With the new version of SAP NetWeaver BPM, companies can implement new business processes – for requests, posting, and approval, for example – without additional programming effort. This type of process composition used to require considerable manual work by IT consultants to harmonize services and match all of the partner fields between the interfaces involved.
“Our initial question was, does data synchronization really have to be so complicated?” says Gregor Hackenbroich, program manager for data management and analytics at SAP Research. As anyone who calls up the process composer in SAP NetWeaver BPM can see, the answer is clearly no. “The system automatically identifies which fields are highly likely to match,” explains Hackenbroich.
These include name, address, currency, and date fields. The user is only required to check that the suggested field pairs do actually match – a process that obviously takes much less time than manually scrolling through the long lists of fields to find the right pairs.
Coding for the process composer
“For us, ultimately delivering both ideas and functioning code for the process composer was a major success,” says Christian Brelage, SAP Research’s head of the joint transfer project and the researchers and developers associated with it.
In an initial step, SAP researchers were able to integrate a pattern that matches similar names in the process composer (with the first enhancement package for SAP NetWeaver 7.10). In future versions, the system will also identify similarities in data types, structures (including parent-child hierarchies), and the meaning of field descriptors.
The inquiring minds at SAP Research have been working on this system of partially automated pattern matching in cooperation with universities – and, even more closely, SAP’s product developers – for over two years. Project head Brelage believes the investment has paid off. “With functions like these, our customers can save plenty of time and money,” he says, adding that users will be able to apply the processes developed in data migrations and integrations of source systems and user interfaces in the future.
The Galaxy project: modeling business processes
Pattern mapping is, however, just one small part of a much broader project known as Galaxy, which in recent years has expanded SAP NetWeaver into a technology platform for business process modeling. The Galaxy project has seen SAP’s research and product development departments work hand in hand, with 10 researchers in Dresden, Karlsruhe (Germany), and Brisbane (Australia) focusing solely on incorporating their ideas into product development.
In addition to partially automated pattern matching, these individuals have been responsible for developments ranging from tools for standardized business process modeling to functions that automatically identify potential security flaws in flexibly configured business processes.
All of these functions help companies realize their vision of service-oriented architecture (SOA). On the basis of existing standard software, they can now more easily model and implement their own specific business processes – and react more quickly to market changes.
A focus on costs
This manner of flexible process management also aids, for instance, in reducing costs. In a pilot project, a beverage company used SAP NetWeaver BPM to configure requests, posting, and payment for advertising campaigns involving freelance employees. This process used to entail sending e-mails and using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets – a practice common at many companies, but also time-consuming and expensive.
“We consider our collaboration with SAP Research very important,” says Sören Balko, a member of the BPM architecture and innovation team for SAP NetWeaver product development. Balko sees the reason for this in the inherent focus on products in SAP’s development departments. “SAP Research’s longer-term strategic efforts complement this focus,” explains Balko.
Furthermore, SAP Research supports product development in the Galaxy project with customer studies concerning business process management. In doing so, it maintains contact with other companies in the industry to promote the standardization of business process modeling – both in 2009 and beyond.