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iViews, ViewPoint and conceptual integration (Shai’s questions)

This article is about the mainly supported SAP technologies for arranging and displaying content. It is about new ideas of my own and contains some suggestions.
Main motivation for this article is that Shai Agassi made a comment on my Weblog SDN vs. SAP Community: Plethora of Contents, which I liked very much (I hope that it really was Shai and not only a person using his name!). Shai, here are my insights as an answer to your comment.

Status quo

SAP Enterprise Portal
Enterprise Portal as part of SAP NetWeaver offers easy access to technologies allowing to build up (or click-up) a personalizable, customizable front-end without hassling around with coding too much.
This is possible with the use of highly sophisticated client-side browser scripting facilities. iViews are a major building block of SAP EP.

iViews are SAP’s popular technology for displaying and arranging dynamic content.

The main aspects of iViews in summary:

  • iViews are customizable and personalizable.
  • iViews are the basis technology of the Enterprise Portal front-end.
  • They have a consistent look and feel.
  • They can be implemented with help of wizards and templates without coding effort.
  • .NET iViews support the .NET platform.

An article describing the ViewPoint technology can be found here: What is SAP ViewPoint? How does DevToday use it? (by Dan Woods and Brian Willis).

Here a short summary of ViewPoint’s core concepts:

  • Every user has its own workplace based on the ViewPoint technology.
  • Enables the user to interact with articles.
  • Users can declare positive and negative preferences.
  • Each preference is expressed by words or terms.
  • Articles with higher rates words and terms are
  • displayed higher on the list of stories, from which only a few are displayed at once.
  • Categories itself can be rated by the user.
  • The user personalizes a previously categorized content!

It is noticable that ViewPoint connects with SAP Enterprise Portal, which is based on iViews.

Take a look at DevToday for an example.

Concerning the iViewsCatcher I have not much information. But what I can say is, that this tool is available for .NET. It allows the capturing of a third-party web site to transform parts of it into iViews. For that the user can capture rectangular areas and integrate them as iViews.
I don’t know how dependencies between different areas on the website are handled when cutting out parts of it. I don’t know how fine-grained one can define elements in captured parts, if possible at all. There are not that much resources available online. Has anybody some URL’s to deliver?

New conceptions

Conceptual Patterns
In contrast to Design Patterns (see my other article: Design Patterns: Boondoggle or State-of-the-Art?) one should be aware of recurring patterns at the conceptual layer. Of course this concept is not new, but one should be aware that it exists.
As the mission goal of SDN states, SDN should be a “Community of Communities”. This would be a good pattern to include into a catalog. It’ description should contain a list of tasks to be considered to integrate other communities into a platform like SDN. The difficulty in most cases should be to adapt different visual and workflow concepts of “legacy” communities with the integrating one. Main part of this is to adapt the building blocks of each community to capable formats supported originally (like iViews).

Visual Decomposer
In contrast to the Visual Composer (aka: GUI Machine, also see Weblog Custom iViews Without Coding in Java… Introducing GUIMachine by Himanshu Pande), intended for the business analyst working at a customer base, I could imagine a Visual Decomposer. This concept would allow decomposing legacy pages like SAP Community into units compatible with, say, iViews. Although it is more easy to embed a site or community hosted by SAP itself into another SAP-community like SDN, there should be ways of doing this tool-supported. Eventually there already is a tool called iViewCatcher, which seems to be available only for the .NET platform. But I don’t know about it and will have to investigate. On the other hand it is stated by SAP in a presentation about iViews that “external services are normally displayed in the Portal as full-page iViews, unlike most Java iViews”.

Conceptual consolidation
Perhaps for conceptual consolidation it is necessary to annotate the site to be integrated to denote certain characteristics to be conserved. As this is kind of abstract (or “pre-visionary” as I stated in SDN vs. SAP Community: Plethora of Contents), it is logical and can be extended quite easily into an implementation. It should be evident that transforming a source into a target can only be done if there are hints on how to do this. Either these hints are recognizable by a program, then you are lucky. Or, this is more probable, human being has to manually supply hints to give the conversion a chance. This reminds me on the mapper integrated into XI, where you could draw lines to connect source elements with target elements of XML strcutures. From these connections the conversion process knows how to proceed in general (cut short).
After having tried to supply hints on how to tranform a source structure into a desired target structure, one knows whether it should be possible to do the conversion. The reason for that is, that the main problem in conversion is to have compatible concepts on both sides. A person trying to harmonize them will know quite good if there is some conceptual compatibility after trying concretely to lay ground.

Given a source site to extract conceptual blocks, such as menu bar, navigation area, main area etc., it is, however, not enough to define rectangular areas as referencable blocks. One problem with this is the possible incompatibility with JavaScript, Frames or other concepts capable of interacting with other screen areas. Furthermore, an area like a menu consists of more fine-granular elements, which are obvious in that case.

Existing technology like iViews and ViewPoint are not enough to cover the problem of conceptually capturing legacy pages. Even if a more sophisticated capturing tool (one could also call it transformation tool) existed, there needed be a mechanism for annotating the source structure to denote essential semantic information about concept and intend of the source.
IMHO, ViewPoint technology is quite a good idea to support and extend in the future. However, it must be seen as an addition to other important mechanisms. This as answer to Shai’s second question in my other article. As of 2015, it seems that iViews are not that relevant, in contrast they are not used outside of SAP EP projects.
To come to Shai’s third question, whether the technology should be relevant only for hard core developers or others in the organization as well: I would say, Click-and-Go techs like ViewPoint are for everybody, there should be no discussion necessary. iViews offer a good start with templates and wizards, like in SAP Enterprise Portal. Conceptual consolidation is a problem that can only be solved thru shared adoption of all available resources in a company. As with Visual Composer this should then apply to business analysts, developers, consultants as well as managers. Any of them can have a place in a consolidation process. This is sort of vague, but my financial benefits from publishing this article are easy to estimate 🙂

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