.


Figure 3 Eventing for Synchronizing Content

SAP is already distributing and developing Business Packages for applications like Employee Self-Service, Manager Self-Service, Assets, Automotive Dealers, Consulting, Customer Credit Management, Learning, Products, and Projects, with more solutions on the way.

Of course, each enterprise will have its own individual requirements, so SAP designed Business Packages to be customized and extended. mySAP Enterprise Portals include adapters for popular enterprise applications like Siebel, Documentum, and Oracle, as well as Java and Microsoft .NET interfaces for creating custom portal components for legacy systems and proprietary applications.

And you don’t have to install all the portal components and Business Packages in one “Big Bang.” With mySAP Enterprise Portals, you can install additional components and entire Business Packages on top of your existing portal installation without disturbing your production applications.

So, Does an Enterprise Portal Make Sense?

Now that you have seen what an enterprise portal is (a way to leverage your existing IT investment) and isn’t (a traumatic replacement of your entire infrastructure), can you understand why all sorts of organizations are concluding that a portal is a smart way to solve their problems? HR departments are using enterprise portals to empower employees to manage their own benefits. Sales departments bring together the different sources of information they need in order to create a complete view of their prospects through an enterprise portal. And line managers are using portals to track and optimize their company’s most valuable assets. With the pressures of today’s conservative economy, people are naturally drawn to pragmatic and proven solutions from trusted partners.

mySAP Enterprise Portals combine technology leadership with the industry expertise and quality assurance that comes with SAP. They deliver a unified perspective that spans your SAP applications, third-party tools, production databases, and knowledge management systems, and open up a new set of possibilities for utilizing the value found in your existing information systems. For this reason, mySAP Enterprise Portals represent both a practical approach to solving today’s problems and an open framework for creating a new class of collaborative applications that are transforming the way users can work together.

You can learn more about mySAP Enterprise Portals from your SAP representative, or visit the SAP web site at www.sap.com/solutions/enterpriseportals.

 

Need to Jumpstart Your Enterprise Portal?
Business Packages Can Help with Role-Based, Targeted Content

While enterprise portals offer many compelling strategic benefits, your business reality probably includes some short-term, “must-win” situations. If you need to start showing immediate results from your enterprise portal, you may want to look at the targeted solutions that SAP calls “Business Packages.” These role-based collections of portal content optimize business processes for specific jobs and industry segments, and take advantage of SAP’s 30 years of experience in creating complete business solutions. And, best of all, many Business Packages are available at no extra charge to SAP customers as part of their existing licenses.

There are currently over 50 Business Packages available or in development. They fall into several categories: packages that come bundled with the mySAP Enterprise Portal, those that are available to users of one of the mySAP solutions, and those that require complementary partner technology.

Examples of these different types of Business Packages include:

  • User and Administrator packages that come with the standard installation of the SAP Enterprise Portal

  • Fourteen sets of industry-specific pre-built queries that are included with the SAP Business Information Warehouse

  • Assets, Products, and Projects packages for users of the mySAP Product Lifecycle Management solution

  • The Customer Service Manager Business Package for mySAP CRM

  • The Employee and Manager Self-Service packages for mySAP HR (see example below)

  • The Strategic Enterprise Management package for mySAP Financials

  • Business Packages for Sales Analysis, Customer Credit Management, Inventory Analysis, and Production Analysis for SAP R/3

  • Business Packages developed with technology partners like eRoom, WebEx, WebCrossing, and Documentum, and those that utilize real-time content from partners like Yahoo!, NewsEdge, Yellowbrix, and Dun & Bradstreet

Employee Self-Service Business Package for mySAP HR

What can you expect to find in a Business Package? First, Business Packages are based on roles. Roles are customized collections of portal pages that display coordinated content in order to provide groups of users with a common set of requirements and a centralized interface for dealing with important business processes. The Business Package for Assets, for instance, includes roles for service engineers and maintenance managers, as well as a role for external customers and business partners who need to send and receive alerts connected with asset management.

Users of the Assets package have immediate access to asset inventories and locations, service requests, job assignments, and technical product specifications. They can personalize their portal pages and display personal alerts and their own favorite documents alongside the standard content (see the example below).


Business Package for Assets

Portal administrators can customize the standard roles that come with the Business Package to add access their own systems or to visually integrate the SAP Enterprise Portal’s other capabilities, like email access, threaded discussion, knowledge management, or access to real-time reports. While Business Packages include out-of-the-box support for SAP applications, their design separates the web-based user interface from back-end systems, allowing customers to adapt Business Packages to use third-party applications behind the scenes.

How can you learn more about Business Packages? One great source is the online content catalog available at SAP’s iViewStudio web site at www.iviewstudio.com (see below). Visitors can browse the descriptions of the available content, login and download Business Packages in real time, and participate in the technical discussions hosted in the programmer-oriented DevZone. The DevZone has sections for both the Java and Microsoft .NET programming communities, reflecting the company’s commitment to supporting both major technology standards. On iViewStudio, you can find both current and archived versions of the different content packages and learn about the plans for releasing new Business Packages. Partners can register online and learn about programs for helping them create and distribute their own value- added portal content.


iViewStudio Offerings

1 See the article “Answers from Anywhere: Knowledge Management with mySAP Enterprise Portals” in this issue of SAP Insider.

2 For more on role-based security when SAP services are involved, see “From Portal Roles to SAP Authorization Roles — Role Distribution with mySAP Enterprise Portals” in this issue of SAP Insider.


Greg Crider is Director of Portal Product Marketing at SAP. Prior to joining SAP, he was Vice President of Product Management and Product Marketing at Viador Inc., the first publicly traded enterprise portal company, where he helped direct their product vision and founded their support and training organizations. Crider came to Viador from Sterling Software, where he spent 10 years as a product manager, engineering manager, and software developer. He has a masters degree in Computer Science and a bachelors degree in Education.

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