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10/26/2009
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SAP NetWeaver BPM: A 1.0 Product With Promise

It's not the best business process management system on the market, but can it be the best system for SAP customers?

Pros:

  • Promises a BPM suite that will be complementary and well integrated with SAP applications.
  • Plans call for a common modeler and composition environment to provide visibility into ERP processes -- a huge draw for existing SAP customers seeking more agility in ERP processes.
  • There's tight integration between the rules and process environment, but the rules management system is a separate entity that can be used independent of BPM for the best of both worlds.
Cons:
  • Lacks (planned) line-of-business user and executive views crucial to serving all process participants
  • Lacks support for asynchronous Web services calls; thus, you'll have to use the existing NetWeaver Process Integrator to create system-centric processes.
  • Lots of important functionality is planned, rather than available in the current release.

The driver for business process management (BPM) at SAP is pretty obvious: Business Workflow within the SAP ERP suite just isn't agile or functional enough to compete with what's been happening in the larger BPM market. SAP customers have been bringing in other BPM suites for years to complement their SAP systems.

"Process changes in an ERP are difficult and require many hours from developers," admits Donka Dimitrova of the SAP NetWeaver BPM product management team. Oh, the irony of this coming from an SAP employee!

PROCESS DESIGN

The Eclipse-based Process Composer is part of the NetWeaver Developers' Studio, and it's used to create processes in the context of other development tools, such as the Yasu rules engine (which SAP acquired) and user interfaces. As in most modern BPM systems, what you draw in the Process Composer (in BPMN) is directly executed, although user interfaces must be created in other development tools such as Web Dynpro or Adobe Interactive forms, then linked to the process steps. There are future plans to generate a UI from the process context data or provide some sort of graphics forms designer, but that's not there yet.

As with most Eclipse-based process modelers, Process Composer offers multiple perspectives of a shared process model for different types of process design participants (as shown below). For now, there is only a process architect (technical) perspective in the modeler; the business analyst view will be released later this year. Future releases will include a line-of-business manager view to see task sequences and parallelism, but no details of gateways. The vendor also plans an executive view of major phases with analytics and KPI dashboards.

SAP NetWeaver BPM perspectives

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