Dieter Busche is a master hairdresser and the owner of a small salon with four employees. Busche must refill his storage area with shampoos and hairsprays every four weeks. The small company owner orders the products directly from a large manufacturer of hair-care products. Like many other small companies, Salon Busche has a very simple IT infrastructure without its own ERP solution. That’s why Busche has always sent his orders to the manufacturer over the telephone or by fax. The manufacturer uses the SAP ERP application. At the manufacturer’s site, Gerhard Locke, a sales employee, must enter Busche’s orders manually. That takes a lot of time and makes it easy for errors to creep in. Deliveries were often delayed because they sometimes included the wrong products. Both supplier and customer were unhappy.
For Users Without Their Own ERP Solution
That has all changed. The manufacturer now fills its customers’ orders with the help of the SAP xApp Inventory Level Replenishment (SAP xILR) composite application. To a certain extent, the manufacturer uses the composite application to assume responsibility for order processing for customers who do not have their own ERP system. That significantly simplifies and improves the situation for the customers, and both sides benefit.
After a reminder from SAP NetWeaver Portal, Locke now sends an e-mail every four weeks to Salon Busche. The e-mail includes an attachment with an interactive and personalized order form in portable document format (PDF). Busche opens the form, enters the required amounts of hairspray and shampoo that he wants to replenish into predefined fields, and returns the completed document as an e-mail.
Locke receives the e-mail with the competed order form directly at his workplace, thanks to a portal-supported process. He checks the entries in the order and releases it. Upon release, the form interacts with SAP xILR to direct the order to the SAP ERP application automatically by using an enterprise service. The application creates the sales order. SAP ERP then handles additional processes, such as those that deal with the delivery order itself, because the processes are not a component of SAP xILR. Two days later, the goods arrive at the salon. Certain process parameters, such as agreements on products and their target inventory levels, or a definition of how often a customer receives an order form, are also defined in the composite application. Color codes help inform Locke exactly when he should write to a specific customer. He then processes the incoming orders in his work list.
SAP initially developed the SAP xILR composite application specifically for manufacturers of consumer goods to automate order and delivery processes with customers – without media breaks. The process also works in other industries, however. SAP xILR structures, automates, and standardizes the process of warehouse replenishment with customers across any individual communication channel. The process steps of maintaining customer data for each product and customer, entering the current inventory level into the order form and returning the form, and checking and releasing the order are identical for every customer. Nevertheless, process parameters can tailor the process steps to the needs of a specific customer. The process parameters also use enterprise services to integrate functions from various applications over a user interface that is tailored to the specific transaction.
A Few Enterprise Services Are Enough
The functionality required for composite applications is made available by SAP ERP and the applications of SAP Business Suite as reusable enterprise services. For example, to execute replenishment at Salon Busche, SAP xILR uses customer master data from financial accounting (customer name, customer address, customer number, and contact person) and material master data from the logistics application (products to be delivered, product names, and material numbers). The interactive form is designed with the help of SAP Interactive Forms software by Adobe.
SAP NetWeaver Enterprise Services Repository (SAP NetWeaver ESR) makes the corresponding enterprise services accessible to the composite application.
Only a few such enterprise services are usually enough to set up an appropriate scenario. SAP xILR is a thin composite application that accesses five enterprise services: find customer, read customer, find material, create material, and create sales order.
Uniform Development Environment
SAP designs composite applications with a model-driven approach according to the architectural principles of enterprise service-oriented architecture (enterprise SOA), which provides the design for comprehensive, service-based business applications.
With SAP Composite Application Framework (SAP CAF), the SAP NetWeaver platform provides a uniform and high-performance development environment. SAP CAF includes guided procedures for designing processes and a core for designing services. The SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer tool, the Web Dynpro development environment, and other components of SAP NetWeaver are also involved. When combined, these elements enable the design of a single environment. They also support modeling, such as the combination of services, data, and interfaces, and process coordination at all levels of the development process.
Separated Solution Architecture
Model-driven development also affects the architecture of composite applications. Process design (the process flow and the user roles involved in the process), user interfaces, and business and application logic are separated from each other. The order in which process steps are executed and which users execute the process steps is defined in the process layer. The guided procedures of SAP CAF are used to design cross-application work steps (such as the interaction between manufacturers of consumer goods and their customers during replenishment) according to defined procedures and are oriented to end users. Guided procedures can also be used to model interactive business processes visually, execute the processes, and access diverse back-end systems. If necessary, the core can simultaneously create services that capture data from legacy or external systems. The guided procedures also define the data flow between the various process steps – when a given user receives specific data – so that the flow is tailored to the needs of the user.
User interfaces define how the data is formatted and how the actions of a process step are executed. SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer serves as the standard tool for modeling. Web Dynpro is also used in some cases, such as modeling user interfaces for complex process steps. SAP Interactive Forms replicates form-based processes, such as orders or offline processing.
The functions that a composite application needs are defined at the business logic layer. SAP CAF consumes the required enterprise services from back-end systems. The application logic of the composite application is also developed with SAP CAF. It defines the concrete links of the individual modules to the composite application and defines the sequence in which the services are called. The business logic and persistence specific to the composite applications that are unavailable in the ERP back end are also developed. The application logic is made available to the overlying user interface and process steps as Web services.
This layered architecture means that composite applications can be created rapidly and economically. They can be implemented quickly and flexibly tailored to new process requirements without having to be completely reprogrammed. Model-driven development also helps orient IT infrastructures to a user’s process requirements and to simplify them. This approach reduces administrative efforts and costs. That makes composite applications like SAP xILR the answer to the challenges of today’s economy: companies in all industries must be able to react to changes in the market on short notice in the future.
Currently, 15 industry-specific applications like SAP xILR are in development and are being brought to market maturity with customers. They include SAP xApp Project Issue and Change Management, which supports manufacturers during change management in projects, and SAP xApp First Report of Injury for Insurance, which can notify an insurer of an insured claim. On average, the cycle from the initial idea of a composite application to market maturity takes about six months. At that speed, SAP customers rapidly receive solutions to process their industry-specific processes from end to end efficiently and in a structured manner. In the future, SAP will work even more closely with customers in developing new industry-specific composite applications.