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Author's profile photo Owen Pettiford

SAP NetWeaver BPM/PO or SAP Business Workflow – Which one to use ?

At TechEd Las Vegas Susan Keohan (and expert of SAP Business Workflow) and I (expert on BPM) presented a session about when you might use SAP NetWeaver BPM/PO for your workflow needs and when you might use SAP Business Workflow (BWF).

This blog gives a summary of the factors which may influence your decision with some examples and advice on how to create a workflow strategy.

Before we get into that, first let’s take a quick look at why you might want to use workflow in the first place :-

  • Streamline – Automate activity such as approvals to free supervisor time
  • Streamline – Push work to those who can act on it
  • Control – Ensure Compliance and speed up audits
  • Control – Validate Early (stops errors being unpicked later)

So if you have use-cases that could be helped by the above……read on

At a 10,000 feet level, SAP NetWeaver PO/BPM has been build on the Java stack and is designed for cross system workflow, SAP Business Workflow is a component of your SAP ABAP system (ERP. SRM etc) and is design to create workflow within your SAP system. BPM/PO is about 4 years old and BWF is about 15 years old.

At a more granular level these are the factors that might impact your decision :-

Factor Comments

Do you have

SAP Business Workflow Skills

Will drive you towards Business Workflow

Do you have SAP Business Process Management Skills / License

Business Workflow is included in your Business Suite user licence, BPM may be included with your PI licence (once you upgrade to PO – depending upon the licence type) – or you will need to purchase BPM/PO

Does your work flow only include licensed SAP users

If the “actors” in your workflow are all use SAPGUI and you have BWF skills you would favour BWF, if the actors are across or beyond your enterprise or you are starting from scratch then you would favour BPM

Does your work flow include non-SAP systems or multiple SAP systems

If your workflow crosses systems, BPM/PO (especially now full PI is in the package) is better suited to cross system workflow.

Do you want to use Adobe Forms for off-line approval

Adobe forms are tightly integrated into BPM, so if you want to use Adobe forms you would favour BPM

Do you have lots of SAP look ups (F4 help) that you want to have in your user interface and don’t have WDA skills

As BWF is in the ABAP stack you can create Dynpro screens with access to all the F4 help, with BPM you can use WebDynpro ABAP for this they of UI, but you would obviously need WebDynpro ABAP skills.

Do you want to use a non-SAP technology for the user interface (neutral once you have Process Gateway)

BPM has a pubic API so building non-SAP UIs (ASP.NET, iOS etc) is possible, with SAP NetWeaver Gateway you now get Process/Task Gateway oData service so you can do this for BWF as well.

Do you want to build your own (perhaps mobile) work list (neutral once you have Process Gateway)

BPM has a pubic API so building non-SAP UIs (ASP.NET, iOS etc)  is possible, with SAP NetWeaver Gateway you get Process/Task Gateway oData service so you can do this for BWF as well.

So if you take each of your use-cases and mark then against these factors it will drive you to BPM or BWF.

Below are the use case we discussed at TechEd with out generic recommendations (this doesn’t mean you can’t get the other tool to do the other use-case – you can as long as you have the right technical skills – our recommendation is based on which tool would achieve the scenario quicker or cheaper).

  • I want to create Vendors – BWF
  • I want to approve sales discounts with reference to orders in SalesForce – BPM
  • I want to manage customer complaints internally – BWF
  • I want to manage quality issues with my partners – BPM
  • I want to create material centrally and distribute to multiple backend systems – BPM
  • I want to approve timesheets – BWF
  • I want to approve a PR and create a PO – BPM
  • I want to collaborate with my suppliers to update lead times – BPM

As recommended next steps :-

  • Profile your workflow requirements so you can make an informed decision
  • Based on the profile create a business case for workflow (this blog might help you put this together)
  • Decide on the focus of your workflow strategy (just SAP ABAP or SAP ABAP, SAP Java and non-SAP)
    • If SAP and non-SAP then consider SAP Netweaver BPM/PO
    • If only SAP and you don’t have any SAP Business Workflow skills then consider SAP NetWeaver BPM as this is where SAP are investing or if you don’t want to use Java use SAP Business Workflow
    • If you only want to automate SAP ABAP and you have Business Workflow skills then consider SAP Business Workflow
  • Finally It is OK to use both if you have the skills – however if you do use both then create a matrix for your organization that helps to guide people to the “right” answer (feel free to use the checklist above). They can work together – See Operational Process Intelligence and Process Observer.

