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Freudenberg Uses SAP’s Federated Portal Approach

by Rovan H. Siegfried

August 11, 2009

SAP’s Federated Portal approach enables project teams from different companies to collaborate successfully on newproduct launches.
 

At the Freudenberg Group, we wanted to replace our existing intranet and make important information available to all our employees. We also wanted a collaboration platform where employees, customers, and suppliers could share information. And we were looking for a way to digitize and improve our business processes. The companies of the Freudenberg Group responded to these needs by implementing SAP Enterprise Portal which SAP has recently renamed SAP NetWeaver Portal.

The Freudenberg Group is a family-owned company that has grown tremendously in the past 150 years. Today, Freudenberg consists of more than 400 mostly independent companies in more than 53 countries, and we employ nearly 32,000 people. Our companies manufacture a broad range of products including seals and vibration-control components, nonwoven materials, mechanical household-cleaning products, and chemical specialty products.

Rather than choosing a single approach to diverse problems — a more typical solution — Freudenberg decided to use a variety of portals, each customized according to the needs of the particular user community it would serve, and at our company there are many.

The Portal Journey Begins

SAP’s portal initiative began in 2001. As one of SAP EP’s first customers, our portal journey also started in 2001. We faced all the typical challenges that companies confront when they want to share information and enable collaboration around the globe. In fact, the purpose of our portal implementation was communication among our various companies and the availability and central location of corporate management information. Because of our portal projects, project teams from different companies have successfully collaborated on new product launches, and benefits information and corporate news are much more easily and effectively distributed.

Due to the way that Freudenberg is organized and the fact that its many companies are independent, a single-portal approach would not fit all the business requirements. We needed multiple portals.

Today, Freudenberg follows SAP’s Federated Portal network approach, a methodology by which various different portals communicate with each other. Nevertheless, each portal focuses on its own environment and is an important business enabler for its specific Freudenberg company.

Four federated portals are currently in production:

  • The Freudenberg Information eXchange (FIX) Portal, which has evolved into a central information hub that offers content services to other Freudenberg portals. It is the only portal currently accessible externally through the Internet.

  • The Freudenberg IT (F-IT) Portal focuses on the Manager’s Desktop. It has deep SAP back-end integration and is used by more than 350 employees in Europe, North America, and Asia.

  • The Vibracoustic Portal focuses on document routing. Before the portal project itself was initiated, Vibracoustic requested an ROI study to prove the benefits of SAP NetWeaver Portal (formerly called SAP Enterprise Portal) to its business. The first process concentrated on a qualitative improvement in document routing; the second on improving quantitative and measurable figures there.

  • The North American Freudenberg-NOK Portal faced a different scenario: the implementation of SAP NetWeaver Portal in a completely non-SAP environment to improve communication and collaboration. The two major challenges were the widespread use of non-SAP solutions and the need for a bulletproof single sign-on (SSO) implementation.

Although each company has its own portal team and portal initiatives, the FIX team governs the overall corporate portal strategy. The FIX team may give guidance to the portal initiatives of other teams within Freudenberg, but those teams also work independently and maintain ownership of their portals.

The FIX Portal: Collaboration

The FIX initiative was born in 2000 when Freudenberg management gave the directive to build a platform for better information-sharing and collaboration across Freudenberg’s independent companies. The challenge of effectively sharing information quickly and consistently around the globe has been huge in this environment. One trial was dealing with the differing travel restrictions in different countries due to the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, global projects and some projects spanning multiple companies were not yet supported with IT tools such as collaboration rooms. For example, Freudenberg globally introduced International Accounting Standards (IAS) to its companies in 2002. The project required education and guidance documentation to be made available to all of our 320 companies, as well as to the individual employees responsible for the project.

To meet these diverse needs, IT released the first version of the FIX Portal on SAP Workplace, the predecessor to SAP EP. However, that software didn’t meet all of our requirements. The release of SAP EP 5.0 provided the tools and capabilities needed to build the second version of the FIX Portal. Due to the lack of migration tools, we built the second version of the FIX Portal from scratch.

The FIX Portal is a true collaboration and information-sharing portal. More than 6,500 of our employees use it to access Freudenberg’s global news and announcements. The FIX project rooms are built on Lotus Quickplace. They are similar to SAP collaboration rooms, but not the same. For one thing, you can’t archive FIX project rooms. They do, however, allow cross-company project teams to collaborate on a global basis. For example, all of our HR executives can meet and exchange important documents with the help of the FIX project rooms.

