The Architect’s World – Episode 5
A much debated fact within the IT community is If you want to Architect a business solution, what should be the ideal target audience? The IT or the Business users? Well, experience has it that the target community has to be a mix of both, with the added topping of the CFO. Getting them together in one discussion room and have them thrash out internal issues and getting the CFOs blessings is one sure-fire way of getting a buy-in for the SI Organization. One without the other has made me see a few failures.
Besides the operational companies, The Client Organization runs two global service companies; one of them is the Client Organization Group Support Ltd. which incorporates the global IT organization looking for Strategic outsourcing and consolidation into ONE Global IT Centre. As a move towards Business consolidation and standardization of applications and Applications Outsourcing, the Client Organization has invited us to bid for an SAP Web Applications project. Starting off as a WAS Project, the aim for a Solution Architect now becomes the challenge of carving this opportunity as an ESA Endeavour.
The end objective of the Web Applications Project was to create a Global pilot portal that will provide a hybrid Solution for content management of the Client Organization.com and partial migration of their intranet solution for the North American Group companies without retiring any of the applications that may have a potential to affect business and to be finally syndicated under one single portal for the Client Organization, by facilitating the phasing out of third-party applications and migrating all key businesses onto the SAP NetWeaver platform. All this with minimum or practically no disruption to the business.
This initiative was being looked upon as a drive to centralize and drive IT initiatives towards Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA) compliance and the deployment of standard business processes across the Client Organization organizations. The central theme of the ESA discussion was Collaboration a term which is oft used, but mostly abused. A very loosely used term, the following diagram depicts the collaboration that is possible across the value chain, not just the supply or the demand chain.
The role of an ESA Architect, having to marry up business requirements with the technical now becomes a logical challenge. The key objectives of the workshop now becomes to:
A. Understand the processes and the areas of collaboration better
B. Assign weights and points to arrive at the most-painful link in the process chain>
C. Get the buy-in from IT & Business for the weakest collaboration link
D. The weakest link may become the highest priority area. Prioritize the same
E. Carve out the roadmap under the garb of the customer project
Having done that, the objective of the exercise now becomes A Content Management Program.
A look at a potential Strategy & Roadmap
A solution proposed to the Client Organization for the Web Applications project has long term objectives. Along with Knowledge Management and Collaboration functionality, the Client Organization need to deploy key business functionality through SAP Enterprise portal as a strategic initiative to consolidate and streamline business processes at a global level. With SAP R/3 as the backbone, this strategic initiatives key objective is to set the ball rolling in unifying business processes and consolidation of all IT services using a Global delivery model.
For the Web Applications project, an Architect may consider the following three business drivers:
– Use Quality processes to improve productivity
– Aim to deliver reusable components to improve timeframes
– Do it right the first time
– The ability to overcome limitations of an application with innovation
– The ability to create a talent factory and retain the same for the Client Organization
– Create a scalable solution
– Reusability with the ESA roadmap
– The ability to leverage existing components and best practices
– Standardize, standardize, standardize
A Phased approach towards the Web Applications Project
The Solution Architect must need to propose a staged implementation that aligns with the ESA roadmap of Sap till year 2007 to 2009.. This is a balanced approach. In this scenario, the Client Organization needs to carefully examine each piece of functionality put on the portal. The functionality installed is limited and carefully controlled and all options need to be evaluated before arriving at a recommended approach to a solution. With a mix of modified applications, web-enabled key business transactions along with a strategy in place for the next few years is what, we believe, will be the best approach for the Client Organization. This way, the business can absorb the implementa¬tion, and the employee portal can enhance and extended to other locations. In the case of the public website, speed and processes around content management are the key drivers.
The Solution that could be proposed to the Client Organization for the publicportal.com and intranet.com is only after a careful study of the same based on multiple workshops to put the front face to the ESA initiative.
The long term Objective
The Long-term objective that the Solution Architect needs to propose with the enterprise portal project is to lead the Client Organization on the path in tune with SAP AGs direction towards ESA compliance and leverage the composite application framework to reduce development efforts across instances as replications and ensure compliance to standardized processes by building guided procedures as reusable applications.
The road to ESA is not supposed to happen overnight. At this juncture, the Client Organization is on SAP R/3 4.6c with no immediate plans for upgrade till year 2009. To move ahead with the ESA roadmap, the starting point being the Web Applications project, the challenge is to enable the right mix of components and business functionality that can render the Solution to be designed as a scalable one that can be used post upgrades as well. </.>
With these considerations, a suggested roadmap could be as follows:
Year 2005: Web Applications project with the public website and the intranet portal
Benefit: Lay down the Governance and Operational model for the Client Organization in tune with the ESA roadmap
Year 2006: Web Applications Maintenance & enhancement/Support. SAP R/3 Custom Development & Maintenance/Support.
