Business Process Documentation with SAP Solution Manager 7.1
Recently, at a conference, I was asked by an attendee “What should I tell my employees when they ask why they should document business processes? They keep telling me that this is not important, requires a lot of manual effort, is costly to keep up-to-date, and nobody ever uses the documentation again anyway.”
To answer this question, we need to step back a little bit, and not look only at the documentation itself. Because if we don’t look at the bigger picture, you might think that business process documentation (especially if it is seen like in the quote above) has very little worth in itself: there is no “measurable outcome” or “profit” from documenting business processes (and there are some important benefits I’ll talk about later). So, looking only at the documentation, and asking “what’s the benefit?” will not lead to a positive answer.
However, if we step back and look at the bigger picture, we see its relevance and value within application lifecycle management (ALM). Business process documentation – represented in the ALM process “solution documentation” – is embedded as an integral part of the lifecycle management concept. It can be viewed as the foundation for ALM, and, like a foundation or groundwork of a house, its value consists in building a strong and reliable base for the house built on top. For ALM, this means having a strong, reliable, and up-to-date business process documentation in SAP Solution Manager will allow you to benefit from other ALM capabilities built on top of it: and these benefits are measurable and, in the end, will help you save time and money.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits you can reap from up-to-date solution documentation. This list is far from comprehensive, as it only points out some major ALM capabilities, but it is a good starting point.
Solution Implementation – Documenting business processes and attaching other related objects (like transactions, custom code obejects, test cases or other documents) is the key element of implementing new solutions. This process documentation will then also be reused for directly configuring the documented processes during the implementation phase of a project.
Test Management – Well-maintained business process documentation will enable you to use the business process change analyzer (BPCA), a tool that helps identify the impact of changes (like applying a support package to a system) to your business processes before these changes actually happen. This will help you estimate the efforts of re-testing (and helps minimizing the test scope) before the change actually happens.
Template Management – This functionality in SAP Solution Manager allows you to create, manage, and roll out corporate-wide templates for implementation or upgrade projects, to ensure a consistent way of implementation across your whole company, and all subsidiaries. The main content of these templates is the standardized business processes you need to roll out, so the use of – and benefit from – coherent and well-structured business process documentation is self-explanatory.
Business Process Monitoring – The business process monitoring functionality provides ways to closely monitor the performance of your most important (or “critical”) business processes, and, together with the new monitoring and alerting framework, you will be notified if there are any problems (or even proactively, if there are problems that could arise in the near future). Same as above, this is self-explanatory: If there are no business processes documented, there is nothing to monitor.
Upgrade Management – During an upgrade, the business process documentation is being used to determine the impacts of the upgrade on the existing business processes and on test efforts after the upgrade. An up-to-date business process documentation helps estimating these efforts more easily and also helps keeping the test efforts low (by removing unused elements from the documentation).
Custom Code Management – Business process documentation is being used to identify processes which make heavy use of modified or custom-developed objects.
This is only a selection of ALM capabilities you are only able to use meaningful when you have up-to-date business process documentation in place.
As mentioned above, there are even some benefits you can reap from the business process documentation itself. Let’s look closer at some of them:
- Better positioning of IT in the eyes of the business: Create better visibility of the usage of your business systems, and on the realization of IT-project specifications.
- Find optimization potential for IT investments: Do meaningful and targeted IT investments through detailed information on the actual usage of business processes.
- Improve the degree of business-process documentation standardization: Reverse business process documentation (RBPD) analysis results show how close your business processes are to SAP standard processes. These results can be used for process optimization; and close-to-standard business processes lead to lower costs, due to reduced maintenance efforts.
- Identify custom developments: If the analysis results show custom-development usage, they can be managed or reverted back to standard through SAP‘s custom code management in SAP Solution Manager.
How to adequately document your business processes?
