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SOA + BPM + Business Applications + Netweaver = Happy Customer

Isn’t the title one of the most complete statements you have seen recently? Personally, I believe in this theory and I will explain it in detail by trying to put all the pieces together from a business perspective.

To support complex industries in today’s world, such as healthcare – composing manufacturing, retail, healthcare, vendor applications – on a daily basis, one has to live with supporting multiple systems in existence to meet the business needs. As such we are always challenged by these elements –

1) How to cope up with the frequent business process changes from a system maintenance perspective? How to leverage on the existing infrastructure for the new business processes proposed and implement the appropriate system changes in a timely manner as expected by the business?
2) How to facilitate the systems for ease of usability and preferences set by each process owner on a periodic basis without sacrificing the data integrity of the systems?
3) How to integrate the data from disparate systems and processes and present to the users as per each business division’s preference?

The search ends (rather begins) at understanding the latest SAP product – Netweaver. Initially when I heard of Netweaver, I was expecting to learn more about the technical capabilities of the netweaver, rather my search resulted with a few familiar/ new terms – SOA, BPM, Visual Composer, XML, UML etc.

The primary task was to understand what each of these terms/ technologies meant from a bigger picture (from a business perspective), cause any technology proposed makes absolutely no sense unless it is tied back to a business requirement/ process initiative. As such much of the details presented here will be from a business requirement perspective, rather than the technology itself.

SOA – Service Oriented Architecture
The primary task is to understand the concept of a service. In simple terms, a service is all about executing a defined set of events based on the input parameters provided, and providing the appropriate output. Let us consider a typical business process chain as an example shown below (Eg: Order-to-cash). We can see that
– each business process can be classified into a sequence of nested sub-process, which individually can further be classified to a much more detail.
– every process step in a business cycle is dependent on the prior processes output. Business processes are always aligned such that, the completion of one process results in the triggering of the next process.

Each process step in a business cycle provides a set defined of services and adds value to the chain of the business cycle. In complex business process cycles, if carefully reviewed, there will be many instances where a similar type of service is used over and over again in several processes. For example consider the delivery of a product from the warehouse as a defined service which has to happen in an Order to cash cycle. This service has to be executed irrespective of the variables specified in the process such as type of the product, type of the sales order, location or type of customer etc. But yes, the way the shipping (the output) is processed will be different – as delivery as individual shipments, processing through a specified shipping service, date of processing etc – based on the specifications from the previous process/ service, say order-confirmation.

As such, from a business cycle perspective, the services preceding (order confirmation) and following (billing) a service, such as the delivery process, have nothing to do with the actual method of execution of events within a service, the Delivery. But yes, the service execution is controlled by the preceding service output and the following service input specifications.

This results in the ability to define every process into a set of services where each service is defined with a set of input and output parameters irrespective of the actual events inside the service.

The realization and definition of each process/ sub-process step in a business cycle as an independent task (service) which accomplishes a part or whole of a business process, is called as service orientation. The process of designing and development of IT systems in conjunction with the defined service oriented models results in service oriented architecture. Note, that the realization and defining of process steps in a business cycle as services is the initial and most crucial step of implementing a SOA. Defining the appropriate input and output parameters to the prior and following services, for each service, is key to standardization, implementation and ease of maintenance of the services.

Considering our example, the O2C life cycle, if each process can be divided into a defined set of services with appropriate input and output parameters, each of these services can be designed and implemented independently on single or disparate systems. Based on the requirement, the service request can be initiated at any given step in the process cycle resulting in high grade of visibility and efficiency in the systems. Traditionally the biggest challenge posing the implementation of SOA is the inability of systems to communicate with each other efficiently.

BPM – Business Process Management
As the title states, BPM is all about managing the various process/ sub-processes within a business cycle. It is the platform through which both the systems and people associated with the processes are managed on a periodic basis. It includes
1) Standardization of business processes.
2) Implementation.
3) Monitor.
4) Modify.

