HCM Processes & Forms: The Evolution of Necessity to Enhancement Pack 4 and beyond
Seems like more and more often, I am asked “what’s available with HCM P&F?” or “what does HCM P&F do?”, and my first question in response is always “What enhancement pack are you on?”. This is the key determining factor and will set the tone and content for the rest of the discussion. Why? HCM Processes and Forms (aka. “HCM P&F” to the cool kids haha) has gone through quite a lot of change in quite a short time. (Keep in mind, it was only available as of ECC6.0!) This has largely been driven by both ends…..what SAP wants us to have and what customers want SAP to deliver.
On the one side, SAP has pushed out new functionality after first building on the initial base/foundation/framework for HCM P&F. They tried to “attack” and offer what they perceived as the most needed functionality first. From the other side, customers are demanding functionality as well based on their needs and “experience in the trenches”.
From my perspective and opinion, you kind of have to read between the lines to understand how this was all implemented and rolled out. For instance, based on experiences from PCRs (which HCM P&F replaces), you would think things related to Org. Mgmt. would be highest priority (ex. new position creation, org change, etc). However, I think that SAP went after the “low hanging fruit” with PA and PT infotypes first while working on building a more well thought-out solution for things like OM and the newer functions (mass processing, fast entry, etc).
Again, this is strictly my opinion (conspiracy theory?), but let’s take a reflective look on where we are today and just how we got there with HCM P&F. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I do hope to hit the highlights (and some low-lights) of each enhancement pack release……
EhP1 – In the beginning, there was EhP1…The Alpha…Our starting point…
This was SAP’s true “first stab” at providing this HCM P&F solution. True to SAP’s track record, they took a lot of existing pieces and cobbled together a new solution for us. HCM P&F is really a combination of the ISR Framework, Adobe Interactive Forms, Workflow, CASE Management and BADIs. Pulling this all together is our actual HCM P&F configuration. I will not go into too much detail here or rehashing of all the past for EhP 1 because, well, there really is not anyone who will be using it now. For historical purposes (and a few good laughs), it is kind of fun to at least get an idea for what it offered.
The configuration initially occurred in several locations in the IMG. Not only did this configuration involve jumping back and forth between different IMG tasks, but even within some of the IMG tasks, the flow and user interaction was just mind-bogglingly over-complicated. Even then, there were a few pieces that your could not even configure directly in the IMG (guess they had not made it in yet or were temporarily forgotten). You would have to hunt and find what tables were used and make table entries if necessary. Once you actually configured even a simple process, you felt as if you had just been in a prize fight…and lost. Ugggg.
Our “Start Application” for HCM Processes & Forms was initially a WebDynpro Java application. This was part of the HR Administrative Services (HRAS) business package and had to be incorporated into MSS as needed. This Java version had some “interesting” behavior at times, and I will just leave it at that.
The initial standard backend services delivered by SAP were SAP_PA (PA infotypes including custom ones) and SAP_PT (Time Mgmt). I will cover the last one first. To this day, I have yet to see or hear of anyone actually using SAP_PT….but SAP delivered it! (haha) In my opinion, SAP_PA was really the focus here since our PA infotypes (especially related to actions) get the most usage. SAP_PT was just kind of a nice “gimme”. A few things to note here…..(1) SAP_PA field mapping is completely based off of structures tied to the Decoupled Infotype Framework…this was and is new to many people, so you need to know what this means! (2) SAP_PA only allows ONE country specific structure in addition to using the “global” structure (if you use it, you know what I mean) (3) SAP_PA was very limited in doing operations depending on time constraints (it had some real issues with time constraint 3 for example) which could lead to the need for custom development to perform your operation outside of SAP_PA.
In addition to providing the standard SAP_PA and SAP_PT services, SAP also delivered about 10-12 “sample” processes including sample generic services. These are very VERY basic processes to simply demonstrate various features of HCM P&F and/or development examples (such as drop-down help lists via generic services). Even per SAP documentation, these samples are by no means intended to be used in a productive environment.
So in a nutshell, EhP 1 gave us HCM P&F, but it just didn’t make it very easy to work with. EhP 2 set about to solve that.
EhP 2 – The IMG Overhaul and WebDynpro ABAP Solution
Wow! Where to start with this one? It was like one big “do-over” for HCM P&F. It is almost easier to ask “what didn’t change” with this enhancement pack. Let’s see…
- Configuration – ALL of the old individual IMG tasks were replaced by the Design Time for processes and forms (side note: this is little peeve of mine….it’s called the “Design Time”…..not Design Time Workbench, not configuration workbench, not process IDE, or anything that really helps convey what it is….just “Design Time”…uggg…it’s like they just left something off of the name…..some of my other HCM P&F friends and I often make the cheesy joke that it’s like a kid’s TV program…”Hey kids! You know what time it is?….it’s Design Time!!! Yeeeaaaaa!!!!” but I digress……). The Design Time really is very much like “building” your process in an ABAP-workbench-esque environment. It does allow you to do everything all those other little individual IMG task steps scattered all over the place did before….except a few things….but I will let you find those on your own! (haha)
- User Events – previously, we had no way within our form to define our own “user events” as you might do for a web page or something. For example, we couldn’t easily say “when the user picks an entry in a drop-down, make a trip to the backend to populate another drop-down based on the selected value from the first one”. Previously, we only had two events to react to, initialize and check. However, with EhP2, we could define our own user events and then use those in our form. Now, this all sounds great, but that’s probably because you assume how these events work. SAP’s actual implementation is quite confusing in my opinion which I have discussed in length in other blogs and forum posts (so no reason to rehash that here). It takes a bit to get used too…as well as workaround.
- WebDynpro ABAP “Start Application” – our previous WebDynpro Java application for HCM P&F was ported over to a WebDynpro ABAP version. This could be incorporated into MSS and ESS to replace the previous version. It is much nicer and less buggy.
