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?

I was impressed with what SAP has delivered in this first released, especially some of the nice handling of data and rules. Yet many things that are still missing:

  • task UI generation
  • simulation
  • KPI measurement
  • asynchronous web services calls
  • links to/from ARIS
  • common process composition environment across BPM and ERP processes
  • BPEL translation
  • business analyst perspective in process and rules modelers
  • BPMN 2.0 support
  • strategy for merging or coexisting with NetWeaver process orchestration platform

In a briefing at SAPPHIRE, I did see a bit of the roadmap for what's coming in the next year or two. In 2009, the focus will be on releasing the common process layer to allow for discovery, design and management of processes that include core (ERP) processes, human tasks in BPM, and service orchestration. This is the make-or-break feature for NetWeaver BPM: if SAP can't show much deeper integration with their ERP suite than any other BPM system vendor can offer, then NetWeaver BPM is just another behind-the-curve BPM system struggling for market share. If SAP does this right, they will be positioned to win deals against other vendors that target SAP customers, as well as having a pre-existing relationship with SAP customers who may not yet have considered BPM.

Also before the end of the year, expect to see convergence of SAP BPM and BI, which is badly needed in order to provide dashboard/monitoring capabilities for BPM.

Further out, SAP is planning to introduce a UI generator that will create a simple forms-based UI for tasks based on the process context (data model), as well as reports generated from the process definition and point-and-click integration of analytics at process steps. There will be more robust event provisioning tied to the existing event structure in the ERP layer, allowing events to be propagated to external applications such as BPM, and intermediate message events integrated with Business Suite. As mentioned previously, there will be new perspectives in the Process Composer, initially a business analyst perspective with a different focus than the existing technical perspective, not just a dumbed-down version as I've seen in other tools, and eventually they'll use the Eclipse rich client platform (RCP) for an even lighter weight (and less geeky) Eclipse interface. There are plans for allowing ad hoc collaboration at a process step -- necessary for case management functionality -- as well as allowing operation managers to have control over interactive rule thresholds, providing greater business control over processes once they are in operation.

NetWeaver BPM is not the best BPM system on the market. However, SAP doesn't need to have the best system on the market: it needs to have the best BPMS for SAP customers. They're not quite there yet, but it's an achievable goal.

Sandy Kemsley is an independent analyst, systems architect and blogger specializing in business process management and Enterprise 2.0. She currently performs engagements for end-user organizations and BPM vendors; she also writes the “Column 2” BPM blog and is a contributing author on several social media-related blogs including the Intelligent Enterprise Weblog.