The FIX Portal enabled the international team of Freudenberg Household Products — consisting of members from marketing, product management, and IT departments in 14 European countries — to collaborate on the new release of the consumer Web site, www.vileda.com. This collaboration required both consumer and professional communications on the specifications. These and other examples underline the FIX Portal’s ability to let us act faster and more cost-effectively on projects that involve people in different locations.

Due to these successes, we opened the FIX Portal to the Internet. Today, all of our companies and their employees can access this portal over the Internet, and business partners can support Freudenberg initiatives in the same way.

The key to this project was its implementation time. After only three months, the portal was released into production. With the help of the role concept and a precise definition of the portal’s content, the short deadline was met. Furthermore, this approach allowed additional miniprojects to be defined after the FIX Portal went live, underlining the fact that a portal is not a goal, but a journey. Since then, additional SAP NetWeaver applications such as the Freudenberg corporate database have been launched. This database allows real-time access to detailed contact information on Freudenberg’s global executives and their positions and responsibilities. Today, the FIX Portal uses SAP Knowledge Management (SAP KM) and a collaboration framework. It runs on SAP NetWeaver Application Server (SAP NetWeaver AS).

The most challenging task we faced was how to implement SSO for non-SAP systems. Although SAP offers SSO adapters for Lotus products today, the adapters for an LDAP-centric authentication infrastructure are limited. At the time the FIX Portal was released, even the Lotus adapters weren’t available, so we had to develop a custom solution.

Initially, the FIX Portal was to become the single global portal for the entire Freudenberg Group — a central source for information and collaboration. Due to its executive sponsorship, the portal has been well accepted by its users and has become a vital tool. Other companies within Freudenberg, liking the SAP technology, have asked for their own portals with enhanced content retrieved from their own systems. They want to be able to connect to their own ERP systems and make important real-time performance reports available to their leadership. These requests have led to a change in the FIX Portal strategy.

The FIX Portal has evolved to become a central information hub that offers content services to other Freudenberg portals, including most of the other portals in this article. SAP’s Federated Portal approach allows the exchange of content from one portal to another. SAP also supports content standards such as the Content Syndication Standard Information and Content Exchange (ICE) and WSRP.

The F-IT Portal: Manager’s Desktop

SAP asked our IT department to participate in the first customer shipment for the Manager Self-Service (MSS) Business Package. SAP would provide not only the portal software but also the preconfigured content that would retrieve information from the existing R/3 back-end systems. The F-IT Portal was a perfect candidate for such a scenario because most of the SAP solutions accumulated over the past 29 years were still available within our group of companies.

MSS offers content in the form of iViews and Business Intelligence reports. The latest MSS package offers more than 120 content items and additional preconfigured portal roles and worksets. The project team of the F-IT manager’s desktop portal had to carefully review the content offered to ensure that we met SAP’s requirements for each content item to function properly. You don’t have to be running the latest release of mySAP ERP — many iViews also work with earlier releases — but the required pieces of the back-end system must not have been customized.

For example, we had customized SAP HR to such an extent that some of the iViews in the MSS Business Package would not work correctly. We had to research the required back-end settings for each of the more than 120 content items to see which ones would work in our landscape. This process was essential to the project. Now, we always look to the MSS Business Package first to see if any of the content items support our needs before we undertake any customization. Single content pieces are aligned within pages, worksets, and roles, and, essentially, are put in context with the full picture of the final portal.

The next step was to compare the iViews that would function in the system environment with the yet-to-be-built portal. An iView that displays the current weather information isn’t relevant for a manager’s desktop portal, but an iView that can be personalized to display the manager’s cost-center variances fits the goal of the portal very well. Then, the iViews needed to be arranged and composed to build a complete picture.

The second key to portal implementation deals with roles. When composing portal content, the project team soon realized that some content could be visible to every employee, while only authorized personnel should see other pieces of content. For example, delicate HR information, such as salary or personal information, should be accessible only by the employee’s immediate supervisor, while the company’s news should be available to everyone. Portal roles enable you to selectively provide content to different user groups.

During the initial discussions when the team created roles, it became clear that you have to define rules for new portal roles. The F-IT Portal with all its content had to be maintainable far into the future. The team imagined a scenario in which a portal contained more than 50 different roles.

The most difficult challenge would be maintaining the portal from a help desk perspective. It would have been nearly impossible for the help desk to address user calls that referred to particular pieces of content within the portal. Generally, the calling user wouldn’t be aware of which portal role he or she was assigned to. The help desk has to be able to investigate which portal role holds the content item that the user is addressing. You want to limit the number of portal roles for a particular portal because too much effort is required if you create more roles. In the end, the F-IT Portal team limited the number of roles per portal to a maximum of 10.

