SAP BPM 2008: Business Rules Management

I was up bright and early today to hear Soum Chatterjee from SAP Labs give an introduction to their business rules product, the recently-acquired Yasu (which Chatterjee claims stands for Yet Another Start-Up). I’ve had a bit of a look at it in the context of the NetWeaver BPM demos that I’ve had, but wanted to hear about their roadmap for the product.

He started with some very fundamental information on business rules, and made an interesting comment (considering who writes his paycheck): maybe embedding rules in the code of systems like SAP’s ERP was not a great idea. Of course, neither was having rules embedded in database triggers or non-automated methods such as documenting them in procedures guides or just having them in people’s heads. In these cases, we might see lack of flexibility, lack of visibility and lack of enforcement/standardization as well as having the business rules scattered around the organization where they can’t be properly managed. The solution, of course, is SAP NetWeaver BRM 🙂  Consider that the audience is mostly SAP customers who are very used to the idea of business rules embedded within their ERP code, some of these ideas are pretty radical, but he does a good job of laying out the value proposition of business rules, not just a product overview. He put it in the context of BPM, where the ability to change the rules within processes provides maximum agility.

From a rules product standpoint, they have a suite including:

  • A composer for modeling rules, in an Eclipse-based environment that can be used by a business analyst. It uses a natural language-like representation of the rules, and provides conflict resolution and other up-front analysis of the rules being modeled. Rules can be represented as a decision table, classic if-the-else code, or as a graphical rule flow (which is a sort of decision tree). I’ve also seen this integrated into the process modeling environment in their BPM product.
  • A rules manager for deploying and managing rules.
  • A rules engine to execute the rules. Rules can be consumed as web services (and therefore by their BPM or any other composite application modeling environment) and ABAP business applications.
  • A repository for storing the rules assets.
  • A rules analyzer for optimization (not released yet).

They’ve focused on fast methods of testing and refining rules, particularly by a business analyst. They also have a lot of change management and governance built in.

He covered how BRM and BPM will work together:

  • Complex rule-based decisions (pricing, credit decisions, etc.)
  • Responsibility determination (rule-based task assignment)
  • Recognition of business events
  • Routing rules
  • Parameter thresholds and tolerance (constraints)

Rules can be modeled in the rules composer or in the process composer. He showed us a (canned) demo of the rules composer that would have been a lot more compelling if he had narrated it in a bit more detail: I was sitting at the front of the room so could see the screen, but I’m sure that those at the back of the room couldn’t read it and there wasn’t enough narration to follow along with what was happening in the screen playback. Eight minutes into the video (only halfway!), we move from code-based rules to decision tables, which is a bit more interesting from a demo standpoint, but I really doubt if anyone who didn’t already know something about rules modeling would have gained a lot of information from watching this. It also made the composer look a lot more difficult that it actually is, as evidenced from an audience question about whether they expected business users to use this (in a disbelieving voice).

He finished up with the product roadmap:

  • This year, they’ve delivered the business rules composition and execution environment, available for invocation from the various SAP product lines, and integrated with the BPM composition environment.
  • In 2009, there will be more complex decision sequences, integrated support for rule refinement and validation, end-to-end change management, and improved business user participation and collaboration in rules authoring and change management.
  • In 2010, the plan (which of course can change) is to have real-time rule-based responses to business events, advanced rules analysis capabilities with alignment to business goals, and better modeling capabilities for business analysts.

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.

The fall schedule

I have my fall schedule mostly sorted out, and here’s my confirmed lineup so far:

  • OMG BPM Think Tank, October 6-7, Chicago. I’m on the program committee, and will be leading a roundtable on achieving collaboration between business and IT in BPM on the first day.
  • PegaWorld, the Pegasystems user conference, October 19-21, Washington DC. I’m just there as an observer and analyst/blogger.
  • Ultimus user conference, October 22-24, San Antonio. I’ll be giving a keynote on the afternoon of the first day. And yes, I know that you can’t get from DC to San Antonio.
  • Business Rules Forum, October 26-30, Orlando. I’ll be giving a presentation on mixing rules and process on the 28th.
  • SAP BPM, November 17-19, Las Vegas. I’m giving a Jumpstart pre-conference session, an introduction to BPM, on the 16th.

