SAPPHIRE: Perfectly Ordinary BPM

I took a guide dog and a GPS, and ventured out onto the show floor to visit the NetWeaver Theater to see Wolfgang Hilpert discuss SAP NetWeaver BPM (that’s the official name) in more detail. Since this is my first real exposure to the product, I’m trying to get as many views of this as possible over the couple of days that I’m here, both to learn about the functionality of the product and hear the messaging and positioning around the product.

He started with similar material to Ginger Gatling’s presentation yesterday, looking at the key dimensions of business processes — structured versus non-structured, human-centric versus system-to-system, and business versus IT driver/focus — and how business processes (and the systems that support them) need to cover all of these dimensions. He also covered key process metamodel concepts — events, rules, data, roles, workflow/task and UI — and why they’re important.

He moved on to talk about the goals and value proposition of NetWeaver BPM, including model-driven development and business-IT collaboration. BPM is an integrated part of the NetWeaver composition environment, which makes it an easy transition for existing NetWeaver developers, although the Eclipse environment needs to provide a simplified perspective for business analysts who are involved in modeling.

There’s three parts to the BPM suite:

  • Process Composer, which is the modeling environment;
  • Process Server, where processes are executed;
  • Process Desk, the user interface that is integrated into the portal environment and becomes part of the Universal Worklist.

SAP BPM process modelingI have a huge amount of respect for anyone who talks and demos at the same time, and particularly so when they have a title to the north of VP; Hilpert falls into this category, and he fired up the demo and showed us what this actually looks like.

There’s a nice graphical interface for projects that shows a hierarchy of processes, user interfaces, business logic and services and how they interact, which makes it possible to detect dependencies of reusable components. As I mentioned yesterday, the process modeler is a pretty standard BPMN modeler, although I really like the context-sensitive mini-icons that are displayed around the selected object on the process model for creating the next connected object — nice usability feature. He also showed an interesting feature for creating a data/document artifact with automatic mapping from a process step to the artifact.

SAP rules managementThe NetWeaver BRM integration is nice, since the rules and processes are designed within a common environment and can be linked up by dragging and dropping a rule onto a process condition instead of having to specify a web service call to the rules engine (although that could be what’s happening under the covers).

We then moved on to the process participant’s user interface, using the NetWeaver Business Client portal. He filled out a simple (text fields only) form — although we didn’t see how this form was designed — which kicked off a business process that appears in the appropriate person’s Universal Worklist. There is a fairly standard task UI once the process is opened from a person’s inbox, which allows adding attachments (files or links), setting parameters using a variety of UI widgets (calendars, drop-down lists), viewing the current step in the graphical context of the entire process, and completing the work step.

SAP BPM end-user interfaceUpdate: found some screenshots from Ginger Gatling’s presentation deck and dropped them in.

Moving away from the demo and back to presentation/discussion, he looked at the personas/roles within an enterprise that are involved in BPM, specifically the process architect (just on the IT side of the line), the business analyst (just on the business side of the line) and the business expert/SME (deep within business-land). Although this product release will address the needs of the process architect and business analyst, they are planning for other tools to expand business collaboration supporting the needs of the business analyst and the business expert. Part of that will be runtime visualization tools, such as dashboards, but it sounds like there’s also consideration of some design collaboration that will happen in the business area.

He went through the architecture that Gatling covered yesterday, and reinforced that the process integration layer is a rebranding of their current XI integration layer. The language around the future versions, where there will be a common process platform and SAP application core processes will be extended using the composition environment, is still a bit fuzzy, but we’re talking about things that will happen more than a year away.

There is nothing earth-shatteringly innovative about the SAP NetWeaver BPM suite: this is a perfectly ordinary BPMS. That’s not a criticism, especially considering that this is the first released version: it’s a reasonably full-functioned BPMS out of the box, and that’s all that SAP needs in order to compete within its existing customer base. They’re not trying to be the best BPMS on the market, they want to be the best BPMS for SAP customers.