1) Standardization of business processes – BPM starts with the identification and documentation of all the processes in a business cycle and streamline those to the company’s overall business strategy. This results in creating a standardized single repository of all the processes in a business cycle (a hierarchical structure of the overall business cycle) with high grade of visibility and minimizing the risk of broken/ hanging/ unknown processes.

Traditionally, processes standardization is often carried out through the following data modeling techniques, in sequence as per the scope of the project-

a) Conceptual Modeling – This is carried at a very high level at the initial requirements analysis to identify the key processes and sub processes in the business cycle (System/ technology independent).

b) Logical Modeling – This is carried at a bit detailed level at each individual sub-process and incorporates workflow, functional, user interface, system interface requirements for each sub-process. Again this is also done on a technology/ system independent basis.

c) Physical modeling – This stage involves incorporating the data models from the logical modeling stage and implementing them to the specified systems adapted through configuration and customization. Often includes detailed data process flows, systems architectures, functional and technical specs etc.

The greater the transparency and standardized the business models are, the smoother and efficient the system implementation will be resulting in an overall greater efficiency of the business cycle. Unified modeling language – UML – is the universally accepted, standardized modeling language supported by Netweaver modeling tools.

2) Implementation – Standardized processes are adopted and implemented using the appropriate systems and teams. In traditional implementations the criteria for the system selection and implementation are often a result of both business and IT requirements.

3) Once the business processes are standardized and adapted each process step has to be monitored on a regular basis. To determine the necessary process changes required and to improve the overall efficiency of a business cycle, metrics have to be defined for each and every process step, in the hierarchy of the business cycle, and systems have to be setup appropriately to extract the necessary data and present to the user as per their requirements.

4) Modifications to the business Processes – Based on the performance metrics obtained, appropriate actions need to be taken by the process owner either to add new/ modify the existing processes in a business cycle. Based on the throughput measurements of the process, the changes can be standardized and implemented in further business scenarios.

Note that the process management is a continuous cyclic process. In many business scenarios, after go-live, it is highly recommended to interchange the sequence of the measure and implement stages as per the feasibility of the proposed process changes for better control (Lean Six Sigma Methodology/ SAP – ARIS Business process cycle methodology – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control).

But, as stated above, the concept of Process management is not just about the modeling techniques and implementing systems on those process flows. Rather it is about implementing and managing the processes and the systems (associated with those processes) together on a periodic basis for greater efficiency of the business cycle. As such, though the modeling process is complete, the biggest problem is that in traditional platforms (often referred as BPM suites), the modeling at different stages is often carried out on one or many platforms and the implementation is carried out on multiple disparate systems with no direct connectivity between layers of models and the actual systems. This results in a wide gap (which increases as time progresses) between the modeling process flows and actual systems implemented. As such the biggest challenge is how to minimize this gap for greater control and efficiency.

Business Applications
A decade ago one of the biggest problems associated with IT system implementations, was preserving the data integrity of the disparate systems, who often couldn’t talk to each other. But ERP was a major breakthrough in resolving the problems associated with data integrity. Businesses viewed ERP as a one stop shop that could integrate processes and systems efficiently, with high visibility and flexibility in future maintenance. But as the time progressed businesses started realizing that the ERP implementations often came with a price –

1) As business processes evolved and progressed there were a lot of functionalities (both new processes/ changes to the existing processes) which ERP couldn’t offer in complex industrial environments. This leads to the execution of processes on multiple systems (some often the legacy systems) with ERP as the primary system. Though from a systems perspective, the disparate systems supporting the processes have a very minimal functionality and complexity compared to the ERP, still each of them was a key component in carrying out the day-to-day activities of the process cycle. In fast-paced environments this became a huge issue with respect to user productivity and business growth. As such from some of business processes perspective we are still at square one.

2) Though ERP applications did allow customizing them, the extent of customization allowed is limited and often ended being very complex from a maintenance perspective. Often proposed system changes couldn’t be carried out as expected by the business in a timely and efficient manner.

