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Author's profile photo Hans-Juergen Scheruhn

Online Process Management at GBI / part 3

An entire life cycle sounds like a lot to work on. But isn’t that too ambitious and challenging for us? And how is “life” related to IT? As one of the students of Hochschule Harz University of Applied Sciences in Wernigerode, Germany, I sit staring at “our” Business Process Life Cycle …

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Bussiness Workflow and Netweaver BPM as a major step towards automation

The GBI enterprise model of the to-be status represents an optimization of the existing business processes given by the GBI case studies.  The corresponding business objectives of GBI can be derived from its cause-and effect chains represented as GBI Enterprise and GBI department Balanced Scorecards. One of the companies’ objectives of the process perspective is the reduction of the required process cycle time. One approach to achieving these objectives can be the automation of business processes. Business process automation in the context of SAP can be realized by implementing so called SAP business workflows or by using SAP Netweaver BPM.

Please click on Viktor’s Workflow for higher resolution !

But how do the two approaches perform compared to each other? First, it can be said that both techniques are similar solutions for the automation of business processes (refer Blog Matt Harding), e. g. we can transform its representation as EPC (Workflow) or BPMN (BPM) model into one another using ARIS synchronized with the SAP Solution Manager. Yet the implementation of BPM seems to be less integrated in SAP ERP. Its advantage is that BPM obviously can better realize processes with human interactions across the borders of SAP. We found that the implementation of process steps within one single SAP ERP system is significantly easier using SAP Business Workflow. As we mainly realize the improvements of GBI within one single SAP environment (using SAP ERP standard transaction), we decided to use SAP Business Workflow. In the upcoming blog we will additionally describe the integration of SAP Webdynpros and non SAP Web Services into our project.

How the Workflow works

In a typical workflow, a sequence or parallel branches of activities and events are defined. The activities can be carried out either by the system itself or by employees assigned to an activity. If an employee has to perform an activity at runtime, the workflow engine will send a notification to their inbox. This inbox can be seen similar to an email inbox. However, not only one employee is notified, but all employees who have been selected as possible agents. Once a task has been executed by one of them the workflow continues immediately. An awesome thing is that the executed tasks disappear from the inboxes of the other employees at the same time….
… The time-consuming activities of calling and forwarding the decisions are omitted. This results in faster processes, but also simplifies the communication between the employees. Problems arise, however, when a task is started but not completed. In this constellation, the task will be blocked and the whole process will stand still.
Another possibility of workflows is the automatic execution of business rules. Business rules are clear if-then relationships. This could be compared with the air delivery of the ordered quantity. Now, if a discrepancy exists, then a responsible staff member will be used to review and decide on the further course. It will also be interesting to know if such workflows are triggered by some events and may start other workflows themselves. Thus, the processes of the company are not only faster, they are also better integrated.

Workflow Builder Challenge

Now that we know what a workflow is and which advantages the implementation brings, we consider the creation of a workflow. First we define the basic meta-information, such as name and duration of the workflow. Since workflows are mostly started by events such as “Incoming Created”, they must be registered. The workflow is then assembled in a drag and drop based workflow builder. There are several elements that are provided. These include activities, user choices or simply the sending of emails.
In our project, we discovered that profound knowledge of Business Objects by SAP and their methods are needed to build workflows. These are among other things necessary for the proper realization of the data flows between data containers. These data flows occur e.g. from the initiating event to the workflow or from the workflow to the methods of the business objects. Such a method can e.g. be the displaying of a document.
After working on this assignment, it can be stated that it is not easy to implement such solutions, but worth it. The processing times can be shortened tremendously. And the achieved integration is incredible. Employees do not have to call or e-mail each other to communicate individual decisions. Business Rules also need not be performed by people. So as a result there is a much higher level of process quality (Business rules compliance).

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