SAPPHIRE: Henning Kagermann Keynote

I watched the general keynote this morning from the press room rather than finding my place amongst the 15,000 attendees; the first hour covered other announcements, but we did see about 10 minutes on the upcoming BPM product. Since a lot of the audience was likely unfamiliar with BPM, this was a pretty high-level architectural view plus a quick demo of the process modeler and services/rules integration, accompanied by the proclamation "you can change the process without changing code!" This message on the benefit of BPM would be have been fresh 5 years ago, but although it’s likely new to a lot of SAP customers, it shows that SAP is definitely playing catch-up in BPM. As I mentioned yesterday, this year’s release of SAP’s BPM will offer little advantage over using a more established BPMS with SAP (and in fact might be less functional), but they’ll hit the sweet spot with the future releases that have a tight integration with SAP core applications.

The demo theme throughout the keynote was feeding information to a portal/dashboard from multiple sources, including their core applications and BPM.

The message across the keynote is one that resonates with what we’ve been seeing in BPM for a while: transparency into business operations, agility in business processes, collaboration amongst stakeholders, and less coding required for implementation. Add this to the strength that SAP has in building software for running enterprises, and it’s pretty powerful. Whether they can shift from a legacy of highly-customized rigid ERP applications to this new world of flexible composite applications remains to be seen.

SAPPHIRE: Wolfgang Hilpert on BPM Overview

I’m picking and choosing my sessions carefully, in part because I have some prearranged meetings specifically about BPM. Here with all my Enterprise Irregulars blogging compatriots (many of whom I’m meeting in person for the first time), we all were given a personalized schedule of meetings tuned to our particular area of interest — very well organized, and still leaving some time in the schedule for me to go to some additional sessions.

I had a one-on-one meeting with Wolfgang Hilpert, SVP of NetWeaver BPM, this afternoon; funnily enough, just after I attended Ginger Gatling’s session this morning, I had lunch in the press area, and when I mentioned that I’d seen the session on the new SAP BPM, three pairs of ears at the table swiveled around. These three, who I didn’t know (nametags, unfortunately, hang below the level of the table when seated), gave me a light grilling on my opinions of what I had seen; although I figured that they worked for SAP, it wasn’t until they stood up that I saw Hilpert’s name tag.

By the time that we had our meeting, then, he knew that I’d seen a product overview, and he’d already heard my views on it, so we could jump right to some of the good stuff. As I suspected, and wrote in my earlier post, they’re not looking to compete in the general BPMS market for non-SAP customers, but see themselves as becoming the BPM tool of choice for SAP customers. More than just an appendage to SAP, their BPM will allow for orchestration of web services within heterogeneous environments (as do all other BPMS), plus provide the services repository and UDDI registry. He also sees them as eventually being able to identify SAP business objects directly as part of the orchestration, allowing for easy passing of the object from one step to another; another tight coupling with SAP applications that will win them an advantage. Their long history with enterprise software likely does give them a unique insight into how enterprises work, and they have innovations such as user role abstractions on a business level through interaction with other enterprise systems that contain role information, not just LDAP directories.

They built the BPM part of the product themselves after surveying the market and not finding what they wanted at the right price (I asked if Lombardi was too expensive but didn’t get much of a reply 🙂 ), then bought in the rules through the Yasu acquisition. The business rules can still be used as a standalone rules/decisioning engine, but they’re also tightly integrating it with the Eclipse process modeling environment for integrated lifecycle management of processes and rules. They also perceive their product as being more scalable, but frankly, every vendor says that to me so I’d like to see some benchmark data on that.

The composition environment is currently in closed beta, will open up to a few more beta sites over the summer, then be released in September. Because of the extensive beta period, they’re hoping to shortcut the usual ramp-up process and have this generally available shortly after that.


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.

Travel-crazy again

Having spent almost two months without getting on a plane, I’m back on the road for the next few weeks:

  • April 22-23: Washington DC for the Architecture and Process conference
  • April 29-May 2: San Francisco for TUCON, TIBCO’s user conference
  • May 5-7: Orlando for SAPPHIRE, SAP’s user conference
  • May 13-14: Chicago for BEA.Participate.08, BEA’s user conference

Expect to see lots of blogging from the conferences. If you’re attending any of them, ping me for a meet-up.

Disclosure: for the three vendor conferences, the respective vendors are paying my travel expenses to attend.