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A joint exploration of SAP Cloud Platform Workflow

Are you like me and enjoying trying out new tools and possibilities? Are you curious about the “how” and “what” of the SAP Cloud Platform Workflow solution?
Would you like to start setting up and implementing a workflow as quickly as possible? Great!

But first let’s take a step back and look at the “why”. Why should we use this service? The trigger for this article is an idea for using SAP Cloud Platform Workflow in the interaction between Qualtrics and SAP Service Cloud (see e.g. this blog post). Yet he answer to this question gives us useful background information on possible areas of application and the functions it contains, so that we can better assess whether it is the right tool for our problem.

If I find the time, this is the first in a series. In this article I will talk about the theoretical basics, in the next articles I will talk about the setup of the service up to the implementation of an exemplary use case of an integration of Quatrics and SAP Service Cloud.

The content of this article is based on the work of many others, whose information I merely collect, condense and expand. Even though I don’t mention each one individually, many thanks to those who share their knowledge despite the additional effort.

An Introduction to SAP Cloud Platform Workflow

Do you still remember the first day in your company? Have you already had all the necessary working materials? Were your notebook and mobile phone ready at your workplace? If you can answer these questions with yes, your company has implemented the process of “onboarding” well, and you certainly felt well received at that time.

Now you’re probably wondering what your onboarding has to do with the SAP Cloud Platform workflow? SAP’s Intelligent Business Process Management aims to increase the efficiency of such processes. This also includes their transformation into meaningful, easily understandable and automated workflows. The increasing use of process automation is intended to enable companies to take advantage of the benefits of digitization and respond more quickly to challenging situations. SAP Cloud Platform Workflow is therefore available for the creation of workflows.

 

In the example of your onboarding, such a workflow was the selection and ordering of your devices. But a workflow is not the same as a process. A visit to the office of your new employer and a nice conversation with your new boss were part of the process, but not the workflow.

A workflow is a part of the business process that can be done with IT support. It describes the operative and technical view of the business processes to be supported. This description should be so precise that the next activity is always determined by the result of the previous activity. The individual activities within a workflow are therefore usually interdependent. Let us take a look at the example of the selection of your notebook: In the workflow, it should be described that if the manager rejects a laptop, another laptop must be selected. The manager then has to confirm the selection again. In the case of a confirmation, the order is sent to an IT system, whereupon the further steps, such as the order, are carried out.

A workflow also has a defined start, a structured process and a defined end. For example, the workflow for the integration process of a new employee could be started from the HR system by calling an interface. This triggers the process described above. After the confirmation of the selected notebook and the transmission of the order to a corresponding system, the workflow could end with an e-mail to all participants.

What is SAP Cloud Platform Workflow?

You have already learned that SAP Cloud Platform Workflow deals with workflows between different systems or people and is part of Intelligent Business Process Management. In the following, we take a closer look at how you can use this workflow service for yourself.

With a workflow, you can create, execute, and manage workflows. These workflows aim to structure and partially automate processes. An example of this is the onboarding of new employees. In the next article, we will introduce another process to take a closer look at the possible uses of workflow services. Based on negative customer feedback, we will initiate a review of the issues and, based on the auditor’s decision, create a task for a customer service representative as needed.

Workflows can range from simple approvals to end-to-end processes across multiple organizations and applications. Possible deployment scenarios fall more or less clearly into these three categories:

  • Extension: The workflow enhances or changes a basic business process. Examples of this are the enhancement of a standard process with additional steps or the replacement of a standard process with your own variant. However, you can also integrate the standard process with your own or a third-party solution.
  • Orchestration: The workflow links end-to-end processes across multiple applications or services. Examples include source-to-pay, purchasing & invoicing or B2B with various trading partners.
  • Embedded: The workflow is part of an application or service. It is used to implement a core functionality. An example of this is “SAP S/4HANA Intelligent Product Design”. There, the workflow service is used, among other things, to simplify collaboration in product design between different participants.

Each of these use cases can be realized using SAP Cloud Platform Workflow, even if the integrated software solutions are not from SAP. Third-party applications can also start workflows by using a special task type from the workflow to call any REST-based interfaces.

In short, SAP Cloud Platform Workflow provides the ability to quickly and easily orchestrate activities between people, applications, and organizations. It provides many basic and recurring functionalities and requirements for the development and management of workflows and thus serves to efficiently structure and automate processes.

Benefits of SAP Cloud Platform Workflow

But now back to the initial question: Why should you use SAP Cloud Platform Workflow for these use cases? Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of a workflow service. Let’s take the example of ordering a notebook for a new employee.

Let’s assume that the suggestions for the devices to be ordered are made by the mentor of the new employee – a randomly selected colleague. This equipment must be approved or rejected by the manager of both employees. In the event of rejection, the mentor must select other equipment, such as another notebook. Upon approval, the mentor confirms that the workplace and equipment are ready before the new employee begins work.

A company can implement this relatively simple process in a number of ways.