Benefit: Extend the Client Organizations central IT to streamline other service lines for development and maintenance for lower TCO and business process consolidation at a central instance level
Year 2007: Web Applications Maintenance & enhancement. SAP R/3 Custom Development & Maintenance/Support with pilot ESA-compliant initiatives within
Benefit: A gradual exposure to the ESA roadmap leading to lower costs
Year 2008: Web Applications Maintenance & enhancement. SAP R/3 Custom Development & Maintenance/Support on streamlined instances with central coordination
Benefit: The path is set for mySAPERP 200x upgrade and ESA compliance
Year 2009: Upgrade and move towards SAP NetWeaver Platform conformance and compliance with ESA.
Benefit: Lower TCO and steady state operations
The Public website considerations for a Solution Architect
The current public website architecture entails the usage of a third-party content management application (Vignette) and another third-party workflow engine (K2) on an Oracle 9.2 DB with free-ware translation services/manual editing and translation services on the internet for the same. The Web templates for the display of content for visitors, which retrieves data from the database with an existing set of Web servers for URL redirection for different geographies and locales with Secured access for the Client Organization content managers and regular access for the visitors of the client organization. The phasing out or Vignette is a must as part of the program.
The pain points that exist in the Client Organization.com today include poor speed & performance, lack of a unified single technology vendor and mediocre search capabilities. More so, the overall strategy is not aligned with the SAP Roadmap. These are areas of improvement which become the baseline for an Architect to recommend a Solution which also needs to pick out the common threads with the internet and intranet processes for a linear and a common automated approach towards building a unified solution on a singular platform that aligns with SAPs footprint within the Client Organization. This approach simplifies business processes around the public and employee portals in areas such as Content management, User management, overall architecture, and a scalable solution that aligns itself with SAPs ESA roadmap with mySAPERP 200x.
The Solution that would be proposed takes into consideration the above along with the key drivers for the public web site that includes multi-country/locale, generic guidelines as applicable within the client organization, on-the-fly content creation with workflow features and role based security to content, all based on the guidelines that need to be followed, which makes up for the areas that SAP Enterprise Portal could be made better.
The Employee portal/Intranet considerations for a Solution Architect
Having evolved over a period of time, usually intranets become monolithic applications enmeshing a host of intranets internally. Running a multitude of technologies, they suffer from issues ranging across usage, performance, content feed, and a lack of unified approach to future development completely out-of-sync with the ESA roadmap of SAP.
With a multitude of technology vendors contributing software that makes up intranets today ranging from IBM to Microsoft technologies along with best-of-breed applications, this clearly stunts the strategic decision making process within any Client Organization. The IT Groups have a choice to do away with a host of vendors, once the Solution Architect and his team of consultants are in a position to lay down an ESA roadmap. Coupled with market dynamics of today, the need for the Client Organization in the future is to have the flexibility to be agnostic of technology and vendors to be able to focus on decisions which less IT driven and more from a business perspective. Clearly, this is an area that needs to be addressed by the ESA Roadmap and the Web Applications project to enable the Client Organization move towards the space of least IT governance and a focus on core-competence instead.
Unless the best practices that will be built with the public website is extended to the employee portal, there is no value-add that the Client Organization will get to see. The Solution that should be presented to the Client Organization needs to ensure that such processes which can be reused in both scenarios of the public site and the intranet. A classic example that exists in such cases will be the extension of the Content management process which finds an extension in the public website that could be used within the intranet for content publishing with minimal customization. The end objective being lowering TCO for The Client Organization, the same needs to be made possible by the technological solution that will be built.
With a vast array of vendors and technologies providing what can be made available from a single strategic vendor solution albeit with shortcomings, a key element of the Solution Architecture encompasses the current market dynamics in the Application vendor space. The ESA Solution that needs to be thought about need to take into consideration the technological shifts that the market is seeing today, the emergence of the long-term vendors in the market, coupled with the ability of the vendors ability to shape the space. Unless the solution considers these factors, it will fall short of providing a Business Solution for the Client Organization.
The effectiveness or success of an employee portal is governed by its usage. Usage is an attribute that is governed by the effectiveness of the business processes that is built in and that any Client Organization employee finds practical use with. Add to this the usability of an employee portal is governed by the ease of use that is rendered by a unified technological solution, not a mish-mash of state-of-the-art technologies.
Speed and performance, easy adoption of fresh content, are a direct result of the above. The Solution that is being proposed needs ensures that these factors are being considered to provide The Client Organization with a comprehensive business solution that is scalable to include the future direction of SAP AG.
A point to be noted here is the transformation to such a state is not to be overnight, but will entail a gradual process to improving efficiencies using technology as an enabler with innovative solution options.