Even more, if the personalization option of the portal is made available to the end user, the handling of help desk calls can easiliy become impossible. If a user personalizes the content of his portal pages and essentially redesigns the content layout, the help desk will have trouble identifying the user’s problem. When reviewing the potential of personalization and later maintenance of such, it became clear that allowing content personalization was not an option.

The F-IT Portal went live in March 2002 with two productive portal roles: manager and employee. Even today, it uses the MSS Business Package connected to SAP R/3 4.6, additional content from mySAP CRM 4, SAP BW 3.1 Web Reports, and information from some non-SAP systems. During the portal’s life cycle, the team also developed its own Java iViews to enhance the portal’s functionality and importance to the user community. For example, when looking at the corporate database, the team modified the birthdate display to show only month and day, not year.

The Vibracoustic Portal: ROI

Our various companies then began to evaluate their own portal approaches. Vibracoustic Europe, another Freudenberg company, challenged the approach with questions about the value of a portal. Vibracoustic focuses on vibration and sound control within the automotive industry. Vibracoustic’s axial air spring, for example, is used by Mercedes-Benz in its S-Class models. The automotive industry is challenging and is marked by suppliers who respond quickly to RFPs. An SAP-based portal needed to prove itself valuable to Vibracoustic’s business before it would be accepted.

Vibracoustic asked Freudenberg IT to perform an ROI study to analyze the potential of an SAP NetWeaver Portal implementation. The basis for the study was SAP EP 5.0 in conjunction with the integrated SAP KM platform, which provides you with the tools you need to find and disseminate information. The study focused on four potential areas for a positive ROI: processes, workflow, KM, and IT.

The ROI team identified two distinct business processes early on. The first process concentrated on a qualitative improvement in document routing. It is vital to Vibracoustic to respond to customer requests in a timely fashion — certainly faster than its competitors. Thirteen lead centers are located throughout Europe, and engineering and administration documents had been routed through the company via regular house mail — a time-consuming manual process. By digitizing these documents and using SAP KM and Business Workflow through SAP NetWeaver Portal, the speed of moving these documents to the appropriate offices and employees has been significantly increased.

The second process focused on improving quantitative and measurable figures in document routing. For example, it is common business practice for suppliers in Europe to issue a 2 percent discount on an invoice that is paid within two weeks of its receipt. In the past, Vibracoustic often failed to meet the two-week window because it needed to forward invoices received at one of the lead centers to headquarters and the central accounts payable department. Using SAP KM, Business Workflow, and SAP NetWeaver Portal clearly improved the key performance indicators (KPIs). This improvement was outstanding when the project team calculated the number of invoices processed and how much the possible savings on them might be. The achievable savings easily covered the complete operation costs of the SAP NetWeaver Portal landscape.

The final result of the ROI study approached break even after only seven months. The savings from reducing IT costs was minimal compared to the potential improvement of existing business processes. That improvement came mostly in the form of automation, which reduced the time needed to complete those processes. With SAP KM, the key to automating document-centric processes such as invoicing was Business Workflow. (Both processes have not yet been fully implemented but are underway. The first phase focused on establishing the infrastructure as the groundwork, upon which enhancements can now be built.)

The Vibracoustic Portal went live on SAP NetWeaver Portal in July 2004. In addition to the above processes, the team implemented the MSS Business Package, Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA), and existing Windows File Servers through this portal. In addition, this portal automatically pulls news and announcements from the FIX Portal and presents them to Vibracoustic’s portal users— a feature they appreciate.

The Freudenberg-NOK Portal: SAP Without SAP

The Freudenberg-NOK Portal took an approach completely different from our other portals. Freudenberg-NOK is also an automotive supplier and is the North American partnership of the Japanese NOK Group and the German Freudenberg Group. The company’s first SAP product is this portal. The project identified and underlined the ultimate long-term goal: to enhance the Freudenberg Portal Network and improve communication and collaboration.

The first phase of this project concentrated on successfully implementing the portal within the business. The team faced two major challenges: the widespread use of non-SAP solutions and the need for a bulletproof SSO concept. SAP stressed SAP NetWeaver’s capabilities and its openness to other vendors’ solutions. Implementing this portal pushed SAP NetWeaver to its limits. Today, the portal integrates many systems, some of them proprietary. Lotus Notes is one of the key systems that has been enhanced by this portal. It allows access through SSO to Lotus iNotes, the Web-based Lotus email access, as well as other self-developed Lotus Notes database applications. Furthermore, Lotus Quickplace, Lotus’s approach to collaboration rooms and its real-time collaboration component, are integrated into the Freudenberg-NOK Portal.

