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More than Just a Pretty User Interface - Integrate Your Systems and Increase User Productivity with an Enterprise Portal

by Jana Richter | SAPinsider

October 1, 2006

by Jana Richter, SAP AG SAPinsider - 2006 (Volume 7), October (Issue 4)
 

A common misconception among those considering an enterprise portal implementation is that a portal is simply a place to house a list of company-relevant links. In a surprising number of enterprise portal installations, I see customers limiting their portal use in this way. But this "link collection" is an extremely narrow view of what a portal can do, and it shortchanges the benefits a true enterprise portal can bring to your company.

An enterprise portal is a valuable tool that can integrate all your backend systems, allowing for seamless movement between tasks normally carried out in different systems — all through one central access point. What's more, each end user's experience is tailored to his or her role, enabling extensive flexibility and improved user productivity.

Setting up an integrated enterprise portal is easier than you may think. Many of the components you need to get up and running with a portal are provided through SAP Business Packages, preconfigured collections of portal content you can download quickly and implement out of the box. Likewise, IT scenarios, specifically the Running an Enterprise Portal scenario,1 guide you through the entire implementation process, eliminating guesswork and freeing up valuable resources. In addition, the portal roles you create for one end user can then be applied to other users across the company, cutting down on implementation time and costs.2

Meet Tom — and All of the Systems He Uses

To illustrate the benefits of using an enterprise portal, let's take the example of Tom, a sales manager in a large retail company who supervises a number of sales representatives. He has various areas of responsibility and uses different systems to fulfill his tasks:

  • mySAP ERP Human Capital Management to manage his team

  • mySAP ERP Financials to manage sales orders and billing processes

  • Project Planning in mySAP ERP to manage his projects and track his team members

  • SAP NetWeaver's business intelligence (BI) capabilities to make report-based decisions about budgets and projects

  • A third-party CRM solution to manage customer contacts and find new sales opportunities

  • His mailbox, calendar, desktop sharing, and instant messaging applications to communicate and collaborate with remote colleagues and customers

  • The company intranet to access corporate information, like news and decisions from the executive board

  • Various shared files to create and maintain documents like spreadsheets

With information stored in all these different systems, Tom faces some serious challenges: finding data related to alerts, problems, and deadlines; remembering his user names and passwords for all the different systems; working with the varying user interfaces and features of each system; and so on. Switching between systems takes a lot of time and effort, especially for tasks he does not carry out regularly.

Access to all these systems through one user interface could help him enormously. But central access is not just about seeing links in one consolidated place. It's about taking advantage of the enterprise portal's integration with backend systems to truly make it a user-friendly work hub. This is precisely what you can do with SAP NetWeaver: integrate all the information, applications, and services you need for day-to-day tasks into one user interface, which then becomes the central access point for end users across the enterprise (see sidebar).

Customers who are not leveraging all the portal capabilities provided by SAP NetWeaver are missing out on a great opportunity to streamline and integrate multiple systems. And with the IT scenarios and Business Packages provided by SAP, it's easy to reap the benefits of increased user productivity — with little or no development and a low TCO.

Why Use SAP NetWeaver's Portal Capabilities?

SAP NetWeaver provides Web-based, intuitive, fast access to content. Users access the portal through single sign-on, which eliminates any further login requests. This means that users do not have to know where the information they want to see is located, nor do they have to recall their various system passwords when accessing portal content (see figure). Additionally, content management and collaboration capabilities enable users to manage their documents centrally and to work with colleagues easily.

SAP NetWeaver gets the right resources to the right people

The most important of SAP NetWeaver's portal capabilities include:

  • Multi-language support: SAP NetWeaver supports Unicode, which allows you to have multiple language capabilities in the portal.

  • Session management: Session management enables users to log on to the portal only once. The user information is then kept in the browser session.

  • Client eventing: An iView (portlet) can initiate an event, influencing the behavior or content displayed in the iView that receives this event.