For the Enterprise Portal Component of the proposed ESA landscape, here are some thought points for a Solution Architect:
– Advanced and configurable features
– Configurable SSO to reduce complexity
– Standard business packages to reduce development time
– Multiple development choices- seamless applications integration
– Transport packages to ease deployment to QA and Production instances
– Workflow customization/linkage to external application
– Integrated search for structured and unstructured data in TREX
– Collaboration features of EP compared to competitors
– EP Navigation for large work sets/pages
– Inbuilt/ bundled application utilities like Image Editor, Spell checker etc.
– Content management in EP
– Human workflow capaibilities of EP
– Ease or use, speed, performance, site-statistics and scalability
For the WAS Component of the proposed ESA landscape, here are some thought points for a Solution Architect:
– Rapid development with the WebDynpro framework and NWDS
– Drag and Drop features of WebDynpro
– Adherence to MVC to reduce complexity in design and development
– Debugging capabilities
– Connectivity with legacy systems
– Web services support
– Support for custom built Java script
– Choice of UI elements is limited like HTML Editor, Image Editor,List Box etc
– Documentation on troubleshooting
For the XI Component of the proposed ESA landscape, here are some thought points for a Solution Architect:
– Design time features in XI
– Too many elements on Adapters config screen make configurations cumbersome process
– Pre-processing (calling scripts/code) capability need to be available for File adapters.
– JDBC adapter features for archiving processed data in the source database tables.
– Provision for connection pooling for efficiency.
– Creating process scenarios in ccBPM and integration with respect to tasks like Manual Tasks for human intervention
– Documentation required for use of JMS/File adapter in complex scenarios.
– Monitoring mechanisms. The current logging, monitoring mechanisms for adapters, ccBPM are they sufficient to meet proper operational requirements
– Options for use of Java, ABAP and XML for development makes it a big plus for middleware consultants to shift to SAPXI with ease
Thoughts for a Scalable Approach
The ESA Solution that would be proposed to the Client Organization coupled with the immediate project needs to consider the following architectural design for future applications based on the Web Applications Project:
De-layering Applications for the Process consolidation exercise at the R/3 Level:
The Technical Approach:
– Segregate the layer where the data is stored (persistency layer)
– Segregate the layer where the business logic is stored (business logic layer)
– Segregate the layer where the business process is stored (business process layer)
– Segregate the layer which presents the data to the user (user interface layer)
The Business Interpretation:
– The above approach will allow The Client Organization to consolidate and build processes at the R/3 layer across different instances of the Client Organization in the future
– No replication of building applications across instances
– Standardized UI to reduce trainings & associated costs for changed business processes
– Reusable components across instances towards code-free development
– Application building on SAP NetWeaver platform to enable The Client Organization to move towards an ESA model
– Easier UI screens for non-IT users
Move the Client Organization towards Applications driven by Next Practices:
The Technical Approach:
– Move towards a guided Procedures framework (design-time and run-time) which supports the highly interactive and dynamic scenarios in composite applications.
– It makes use of the underlying Java ad-hoc workflow engine but restricts the usage to a few simple patterns which can easily be understood and adopted by the Client Organization end users.
– CAF leverages Java WebDynpro as the UI layer for composite applications an approach that should be adopted in the Portal project
– For achieving a homogeneous user experience UI patterns like the dashboard pattern, search pattern are developed and configuration screens are provided.
The Business Interpretation:
– The Client Organization will be in a position to focus on process build-up and process rationalization on the R/3 layer & the Solution team can replicate these on the CAF layer, providing the Client Organization the flexibility & savings of replication across the board & focusing on standardizations instead.
– Create an environment to facilitate implementations of processes as standard using laid down procedures as applications
– Have the same UI for linearity of processes in the Client Organization<.p>
– Reduction of development efforts upon replication from one instance to another
– Build easy-to-use, process driven applications approach
Moving away from the client server architecture followed by R/3 4.6c, the main driver towards the ESA landscape with the Enterprise Portal project is to decouple application logic from the UI.
As can be seen from above as a Solution Architect, you cannot de-layer the ESA roadmap exercise from the immediate project needs of a client. The ESA roadmap has to be fitted in tune with the concerns of the immediate project in hand. The usage of XI needs to be propagated much more aggressively and could be positioned at the removal of existing middleware applications within the client organizations. The move away from best-of-breed specialized products needs to be done away with in the future even if it means workarounds and living with lower capabilities of the SAP NetWeaver stack in comparison to other products. The usage of the ABAP stack needs to be propagated slowly, but surely if you have to lower costs for the client. The BIG picture becomes essential, doesnt mean you try to wean the client away from his immediate thought process.
The role of a Solution Architect is certainly not something that a pure-play business consultant or Technical Consultant can handle, it requires a certain amount of experience and maturity to shape the way forward of things to come. And that gives meaning to the term Collaboration and an ESA Roadmap Of course, there could be other solutions which could take this business issue on, this is, but one approach. Thank you for reading my blog, your comments would be greatly appreciated.