Use cases for business process composition to automate and connect unique, dynamic, and ad hoc processes
Many of SAP’s customers make statements such as “80% of our business flows through our SAP system, and our goal is to connect as much of the remaining 20% as possible.” In some cases, the disconnected 20% is related to legacy or specialized applications. Other times, they are manual activities that surround the SAP applications such as employees collecting and sharing data in spreadsheets and word documents that are eventually uploaded into SAP systems.
This “disconnected 20%” of processes and workflows that lead into, out of, or bridge between processes managed by your SAP applications represents some of the best opportunities for getting started with business process composition. SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment (CE) with SAP NetWeaver Business Process Management (BPM) provides a complete solution that allows you to model and compose business process automation. With this environment, you can reuse functionality from your SAP systems and automatically generate from models much of any custom code that is required. This dramatically speeds development, and provides visual documentation of the process architecture that can later be easily modified and reused. In addition, this visibility extends to process execution. For example, you can see who has yet to approve a request. In the case of a manual, email-based process, you’d never know without making a lot of phone calls.
In this article, I share some of our early experience with customers that show common use cases for business process composition. My plan is to eventually create a wiki page that extends this list and provides as much specific information as our customers are willing to share.
The patterns of use cases we are seeing so far can be sub-grouped as follows:
- Highly unique processes that connect to one or multiple SAP and legacy systems
- Highly dynamic and ad hoc processes involving SAP systems
Your company’s unique business processes may be related competitive advantages and differentiation, or may be a byproduct of your company’s history, structure. Either way, your decision to automate a unique process rather than standardize should be related to improving execution and increasing efficiency while lowering the cost to change.
In some cases, your company’s industry, products, or business model dictate the need for unique processes. For example, many media companies have a complex assortment of product types, packaging, and sales channels to manage, leading to unique processes bridging their sales, marketing, order management systems. To increase operational efficiency, these processes must handle all the permutations, and as many typical exception scenarios as possible. One instance of such a process is new master data management entry approval. Here is a relevant sample process.
Another example is illustrated by the India Trading Company (ITC) which utilizes a large network of 1800 independent distributors to supply 2.5 million retail outlets all over India with consumer products. In their case, they created a process on top of their integrated ERP and POS systems that allows distributors to collaborate and improve the efficiency of stock allocations between them. Although they implemented their process with SAP NetWeaver CE before BPM became available, theirs is a clear use case of business process composition. Watch the video. (Login on SAP.com is required)
Another distributor-related use case I encountered is a midsize consumer health products manufacturer. In their case, they were generating excel spreadsheets from their SAP system showing monthly distributor forecasts. These spreadsheets were then sent to distributors so that they could update their monthly forecasts for the next year. The company then received these spreadsheets, often with bad data, incompatible format changes, and even by fax requiring a lot of manual work to fix and validate before they could be uploaded to the SAP system. The solution they are considering is to compose a self-service process that notifies distributors to update their forecasts in an online form, validated their responses, then automatically fed the data directly into the SAP system.
In some cases, your company structure may be complex due to its history or the number of geographic regions it services. Suppose your corporate structure includes companies incorporated in several different countries, possibly with different shareholders. You will have the competing needs of global visibility and control over processes while at the same time having enough flexibility to incorporate regional differences. Examples of such processes would include purchasing, employee hiring, and local trade promotions. If your company has a business process management discipline global processes can be designed that account for steps and flows that need to be customized for country-specific needs.
Dynamic and Ad hoc Processes
Some processes by their nature are very dynamic and change often. Others are improvised simply to provide structure around specific activities for a limited period of time. In either case, business process composition is an excellent way to automate and manage these kinds of processes in a rapid, efficient, and easily-adapted manner .
In many companies, certain aspects of the business change frequently. One example of rapidly changing processes is in consumer products companies that frequently vary their products, packaging, and promotions. Managing these changes is itself a highly manual and ad hoc process. Using business process composition, it is possible to create an ad hoc business process for executing a change project that is connected to the various systems that must be updated. As project tasks are completed, status is automatically updated and those responsible for dependent tasks can be immediately notified of the change in status. Although the ad hoc process would be specifically tuned to a particular change project, the process can be quickly copied and adapted to fit future change projects. Here is a sample process for project issue management.
Other examples of ad hoc or dynamic processes would be those that allow the roll-out of enterprise-wide business processes after a merger or acquisition. You can use business process composition to assemble an integrated process that incorporates appropriate functionality from heterogeneous systems that can later be changed. A similar approach can be used for providing a consistent process experience to users regardless of what the backend systems implement functionality. In such a case, process experts can work with the line of business to design to a certain user experience and develop the process or workflow. Later IT can change-out and consolidate the backend without disrupting the user experience by reassigning the services that implement the various process steps. Consider the example of a company that through acquisitions had accumulated multiple legacy systems for handling requests, approval, and allocation of resources and capital. Working with the line of business, process experts in IT were able to design a single process for resource allocation, and rapidly implement this process using SAP enterprise services related to a purchasing process.
This is only a start of use cases and ideas for business process composition. If you have additional ideas you’d like to share, please feel free to comment here, or email me and I’ll add it to my forthcoming wiki page.