  • Navigation: Flexible navigation capabilities enable users to find the required information fast and intuitively. The portal offers flexible navigation capabilities, such as Related Links for the content currently displayed. Object-Based Navigation enables users to navigate from one object in an iView to another iView using the context menu and carrying the object information forward to the target.

  • Branding: The administrator can customize the look and feel of the portal with high flexibility and reduced effort, allowing the layout and theme of the portal to be implemented according to corporate design guidelines.

  • Accessibility: Portal content can be configured for barrier-free access for users with disabilities (e.g., for vision-impaired users).

  • Personalization: With personalization, users can adjust portal content and layout according to their specific needs and preferences.

How to Get Started

Portal implementations can be very comprehensive, serving several internal as well as external target groups (including employees, partners, customers, and suppliers). The scope of the functionality provided can be equally wide-ranging. For example, you could implement an informational portal used for publishing and versioning Web content and documents, or you could use it to integrate information, reports, and functionality from various backend systems to simplify business processes for portal users.

Here we'll focus on providing end users with access to the applications and content they need daily. To do so, we'll look at the Running an Enterprise Portal scenario's Providing Uniform Content Access variant, which guides you through all of the fundamental steps required to configure a portal and provide users with role-based access to any kind of content. Providing Uniform Content Access is one of the scenario's three variants (see Figure 1). The other two variants, Implementing a Federated Portal Network and Implementing an External-Facing Portal, help you create more advanced portal implementations.3

IT Scenario: Running an Enterprise Portal
Scenario Variant Description
Providing Uniform Content Access Organizations can develop, configure, and operate a Web-like user interface to give users consistent access to content. For example, organizations can integrate both SAP and non-SAP applications into the enterprise portal using a single, consistent front end.
Implementing a Federated Portal Network
(New in
SAP NetWeaver 2004s)
A federated portal network allows organizations to share content between multiple portals, both SAP and non-SAP. By implementing a federated network, organizations can unite autonomous, departmental portal installations and provide users throughout the network with a single portal access point. From this central portal, users can access company-wide information, services, and applications.
Implementing an External-Facing
Portal

(New in
SAP NetWeaver 2004 SPS 14)
SAP NetWeaver provides tools for implementing an external-facing portal for a variety of business scenarios, for both anonymous and registered users. For public Web portals that provide informational content for anonymous users, companies can implement a solution that performs well in low-bandwidth networks and offers a familiar Web experience. A different implementation can be used to provide business partners, employees, and other registered users with a Web portal that fully supports business applications and knowledge management functionality.
Figure 1
Variants included in the Running an Enterprise Portal IT scenario

Set Up the Infrastructure

Before equipping end users with portal content, the IT department must first set up the backend portal infrastructure. This process depends on the specific requirements of the portal project, such as the number of users working with the portal simultaneously, the type and amount of integrated content (like Web Dynpro applications, the integration of BI reports, or the use of content management and collaboration capabilities), expected response times, and so on.4

Once everything is installed on the server and the connection to the user repository is established, IT can start with the content administration tasks.

How Is a Portal Structured?

In a portal, each user is assigned to roles — for example, Sales Manager — that define his or her responsibilities and authorizations within the organization. The roles usually contain worksets, clusters of related tasks within one area of responsibility, such as Work Overview, Team, and Budget for the Sales Manager role. These worksets serve as entry points in the portal screen's top-level navigation.

Clicking on an entry in the top-level navigation opens the detailed navigation, where tasks such as Employee Information, Recruiting, and Appraisals within the Team workset are displayed accordingly. Those tasks are represented in the form of pages, which serve as containers for iViews and determine the layout to be used. iViews are the smallest units of information and provide access to the applications, reports, services, and information needed to perform a task.

Structure of portal content

Focus on Content

Now, using the example of Tom and his multiple systems, we'll walk through the basic steps to create portal content, just as you would when following the guidelines of the Providing Uniform Content Access variant. Since this scenario variant contains several steps you should consider when creating and providing content in the portal, only the highlights are summarized here. Some of the specific process steps that you will need to take are listed within each basic step.

