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What You Need to Know About SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment: 10 Key Points to Consider

by Raghavendra Subbarao

July 10, 2009

Does your IT team fully understand why composite applications can help the business — and how to create these innovative and adaptive applications? This article shares the personal experiences of an early adopter of SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment, sheds light on the cost vs. benefit of using the solution’s modeling capabilities, and points out pitfalls to avoid in your own implementations.
 

While focusing on refining their business processes, organizations often find themselves finally retiring outdated business applications. In the process, they look to new technologies to consolidate their IT landscape and streamline business processes. At the same time, these technologies must be flexible enough to align with long-term infrastructure enhancement plans and enterprise software strategies.

At an earlier job, my manager handed me some session materials from an SAP TechEd conference presentation about a new SAP offering: SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment (SAP NetWeaver CE). After reviewing the materials and carefully considering whether the offering would help us meet our long-term goals, we decided the solution seemed to be a good fit for both our application retirement strategy as well as our SAP enhancement strategy. When presenting the prospect of implementing a brand-new technology, it’s normal to encounter some skepticism and anxiety. However, we had strong management support behind us, and we agreed to sign up for the ramp-up program.

Not long after, in the midst of a large SAP implementation, we discovered a particular business process that we were manually executing via disconnected applications. Users had to work with both custom and SAP applications and enter information multiple times in these disparate systems. This error-prone business process led to longer processing times (approximately three-to-four weeks) and didn’t provide stakeholders any visibility regarding the current status of their request.

In response to this problem, our project team built its very first composite application with SAP NetWeaver CE to streamline this process and replace the legacy custom application. The resulting application reduced the number of days for process comp letion and gave pipeline visibility into the process.

As one of the first customers to adopt SAP NetWeaver CE, our project team was without the luxury of having customer reference calls to learn from, and we became familiar with the product ourselves through trial and error. Based on my experiences as an early adopter, this article will shed some light on the cost vs. benefit of using composite applications. I’ll also share some tips that I learned along the way and point out some pitfalls to avoid in your own implementation of SAP NetWeaver CE.

Building Composite Applications

SAP NetWeaver CE is a comprehensive development environment for customers and partners to create their own user-centric composite applications, which can bring together functionality from different sources and provide users with context-aware solutions. For SAP customers who have a roadmap to migrate legacy applications into SAP software as a part of their transformation initiatives, composite applications can help bridge the gap without disrupting business activities.

Due to the various modeling capabilities that SAP NetWeaver CE provides, the offering is not targeted just at the developer community. Business systems analysts and business users can use SAP NetWeaver CE to create simple composite applications. However, more complex applications will require expertise from skilled developers. The figure below shows a sample business process model created using SAP NetWeaver CE. And the figure on page 22 provides an example of a completed composite application.

Composite applications enhance the capabilities that SAP solutions deliver, and they also provide for completely new business functionality that users can model, design, and implement from scratch. Some of the best opportunities for customers to leverage SAP NetWeaver CE-based composite applications are:

  • Extending and enhancing business processes without customizing the core SAP Business Suite

  • Building user-friendly applications that can be delivered outside of the traditional SAP GUI, such as through SAP NetWeaver Portal and SAP NetWeaver Mobile

  • Delivering flexible and innovative solutions by composing “mashups” of disparate applications (across SAP and non-SAP software) that help maintain the business scenario context

  • Automating manual, paper-based processes

  • Supporting an application retirement strategy

  • Enabling the creation of business processes from scratch

  • Reducing the technologies stack by migrating existing Java EE applications from across different application servers — thereby simplifying the IT landscape and in turn reducing maintenance costs

One of the primary benefits of using SAP NetWeaver CE against other development platforms is its out-of-the-box integration (not just at the technical level, but from a business level too) with other SAP components.

Choosing an Approach

As exciting as it is to take the first steps toward building composite applications, a well-planned approach will help you to eliminate surprises and to obtain the maximum value.

Customers generally approach SAP NetWeaver CE either by evaluating it before launching into a project or by diving right in. The less invasive approach is to install SAP NetWeaver CE in a sandbox and evaluate its capabilities. IT generally sponsors such a method, where the forward engineering group within the solutions or architecture organization spearheads the pilot.

The other option is to work with a business client or sponsor to identify a non-mission-critical business process — something that can wait if the system is down for more than 24 hours — and use that process as a pilot for SAP NetWeaver CE. In this approach, the business and the IT team can share sponsorship.

Unless the organization is novice to Java technology (ABAP-centric) and would like to explore SAP NetWeaver CE purely from a technology perspective, I recommend taking this business-oriented approach. While the vision for composite applications can be global, this business-focused approach provides an opportunity to start small. Also, while discussing SAP NetWeaver CE’s capabilities with the business partner community, I’ve always seen excitement and support — so engage a partner and help get sponsorship!

