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Meet SAP NetWeaver Business Process Management: Where Business and IT Can Collaborate on Process Innovation

April 10, 2009

Over time, companies have come to rely on their IT departments to cope with increasingly complex processes and systems. SAP NetWeaver Business Process Management (SAP NetWeaver BPM) introduces a new environment in which business and IT can collaborate to change processes without losing business integrity. This offering allows the business user to get back into the driver’s seat when it comes to improving and adapting business processes.

In an ideal world, every set of business processes in every department would be standardized, documented, and easily managed — but that’s not always the case.

In a time where the business requirements around workflow are changing rapidly, companies have a constant need to adapt their processes. Developing a method to meet this demand — one that melds business and IT goals with supporting technology — means adopting a business process management (BPM) strategy.

If a business process is essentially the act of turning input into output to satisfy a particular set of business goals, a BPM strategy ensures that you are managing these processes in a systematic and efficient way. BPM doesn’t mean replacing processes — but it does go well beyond simply documenting the processes that exist, and it ultimately leads to efficiencies and cost savings.

Adopting a BPM strategy “doesn’t mean organizations need to reinvent entire processes,” says Wolfgang Hilpert, Senior Vice President of SAP NetWeaver Solution Management at SAP AG. “But they need to adapt them more quickly — and with less cost.” According to Hilpert, “BPM is about the agility, flexibility, and reuse of the business processes. You’re leveraging existing investments but now bringing them together in a new, meaningful way.”

Business and IT Cooperating in New Ways

In addition to making your business processes more efficient, a BPM strategy addresses an often-overlooked business concern: how, over time, companies increasingly rely on IT to cope with processes and systems that are becoming more complex. These days, there is a growing sense th at IT is virtually running business processes; in many companies, it’s simply unimaginable that a business owner of a process could jump in quickly to fix a broken workflow — for example, to alter the way the business receives goods and implements payments. In many cases, small and large companies alike have lost that agility.

SAP NetWeaver Business Process Management (SAP NetWeaver BPM), a new offering from SAP, supports a model-driven approach to managing business processes throughout their life cycle and provides a fresh way for companies to document, review, modify, and execute these processes. The offering, which was released at the end of 2008 and is embedded in SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment, lets users manage processes in a workflow where a business and its IT staff can collaborate in a business-friendly environment. Having an integration platform that allows users to take processes, adapt them, and add value to them is increasingly important.

With the release of SAP NetWeaver BPM, business users outside of IT have a vehicle to get back into the driver’s seat when it comes to adapting business processes. Business users can actually change processes by themselves without putting more work on the backlog of IT and then having to wait for the results. The introduction of SAP NetWeaver BPM defines a new contract between the organization and its IT staff by which business users are more involved and more specific in their requirements for business needs.

Business Processes Go Beyond Workflow

Traditionally, people have thought about business processes in terms of workflow — the highly repetitive human work steps — for example, the complete process that spans from when a customer places an order to when you receive their payment. But say a customer wants more than what you offer, wants it at a different time, or wants another item altogether. How do you respond?

“Knowledge workers know that they can only plan so much, and then a call or an email comes in demanding something different,” says Hilpert. “To cope with that, we need a richer model of what a business process really constitutes, other than just workflow.” These models need to include meaningful business-level events — such as stock empty, customer complaint arrived, or correlations of these (e.g., stock empty and no refill detected in a given timeframe) — as well as a rich definition of participant roles, associated business rules, or case-specific documents.

A Closer Look at SAP NetWeaver BPM

SAP NetWeaver BPM is not just a development tool for workflow. It’s a full-blown environment in which businesspeople — developers and non-programmers alike — can interact and change processes without modifying or developing code (see figure). Users can create executable process models to illustrate the steps of a business process, including who performs each step, in what order, and any paths for exceptions. Appropriately skilled users can extend these models to describe the objectives, policies, rules, roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators for each process step.

SAP NetWeaver Business Process Management allows business users to design, model, change, and execute processes — all without having to write code.

To better understand how users leverage SAP NetWeaver BPM to model processes, it’s helpful to be familiar with its building blocks. The component is made up of three main tools:

  • The process composer is a graphical tool that allows users not just to draw flow charts but to wire them up with Web services and with the assigned roles (individuals who can access the user interface).

  • The process server is a Java-based runtime execution engine that gets programmed not entirely by code, but by the visual process models created with the process composer.

  • The process desk is the process runtime user environment where the end users go to work on their assigned processes. Users sign in to the portal and access their highly customizable views where they pick up their work tasks.

The tools work together from process creation to execution. The process composer creates models in a machine-readable way so the process server can deploy them. When the process server picks up an event, such as new order comes in, the process desk alerts a user that a task is ready for him or her. The user has to complete a manual activity — such as approve the order — to keep the process moving.

If the process composer has wired the event to an approver role or to a Web service — for example, accessing a back-end process in an SAP Business Suite application — the process server would then perform whatever subsequent system-automated steps were necessary, and this sequence would continue until the process was successfully executed.

Flexible Models Help IT

SAP NetWeaver BPM enables users to create more flexible process models that include both manual and automated activities. It assigns these tasks to the appropriate people and provides them with the means to successfully complete the tasks on time. With SAP NetWeaver BPM, companies can safely change processes without losing business integrity. “If the business puts these requests in the form of a modeling tool that defines very precise requirements, IT can then receive it in very specific terms, detail it out, and map it to the IT reality to really make it work,” says Hilpert.

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