So the fact that multiple systems will always exist in certain business processes, crucial to the whole business cycle, is inevitable in the future which again puts us back at the same problems stated at the beginning of this article.

Well we have looked at SOA, BPM and business applications individually and we can agree that each of the components provides a significant value to the overall business cycle. The concepts of SOA, BPM are not new. They have been around for a long time and often several systems boast about being built upon either of these concepts, but not both. Why, and what are the limitations that prevent us from adapting both the concepts on a single platform and how does SAP netweaver solve those problems? To understand better let us consider a typical software implementation cycle and go through the various stages in the cycle-

1) The first stage of any software implementation is the documentation of the business requirements and the approach is through the modeling process. As stated earlier, the biggest challenge from the BP modeling perspective, is the inability to have a single platform to process all the business models and monitor them on one single platform. Netweaver solves this limitation by providing the BPM Suite ARIS integrated with all other components in the platform. Using these products we can
– Define, document and standardize all the different levels of models (conceptual and logical which are system independent) and the physical stage (these are associated with the systems) in one platform creating a hierarchical structure of business models in one single repository. As this platform allows us to go to the finest details of the processes, the business experts can actually visualize the service oriented architecture of the physical implementation with the help of the technical team leads, and transfer his vision to the appropriate technical teams responsible for various disparate system implementations (the next phase of the implementation) right at the beginning of the project.

2) For the next phase, of actual system implementation, the biggest challenge posing the technical teams is how to connect systems on different technologies? To solve this issue conceptually, imagine this scenario, what if every system’s primary communication to the external world is through a standardized language accepted universally. On the principles of SOA, if every system available takes inputs, processes the service specified, and provides the output in a standard language we can eventually connect any system to another. We can totally eliminate the need to sacrifice the better performing systems, just because we can’t connect them to each other efficiently. The common language which is being adapted universally is the XML. Netweaver provides the platform, from a technical perspective to connect disparate systems, on the basis of XML.

But how can we overcome the barriers associated with data communication and user interfaces without sacrificing the data integrity. Netweaver solves these issues through the web services solutions of today, which are the most advanced and standardized solutions for data transmission and user interfaces. Netweaver provides the web services as an integrated component to
– connect the disparate systems efficiently preserving the data and system integrity.
– to develop role based customized system user interfaces and systems, eliminating the need for the users to access multiple disparate systems to perform a task.
– seamlessly connect and serve the external elements of the business efficiently- customers, vendors, regulatory services etc.

As such, netweaver is the technical platform that can eliminate all the technical constraints associated with systems and make the application of SOA, BPM concepts (right from the conceptual stage to the systems implementation) feasible. Services standardized through BPM can be implemented all across the enterprise using web applications offered by netweaver, referred as the Enterprise SOA.

3) Maintenance – So we are able to bring in the concepts of BPM, SOA and multiple business applications all together using some of the tools provided by Netweaver. But the true challenge for the whole equation is to monitor and modify the processes, and systems associated, efficiently on a periodic basis as per the business expectations. Netweaver tools (ARIS, Solution manager) not only allow the modeling of the business processes, rather also allow monitoring of the key performance parameters (in conjunction with BI, XI tools of netweaver) of each sub process in the business cycle on a periodic basis. It also helps in analyzing the impact of the new changes initiated by the business, from a complete business cycle perspective. It helps in making the decisions regarding the best and fastest approach to implement the necessary system changes in consideration with key parameters, such as leveraging on the existing infrastructure, preserving the overall system integrity, controls, monitoring processes etc., right from the conceptual stage to all the way through the actual system implementation.

ERP’S brought systems and business processes closer, but still gaps do exist, and are considerable, in certain business processes. What netweaver enables us is the ability to adapt the principles of SOA, BPM and implement all the appropriate business applications on a single platform through out the business, erasing the gap entirely between the business processes and systems. Apart from the listed tools, netweaver also provides a lot of other functionalities which are out of scope of this article.