- Configurable Initiators – previously, if we wanted to set up our own process initiators, we had to go make table changes directly. There was no IMG task to handle this. With EhP 2, however, we could define new initiator roles directly from our Design Time.
- More Sample Processes – yes, we got a few more new sample processes to play (and fixes for previous ones that didn’t actually work haha)
A lot of this I covered in a past blog (HCM Processes & Forms: What’s new and cool in Enhancement Pack 2 ?), so I won’t go through it in too much more detail.
More info on enhancement pack 2 can be found at http://help.sap.com and http://help.sap.com/erp2005_ehp_02/helpdata/en/43/1d639b3fce3566e10000000a11466f/frameset.htm .
EhP 3 – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…but if it is ?
This enhancement pack can be pretty easily summed up as “fixes, fixes and more fixes”. For all the “new” functionality we received in EhP 2, we were equally “blessed” with quite a few “bugs”. Along with those, we still had some holdovers from EhP 1 that had yet to be addressed and corrected.
To SAP’s credit (hey, I don’t make excuses for them often, so please note this! haha), a lot of this was due to the fact that so few customers were actually even using HCM P&F at this point. Therefore, a lot of bugs had not even been located, let alone reported. In fact, I look back over my blog written about “gotchas” and such with EhP2 and see that several of those points I made have since been corrected in notes (and no, I didn’t get a check from SAP for finding those bugs either haha).
At the point that EhP 3 was released, that’s when I begin hearing about more and more projects either starting up or at least prototyping. I think this is probably the best starting point for HCM P&F for most people. The people who begin their experience with HCM P&F with EhP 3 are not tainted by all the “oddities” and frustrations from previous versions that I (and a few others) had to live through. (haha) I call these people “the Lucky Ones”. (haha)
In addition to the “bug” fixes, I will say on a positive note, SAP also released a number of additional sample processes with this enhancement pack. Those are always nice to have as reference. For the exact listing of those samples, I will, as always, suggest you review the material in the SAP help.sap.com (http://help.sap.com/erp2005_ehp_03/helpdata/en/fe/1bd54243063658e10000000a155106/frameset.htm ) documentation for your version.
EhP 4 – Org Mgmt comes to HCM P&F !
Although rumored and unofficially promised to be part of EhP3, the release of EhP 4 brought us one of the most requested features to HCM P&F….standard Organizational Management operations!
This is delivered in the form of a new standard backend service, SAP_PD. The SAP_PD backend service is designed to deal with only object types O (Org. Unit), S (Position), and C (Job). Did you catch that? Read again….yes, at this time, the SAP_PD service only handles O, S and C objects. However, I personally believe this is just the initial version of this service, and eventually it will be capable of handling any standard OM object as well as our own custom ones.
As I mentioned in another blog, this is always at the top of the list for requested functionality. Previously, just about every PCR project you would hear about or be part of would include some kind of new position process and/or other OM type steps. In the PCR world, this all had to be custom developed. With HCM P&F, many people just assumed that this kind of functionality would now be standard. Well, it took a little while, but lucky for us, it is here now.
In addition to the SAP_PD service, there were also some other BIG additions with EhP 4. These are:
- Mass Processes – Although I am not one for self-promotion by any means, I will mention that I discussed the need for this in a previous blog ( HCM Processes & Forms: What’s new and cool in Enhancement Pack 2 ? ). The idea is that you would start a “parent” process that would then fire off several “child” processes, each of which could be tracked separately as well as back to the parent. In that way, you could track the smaller processes as well as the overall process. Well, SAP delivered this somewhat. We can now select multiple employees at once, select a process for them and then execute it. This will in effect launch a trackable process for each employee we selected. (* more info http://help.sap.com/erp2005_ehp_04/helpdata/en/ec/5c0d8281254ab9a45a4aef5a5f9811/frameset.htm)
- Fast Data Entry – You think your HR Services folks will get tired of filling out the same old long form every time they want to complete a simple process for an employee? Well, SAP does too! So they have now given us the ability to configure “fast data entry” for our processes. Keep in mind….fast data entry is a ONE step process with NO workflow that saves to the backend at completion. It is very simple and very basic. (* more info http://help.sap.com/erp2005_ehp_04/helpdata/en/a1/fa990b63ad4f5a8685f2784525472a/frameset.htm)
- More samples – as you might guess, with the release of SAP_PD, we got a whole bunch of new sample processes. These are all related to OM and show various examples of using SAP_PD with the org. unit, position and job objects. (*more info http://help.sap.com/erp2005_ehp_04/helpdata/en/fe/1bd54243063658e10000000a155106/frameset.htm)
EhP 5? The future….*coming soon*….to be continued…..more to follow…
So what’s coming in EhP 5 for HCM P&F? Well, I have spoken with people directly involved with putting EhP 5 through it’s paces. A lot of EhP 5 seems focused on SAP’s partnership and integration with Nakisa’s Org. Mgmt. and other products(http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS147225+17-Oct-2008+MW20081017). As far as HCM P&F, there seems to be little to no news coming. I would take that to mean it will be largely like EhP3 in that it will be a lot of “bug” fixes related to all the new stuff that came from EhP 4 with possibly a few new process samples and code. With EhP 5 still a good ways out though, anything is possible.
Well, I hope you have enjoyed this little trip down memory lane and peek into the future. I can say from personal experience with EhP 1-4, it has been one heck of a wild ride so far! (haha) But I am very excited to see what the future holds for HCM P&F. I think it is a great solution with lots of potential, and I am sure I will be working with it for years to come (if SAP can work out the wonky, confusing licensing on it….but that a topic for another blog coming soon….hahahaha). As always….enjoy!