The success of the project was guaranteed by our project approach. The strategy was for this portal to become the universal employee desktop. This tactic required not only input from all business units, but also a final buy-in by them. Our joint application design (JAD) team met on a biweekly basis during the design and implementation phase. We regularly reviewed the status and results of the project and discussed new ideas and suggestions for improvement. The JAD approach, like the rapid development approach, requires more time and resources than the typical approach. Nevertheless, the Freudenberg-NOK Portal successfully went live in July 2004 after a four-month development and implementation phase. Today, the portal platform is consistently enhanced with additional applications for nearly 2,200 employees. Applications such as the Travel Expense System, HR Benefits, and Project Monitoring systems are integrated into the portal alongside smaller SAP KM applications.

One measure of the success of a portal implementation is its “stickiness,” a gauge of how many users accept and use the provided business content on a regular basis. The Freudenberg-NOK Portal serves more than 30 percent of users concurrently on a daily basis, and that number is growing. The stickiness of this communication and collaboration portal is quite high compared to other implementations. A good rule of thumb is that concurrent usage by 10 percent of the user base is good performance for a portal. So at 30 percent, we are secure in saying that this portal has been successfully launched and accepted by the users.

[9] Lessons Learned

The Freudenberg Group’s multiple-portal strategy, although risky at first, has proven sound over the past five years. Experience has taught us many lessons about portal implementation. Here are nine of them:

  1. Content is king! You need a precise definition of the portal’s content to make sure that requirements for that content are met. For example, MSS offers content in the form of iViews and SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence (BI) reports; unless you expect to receive the data in the form that it comes to you, as iViews and SAP NetWeaver BI reports, you’re going to run into problems.

  2. Portal roles enable you to selectively provide content to different user groups. For the long-term success of the portal, you have to define rules for new portal roles, such as the number of roles to allow for a particular portal. Opening too many roles in a portal can cause overload conditions on your help desk staff, as each role adds exponentially to the task. Not opening enough can defeat the purpose of the portal.

  3. A portal can enable even an international team to collaborate. For example, Freudenberg’s FIX Portal enabled an international team that included members from marketing, product management, and IT departments in 14 European countries to collaborate on the release of a new product.

  4. SSO for non-SAP systems can be difficult to implement, but it can be done. At the time that we released the FIX Portal, the adapters we needed for non-SAP systems weren’t available, so we developed them ourselves. It was the most challenging task we faced.

  5. An ROI study can help you make a portal decision, and the results are likely to astound you. We found that the potential improvement of existing business processes more than paid for the portal’s operation.

  6. If an SAP NetWeaver Portal implementation would be your first SAP product, it’s worth checking out. It can significantly improve your communication and collaboration. I know ours did.

  7. One measure of an SAP NetWeaver Portal implementation is its “stickiness,” which gauges the number of users who accept and use the content regularly. Concurrent usage by 10 percent of the user base is considered good performance. At Freudenberg, more than 30 percent of users concurrently use the Freudenberg-NOK Portal on a daily basis, and that number is still growing.

  8. You should not use personalization within a portal due to later manageability — or the lack thereof. If the end user has access to the portal’s personalization features, the help desk will have trouble identifying the user’s problem.

  9. The help desk should reduce the number of rules they apply to a portal to make the task of supporting it easier to do and easier to manage.

Freudenberg has experienced a “paradigm shift” — its portal strategy now allows for a network of portals, instead of a “one-portal-for-all” approach. Recently, we revisited our plan and reviewed the newest portal developments. Our new evolved portal strategy brings the advanced features of the SAP NetWeaver technology platform and the underlying enterprise services architecture (ESA) to a new level. Even today, it is obvious that using Web services together with the Federated Portal network approach will help us achieve our ultimate goal to be a premier supplier to our customers. We need to differentiate ourselves by our capability to quickly adopt new processes. Technology is a key enabler in attaining this goal, and we expect SAP’s product suite and the SAP NetWeaver platform will provide the required structure.

Our next steps will further focus on deeper content syndication. We are redefining the portal strategy for the Freudenberg Group to answer the question: How can we build our portal business to compete better? More content will be asked for, and more content will be made available. The type of content presented will also evolve from single-content iViews and application worksets to complete sets of content-reflecting parts or even complete processes. Freudenberg will learn how to integrate a project across business divisions, and our database will become transactional.

This evolution will not occur overnight; it will happen slowly. A portal is not a destination; it is a journey.

