SAP Tools for Process Definition, Modeling and Management

I spent the morning presenting an introduction to BPM in a jumpstart session at the SAP BPM 2008 event put on by SAP Insider and was going to spend the afternoon by the pool, but was tempted by Ann Rosenberg’s invitation to her afternoon session, A Complete Guide to SAP Tools for Business Process Definition, Modeling and Management. Ann is in the Business Transformation Consulting group at SAP, and was joined in the session by Marilyn Pratt (SAP BPX Community Evangelist), Greg Prickril (SAP NetWeaver BPM product management) and Charles Möller (Center for Industrial Production at Aalborg University).

Several people in the audience — including Ann and Marilyn — were in my session this morning, so had some context for this; Ann did a quick overview of BPM to start, and it was a good complement to my session since she covered many of the topics that I didn’t have time to address, such as the link between BPM and quality management programs like Six Sigma, and business process maturity models. One interesting quote from Ann: “The way we will run SAP projects going forward will be different from how we did it in the past”, due to the process orchestration capabilities that are now available.

She positions IDS Scheer’s ARIS as the place where you will do your business process modeling, which includes both manual and automated activities (by “manual”, I believe that she means those that are not touched in any way by the BPMS); automated activities make up typically less than 20% of all activities. Of those automated activities, you’ll then use NetWeaver BPM to model and execute less than 20% of those activities — the ones that are a competitive differentiator — whereas the remaining 80+% are standard activities/processes within SAP’s standard business suite.

My thoughts on this:

  • I don’t agree that only 20% of what most organizations model are candidates for any sort of automation if you include the manual tasks executed within a BPMS, but I haven’t done any definitive survey on this; the percentage would depend how much process modeling that your organization is doing as a standalone initiative, but I would expect a much higher percentage if your organization has some sort of BPMS initiative.
  • The 80% or more of the automated activities that are targeted for SAP’s business suite rather than BPM are those that are intended to be more “cost-effective”, which implies that it’s much more expensive to develop and execute business processes in NetWeaver BPM than in the core business systems. I don’t know enough about SAP to make that sort of cost comparison, but given the time and effort that I’ve heard is required to deploy and maintain an SAP business suite system, I find it hard to believe that a more agile BPM system is more expensive if you are going to do a comparison of a realistic (read: not static) process. I imagine that for truly standard processes — those where you could use SAP business suite out of the box — that would be true, but it’s not my impression that that happens a lot.

She had some good comments on business process maturity and how it relates to SAP: the core business products cover off the first three or four levels to get your processes standardized, then BPM kicks in when you move into the upper levels of continuous improvement. I think that’s a good context for SAP customers moving into BPM; if they’re using SAP’s business suite properly, then they already have some degree of business process maturity, but have no hope of achieving that continuous improvement nirvana without something more agile, like BPM.

Charles Möller was up next with an academic review of the management discipline of BPM that links to the book “Business Process Management – The SAP Roadmap” that he recently co-authored with Rosenberg and two others; this covered some of the history of quality management methodologies and their connection to business process, the current analyst views, some ongoing research, and more on process maturity models. He included some research on architectural maturity models, which are related to process maturity, particularly around how IT budgets decrease with architectural maturity up to the point of a centralized optimized core set of services, but increases when you reach a maturity level of business modularity since individual business units can’t have flexible business processes without increasing IT costs. Möller’s premise from his book is that this is just not going to fly, and that we have to have new paradigms for business process maturity: a new sort of IT value change that moves beyond business process management to business process innovation; where innovation and change is the standard rather than a specific set of processes or services as a standard. He sees enterprise architecture as the enabler in moving from process management to process innovation.

Ann Rosenberg was back up to talk about BPM governance, particularly in SAP’s structured approach to moving from a functional organization to a process organization. She talked about how SAP applied this approach to their own organization, and their experiences with it. She also had an interesting point about how there are no longer IT projects: every project is a process improvement project, otherwise you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s critical to build a process-centric IT department, not the old-style functional IT where each person is a specialist in a particular system or function. IT needs to recognize that they are an enabler for business change, not a driver of change, and hand the control back to the business. I resisted the urge to stand up and cheer.

Greg Prickril gave us a view of NetWeaver BPM, starting with some of their basic philosophy — their main target is existing SAP customers who want to add the orchestration capabilities of BPM to extend their current business processes in the SAP business suite. In the context of BPM, the SAP business suite can be exposed as just another set of services to be invoked from BPM (which, of course, any other BPMS vendor who works with SAP customers knows already). I’ve had some extensive briefings on NetWeaver BPM from some of the other product management team members, and I’ll be publishing some of my observations on it this week in the context of this conference.

He pointed out that although they intended to address the needs of many personas across business and IT, their first version will be optimized for the process architect: an IT role that designs processes. In other words, they don’t yet have their business analyst perspective ready in the modeling environment. He showed us a demo of the Eclipse-based process modeling environment, and a look at the end-user experience in the context of the NetWeaver universal task list. My assessment of this first version of the product, which is in beta now and will be released in Q109, is that it has some nice integration capabilities (although no asynchronous web services calls), but that the human-centric capabilities are barely adequate, and they don’t meet the minimum requirements to be considered a BPMS in the eyes of some of the analysts. However, this is version 1.0, and you don’t expect them to land in the top right of anyone’s quadrant the first time out; from what I’ve seen, they have a good roadmap to getting to the functionality that will make them competitive with other BPMS vendors when it comes to SAP customers. Will they ever be competitive with non-SAP customers? Probably not, but then, that’s not their target market.

It’s interesting to see a BPMS demo to a group of mostly technical people who have no idea what a BPMS looks like: usually, I’m seeming demos like this at other BPMS vendors’ conferences where they’re showing the next version of their product, but everyone is familiar with the current version and basic BPM concepts. Things that those of us familiar with BPMS don’t even think about any more — like the concept of process instance parameters — have to be explained, which is a good reminder to be aware of the context and the audience background when discussing BPM.

Ann Rosenberg came back up to cover some of the BPM training curriculum, and handed it over to Marilyn Pratt to discuss the SDN BPX community. I’m a big fan of Marilyn’s: she’s one of the most active and enthusiastic community managers that I’ve met, and manages to ensure that SAP’s corporate party line doesn’t overshadow the independent discussions and interactions on the BPX site.

The afternoon jumpstart session ended with a panel that included the four speakers plus me, which gave the audience a chance to ask questions on everything from specific SAP product questions to more philosophical questions on the differences between BPR and what we’re doing now with product improvement.

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