My first time at SAPPHIRE, and I have one initial impression: this conference is huge. Most of you probably already knew that, but for me, 1,500 people at a conference is big, and this one is 10 times that size. The press room is the size of a regular conference’s general session ballroom. I just hiked 15 minutes to get to a session. More sessions run simultaneously than you’ll find in total at most conferences. There are 30 official conference hotels. Wow. And I have to report that there’s 5 bars of free wifi coverage everywhere in the conference center.

After a review of the massive schedule, I finally made it to a session: Ginger Gatling, SAP NetWeaver BPM Product Manager, giving an overview of the BPM component in SAP, including a demo and some thoughts on the future functionality. She started with a discussion of the evolution of BPM, including the drivers that have moved us from the old-style workflow and EAI to the present-day collaborative design environment where multiple people might be working on modeling different components, from human-facing processes to rules. For SAP, however, a lot of this is future state, not what they have now in the shipping product.

Currently, they offer the following functionality through various products and functionalities:

  • Manage business tasks across applications: manage and resolve business tasks centrally in one work list
  • Business process integration/automation: integrate SAP and non-SAP business applications and aut0omate the message flow between systems with an executable process model
  • Involve business users in automated processes for managing by exception: alerting in case of exceptions
  • Application workflow management: manage production workflow in your SAP application

Moving forward, there will be a more comprehensive BPM platform:

  • A composition environment for human-centric process modeling
  • Packaged processes, which are the same old processes embedded within SAP applications
  • Process integration for system-centric service calls

From a layering standpoint, the composition layer creates the process at the top layer, which calls the SAP core processes via web services calls; either layer can call into the process integration layer, which makes calls to other systems for system-centric integration. Around all of this is an enterprise services repository for governance, which can contain both the services that access SAP applications and those that access third-party systems.

IDS Scheer still holds an important position for enterprise modeling and business process analysis (including direct modeling of processes within SAP applications), but it appears that for now, composite processes will have to be remodeled in the new SAP composition environment. In the future, when BPMN 2.0 is released, they’ll use that (which will include BPDM for serialization) for transferring models between ARIS and the SAP composition environment. In other words, you can use ARIS to model the core SAP processes, then use the composition environment (NetWeaver BPM or whatever the "Galaxy" will be called on release) to extend the core processes, but these are two separate activities using two separate process modeling environments.

The new BPM product will include a graphical Eclipse-based BPMN modeler that directly translates to process execution using a shared model approach, and is embedded within SAP NetWeaver CE for an integrated composition experience, service-based connectivity and enterprise services repository. There will also be integration of business rules into the composite processes, using the Yasu technology acquired by SAP last year.

Eventually, they will evolve to a common process layer where it will be possible to use the BPM tool to extend core SAP processes, and have a single process model across both — this part is pretty exciting.

She gave us a demo of the process modeler, which was likely a lot more exciting to the rest of the audience than to me. 🙂 Pretty standard BPMN, with some nice context-sensitive tools for creating the next step when you have one selected. There’s a direct link to the enterprise services repository to call a service at a step, or to a services registry, or directly to a WSDL file. There’s also a direct link to the business rules decision tables within the same Eclipse environment. From inside the rules modeling environment, it appears that there’s a connector to direct grab data from the core SAP environment, which would remove the need to have the composite process extract the data from SAP and pass it to the rules engine.

There were lots of audience questions, running longer than the allotted time; many of these didn’t mean much to me since I’m a SAP newbie, but there was some amount of excitement about how SAP BPM will replace Guided Procedures, which will be phased out as the BPM product releases become fully functional.

My immediate impression is that in the near term, they’re creating a BPM platform that’s fairly loosely coupled (via web services) with core SAP applications, which doesn’t appear to provide any advantage over using a third-party BPMS with SAP applications; in fact, more mature BPM suites are likely to provide greater functionality. In the longer term, however, there will be much tighter integration of BPM and SAP core applications, moving to a common process model and platform: this will be a significant driver for the adoption of this product by existing SAP customers.

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