Composable Business Processes: The Journey Toward a Composable Enterprise

Anyone who wanted to change the world as a kid could get started right away — using plastic building blocks. We created fire stations or spaceships from colorful building blocks that could be joined together easily. I found it fascinating to build new things from scratch, adapt them, or start completely over. Why not apply this approach to business processes as well?

Technologies are evolving daily and markets are moving extremely fast. To stay competitive, businesses need to be agile, flexible, and able to adapt to changing market dynamics in an instant. But how do enterprises become resilient to the constant changes in the market, workforce, and environment? How can we rearrange the often very rigid and inflexible structures of today’s business processes to allow maximum flexibility?

One of the concepts being discussed in the endeavor of finding an answer to these questions is composability. Applied to enterprises, it describes an organization’s processes that are made from interchangeable building blocks and corresponding IT systems. A modular setup enables a business to reassemble processes dynamically and rearrange and reorient as needed depending on external or internal factors.

To name two very recent examples, think about adding a carbon tracker to your supply chain processes or integrating a new infection protection act in response to a pandemic. Today, this would require a long-term integration project, whereas a modular setup might enable a process expert to adapt and change processes easily and quickly — ideally without implementing a single line of code.

From Building Blocks to Processes

By further modularizing business software, we can adapt processes dynamically in the cloud to respond to the changing and individual needs of the market. A modular setup can allow companies to effectively use a highly scalable and flexible data and integration platform, reducing effort for process changes and thereby allowing for adaptability and agility to rapidly react to organizational or economic changes.

As simple as this may sound, in practice creating a composable enterprise is an extremely sophisticated endeavor, both from a technical and an organizational perspective. Today, we can see that with end-to-end enterprise processes, integrations still require change efforts when processes are adapted in any way.

Business processes however are constantly changing, and after years of adaption and fine-tuning, they are incredibly difficult to grasp. This makes it super challenging to modularize and make components usable on a business process task level. Moreover, changing those constantly evolving processes in an enterprise system does almost certainly involve code that has to be written or changed, therefore requiring one or more developers to get involved. Hence, we are not only speaking about composable technologies, but building a modular enterprise architecture that allows companies to combine and adapt various business processes in a quick and ever-changing fashion.

How to Shape the Transformation to a Composable Enterprise

The journey toward a composable enterprise is still a long one, with most enterprises experimenting with different approaches in the concept stage. The composability of business processes is a highly relevant topic for SAP customers. As they use a variety of new technologies and applications, we at SAP want to ensure that we keep up with the frequency of customization and offer our customers the best-in-class process orchestration.

Our vision for SAP is clear: creating a platform for modular processes that enables customers and partners to not only model or document their processes, but create end-to-end processes from building blocks and execute them directly.

We currently explore different use cases for proof-of-concept implementations to bring this vision to life. Moreover, we test customer requirements and feasibility to evaluate for which applications and which product areas it makes sense to bring modeling, formalization, and execution closer together.

Ultimately, we want to address business process management end to end along the life cycle of design, execution, analysis, and optimization. This will allow the composition of end-to-end process flows and, where possible, execution on auto-pilot, with the help of technologies such as machine learning for example.

More Consistent, Flexible, and Scalable Business Processes

Since there is no one-size-fits-all enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that meets all industry-specific and functional requirements of each customer, the future is all about configuring and extending while keeping end-to-end consistency. What if we could provide customers — in a way — with the instructions and the control center that helps them configure and/or extend their own processes? By filling the “construction kit” with a vast array of building blocks that allows them to act independently of IT, processes could be changed and adapted easily and quickly, without specialist knowledge and a developer at hand.

In the long run, enterprises can only build resilience by creating environments that enable businesses to build and consume business processes in a composable fashion and orchestrate them across system boundaries.

We envision a process-driven platform that offers a diverse range of solutions under one roof that are developed by SAP, partners, or customers. It shall enable end-to-end process integration by being a reconfigurable system of interoperable business capabilities. It should operate all processes within and across enterprises seamlessly. Core benefits for customers would be new levels of efficiency, more time for value-creating work, compliance by default, and finally agility and resilience in a rapidly changing business world.

Ultimately, within a business process platform of the future, instantiating a business process model needs to be as easy as writing an e-mail. Adapting a business process could be as fast as working on a presentation deck. And monitoring a platform with several instances of running processes must be as fun as playing Sim City.

As a kid, playing with those colorful building blocks gave me the power to recreate my imagination of the world from scratch, all by myself. Today, the goal is to rekindle that power for creative composition into the business world and enable customers to create their own processes and fulfill their enterprise vision, without the need for a whole development team at hand.


Martin Heinig is head of New Ventures and Technologies at SAP.