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So what does all this mean to the customer? Following are some of key advantages of the integration of SOA, BPM and netweaver

1) A centralized process management platform to model, implement and monitor the business processes, irrespective of the systems implemented, in a structured manner right from the beginning of the implementation. This results in a high grade of visibility of processes and flexibility to change the systems associated with them, in a timely and efficient manner.

2) Selection of systems to be implemented – The initial phase in a software implementation life cycle is all about gathering the requirements. Once the requirements are prioritized in conjunction with the business strategy, traditionally, the selection criteria for applications composed of both IT and business specifications/ priorities. But with SOA and netweaver, as technological constraints are completely eliminated, multiple systems which best suite the sub processes can be selected and implemented resulting in overall efficiency of the business cycle. I personally believe that this is the greatest advantage from the implementation perspective for any business.

3) As the systems are implemented on principles of SOA
– Services can be used over and over again, all through the cycle, leading to the ease of maintenance of the systems associated with those services.
– new processes can be built in quickly by aligning the sub processes through the existing services and only bringing in new systems only as required. This ultimately results in increasing the life cycle of the system, as a whole tremendously.
– Existing services can be re-aligned as required in a timely and efficient manner as expected by the business.

4) Technical components in netweaver such as the visual composer in conjunction with web services and advanced software development platforms makes building customized systems and integrated user interfaces, which streamline the business processes execution and connectivity of disparate systems into one platform, a breeze. The life cycle of software development and complexity of maintenance is reduced by many fold leading to ease of implementing the changes in a timely and efficient manner.

As such, netweaver is the one stop shop that allows ease of connectivity and maintenance of all the multiple disparate systems associated with the business cycle. All the components – SOA, BPM, Netweaver, and appropriate Business applications – will provide a significant value to the business cycle, but when all the components are brought together and implemented, only then, the true potential of the systems will be realized and the day that’s achieved, business will realize IT as an asset, rather than as a cost.

Business process experts are responsible for the integration of all the stated components. It is not the responsibility of the BPE to be an expert in each and every disparate system being implemented. BPE’s responsibility lies in understanding the business processes and through the Service oriented process models to visualize the appropriate TO-BE architecture and communicate it to the appropriate system implementation and maintenance teams.

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  • Hi,

    I guess I would have saved lot of my time if this article had come out some time back. I had to spend lots of time / attend conferences to understand the variouts connections between all these terminologies and its use. This article explains very clearly with business perspective. Good one! Wish to read many more from this author.

    Ravikumar Bandaru
    System Analyst

  • It’s interesting to see somebody from a customer organization talking about it. It’s hard for customers to execute on such innovative vision and technology. And it’s always good to see SAP customers doing something about it rather than talking about it.

    Looking forward to hear about your journey into eSOA and Netweaver.

  • Hi,
    excellent overall look at the end-to-end picture. Looking forward to reading more about your experiences and learnings. Let us know what works and what does not 😉


  • My team begins implementing SAP next week.  For months I have been hearing the question, “So, what is netweaver again?”.  I will share this. I’m sure it will help.
  • I’m a GIS Consultant and I’ve just started my research over BPM + Netweaver. I feel lucky to find this article so early in my study.

    A very clear, concise and mature conceptual analysis is presented here.

    Extremely motivating to carry on my research further and gather more in-depth understanding of Netweaver from business and technical aspects.

  • hi,

    this article is really precise,it  touches the finer points of the entire process flow and the components involved in it in a lucid manner .


  • Excellent article.  But, I didn’t see any mention of an ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) with publishers and subscribers.  Does SOA/BPMs implement an ESB? My impression is that SOA/BPM is still a point-to-point solution versus the de-coupling of publishers and subscribers that an ESB provides.  Please correct any mis-impressions.  Thanks.
    • SAP SOA vision will be fully deliver via Netweaver as the Business Process Platform where ESB like technology and content in the form of ESRepository, ESFramework, ESInfrastructure…

      It’s coming together with NW04s and will become more real with the next version (not service pack). More like NW05 or NW07 or whatever version name it’ll be.