Tips for a Successful Implementation

Once you select an approach, there are many factors to consider when you start transitioning from a trial phase to implementing a real-world composite application with SAP NetWeaver CE. The following 10 tips provide important information about common pitfalls and how to sidestep them.

1. Think About the Big-Picture Effects

Before moving to using composite applications, make sure you ask, and know how to answer, these questions: Where does SAP NetWeaver CE fit in our IT ecosystem? Do composites align with our target architecture? Depending on how you decide to utilize composite applications, there will be an impact to areas such as total cost of ownership, maintenance complexities, and service levels. The goal of composite applications is not to simply shift the cost of ownership from existing development methods, but to reduce the cost of ownership.

2. Understand the Impact to Users

If the consumers are long-time SAP users who primarily work with SAP software, such as power users, they might be most comfortable using classic SAP features, shortcuts, and hot keys, and copying information from one place to another (available within SAP GUI) to efficiently do their job. In such cases, introducing composite applications could affect productivity and might not be the right choice.

It is imperative to understand the impact of composite applications on various strategic and tactical aspects of your organization. Generally, while the focus is on acquiring the right development skills, organizations should also understand the impact on user experience, security, system administration, testing, and change management, and invest accordingly. Adapting to technologies like SAP NetWeaver CE can be a cultural shift to the users.

3. Look at Your Overall Business Process Platform

Approach SAP NetWeaver CE not simply as a Java EE-based development platform, but as an extension to your business process platform (BPP). Most of the principles and disciplines in place for a BPP also apply to SAP NetWeaver CE. For example, governance around business semantics, such as customer master and material master, should be enforced within the SAP NetWeaver CE platform as well.

4. Learn How SOA and Composites Work

It’s vital that customers clearly understand how service-oriented architecture (SOA) and SAP NetWeaver CE relate.

Although the solution is built on SOA principles and ships with SOA-enabled tools, such as Java EE 5, it does not guarantee a successful SOA practice.

5. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

While extending or enhancing a process that is within SAP Business Suite, you should carefully analyze the potential costs and benefits of implementing features like data persistency and audit logging.

The life cycle of this type of information is usually the same as the core process that you are aiming to extend. In cases like these, I recommend that you leverage the capabilities that are already available in SAP Business Suite, as opposed to duplicating those capabilities within the SAP NetWeaver CE environment. This not only reduces the cost of implementation, but also helps maintain information integrity.

6. Know the Compliance Requirements

Generally, organizations must adhere to regulatory compliance requirements such as those set forth in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Make sure you take those requirements into consideration during the estimation efforts for the application development. For example, archiving forms or other attachments within a business process in a validated manner is a common requirement that is not supported out of the box within SAP NetWeaver CE.

7. Consider Organizational Dynamics

Once you move past the simple workflow scenarios, organizational dynamics such as delegation due to a new hire, termination, or an absence enter the picture. While some such scenarios are supported by SAP NetWeaver CE, others might require custom development on the customer side that would affect the cost of implementation.

8. Use One Service Repository

Maintain a single system of record for your enterprise services. Both SAP NetWeaver CE and SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (SAP NetWeaver PI), starting with version 7.1, ship with the Enterprise Services Repository (ESR). For customers who currently have SAP NetWeaver PI or include it as a part of their roadmap, as a best practice, you should use a single ESR, preferably the one in SAP NetWeaver PI.

9. Put a Services Governance Plan in Place

Services are the backbone of composite applications. Have a comprehensive plan on how your enterprise services will be managed, availed, scaled, and secured — i.e., a MASS plan. Without proper governance, it’s easy to end up with a quagmire of composite applications and Web services that are challenging to manage. Set governance and standards around your SOA strategy before building composite applications, and publish and socialize the discipline established around service management.

10. Document and Publish a Composite Strategy

With powerful modeling capabilities and the ability to deliver relatively faster solutions, it is easy for business and IT to start taking the “composite approach” for every situation. To avoid such a circumstance, create a solid reference architecture document with detailed guiding principles, decision trees, and design patterns, which will immensely help the project teams make the right choice.

These architectural artifacts guide the project teams in activities such as selecting the right tool for the right task — for example, deciding whether Web Dynpro is the right user interface for high-traffic, customer-facing solutions. Project teams should consult the reference architecture as part of the architectural analysis activity.

Planning Ahead Leads to Success

Meticulous planning and a well-defined strategy will ensure successful adoption of SAP NetWeaver CE. By understanding the technical architecture and the impact it brings, organizations can properly prepare themselves to successfully leverage composite applications to add tremendous value to their business.

