Integrated Editing in Product Development (Part 2)

Manufacturers of content management systems (CMS) offer standard interfaces (Web services) that can be used to implement IT solutions. A Web service is a system component that offers its functionality in an Internet directory and is called with a standard protocol. Within the SAP NetWeaver technology platform, SAP provides a directory for searching for and publishing enterprise services: Enterprise Services Repository (ES Repository).

Coupling SAP Software and CMS with Web services

Fig. 1 The relationship between the product and the documentation structure (above) and a sample depiction of the structure in detail with supplemental information (CAD, JPG, specifications).

Coupling SAP software and a CMS can generate the current documentation structure in SAP PLM, which opens the way to a class system within the SAP ERP application. Here the CAD data and structures can be analyzed according to the class characteristics of a documentation structure. The methodology is similar to that of setting up an assignment matrix. It assigns one or more text modules with unique positions in the documentation structure to individual components of a bill of material (BOM).

The actual content of the documentation, the modules, is located in the CMS. The technical editor works in a familiar environment and transmits the documentation structure that is generated to the CMS with a Web service. The documentation structure can be generated as Extensible Markup Language (XML) within the SAP application and transferred with XML-based protocols like the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP).

The structure serves as a documentation request and an information model at the same time. The added value is that editors know which components they have to create modules for. In addition to the pure structure, editors can also transmit or reference binary data. For each component, the editors can use SAP PLM to transmit graphics and specifications to the CMS. That information is present in the documentation structure, so users do not need to waste time searching for it.

A technical editor can also transmit changes in the product structure to the CMS with a Web service. The document can then be adjusted in the CMS. Because the product structure is managed in SAP PLM, an editor can inspect it there. The editor then transmits the completed document (a PDF or a file) from the CMS to SAP PLM as a binary file.

Deep integration of technical documentation in SAP PLM

Two options exist for deep integration of the entire business process in the technical documentation in SAP ERP. In the first option, integration – the definition of document types and parameters – occurs within SAP software. In the second option, Web services supply external access to the documentation.

Within SAP software, the documentation structure can be set up with classification or a selection matrix and displayed in SAP PLM as a document BOM. The editor creates the module as a freestanding document in the document management system and imbeds it there. Modules can also be reused with where-used list functionality. The where-used list searches through the content server for reused components. Users can use the product structure browser to see if a module already exists for the components that have already been used. They can copy or link a module to an additional object.

Technical editors can create modules in various ways. For example, they can create XML modules as a new document directly in SAP PLM. They also create a document type in customizing – an XML editor, for example. Documents can be managed with SAP Easy Document Management and displayed in a familiar interface like Microsoft Explorer. Modules and documents are released with the workflow builder tool.

Documentation in multiple languages

Enhancement of metadata in customizing can also embed translation management: the screen displays all modules in one or more languages. Modules to be translated are exported with the Collaboration Folders (cFolders) application, translated, and then reimported.

The editor then generates the overall document from the modules within SAP PLM. The editor can transform the document structure that appears as a document BOM of an ABAP object into XML. The structure and the related modules are moved to an appropriate publication format and then stored in the SAP software.

Web services for external access

The second option for deep integration gives external service providers access to the documentation. Actual integration of editorial management remains in SAP PLM. This option requires an application on an external Web server that is based on a script language like PHP. The application uses a Web service to read a document info record – the central element of document management – with all its metadata. The editor uses the metadata to check a document out of the secure area of the SAP solution, then works on and stores the document locally. Another Web service checks the document back in to the secure area of the SAP application.

A three-layer model (see Figure 3) shows the advantages of Web services. First, these kinds of solutions can be created with simple tools. Second, Web services can be used in software from other manufacturers because of open standards and a nonproprietary approach. That means that documents from the SAP application can be used without using the application itself. Explicit access or detailed knowledge of the SAP software is unnecessary. Exporting documents is therefore relatively easy from a technical perspective.

The ability to combine Web services and to create individual scenarios is another advantage. Access can be limited at the user level with authorizations.

Technical documentation as part of SAP PLM

Companies that already have SAP PLM and a CMS can use Web services for data and process-oriented coupling of both solutions. SAP NetWeaver is an ideal environment for this approach. If a company does not use a CMS or is considering an editorial environment as part of strategic information management, the core processes of technical documentation can be supported by customizing SAP applications. SAP NetWeaver also offers an option to integrate external information providers and document service providers in information development with Web services.

Technical documentation is a principle business process of product life-cycle management. This integration allows users to consider product-relevant data as a whole to get the right products with the right information to market at the right time.


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