1. Define Portal Content

First work with the business user to map out exactly what he needs to see and access in his portal every day. As a sales manager, Tom needs capabilities to manage employees, handle sales orders and billing, and plan projects. His reports from the BI system should be integrated as well. He also needs access to the non-SAP CRM system and his mailbox and calendar. Intranet content, like news and corporate information, should be available, along with access to different shared files within the company. Tom often uses desktop sharing and instant messaging functionality, as well.

2. Reuse Existing Content

Process step: Import Business Packages

Check if SAP already provides preconfigured content in the form of Business Packages for accessing mySAP applications before developing anything from scratch. Business Packages contain pre-assembled, role-based content for completing common business tasks, saving you from expending time and resources on developing them yourself. More than 50 Business Packages from SAP and over 150 from third-party vendors are currently available for download on SAP Developer Network at https://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/sdn/developerareas/contentportfolio — and new offerings are added all the time.5

In this case, several Business Packages could be used to fulfill some of Tom's requirements:

  • For managing projects, viewing project status, assigning tasks, and displaying project-related documents, use the Business Package for Projects or the Business Package for Project Self-Service (depending on the version of the back end6).

  • For entering HR-related data, like recording work hours or business trips and managing team and budget data, use the Business Package for Employee Self-Service and the Business Package for Manager Self-Service (see Figure 2).

  • For tracking information about customers, prospects, and contacts; maintaining and processing sales documents; and preparing presentations and reports, use the Business Package for Sales or the Business Package for Internal Sales Representative (again, depending on the backend version).

Figure 2
The Business Package for Manager Self-Service contains preconfigured portal content that can be added easily to an enterprise portal

Business Packages can be deployed via the Java Support Package Manager (JSPM) or the Software Deployment Manager (SDM) administrative tools that come with SAP NetWeaver. After deployment, some configuration will have to be done, such as defining the backend systems, and some modifications and additional development may be necessary. But overall, the Business Packages are a good starting point for creating portal content and will save a lot of implementation and development effort.

Preconfigured portal content is also available in predefined roles delivered with mySAP ERP 2005. For more information, see Franz-Josef Fritz's "Take Note!" column in this issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsider.com).

3. Create Custom Content

Process steps: Modify the imported Business Packages, develop and deploy customer-specific applications, create iViews

In order to fulfill all of Tom's requirements, some content has to be developed manually. SAP offers several tools to create customized portal content (see Figure 3). These tools vary in the complexity of content that can be created and the implementation skills required:

  • Portal Content Studio: The content administrator can create portal content based on wizards and templates directly in the portal.7

  • SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer: Business process experts (BPXs) can model and design applications without writing a single line of code.8

  • SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio and SAP ABAP Development Workbench: Developers have full flexibility in developing content since they can access the model and source codes.9

Figure 3
SAP offers several portal content design tools for varying levels of content complexity

To give Tom access to the applications he needs, one option is to use a Portal Content Studio wizard to create some iViews containing additional sales transactions. Then the BI reports Tom needs are composed as dashboards with SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer and are deployed to the portal. So that Tom can access applications in the non-SAP CRM system, some custom code needs to be developed, for example, using the SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio. Connectors to third-party systems can be used as well. Then these Web applications can be deployed to the portal and integrated into iViews.

4. Set Up Content Management and Collaboration Capabilities

Process steps: Available in the IT scenarios Enabling User Collaboration and Enterprise Knowledge Management

Implementing content management and collaboration capabilities can be quite useful for working with colleagues. For instance, if Tom has work items in his inbox and decides to delegate one of these tasks to a fellow team member, he can choose the appropriate person from his list of contacts and send the work item directly to that person via email.

Making use of the knowledge management capabilities, Tom can access all his shared files and manage these documents through the portal. If the company decides to move its whole intranet to the portal, items like news and corporate information (e.g., HTML pages about the company's products) could easily be made available there. In addition, the portal offers other collaboration functionality, such as instant messaging and desktop sharing functionality.10

5. Organize Content and Enable Users to Access It

Process steps: Set user mapping; assign user permission settings to content and security zones; define portal display settings; create portal pages, worksets, and roles; and assign users and groups to roles

Next, to enable seamless user access, configure single sign-on and set the user mappings for the different backend systems. It might be necessary to set up a custom theme for the portal to fulfill branding requirements. We could integrate Tom's mailbox and calendar into the portal as well, which would require only a few steps depending on the product. End users mainly use these capabilities when working remotely.