      • Thanks for the response, Andre.  We are testing PI 7.0 on NW04S and I don’t see anything that resembles an ESB.  In fact, it seems very similar to XI 3.0 that I trained on.  Very point-to-point oriented.  Maybe there are some creative ways of making it decouple from it’s partner application(s), but it’s not obvious to me.  Any feedback is appreciated.  John
    • hi John

      SAP has something called XI Exchange infrastructure instead of enterprise Service Bus which seems to be from the IBM stable.

      In XI you can easily integrate services from same system and different system(platform wise as well).
      This also comes with some pre-integrated stuff which can get you going very fast. Perhaps this will be the deciding factor which ride is best best Bus or XI.

      Another factor in my opinion could be visibility of the XI development into BPM logic. This I feel because normally whenever we enhance or create a new business process we mix and match some services which will normally spill over on the XI or the BUS. a quick overview from this into BPM and impact/work analysis from BPM into Integration hub would be very critical for change management and process enhancement.

      Regards Anand

  • This is a very good article. It is the same perspective I had up until about 6 months ago (regarding SAP, not the underlying concepts). What changed my perspective is what you’re seeing from SAP in their presentations is mostly vision; it can’t be done yet. We tried to do it in the company I work for, and we ended up having to look at pure-play BPM and SOA vendors to achieve this. What is described will work partially if you are an SAP only shop. However if you are like most large companies, you have many disparate systems, and this is where SAP’s current solutions aren’t quite there yet for achieving BPM and SOA.
    With the caveat that I believe SAP will get there in 1-3 years, here are some of the current downfalls with SAP’s NetWeaver solution in regards to BPM and SOA:

    SAP only integrates with ARIS as a process modeling tool. What if you’ve standardized on another leading tool for modeling your processes?  Are you supposed to redo all of that work in ARIS? Write custom code to import integrate the models with SAP? The problem SAP faces here is they don’t support the standard business process modeling notation: BPMN. They support BPEL, but that isn’t a business process modeling notation, it is an execution language. SAP will need to move towards supporting common BPM standards in order to leverage other process modeling tools.

    SAP’s workflow tool doesn’t support non-SAP processes.  Well, most companies will need to include in their workflows non-SAP solutions.

    SAP doesn’t have a uniform business rules engine. The only way you get a business rules engine that can talk to all SAP systems and other systems is via IDS-Scheer’s (ARIS) partnership w/Corticon (a business rules company). Otherwise, you’re looking at going out and purchasing a different rules engine; however, I have no idea how you’ll integrate it into your ARIS or SAP process models. Beyond that, once again, what if your company doesn’t use ARIS.

    Without ARIS’s Process Performance Manager (PPM), how are you going to monitor processes that move in and out of SAP? The research at my company led us to believe you can’t unless you invest in ARIS’s PPM. And ARIS’s PPM requires you to hire their Professional Services for every implementation. They don’t allow you to use your own resources. This sounds pretty dang expensive compared to non-SAP/ARIS options.

    Same thing for simulation, optimization, and predictive analysis of your business processes. Documenting a business process doesn’t have much value if you can’t get key metrics out of the business process as it executes. Once again, unless you have the ARIS and PPM combination from IDS-Scheer, you’re out of luck with the SAP platform.

    Alright, what about the SOA side and integrating heterogenous systems? This is done via XI, a key part of the NetWeaver platform. The problem with this is XI uses a point to point methodology. There isn’t any abstraction of service endpoints so changes to services don’t impact the consumers of those services (e.g. business processes). If you’re doing point to point integration via XI, you haven’t improved very much at all as far as business agility. Why? Because every time your service changes, you will have to make changes to the systems and things that consume that service. This isn’t SOA, it is the same old IT paradyme of basically connnecting directly to systems.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think SAP will get there, and I was probably more excited than anyone reading this blog because I was thinking ‘wow, someone was actualy able to achieve this.’ But, in the back of my head I was wondering if this is theory, or actual implementation. It turns out this is theory (see blog authors response to a comment to this blog). I commend the author’s vision, and believe it to be exactly what companies need to do in order to achieve business agility and flexibility. However, SAP just isn’t there YET, emphasis on yet because I think their vision will get them there.