Option 1: The company could decide not to implement this process as a workflow at all, but to introduce manual processing. But even with this process with only two participants, this would be complicated and time-consuming. The individual queries for possible models and approvals will probably be made by e-mail. The inquiries can get lost in a flood of e-mails. The current agent and the next steps are thus easily unclear. If you have more extensive processes across multiple departments or companies, you will quickly come to the conclusion that this is not the best method if you are striving for fast and transparent processes.

Option 2: Alternatively, the process could be implemented as a workflow in a self-created application. With this application, you can automatically send requests to other software solutions with suitable interfaces. It could also help to monitor the current status of the process and the participants or to display it in an interface. This approach can be useful for some processes. However, keep in mind that you need to do a lot of basic work to keep the process agile and flexible. This can include agent discovery, various process flows or a graphical representation of the processes in the industry standard Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN). Most business processes do not justify such investments in fundamentals.

Option 3: Finally, the process could also be implemented with special software for workflows. This software can significantly reduce our effort for redundant basic tasks during implementation. For example, SAP Cloud Platform Workflow includes web-based tools for workflow modeling. The industry standard BPMN Version 2.0 is used. BPMN is a graphical specification language for modeling and documenting processes and workflows.

Let’s take a look at the individual steps of the workflow model and describe how the service can help us here:

  1. The workflow is started by a call from the HR system. This call transfers the required initial data, such as the ID of the new employee in the HR system.
  2. The data originally received is used to retrieve further data from other systems. This includes, for example, the mentor and the recommended devices.
  3. After the data has been received from the systems, the mentor is given the task of confirming or modifying the devices.
  4.  After confirmation by the mentor, the manager has the task to approve or reject the selection.
    If the selection is rejected, step 3 is called again.
  5. If the selection is confirmed, the mentor must agree that the workplace and equipment will be available to the new employee.
  6. After confirmation by the mentor, the workflow ends.

SAP Cloud Platform Workflow offers its own interfaces. One of these interfaces enables you to start an instance of the workflow (step 1).

Alternatively, the service also offers the option to create a form-based user interface to start workflows.

As part of a workflow task, we can call REST-based interfaces. The data of the workflow context is available to us. For example, we can call an interface of the HR system for the second step. This possibility saves us programming effort. We could use the SAP Cloud Platform Integration Service to call a SOAP or RFC interface. We also have the option of running through JavaScript code to process data, for example.

In the third step, the mentor must select and confirm the new employee’s devices. On the one hand, we can implement this using our own SAP UI5-based user interface. With the help of the workflow service, we can also quickly create a form-based user interface. The mentor then sees his tasks with the corresponding user interface in the integrated “My Inbox” of the Fiori Launchpad. Since other tasks are also collected there, he does not have to switch to a different application for each process. Alternatively, we can create a completely independent user interface via the interfaces.

For administrators, the Fiori Launchpad also provides applications that allow the administration and monitoring of running workflows. By integrating them with other services from the Intelligent Business Process Management portfolio, they can gain more insight into their processes. One example of this is the Business Process Visibility Service.

For developers, the SAP Cloud Platform Workflow Service offers additional advantages. For example, the responsible agents or groups can be defined from the context, due dates can be calculated and displayed, and much more.

Finally, I would like to summarize the various arguments for using SAP Cloud Platform Workflow:

  • The functionalities increase the development speed and lower the development costs,
  • Web-based tools support the rapid development and modification of workflow applications,
  • Increase productivity within processes through specific assignment of tasks and creation of transparency.
  • The basic work of the service and the connection to other services help to gain insight into your processes. In this way, you can extend your business processes through cloud applications and workflows and adapt them to your specific needs.

Comparison with other workflow solutions

Now that you know the benefits of SAP Cloud Platform Workflow, let’s start looking left and right. In addition to the service in the SAP Cloud Platform, the SAP portfolio includes other specific solutions for workflows. With a view to the advantages of the service in the cloud platform, we should make a comparison with other solutions. This gives you the opportunity to select the right tool for your particular requirement.

In addition to SAP Cloud Platform Workflow, there is another solution that deals primarily with workflows: SAP NetWeaver Business Process Management, a module of SAP Process Orchestration. The table shows the main differences between the two tools.

SAP Cloud Platform Workflow SAP Business Process Management
Deployment options Public Cloud (SAP Cloud Platform)

On-Premises

Managed Cloud/Infrastructure as a Service (SAP HEC, AWS oder Azure)

Licensing model Subscription (user-related) Product license (SAP Process Orchestration, core based) and maintenance
An optional subscription can be taken on HEC.
Updates Automatic weekly updates
No downtime
Quarterly updates on service packages to be implemented by the customer
Near zero downtime maintenance (nZDM)
Platform/Architecture

Cloud Native

Multi-Tenant

NetWeaver Java Stack

Single-Tenant

Supported scenarios User-centric processes
Single system (extension) and cross-system (orchestration)
User-centric processes
Single system (extension) and cross-system (orchestration)
System-centered processes ( stateful integration processes)
Process modelling BPMN BPMN
Development environment SAP Web IDE (browser-based, no local installation required) SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio (Eclipse-based, local installation required)
Supported UI Technologies SAP UI5
Others (via the REST API)
SAP UI5
Web Dynpro Java
Visual Composer
Other
Data model JSON XSD
Version control Git DTR / NWDI
Transportation of development Neo: manual via Web IDE (ZIP export/import)
Cloud Foundry: MTA / Transport Service
NWDI
CTS+
Connectivity options (integrated) REST / JSON

SOAP-WS

RFC

XI 3.0 (Process Integration)

Public APIs REST
OData (for tasks)

JAVA

OData

JMS Events (Push)

A first big difference can be seen in the supported scenarios. SAP Business Process Management can also be used in system-centric processes, i.e. processes in which the focus is on communication between systems without human interaction. The workflow service on the cloud platform, on the other hand, works asynchronously. Since system-centric processes can often require fast response times, the additional use of SAP Cloud Platform Integration for such system-centric processes is recommended in the cloud.