What is the best way to achieve adequate business process documentation? As there a many ways leading to Rome, we first have to differentiate between two different methods of (or “points in time when”) doing business process documentation: initial documentation and reverse documentation. Let’s look at both of them now.
Initial documentation happens during the blueprinting (and, later on, the configuration) phase of an implementation or upgrade project. During this project phase, business process documentation is created automatically when building the blueprint for the project. This initial process documentation can then be further enriched with configuration information, test documentation, general project documentation, and other necessary information. After the project has been tested, and is about to go live, you can then transfer this complete information into a solution, which then reflects your productive environment, based on the business process documentation you created during the project.
Building up the initial documentation is supported by a new functionality in SAP Solution Manager 7.1, the upload interface. This interface allows to initially upload a business process structure and to enrich this structure with other elements (technical objects, documents, test cases, etc.) in an iterative way. After the initial upload, the further maintenance of your business process documentation then can be done in SAP Solution Manager.
Reverse business process documentation (RBPD), informally know as reverse documentation, is applicable if your starting point for building up documentation is not a new project. In this case, then the best way to build up documentation is to directly look at your up-and-running business systems, analyze the usage of these systems, and derive a business process documentation from these.
With SAP Solution Manager 7.1, SAP has greatly enhanced the possibilities for RBPD, by providing comprehensive analysis content. This content originating from SAP’s Business Process Repository, and contains a business process structure and thousands of “probes” that are assigned to the respective business process structure elements, and are able to determine if a specific business process step is being used, by looking directly into the tables of the analyzed business system. The result of an RBPD analysis then shows which business process structure element is being used, and can then automatically fill an implementation project with this information as a starting point for building up a business process documentation.
How can you easily get started with reverse business process documentation? That is actually quite easy to manage…just follow these steps:
- Download the latest RBPD content from SAP Note 1591505.
- Upload this content file – don’t unzip the archive – into the Solution Documentation Assistant (SDA) in SAP Solution Manager 7.1. During this step, you can also assign the systems you want to analyze. This will automatically create an “analysis project” in the SDA, which will be the basis for your reverse analysis.
- In the SDA, select the analysis project you just created, and create an analysis for this project: this will analyze the system(s) you selected during the upload. The result is a business process structure combined with usage information of the respective business processes and steps. From here, you can now, for example, put this structure into an SAP Solution Manager project to build up your business process documentation.
Verifying your business process documentation
As mentioned at the start, business process documentation is not really useful if it is not constantly maintained and kept up-to-date. To ease this verification process, SAP provides the Solution Documentation Assistant (SDA) tool in SAP Solution Manager. The main focus is the same as when doing reverse documentation: analyzing the system usage, and comparing an existing documentation – in form of an existing SAP Solution Manager project, or an existing solution – against the actual usage of a system. If the analysis results then show that the documentation does not reflect the the actual system usage, then there are ways and methods given to update the documentation based on the analysis results.
The answer to the question “Why should I do business process documentation?” can now can easily be answered: Because application lifecycle management needs a solid foundation; and this is an up-to-date business process documentation. If you want to benefit from the full potential of ALM, a good business process documentation is the best way to start. And this, in the end, will save you time and money to spend elsewhere, thus making your life easier (in terms of managing the lifecycle of your SAP applications).
Further information and links:
- The RBPD content is available free of charge for all SAP Enterprise Support and SAP MaxAttention customers. It can be downloaded from SAP note 1591505. An SAP Solution Manager 7.1 system (preferably on the latest SP level) is required to use the content.
- More information on the Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) processes can be found here: http://service.sap.com/alm
- There is a wide offering of services from SAP around the RBPD topic, for example “Expert Guided Implementation” (EGI) sessions for Enterprise Support customers and tailored on-site services for MaxAttention customers. Please visit http://service.sap.com/alm-services for more details or ask your Support Advisor or Technical Quality Manager.
- More information on Reverse Business Process Documentation can be found here: http://service.sap.com/rbpd