Look me up if you’re at any of these events.

Disclosure: with the exception of the OMG event, my travel expenses are paid for by the conference organizers; in the case of the SAP conference, I’m also being paid to deliver this half-day training session.

SAP SME Day: Business ByDesign deep dive

Up next is a deep dive on Business ByDesign, the SaaS offering for SMEs. The deep dives so far have been kind of shallow, and mostly centered on sales, marketing, pricing and packaging of the products rather than much to do with functionality. We’re also running 45 minutes late, and seem to be getting later with each session.

This session is particularly interesting because of the analogy to SaaS BPM: these are mission-critical business systems, responsible for the day-to-day business processes, and there’s some significant issues with customer acceptance of their core processes existing in the cloud.

I hadn’t seen Business ByDesign before — somehow I missed it at SAPPHIRE — so it was interesting to have Rainer Zinow, SVP SME Global Services, give us a demo.

The system is role based, so that functionality is exposed depending on the user’s role. Apparently, there’s some basic document management, but we didn’t see that.

The system is built on an in-memory architecture for both transactions and analytics, using a search engine rather than a database (similar to some ideas that I saw at FASTforward); transactions cause database writes, but client applications are always served from memory.

There are some pretty complete analytics available, where you can drill down into specific items of interest, and even link directly back to the transaction on the ERP side, something that you couldn’t easily do with non-integrated BI.

There’s some lightweight workflow, really just manual routing to a person’s inbox that also allows a work item to be forwarded to someone else.

One of the most interesting parts was exposed when he demonstrated saving the online reports to Excel: the Excel version can be converted to contain formulas that point back to the original data source, which are actually pointers to web services. The reporting implication is that you can save the Excel report, then come back later and update it with point-in-time data simply by refreshing the data source; even better is that this set of web services is available to any environment, not just Excel, allowing you to build mashups or other applications that access the core transactional data.

This sort of hybrid model for SaaS is nice, where you can do everything in the on-demand environment, but also be able to download some desktop tools or build mashups that link directly to the online data.

SAP SME Day: Prasad Akella with Business All-in-One deep dive

I missed the late-morning sessions, but I’m back here for Prasad Akella, Senior Director of SAP Business All-in-One Solution Marketing.

We heard about some of the new integrations with All-in-One: just announced last week, the CRM 2007 product is now tightly integrated with the All-in-One functionality, providing marketing, sales and service components. Also, the Business Objects Edge Series integrates to provide analytics and visibility. Other than that, there’s not a lot here that interests me: as with this morning, most people in the audience seem to be a lot more interested in pricing, packaging and system configuration than I am; I’m guessing that some of them make their living helping clients to wade through this sort of information.

SAP SME Day: Jeff Stiles with portfolio update

Jeff Stiles is back to give us an update on the SME product portfolio, and there’s an interesting tie-in to yesterday’s message at the Business Objects day: the portfolio includes both business management and business intelligence, with a pretty strong emphasis on how BI adds value to SAP’s traditional business management.

He went through the entire SME portfolio:

  • Business One, their small business on-premise solution, sold only through channel partners.
  • Business ByDesign, their new on-demand service that provides a single end-to-end business solution, targeted at fast-growing midsize companies that don’t want to built a large IT infrastructure, and typically have less than 100 users. There are a number of pre-configured processes built in, intended to support common business processes without requiring extensive customization. Business ByDesign is available only in US, UK, Germany, France, China and India; the restriction in geography for a SaaS solution seems to indicate that this still requires a significant amount of effort at the customer location in order to sell and service the customer.
  • All-in One, for midsize companies that need a more customizable solution.
  • Analytics with Business Objects.

As you can likely tell by the volume of notes, we spent most of the session with audience questions and comments on Business ByDesign. The sessions this morning have been pretty basic, and I’ve learned way more about SAP sales channels than I ever wanted to know; hopefully we’ll get more detailed product information as the day goes on.

