SAP Business Objects Planning and Consolidation 7.5 version for Netweaver introduced the functionality of business process flows (BPF). BPFs are not new to the Microsoft version of SAP Business Objects Planning and Consolidation. However in the Netweaver version they were not there in 7.0NW and are introduced in the 7.5NW. Moreover they have improved functionality and an enhanced user experience. In this blog we will explore some of those features to set our expectations from the BPF functionality in SAP business Objects 7.5 version for Netweaver.
When to use BPF: Business process flows typically are used to guide the business users through pre-defined steps. For this discussion, let us take an example of a forecasting process that spans across say three countries – US, Canada and Germany. The forecasting process may consist of say 4 steps – the first step may be to copy the previous month forecast; the second step that requires a review, may be to manually adjust the forecast; the third step may be to execute some business rules or currency translation and last step may be to execute reports. Let us also assume that these steps have some dependency. For example, the first two steps can be executed by the US, Canada and Germany users independently but the third step may be executed only after all have finished the first two steps. The fourth step again can be executed independently. Now, the execution of this forecasting process may pose some challenges. How the planners are supposed to know that they can proceed with only the first two steps of forecasting? At any time, how to check the status of the whole forecasting process as such? How an individual planner is supposed to know what data region/template he/she is supposed to use for each step? How the reviewers are supposed to know that the planners are done with their data entry and the forecast is ready for review? How the users in all the three countries are supposed to know that all have finished the first two steps and it is now safe to execute the third step? Ofcourse these things can be accomplished through emails, teleconferences and other means of communications. However, as you can imagine, if some tool is available within BPC to help with this co-ordination and monitoring, especially when you are dealing with different time zones, it is a great boost to the productivity.
BPF addresses exactly these issues. With BPF, the users can be guided through the execution of these steps. The opening of subsequent steps can be controlled through BPF. In our example here, only after the US users finish their first step, the second step for US should open up. If the US users have finished their first two steps but Canada users haven’t yet finished the second step, then the third step for US users shouldn’t open up since the third step depends upon completion of the first two steps by all users. Such processes can very well be handled by BPFs.
What BPF does and does not do: BPF represents best practices that an organization would encourage the users to follow. A BPF is focused on the collection and verification of data required to complete a business process successfully. A BPF helps execution of sequential process steps. It is a very good tool to do process tracking, process reporting and process auditing.
BPF is not equivalent to a workflow though it has some features similar to workflow that guide the users to the next action, show the activities that the user is expected to perform, enable opening of the steps upon completion of previous steps etc. BPFs are not enforceable because a user can always do standard BPC actions regardless of whether they are there in BPF or not.
For example, a user can create an input schedule if he/she has access to do so even if that is not one of the steps in the BPF. This feature distinguishes BPF from workflow. This feature is also an advantage because it gives more flexibility in using BPC in case there are some ad-hoc planning requirements. You don’t always have to go through BPF if you don’t want to. However for the regular planning and consolidation processes like monthly forecasting or month-end closing etc, BPFs may be more convenient.
Building blocks of BPF: The BPF template and instances are the main building blocks of BPF. Each template can represent a business process. One template can have many instances. For example, there can be a template for monthly forecasting and forecast for say March 2010 can be one instance of that template and that for April 2010 can be another instance of the same template.
Each business process represented in a template can have many steps and sub-steps. Each step/sub-step can have many actions. An example of an action can be to execute a specific input schedule or to execute a data manager package etc. Each step can have separate data region. Each step can have owners and (optionally) reviewers. One may ask, if we have four steps in our business process then should we have one step in BPF with four sub-steps or four steps with no sub-step or something in between. To decide this, we should understand the difference between step and sub-step. Steps have to be performed sequentially but sub-steps within a step need not be performed sequentially. Opening of appropriate steps can be controlled. Provision can be made to reopen a step if needed. Thus we can see that BPF is structured to provide optimum flexibility in designing and monitoring business processes in an organization. For detailed discussion on the how to build a BPF, please refer to the how-to guide at: http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/index?rid=/library/uuid/00971e51-27eb-2c10-479d-d1a0fa8f2cc0
User interface of BPF: User interface of BPF is designed to provide maximum agility with ease of use and it delivers next generation user experience in executing and monitoring business processes. The user interface consists of ‘My Activities’ screen and ‘BPF Monitor’. BPF Monitor provides a global monitor of active BPF instances. It is a progressive UI with details of the selected instance. It provides a graphical view of status of all processes. It also enables instance owner to finalize the processes.
‘My activities’ is the actionable interface. It enables users to understand their current actions. The planners will be able to see what their pertinent tasks are from all active business processes. It is user sensitive in the sense that it only displays what the current logged in user is responsible for. Available actions/tasks are visible in ‘My Activities’ only when they apply. The screens can be filtered for improved usability. Clicking on the step/sub-step will launch the action germane to them.
Other features: We can report and launch BPF through Xcelcius. We can set up the connector for one or more BPF templates. Email notifications can be set up with BPF. Owners can be notified when a BPF instance is created and actions are taken. This can ensure that shared owners/reviewers are aware of activity. Reviewers are notified of step region ready for review.
BPF instance creation generates a notification to all users with a link to access BPF monitor
BPF Instance owner is notified when completed and ready to be finalized. The BPFs can be audited through BPC audit. We can audit creation, modification and deletion of BPF templates and instances. The audit reports are rendered in Flex runtime.
Thus we can see that the BPF functionality promises to provide a new planning experience to the users of SAP Business Objects Planning and Consolidation 7.5version for Netweaver.