    • hi Brian,
      I think your assumption about XI as point to point connection is no right. This really works like an information hub.
      Take example where you would like to take advantage of abstraction of messages.
      Let’s take you have a system which sends your purchase  order to a vendor sitting on a specific (Platform).
      As your business process enhancement you want the order to go to all suitable vendors and enforce a bidding on it.
      In XI the step is quite simple– the same purchase order can be pushed to all the vendors
      without a change to your Purchasing system. (For me this is a good enough reason)

      the only missing link is to map your purchase order to the vendor’s sales order. this is needed because vendors can have different platform and difference in business symantec. In a sense you can say this a point to point effort(still it’s n*1 times not n*n times connection)
      I don’t think the business Integration will ever be as simple as electrical plugs and socket. Maybe in future all the mossible n*1 links are available readymade and the system Integration is effectively same as electrical socket – Plug.

      Best regards

      • Thanks for the resposne Anand. Good example. What happens if a subscribe model rather than a push model and your service endpoint changes for some reason (very possible)?  Does every consumer of the service have to their consumption endpoint in order to continue subscribing?  This is what I’m talking about in regards to abstraction. There needs to be a mediation layer there that (what we call an intermediary) to abstract the endpoint so that changes are made in one place rather than multiple places. In our experiments, XI appeared to be point to point. However, we are doing some additional work on this to see if can make XI do some non out of the box stuff to get it to act as a true abstration layer and achieve loose coupling of our services.
      • Hi Anand,

        I agree with you irrespective of small small issues SAP’s NW platform is goot platform to start ESA evaluation. SAP has got holstic view of ESA and definitely they will close the gaps in near by time.


    • Thanks for the insight, Brian.  I believe it would be a step forward if XI would quickly implement a JMS queue.  Even on PI 7.0 (NW04S), it can only attach to someone else’s JMS.  But that means maintaining two systems.  Comments welcomed.  John
    • Brian,
      this is not to defend NetWeaver/XI, but indeed when you write Business Processes in XI you deal with Abstract Interfaces, which in most cases you can/should map (with a specific mapping program) to actual interfaces (outbound/inbound). So, if an application service changes, you will change the above said mapping accordingly (which must be completely transparent for the BP consumer), not the Business Process itself.
      On many other (almost everything) weakness topics you claim (Aris-centric modeling, BPMN lack, etc.) I definitely agree with your standpoint, and I think (hope) SAP platform will be able to get to the right maturity level shortly.

      Best regards,

  • I’m glad others have been pointing out the conceptual nature of this presentation.

    IMO SAP needs to get on with the deliverables rather smartish. the biggest weakness though is the lack of 3rd party support.

    IBM MQ Series, TIB will beat them to the punch every time on this. As to ESB, isn’t this another case of misplaced use of acronyms? As I see it, the only real difference between ESB and SOA is that until recently it was more like a tactical EAI but without the messaging. I kn ow that’s a slightly cynical take and the so-called ESB players like Progress/Sonic, CapeClear and PolarLake are maturing rapidly.

    Even so, can customers wait for SAP to deliver? Is it worth it but more to the point, will SAP be vendor neutral as seems to be required according to the author od this post?

  • Even after two years, with the advent of ESR, GDTs BPM, BRM and Business Process Platform concepts and seeing them materialize, your blog is  a great read for those who are going to start exploring these tools now.. Like some other few great blogs in SCN and in external forums, this is still one of the simple blogs that i forward before explaining these concepts (with few updates :)) to beginners.

    Hoping to read more…