There’s an online tool to help figure out which SME tool best fits the customer requirements, based on five factors: the way you do business, your budget and timelines, your IT expertise and perferences, the way that your employees work, and your future growth plans.

SAP SME Day: Glenn Wada with business update

After an intro by Jeff Stiles, SVP SME Solution Marketing, Glenn Wada, GM US Strategic Growth Enterprises Group, gave us a business update on SAP’s small and medium enterprise (SME) efforts.

75% of SAP customers are SME, although only about 30% of software sales (>1B Euro). SAP defines SME is anything under $1B in revenue, regardless of which product that they’re using, then further stratify that into “small” (under $50-60M), “medium” (up to $300M) and “upper middle” ($300M-$1B). This latter “UME” band is served by the standard SAP direct sales channel, whereas customers below $300M in revenue are served by Wada’s group, which uses a hybrid direct-channel sales model. SAP owns about 30% of the SME market, and continues to grow this market share through their focus on high-growth verticals: high technology, renewable energy, oil & gas, life sciences, services, and retail.

Taking look at the product suite, the SME offerings are Business One, Business ByDesign and Business All-in-One (although keep in mind that some of the UME’s are likely using the SAP enterprise products since the SME distinction is made by revenue, not by product). SAP believes that they can continue to service a company as it grows by shifting them from one product to another — although I’m sure that the transition is anything but painless, if they’re a competent incumbent, they have a good chance of keeping customers as they out-grow the lower-end products.

There will be more detail on the SAP SME product portfolio throughout the day, but here’s a summary:

Business One

  • Single business application
  • 20k+ customers
  • Targeted at small businesses; these businesses are looking at moving to ByDesign or All-in-One by the time that they hit $50-60M in revenue

Business ByDesign

  • Complete, adaptable
  • On demand service
  • 150 customer engagements
  • New business model
  • Focus on 6 key markets
  • 5,500 registrations

Business All-in-One

  • Configurable and extensible
  • 12,300 customers
  • New release based on business process platform, including CRM

I’m a newbie to the SAP SME space (and don’t really know all that much about SAP’s enterprise products either, except as I bump up against them in some of my large clients), and I definitely feel like the least-informed person in the room.

Business Objects Summit closing Q&A

Jonathan Becher hosted a wrap-up Q&A with Doug Merritt, Marge Breya and Sanjay Poonen. I’ve consolidated the responses rather than attributing them to the individuals:

  • On reasons for Business Objects’ continued growth: major contributors include having the SAP sales force also selling Business Objects products, and expansion of the product suite to include GRC and EPM. Also, synergy of two leaders in different markets coming together to create something bigger than the sum of the parts.
  • On portfolio roadmap for products being sunsetted or merged (a.k.a. the stuff that I wasn’t allowed to blog about earlier): it’s probably accurate to summarize that some of the SAP BI products will be discontinued but the customers will be migrated to appropriate Business Objects products, and there will be a few products that are merged.
  • On the growth of on-demand BI, expect to see some of the Business Objects applications (as opposed to just the platforms) offered using a SaaS model, although there’s nothing definite being discussed here.
  • On the link between BI and business rules, which hasn’t really been mentioned explicitly today: operational BI is part of their portfolio, and they’re working on ways to integrate more closely with BPM, BAM and decisioning.
  • On open source: they’re not seeing stress from open source products so are working on making their current successful OEM strategy work for them rather than considering releasing open source products.

After the panel, Becher did a summary about closing the gap between strategy and execution, and the trends that are driving innovation in business intelligence:

  • Unified information, moving from structured information generated within the four walls of the organization, to structured and unstructured and internal and external information
  • Collaborative decisions, moving from individual contributors within functional silos, to teams collaborating and communicating across boundaries
  • Business network optimization, from point relationships with customers and suppliers, to a dynamic network of partners

Business Objects’ goal: to transform the way the world works by connecting people, information and businesses. A bit ambitious, but they believe that bringing together BI, EPM and GRC is truly transformational.

That’s it for the Business Objects Influencer Summit; I’m staying on here tomorrow for the SAP SME day and will continue blogging then.