The Federated Portal
by Carsten Boennen, SAP

The Federated Portal makes live, direct access to global applications and content possible without having to set up replication and synchronization mechanisms for content repositories. The Federated Portal is based on SAP NetWeaver Portal, and is available with SAP NetWeaver 2004s. It lets you share, integrate, and display multilingual information from applications and persistence layers anywhere in the world. Portal clients in any location can access this information.

The Federated Portal approach creates a single, virtual, content pool where portals at any location can share content. It makes it easier to implement and operate SAP NetWeaver Portal globally. The Federated Portal is a logical continuation of SAP’s global-portal scenarios, including Central Portal, which has a single portal at a central location and provides a single-user experience, and

Syndicated Portal, which adds a remote content provider to the mix. It is also the final global portal planned.

Three new key capabilities are available with the Federated Portal (in all cases, the execution base stays on the producer):

  1. Remote Role Assignment lets you share roles fully, so that the SAP NetWeaver Portal (producer) within the “federation” can expose its roles to the federation and any SAP NetWeaver Portal (consumer) within the federation can assign these roles to its local users. Remote role assignment supports all portal-navigation features and adds no new duties to the consumer’s administrator. Any changes made to the role on the producer are also available on the consumer.

  2. Copy and Localize lets you copy content from any SAP NetWeaver Portal (producer) in the federation to your local SAP NetWeaver Portal (consumer). You use and configure copied content exactly the same as you would local content. This makes it easy to reuse content and modify it as you need to. Any changes to the original content don’t affect your local copy.

  3. Web Services for Remote Portlets (WSRP) Support comes with the Federated Portal. So, the federation can use any portlet that a WSRP producer — either SAP or non-SAP — exposes to it. The consumer portal makes remote portlets part of local content as standard iViews.

    Limitation: The WSRP standard doesn’t support roles, worksets, or pages, so you can’t share the portal content structure using WSRP. This, in turn, means that Remote Role Assignment, which allows full sharing of roles, or Copy & Localize, which makes copies of local content available to another portal, should be used between SAP NetWeaver Portals. Both of these capabilities use extensions to the WSRP standard to enable them to share SAP content. By using WSRP extensions, SAP ensures full WSRP support.

    Within the Federated Portal scenario, you can mix any of these key capabilities together.
Global Portal Scenarios - Comparison
  Central Syndicated Federated
Sharable unit iView (using URL iView) iView iView, page, workset, role
Local settings (properties override) None, URL iView as a container Page Builder properties (mainly look and feel) Full (also business properties, such as lookup-table fields)
Remote and local properties mixture None Partial (look and feel is local, business from producer) None
Personalization None Full Full
User base and authentication Multiple Single Single

TCO Down — ROI Up

Overall, using the Federated Portal reduces your total cost of ownership (TCO). It lets you reuse content and applications worldwide. A global-portal network helps to promote the autonomy of business units: It enhances flexibility and enables a quick response to diverse requirements in different countries.

By delegating administration, SAP NetWeaver Portal makes it easy to maintain content and applications that are available in different geographical locations. Delegating administration tasks to the appropriate content-matter experts makes maintenance much easier. The Federated Portal also lets you integrate non-SAP portals into the federation, so you can exchange content between dissimilar systems through WSRP.

Carsten Boennen is a Product Manager for SAP NetWeaver Portal and Product Manager for SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer. He has been with SAP since receiving his M.A. in 2001 in Germany.

Challenges and solutions of the Freudenberg-NOK Portal project
Challenges
  • Implementation of SAP NetWeaver Portal in a non-SAP environment

  • Implementation of SSO for Lotus, IBM, self-developed Java applications

  • Integration into the Freudenberg Portal Network
Solutions
  • SAP NetWeaver Portal with SAP KM

  • SSO using SAP tools and RSA Cleartrust

  • Integration of Lotus Quickplace, Lotus Sametime, and Lotus iNotes

  • Development of additional portal applications such as Career-Profile

A FIX project room
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Freudenberg’s portal landscape
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The F-IT Portal with MSS
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Vibracoustic ROI study
click here for a larger version of this image

 

Rovan H. Siegfried is the manager of SAP NetWeaver technology at Freudenberg IT LP (Freudenberg’s American subsidiary) in Plymouth, Michigan. His primary focus is the evaluation and implementation of SAP NetWeaver solutions. Siegfried is also chairman of the Special Interest Group “Portal Implementation and Support” in America’s SAP User Group (ASUG) and heads the Michigan Portal Interest Group. For more information, please visit www.freudenberg-it.com.

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