One more important step is to configure Tom's Universal Worklist (UWL) and connect it to the backend systems. The UWL would show him the open alerts, tasks, and notifications from various backend systems and workflows in one overview (see Figure 4).

Figure 4
Tom's Universal Worklist

Now all the iViews that Tom needs have been created. The next step is to make them available to him through the portal. Add the custom iViews to pages, which define the arrangement of the iViews (see sidebar back on page 107). Then add those pages to the worksets — for example, the Sales Reports workset containing the BI dashboards or the Customer Relations workset for the CRM pages. Also add the Sales Pages to the workset that comes with the Business Package for Sales.

Now create a role — for example, Sales Manager — and add the appropriate worksets to it (in this case, Sales Reports and Customer Relations; see Figure 5). Now you only have to set the authorizations so that sales managers can access these worksets. Next assign this role and any other necessary roles, such as Employee Self-Service, Manager Self-Service, Project Self-Service, Internal Sales Representative, and some of the KM roles containing corporate content, to the user Tom.

Figure 5
Assigning the appropriate worksets to a portal role

With these steps completed, Tom can access all the applications and information he needs through the portal (see Figure 6). The same can be done for all employees across the enterprise. Because many of the roles can be reused, the amount of time and resources spent on development is quite low — while the increase in productivity is manifold.

Figure 6
Tom's portal: An integrated work hub through which Tom can access all his systems

Conclusion

SAP offers various possibilities to integrate any kind of content into the portal. An end user like Tom can access all the information and applications he needs, manage his documents, and collaborate with his colleagues through one user interface. This will increase his productivity, allowing him to focus on his job instead of wasting time searching for the appropriate information. Moreover, with the Universal Worklist, Tom will see the most important tasks, alerts, and notifications when he accesses the portal so he can act quickly on critical issues.

Leveraging all of SAP NetWeaver's portal capabilities is simple when you follow the IT scenario maps and use the various SAP Business Packages available. The benefits are substantial: central access, integrated systems, and increased user productivity — all with little custom development and a low TCO.

For more information on the IT scenario Running an Enterprise Portal, please visit http://service.sap.com/nw-ep and http://sdn.sap.com > IT Practices and IT Scenarios > Running an Enterprise Portal.


1 For a refresher on IT scenarios and scenario variants, please see Claudia Weller's article, "IT Scenarios Provide a Guided, Business-Oriented Approach to Maximizing SAP NetWeaver Use," in the July-September 2005 issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsider.com).

2 Predefined roles are now available with mySAP ERP 2005. See Franz-Josef Fritz's Take Note! column in this issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsider.com) for more information.

3 For more information on the Implementing a Federated Portal Network and Implementing an External-Facing Portal IT scenario variants, please visit http://service.sap.com/nw-ep and http://sdn.sap.com > IT Practices and IT Scenarios.

4 For more detailed information on sizing and availability concerns, please visit http://service.sap.com/sizing.

5 You can also find SAP Business Packages at http://service.sap.com/swdc > Download > Content > Content for Business Suite 2005.

6 You can find backend support information at https://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/sdn/developerareas/contentportfolio > List of Packages.

7 For more information, visit http://help.sap.com/ and search for "Portal Content Studio" within SAP NetWeaver.

8 For more information on SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer, please see https://www.sdn.com/irj/sdn/visualcomposer and http://service.sap.com/nw-vc.

9 For more information on SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio and SAP ABAP Development Workbench, please visit http://sdn.sap.com > SAP NetWeaver > Application Server > ABAP or Java.

10 For more details on how to implement content management and collaboration capabilities, have a look at the IT scenarios Enterprise Knowledge Management and Enabling User Collaboration at http://sdn.sap.com > IT Practices and IT Scenarios.


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