What Are Composites?

Composites are simply applications built by combining existing functions into a new application. While the nimble technology might be old news to the developer community, it is still relatively novel from a customer-adoption standpoint. These applications, which typically consume other applications that are exposed as services, thrive on the concepts of agility and reusability.

Depending on the scenario, the timeframe for implementing composite applications can range from a mere few days to several months. Based on complexity, composite applications can be broadly classified into various types — from ultra-light composites that involve no development (coding) efforts and can be rapidly implemented and deployed even by business systems analysts, to heavy composites that can require nearly a dozen developers with a broad range of skills.

 Business Process Modeling
Modeling a business process in SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment
 Example composite application
Example of a composite application created with SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment

SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment: Technical Details

The SAP NetWeaver technology platform supports SAP Business Suite but also has offerings that provide shared capabilities such as integration, data warehousing, portal access, data management, and lifecycle management, which are implemented on SAP NetWeaver Application Server (SAP NetWeaver AS) in either ABAP or Java. These SAP Business Suite capabilities use SAP NetWeaver AS as a foundation for the development and delivery of their core business processes.

At the time of this writing, the latest release of SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment (SAP NetWeaver CE) is version 7.1 with enhancement package 1, which runs on a Java EE 5-compliant application server. Developers primarily use the Eclipse-based integrated development environment that has an SAP software perspective.

The chart below lists some of the main offerings of SAP NetWeaver CE and their target users.

SAP NetWeaver Composition
Environment Offerings
Capabilities
Target Users
Guided Procedures Process orchestration, workflow Developers, business systems analysts
SAP Composite Application Framework Business logic: service development, composition, and consumption Developers
SAP Interactive Forms software by Adobe Adobe PDF form-based user interfaces Developers, business systems analysts, business users
SAP NetWeaver Business Process Management
(SAP NetWeaver BPM)
Process orchestration, workflow Developers, business systems analysts
SAP NetWeaver Business Rules Management
(SAP NetWeaver BRM)
Implementing configurable business rules within SAP NetWeaver BPM Developers, business systems analysts
SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer Web-based user interfaces Developers, business systems analysts, business users
SAP NetWeaver Voice Voice-based applications Developers, business systems analysts, business users
Web Dynpro Complex user interfaces for various clients such as Web and mobile Developers

6 Lessons Learned

Engage business users throughout the process.Whether you’re talking about user interfaces or process flow, engaging the users wherever possible helps eliminate surprises at the end. Involving users as you make progress will not only encourage them, but they will also appreciate the collaboration.

Build stubs. If possible, build skeletal models (or stubs) of process flows, user interfaces, and services, and obtain a sign-off from process owners and stakeholders; you can later remove the stubs, implement the logic, orchestrate the components, and complete the application.

Arm your IT team with the right skills. Because of the wide array of tools available with SAP NetWeaver CE, consider building a center of excellence (COE) around composites. Whether you adopt a “train the trainer” program, provide in-house training, or send individual employees to a training session, a comprehensive training plan will go a long way. Education sessions will help the team members develop a clear understanding of the features and limitations of various components.

Prioritize user-centric requirements. A high-quality user experience will foster increased participation and support from the business community. While some best practices recommend designing the user interface at the end of the process, I suggest capturing the user interface requirements right after you capture the process steps. It is important to ensure alignment between the process flow and how users prefer to use the solution in order to boost productivity and efficiency. When estimating the costs for the composite application, make sure you have a thorough understanding of the deliverable. Missing minor things like exposing “value help” through the user interface could throw your budget off track.

Do not underestimate system administration efforts. Installing various components (depending on your scenario), configuring them to work with other components such as Adobe Document Server, SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW), or legacy systems, and continually managing them requires strong Basis and Java administration skills. Plan and estimate sufficient time for such activities before starting to race against time for delivering the composite application.

Be prepared for surprises. SAP NetWeaver CE, being a relatively new addition to the SAP solution portfolio, is still evolving. As SAP’s internal roadmap changes, some tools may change, or new tools might not fully integrate with the other tools within SAP NetWeaver CE until future releases. In such cases, customers would either have to adapt or wait until the dust settles. In order to invest wisely, customers should have a clear understanding of the SAP roadmap around composite applications.

Raghavendra (Rao) Subbarao is an enterprise architect at Hospira. He is also the Chair for the Americas’ SAP User Group (ASUG) Business Process Architecture Group. His portfolio includes enterprise architecture, forward engineering, business architecture, identity and access management, solutions architecture, and business process management. He regularly publishes articles on various architectural and forward engineering topics and is a frequent speaker at SAP annual events. He can be reached at Raghavendra.subbarao@gmail.com.

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