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Opening up the portal universal worklist for third party software

Dear reader, Comments are welcome on this blog. If I haven’t expressed myself clearly, if you have a follow-up question, if you have an opinion then sock it to me in the comments section below.   The universal worklist is SAP’s access to the tasks, alerts and workflows that are generated in the different SAP systems spread throughout your company’s system landscape. It collects the different tasks from chatty systems able to publish their tasks and collects them from the shy systems. It does this on a per user basis. Quite an accomplishment when  you have more than thousands, no tens of thousands, no hundreds of thousands of users in the environment.   It then shows you the items assigned to you in one single simple list – and that, is exactly what everyone wants. One simple watering hole to access your ERP tasks and activities. Of course you can customize different views of this list to match different types of task, role or process and there are descriptions of that elsewhere on SDN, for example the business task management section of the NetWeaver developer’s guide.  Now the sophistication begins. The actions that you can perform on these tasks can be made available to all users in a consistent fashion and even with a consistent user interface if you want. Forwarding an item, adding context to a task before you forward it, executing it and even setting up a substitution so that you can go on vacation with a clear conscience (or fall ill, heaven forbid, but your colleagues can cover for you without contacting a system administrator). These are examples of what you can do now that the tasks, alerts, activities, you-name-it are accessable from the same place.  As time went on SAP added more and more tasks mechanisms through what are called connectors. This is basically glue-code that joins the task software (task engine) to the universal worklist. In order of appearance: SAP Business Workflow, alerts, collaboration tasks, KM notifications, guided procedures,   Now, we are starting to open it up to everyone. Why just starting? Because creating an API is serious business, SAP can’t just tweak it on-the-fly. At worst, this could affect live systems (remember, every connector has two ends) and at best, additional development would be needed to stay in synch. So it’s not something to approach with a cavalier attitude.  However, from the experience gained through creating connectors for the different ABAP and Java task-generating mechanisms, we at SAP are confident that now is a good time to release the API in a controlled manner to any customer wanting to integrate tasks from either their own home-grown software or third-party vendor software.  By controlled I mean:

  • with a watchful eye on how the integration is done (to verify that the API is used in the way we anticipate and not to perform all manner of skullduggery) and
  • if necessary to adjust or enhance the API before it is made generally available and
  • to ensure that the connector is a success and does not fail due to lack of a good communications link to the SAP developers when if the interim documentation is ambiguous.

Interested? As a customer or a partner or a third-party software vendor supporting an SAP customer just consult SAP Note 921758 for the exact details. A brief summary is

  • fill in a form to submit the basic project details
  • wait for an SAP expert to be assigned as bonafide contact
  • write the connector code (the SAP API is written in Java so Java skills are needed)
  • health check and go-live

If you’ve read this far you can pat yourself on the back because you now know everything that you need to know. If you are curious to know more, here is a brief FAQ to help. 1. Is the SAP NetWeaver Portal a prerequisite?Yes. You will need an SAP NetWeaver Portal Release 2004 or 2004s (still unfamiliar with the NetWeaver terminology – that means EP 6.0 and above). 2. Is this API BPEL4People compliant? Although BPEL4People has excited the world in terms of being a vital piece of the whole BPM foundation, it is still nothing more than (a) a white paper describing the goals and approach to human-to-process integration (b) many hours of commuting back and forth between SAP and IBM (c) days and evenings deep in passionate think-tanking about how best to reach the goal (d) an emerging specification paper that has not yet been published. So this API cannot be BPEL4People compliant (the specification has not been published yet) but it is a big step in the right direction. Treat this API as a very practical sign of SAP’s committment to this upcoming standard.  3. When will the API be made available to everyone (general availability)? Now where’s that crystal ball? 4. Is this part of the long term SAP NetWeaver strategy? Yes. The SAP NetWeaver strategy is about being an open platform. It is no coincidence that the universal worklist is becoming well and truly open and is embedded in the heart of SAP NetWeaver (not an add-on). 5. Is this of any business value whatsoever? Yes. Not even taking into account such cost factors, as maintenance, help-desk manning, users’ speed and ease-of interaction – it enables the different disjunct tasks to interact with one-another in a common context – as close to the ERP business objects behind the activies as you can get. This opens up all sorts of new possibilities, and creates new simpler and more transparent processes at every level of granularity and independent of the software vendor used.  I hope you like it.       

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  • Hi Alan,
    We have this exact requirement (as will many customers) in our businesses. In fact, the demand has been there for some time, specifically for 3 or 4 workflow enabled non-SAP applications that are strategic to us.

    Phil Gleadhill.
    BHP Billiton Limited.