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Special Report: Workflows in Duet

by Microsoft and SAP

August 11, 2009

by Microsoft and SAP SAP NetWeaver Magazine - Volume 4, Issue 1
 

“Information at your fingertips” is a mantra for Duet, the integration product that melds SAP’s back-end systems to Microsoft Office’s front-end applications, especially Microsoft Outlook.

But not only does Duet provide SAP-based information in a familiar context — Microsoft Office — it also provides that information within a familiar business process, thanks to its ability to integrate with SAP Workflow.

“We want to make sure information workers have all the information they need at their fingertips to make an educated decision,” says David Brutman, director of information worker marketing for SAP. “For end users to react to approval workflows in an efficient and optimal way, they need just the right information — not to overwhelm the users with unnecessary information but to ensure that it is valuable — to produce the appropriate decision and to track it. The number of users that participate in workflows is very high, which makes the workflow approval a key opportunity for customers to leverage Duet.”

The workflow approval process in Duet offers end users a convenient four-step process:

  1. The approver is notified of the task via email in his or her Outlook inbox.

  2. The email contains the in-context information required to support a decision, as well as access to additional information via the Duet task pane (see the leave approval request in the Duet workflow screen below).

  3. The end user makes a decision and executes it using the approve/reject buttons and toolbars in the email.

  4. The end user then tracks the decision as it continues through the workflow in the Outlook task view.
An example of Duet workflow message, a leave approval request

Duet contains several scenarios with easily configurable workflows out of the box:

  • Leave approval and trip approval in version 1.0

  • Purchasing approval and expense approval in the newest release, version 1.5

  • Additional approvals that will be available in forthcoming Duet releases

These workflows also contain several features that add flexibility, such as task tracking and delegation. (For more details, see the sidebar “Tracking Workflows and Delegation” below.)

Tracking Workflows and Delegation

Two powerful features of Duet’s workflow capability are the ability to track workflows and the ability to delegate an approval to someone else.

  • Tracking: Information workers can use the Task view of Outlook to see all inbound workflow items that require action and all the ones that have already been completed or rejected. As a way to track workflows, it can be an effective monitoring tool.

  • Delegation: For occasions when a user is not available to react to an approval, either for a period of time (e.g., vacation) or for a specific workflow approval (e.g., due to high workload or lack of information), they can delegate the permission to participate in a workflow to someone else directly from Duet. If it is a “one-time” delegation, the user can reassign the workflow (see Reassign Approver below).

If it is for an extended period of time, the user can define a substitute (see Assign a Substitute below).

An example of the user reassigning the approval to someone else An example of the user defining a substitute for the workflow

Advantages of Workflow Approvals Using Duet

Within any given day, a manager or a key user may be required to approve workflows that vary little in approach and execution. Many are related to human capital management, such as requests for leaves, business trips, and expense approvals; others are related to budgets, such as invoice approvals and purchasing approvals; and many others cross over into subject areas as far-flung as sales management and customer service.

A workflow approval is usually part of a business process, which makes it critical to react to it in a timely and optimal manner. Providing workflow approvals in a familiar environment with the correct information available is key.

Duet workflow approvals offer a comprehensive approach for the end users. Users get notifications of requests that are waiting for their approval directly in Outlook, their day-to-day productivity tool. These requests may appear in an email or in an Outlook task (based on the user’s selection), accompanied with pertinent information retrieved from the SAP system. This data might be decision-relevant information or links to external information and embedded reports from the SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence (SAP NetWeaver BI) system (using the Duet reporting solution that was discussed in “Reporting with Duet,” SAP NetWeaver Magazine, Fall 2007).

This approach eliminates the need for end users to search for the data they need as well as decreasing the time required for workflow processing, so information workers can take better advantage of time-critical business opportunities. It also ensures that the decisions made are well informed.

Workflows from various back-end systems are enabled in Duet using the same user interface design, and therefore requiring little or no training. Users can approve these workflows online as well as offline in a fully secured manner.

Duet Enables Existing Workflows

Duet provides several workflow-related scenarios, such as leave management, but it also can be used by customers running workflows that leverage the SAP NetWeaver Business Workflow in their landscape. Those workflows made available to a large community of information workers, especially those who rely on Microsoft Office applications as their preferred productivity tools, can be enabled through Outlook using Duet.

This approval enablement is possible through the Duet Workflow Approval Template, which enables a customer to create a hook to an existing workflow. Like the out-of-the-box scenarios in Duet, this template can be used to enable users to retrieve relevant information from the workflow, display it in Outlook, and perform an action on the workflow as a result of a user action. Since this process requires no change to the workflows themselves, it is non-disruptive to the production systems.

The information displayed to the end user in the email/task body and the task panes are provided by the template. As the workflow approvals might require different types of information, additional information can be configured for display; for example, in Leave Approval, this can mean a leave-days quota field or a leave-days expended field. Additional fields, SAP NetWeaver BI reports, or action buttons can also be configured dependent on the specific requirements of the particular workflow.

Another level of flexibility is the user interface. While an out-of-the-box user interface is provided for a typical workflow with the approval template, various areas in the task pane and the body of the email can be changed (e.g., to enable the user to see previous approvers or to provide links to additional resources).

The Duet system hosting the Duet workflow approval enables information workers to make decisions while offline, all the while maintaining strict security, support for enterprise roles for workflows, authorization and user identity, and much more. For example, users are automatically authenticated using single sign-on (SSO) without the need for a manual login.

To implement a workflow approval step in Duet, the Workflow template makes use of existing skills, such as the Workflow knowledge, to create the Duet hook to the workflow. For the user interface configuration, Duet is providing a configuration wizard that runs in Microsoft Visual Studio.

Workflows That Meet End-User Needs

Duet offers many pre-packaged workflow scenarios. It also provides tools that allow customers to modify existing workflows when appropriate. The pre-packaged scenarios are available right out of the box; the modification tools require some configuration using the Duet Workflow Approval Template discussed above. Either one of the alternatives, however, presents significant benefits for the SAP customer — both for the end user and for the organization.

For additional information about Duet workflows, please visit the SAP Developers Network (SDN) Duet discussion forum at www.sdn.sap.com/irj/sdn/duet. Please also visit the Duet for Microsoft Office and SAP Web site at www.duet.com.

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