Enhancing the ERP Core without Modifications (Part 2)

January 16, 2008 by Dr. Andreas Schaffry

Enhancements or new functionalities that SAP customers develop themselves or import with enhancement packages from SAP are initially inactive and must be activated using the switch framework from SAP. SAP customers use this technique to select, activate, and manage new functionality. They determine which functional and technical enhancements they want to make available.

Since SAP ERP 6.0, SAP has delivered most of its solution portfolios for specific industries as core components of the SAP ERP application, but the solution portfolios are initially inactive. That’s where the switch framework comes in. The technical precondition for the reintegration of previously stand-alone solution portfolios in the core of SAP ERP is the switch framework. Only the framework enables customers to link the solution portfolios as industry extensions of SAP ERP Central Component (SAP ECC) to the core of SAP ERP without any conflicts. The solution portfolios are therefore defined as industry business function sets that group several independent and self-contained industry business functions into a unit.

Only one industry business function set can be activated for each SAP instance. For example, SAP for Chemicals and SAP for Oil & Gas are not compatible with each other. If a customer activated both business function sets, conflicts would occur, ultimately leading to inconsistencies in the entire system. But any number of industry business functions – which can even add up to a complete industry business function set – can be activated within an industry business function set.

No way back

The industry-specific characteristics of SAP ERP cannot be deactivated once an industry business function set has been activated. Activation affects the entire system: core processes are enhanced with industry-specific functionality, and the related user interfaces are enhanced and expanded.

SAP customers who have activated an industry business function set can enhance it further with industry-specific business functionality by adding an industry business function from another industry business function set. For example, a chemical company that has installed the chemical industry extension for SAP ECC can also activate batch processing from the industry extension for oil and gas. Transaction SFW5 of the switch framework displays the compatibility of specific business function sets and business functions.

Supplemental applications for cross-industry core processes that are delivered as enterprise extensions (for SAP ERP Financials, for example) behave differently. The financials enterprise extension for SAP ECC, for example, is integrated into the core of SAP ERP as a generic business function set. Customers can activate one industry business function set and as many generic business function sets as they wish.

Cascade of activation steps

Switches activate a business function set or individual business functions. Each switch represents a collection of inactive development objects from SAP. The objects include ABAP packages, dictionary elements, Web Dynpro ABAP interfaces, menu entries, business add-ins, and IMG nodes. The switches are assigned to one or more business functions. They thereby build the framework between the business level of the business function sets or business functions and the related code bases and tables.

An essential advantage of this linkage is that SAP customers can use the switch technology to activate new functionality from a business and a business process perspective without having to work at the code level. Technically, business function sets and business functions are activated with transaction SFW5 of the switch framework. That’s where customers make settings that define which packages or menu entries are activated.

SAP has transferred this principle to the enhancement packages that deliver new and enhanced functionality. The interplay of both techniques also has advantages. Enhancements that consist of new business logic or a new user interface are provided and implemented by the enhancement framework and activated with the switch framework.

For example, as of enhancement package 2, SAP customers can activate the “Logistics S&D Simplification” (SD_01) business function. The functional scope of this business function includes a new user interface as portal content for SAP NetWeaver Portal as a business package for an internal sales representative. With the SD_01 business function, SAP delivers new and enhanced functionality for an internal sales representative that simplifies and accelerates the sales process. The functionality includes a total of six work centers that delivery personal work lists for a quick overview of all tasks to be completed, along with the information needed to process customer inquiries or sales documents in near real time.

At the same time, portal Web applications are provided to sales staff so that they can use these functions. A simplified user interface based on Web Dynpro ABAP presents individual work centers in manageable form. That feature permits fast access to all the functions related to the sales process. Activating the SD_01 business function enhances the core functionality of the sales and distribution functions at predefined points, such as creating, saving, releasing, and executing a sales order. The new user interfaces also bring new business logic from SAP ERP to users.

The advantages of enhancements without modifications are obvious. The complete installation of core components required in a traditional upgrade is no longer necessary. New functionality can be implemented more quickly and economically in the core SAP ERP application, which lowers IT operating costs.

The transaction works like a signal box that controls the activation of additional switches and triggers a cascade of activation steps that enhance SAP applications at predefined points with new and enhanced functionality and tables. Implementation of new functionality occurs with the enhancement framework. The switch framework controls which business function set and business functions should be turned on.

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