Systems Integration is a process of linking multiple heterogeneous systems and subsystems in a given landscape to act as a co-ordinated whole. A system landscape can consist of multiple such point to point or publish/subscribe connections. This integration is typically achieved using EAI middleware systems. SAP Process Integration is an obvious choice within a landscape containing SAP.
Business process management on the other hand, is a model driven orchestration of multiple automatic or human controlled activities for running critical business processes for any given organization. Any such business process typically consists of multiple systems and sub-systems connected via point to point interfaces. Workflow systems/sub-systems is the backbone of such business processes.
An integral part of an efficient BPM tool is to provide process level modeling, without detailing technical details along with providing additional user controls.
SAP PI with it evolution from XI 3.0 had a business process management component. The ABAP based workflow engine was leverage by PI to support cross component business process management. The initial versions of this BPEL based workflow engine supported message based cross system integration, with no provisions for human interactions. With advent of PI 7.1, human controls like User decision steps were offered.
There were some strict limitations though. Some of which I think could be the following:
- The modeling engine was based on BPEL which is a structured and semantic driven process modeling language and is governed by strong semantics. Thus rendering business process modeling non business user centric
- The BPEL based, ABAP workflow engine is heavy, and did have potential performance bottlenecks.
- BPEL based modeling makes business process less readable.
- Certain features like Loopbacks, and inter-dwindling of human and automated steps were not available.
Looking into the future, SAP’s strategy to move to a “single stack” along with Netweaver BPM being packaged with PI 7.3 holds a lot of excitement.
The first problem that it fixes for a customer is the reduction in the TCO for both the solutions. This promises to widely reduce the system installation/build time.
Secondly the BPMN based process modeling engine, makes PI based process modeling more business user centric. This modeling in now supported by features like Iflow objects. It could lead to a paradigm shift in the usage of PI from a pure technical tool to a business user centric modeling tool.
It also adds the “Human” flavor within the PI process modeling.
The out of the box seamless integration between BPM and PI using WS-RM and Java proxies should potentially eliminate performance issues with SAP PI BPM. The overhead of cross stack loop-backs during the runtime should also be eliminated.
What needs to be seen yet is whether the new solution enhances BPMN based BPM notifications for PI Business process management which was not so robust in the BPEL based business process management.
In summary it looks like the new “BPM-PI” syngery would yield great benefits to customers and address an age old pinch-point.