Alloy: Bonding SAP with Lotus Notes
The Atlantic’s been crossed… What was being developed by IBM and SAP over the last year under the codename The Atlantic Cruise (nautical roadmap to Lotus integration) has just been announced as the product Alloy™ in front of an audience of 5000 during the IBM Lotusphere Keynote in Orlando today. Planned release date is March 2009. SAP and IBM had already installed the beta version at several customer sites before the end of 2008. That’s a good omen. The companies met their joint commitment and I can write about a product with the confidence only won by hearing from the customers directly – based on their hands-on experience of the beta code.
This lightening fly-by account just gives a taste of the design goals IBM and SAP had in creating Alloy together. Future blogs and online material will give you more in-depth information… Alloy is about accessing SAP directly in Lotus Notes. If your company uses SAP for its business and uses Lotus Notes for e-mail and collaboration then Alloy is worth looking into.
This product is not a mashup – it’s an alloy. It combines two great development environments, SAP NetWeaver and IBM Domino, to form something greater than the sum of the parts. That’s what alloys are about. Gold is a good example of an alloy. Yes, there such a thing is pure gold which you’ll find in the vaults of a country’s national reserves, but the gold you see on daily use is an alloy. It’s the mix of gold, silver, zinc and copper in an 18 carat gold ring that makes it strong enough to wear on a daily basis. From AL-LI to stainless steel, alloys are the bread and butter or modern engineering.
That being said, it’s not a material that SAP and IBM are delivering, but a complete product. Based on this alloy technique, it’s a truly beautifully engineered product.
Take Reports Management in Alloy. Yes, there are many different places a manager can go to see the latest up-to-date summary of information. Do they? Do they really? Let’s face it, e-mail is still the primary source of business information for most. And if you cannot adjust it to your needs, and have it stored automatically in an easy to retrieve nature, even information arriving by e-mail loses its value. Alloy offers the manager the chance to subscribe to the reports they want, and personalize them directly in Lotus Notes, offline too. When the reports arrive, irrespective of which folder they are moved to, the manager can also retrieve them from an automatically generated structured view of the different report types that this user subscribes to. Sure, no company wants to distribute reports willy-nilly to it’s users so there is a role-based customizing that determines who can receive which report (SAP ERP ALV or SAP BW). Also there is control over what parameters are made available. But the final personalization is done by the managers themselves.
Once Alloy Release 1.0 has been deployed on the Domino server and the users activated, the users can also create leave requests or travel requests directly in Lotus Notes. In fact the user would have to look pretty carefully at the logo in the sidebar to determine that they are in fact doing this using SAP Business Suite in the background. SAP Business Suite is not just recording the information, but generating what is available in the Lotus Notes Alloy request. For example, if a new leave type, such as “casual leave” is configured in the SAP Business Suite, the option will automatically be offered in Lotus Notes together with the adjustments to the user interface to reflect this (such as only allowing requests that span days rather than hours). And just as the user expects, this request shows up in his or her calendar automatically and reflects the approval status which may or may not be automatic, depending on the customizing in the SAP Business Suite.
If the request requires one or more approvals, these are automatically generated in the managers’ Lotus Notes inboxes. Again, the manager would have to look pretty closely to detect that this is coming from SAP because it blends in so perfectly with Lotus Notes. This is something that SAP could not have achieved on its own. It is the close teamwork between IBM and SAP developers that has magicked up this deep integration, even to the extent of enabling the manager to chat with the requester via Lotus Sametime if the requestor happens to be online.
The manager wants to approve offline? No problem. Just as you’d expect when you work in Lotus Notes the processing of the approvals and requests can be done both online and offline. But it is always done using the authentification for that user so there’s no loss of data integrity. No hacks – this is based on alloyed techniques.
How about different types of approvals? How about managerial decisions with more than two outcomes? No problem. The decisions steps that you have embedded in SAP Business Workflow can be selected and automatically propagated to Lotus Notes and they are treated in the same way as the approvals that Alloy delivers out of the box. If you want to customize the user interface then it’s a simple matter of using Lotus Domino Designer to do this. It’s a Lotus user interface so making use of the standard development tools is the obvious way to do this. You want to add more context data from the SAP Business Suite? Then you’ll do this using the ABAP environment of the business application (exits not modifications). You want to add another branch to the workflow decision step? Do this in the Workflow Builder directly and lo and behold the new option appears as a new button in the manager’s Lotus Notes approval form.
This is the design philosophy of Alloy: Using the native tools of whichever system is relevant and see the results automatically.
Alloy merges the structured processes in the SAP Business Suite with the unstructured collaborative way of doing things that business users so rely on in Lotus Notes. Nothing is broken. Nothing is restricted unnecessarily. Efficiency and autonomy is what Alloy enables.
We think We have been told by customers who have seen it, that Alloy is just what the doctor ordered to enable domain experts, managers, decision makers, (in other words your company’s most valuable HR assets) to do their job efficiently and dilligently. It does this by providing comfortable familiar environment in their e-mail/collaboration environment to do their SAP work there directly.
So if you’re a Lotus shop – check out the demo on www.sap.com/alloy to get a feel for what Alloy looks like in practice.