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While working at a booth during the recent ASUG (American SAP Users Group) event, the most common questions were along the lines of “So what’s NetWeaver all about?” and “How does all the content stuff fit together.” There was so much buzz about NetWeaver that I — like everyone wearing an SAP shirt — was kept pretty busy explaining the benefits of SAP’s newest initiative. The question about content, on the other hand, seemed to be triggered by the poster in our booth, which listed Business Packages as a type of Business Content available within SAP NetWeaver.

On the second question, it seemed like customers had heard so many product names and technical details that what they really wanted was to just get their arms around the big picture and what that meant to them. I tried to oblige by connecting the dots and putting it all in a context of the resources SAP provides for content development, including a large body of pre-defined content (the business packages), several content development tools suitable for different needs and different groups of users, and new services available through partnerships with products such as Adobe Interactive forms.

The short answer to the question “why should I care about content” is “to save time and money.” When organizations decide to implement portals, the main focus is often on the technical and security aspects of getting a portal up and running. That’s the necessary basis, of course, but whether or not a portal really flies ultimately depends on user acceptance. In fact, market studies have shown that up to 50% of portal project fail not because of technical issues, but because the portals couldn’t attract users or get them to come back. It’s like an empty refrigerator, it doesn¡¦t matter how great the refrigerator is when there are only a few stale items inside. One reason so many projects don’t have adequate content is that creating content is by no means a trivial task. It’s also expensive. Although providing URL links is fairly easy, up to now it took experienced Java programmers to create the kind of sophisticated content that users really like, including alerts to critical situations, easy navigation between related items, being able to drill down on data, and being able to execute transactions. To give customers a jump start in their content development, SAP provides over 100 business packages and a new set of tools that make it possible for non-programmers to create certain types of iViews.

So, starting with business packages — they are essentially collections of over 3,500 iViews (portlets) that are packaged for the tasks of particular roles. They can be based on one or more SAP solutions, the Business Intelligence capabilities of SAP NetWeaver, or on third-party products. In all cases, the packages are developed by the same folks who bring you the underlying solutions, with the goal of providing task-oriented access to their solutions through the Enterprise Portal. To find out about and download packages, go to www.iViewstudio.com.

To augment this content and develop custom content, SAP provides three groups of tools for three different target groups.
– Wizards and editors for content creation and maintenance that are part of the content administration environment of EP 6.0. These tools are the easiest to use for creating a wide range of iViews and other content objects based on existing templates. What’s great about these tools is that they are part of a single, consistent interface for handling all portal objects, including content objects.
– Then there is the SAP Visual Composer for people who really know the business process, but aren’t programmers. As the title suggest, this tool has a visual interface where users simply drag and drop interface elements and define inputs and outputs. The corresponding Java code is created automatically. Experienced programmers are often amazed about how quickly they can develop iViews with this tool, compared to coding “by hand.”
– Finally, there is NetWeaver Developer Studio, which provides an environment for JAVA development based on the Eclipse platform. This environment includes the Web Dynpro tools for all kinds of applications and the Portal Development Kit. These tools will cover the most complex development needs and allow customers to benefit from all the advantages of the Web Dynpro approach (too much to cover here, but definitely worth checking out)
– Another great feature coming with NetWeaver ’04 is the ability to integrate Adobe Interactive Forms into portal content offers great potential for any iViews that are based on forms. What’s so cool about them is that changing these forms on the fly will be totally easy — no developers needed.

In addition, check out the downloads and code samples made available by other developers. You might consider these to be “utilities” that solve specific challenges other users have come across.

How should customers work with all these options? SAP recommends that customers start with any available pre-defined business packages and then extend that content with those tools that meet their needs and are the quickest and easiest to use. In practice, that means starting with the content administration wizards and editors, moving to SAP Visual Composer if additional capabilities — particularly around modeling business processes — are needed, and moving to the Development Studio if the Visual Composer is not sufficient or if no BAPIs are available. One issue customers should be aware of, though, is that code generated automatically in the background won’t be as flexible terms of changes as code created directly in Java. But then, as Confucius didn’t say, life is a trade-off.

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  1. Richard Hirsch
    You mention three target groups for your tools. Do you mean portal administrators, business analysts and developers? Should portal administrators really determine content based on the needs of the customer?
    I think this should be the job of the business analyst.
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    1. Sylvia Lehnen Post author
      Yes, user needs are typically defined by business analysts and stakeholder groups during the needs analysis process.  Depending on what’s needed, the three groups then have access to tools for developing content based on those requirements. In addition to the initial content, having easy-to-use wizards in the content admin environment makes it possible for admins to be very responsive to user feedback; for example, a content admin could quickly satisfy user requests for access to external URLs or to a particular database.  Of course, the degree to which an organization wants its content admins to handle such requests has to be determined by each organization, but it’s well-suited to a model where different admins are responsible for the content needs of particular user groups, without creating an IT bottleneck. 
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