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      Author's profile photo Andy Silvey
      Andy Silvey

      Hi Owen,

      this is an excellent blog.

      I've added it to the SCN Wiki, 'SAP NetWeaver Basis Administrator's Toolbox',

      All the best,


      Author's profile photo Jocelyn Dart
      Jocelyn Dart

      Hi Owen,

      This is a great summary and very pragmatic. 

      Minor point... suggest you take a look at the formatting though - some of the comments are getting lost to the horizontal scroll - and I'm on IE9 with a 16:9 display.  Maybe take it down a font size and that will make it an easier and more impactful read?



      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hi Owen,

      Will second Jocelyn and Andy! This is really valuable, thanks for sharing.

      Another minor point:- BPM and Workflow people who would love to see this are following the BPM space. Suggest you write your BPM blogs from there. Any support - will be happy to help.

      Thanks and Regards,


      Author's profile photo Susan Keohan
      Susan Keohan

      Hi Owen,

      Thanks for following through, and posting this content for all to enjoy.  I really enjoyed being able to share the stage with you - although your demo was far more elegant than mine!

      I hope this blog is part of the ongoing conversations regarding both of these great tools.


      Author's profile photo Astrid Gambill
      Astrid Gambill

      Hi Owen

      Thanks for the helpful info, I concur with Jocelyn above, that the formatting needs some adjustment - the Comments column is missing words on the right hand side.

      Do you have any advice as to where BRF+ sits in relation to these 2 methodologies?



      Author's profile photo Jocelyn Dart
      Jocelyn Dart

      Hi Astrid,

      I can help you with the BRFPlus question.

      Ok at the moment the main advice sits like this:

      • If your primary concern is the performance of youur rules then you naturally use the rules engine closest to the relevant solution, i.e. BRFPlus with SAP Business Workflow, and SAP NetWeaver BRM with SAP NetWeaver BPM

      That said, although a lot of the teatures and functionality between SAP NetWeaver BRM and BRFPlus are similar, there are some significant differences, particularly around the way intermediate data is derived.   

      Fortunately in both SAP NetWeaver BRM and BRFPlus rules can be deployed as web services and both provide APIs.  So if you want to use a mix of rules from both rules engines then this is possible, i.e.

      • SAP NetWeaver BPM can call both BRM and BRFPlus web services directly.
      • SAP Business Workflow can call BRFPlus rules directly and BRM rules indirectly via a BRFPlus BRMS connector rule or of course in a custom method.

      This is starting to sound like a blog topic in itself... and a lot of this is based on current features and functionality so this is still subject to flux as the roadmaps progress.

      Hoping I haven't made it more confusing... perhaps just put it down under "will require some thought"



      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member


      Dear Owen,

      This is an excellent description of BPM and its use cases. Thanks a lot for this.

      I have few questions to answer one of our client requiremennts.

      How suitable do you think BPM will be to fulfill the following requirements of a Workflow which is designed to insert a data record in a central database that holds all Employee data comprising about 700 fields for each Employee. The Workflow will visit the individual HR reps to collect the field values and finally populate the database with a full data record for an Employee. The WF should collect Master data by real time interface from various SAP and non-SAP applications so that it can perform the validation on the inputs given by the HR reps. In addition, it will trigger approval steps to various stakeholders.

      Do you think BPM will be a suitable option capable of storing all field values to support validation of user (HR reps) inputs, also deliver the required performance with such huge data volumes when deployed in a large organization. Thanks for your insights on this business case