Other differences are of a more technical nature. For example, the supported programming languages and underlying data models differ. These more technical differences are neglected in the following, but can play a role in specific situations, e.g. due to the technical competence of the employees or special restrictions in a project.

In addition to SAP Cloud Platform Workflow and SAP Business Process Management, some SAP solutions also offer their own workflow tools that are integrated into the solution. These include, for example, SAP Cloud for Customer, a component of the SAP Service Cloud solution. These tools usually do not offer the same range of functions for modeling and orchestrating workflows, but are very well integrated into the individual solution.

Recommendation

On the basis of this information I would like to try to derive a general recommendation for action. You should mainly consider two variables when making your decision:

  1. the affected environment or system,
  2. the goal to be achieved or the use case.

When looking at the environments, the decisive difference is whether it is a cloud or an on-premise application. You should differentiate between enhancement and orchestration in the use cases. We speak of an “extension” if it is a local use case, and of an “orchestration” if it is a workflow across multiple systems.

Cloud applications

SAP Cloud Platform Workflow in the SAP Cloud Platform is the first solution to be considered when automating SAP business processes. It can be used universally, but is particularly suitable for the SAP environment.

SCP Workflow is also the preferred solution to consider when a company’s central strategy requires a single workflow management tool, especially considering the broader capabilities of the intelligent business process management portfolio, such as process visualization and rules management.
If the central strategy allows multiple workflow management solutions, there are some cases where other solutions are more appropriate for specific individual requirements. I will give you some examples below:

If legal requirements prohibit the use of cloud services for process automation, then use SAP Business Process Management to orchestrate cross-system processes, even in environments where third-party systems must be included in the process.

When extending a local process without communicating with third-party systems, you should use the workflow tools integrated into various solutions.
For cloud products such as SAP S/4HANA Cloud or components of the SAP Service Cloud, you can also use the workflow tools integrated into the solutions to automate simple standard processes. These workflow tools are usually closely linked to the application and offer business design and process control without having to familiarize yourself with BPMN, for example.

On-Premise applications

The answer for the on-premise environment of SAP S/4HANA is similar to the one described above. Here you have the choice of developing classic SAP Business Workflows or new flexible workflow scenarios. It is recommended that you use the flexible workflow enhancement. This is the solution of choice for applications integrated in SAP S/4HANA, such as procurement or sales, and gives your process experts more options. Only fall back on classic workflows if the flexible workflow options are not sufficient.

In both scenarios, you should be vigilant from the start to recognize signs of non-standardized processes or the need for integration or orchestration with other systems and applications. These are signs that the SAP Cloud Platform Workflow is the better choice.

With this information, you should be able to make a fairly confident decision about which solution to deploy. However, not only a comparison of the different workflow solutions is necessary. You should also consider the different runtime environments that the SAP Cloud Platform supports workflow in the SAP Cloud Platform. I will discuss this in the next section.

Differences Between SCP Workflow in the Neo and Cloud Foundry Environments

Before we take a look at the different features of SAP Cloud Platform Workflow in the different runtime environments, we should look at the environments themselves.

The SAP Cloud Platform Cloud Foundry includes the Cloud Foundry runtime environment, which is based on the open source application platform managed by the Cloud Foundry Foundation. SAP is part of the Cloud Foundry Foundation along with other vendors and is pursuing a multi-cloud strategy. This enables you to deploy your application on the hyperscaler of your choice, such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. This allows you to run a wider range of data center sites and applications near existing cloud solutions. And you don’t have to commit to SAP as your data center provider. In addition, the cloud foundry environment facilitates regulatory compliance. It also provides access to complementary services from hyperscalers such as Google, Amazon, or Microsoft, which SAP does not offer.

Application developers can use the cloud foundry environment to extend SAP products, integrate business applications, and build entirely new enterprise applications based on business APIs deployed on the SAP Cloud Platform. You can use multiple programming languages such as Java, Node.js, and other language options offered by the community.

The SAP Cloud Platform Neo environment includes a proprietary runtime developed by SAP. It is a feature-rich and easy-to-use development environment in which you can develop Java, SAP HANA XS, and HTML5 applications.

Put very simply, the Neo environment is a bit more limited in terms of features offered, but offers you more ” guidance “. From a strategic perspective, however, SAP recommends focusing on the cloud foundry environment.

To be able to manage both environments uniformly, SAP provides a central cockpit, the Cloud Cockpit.

This central cockpit is a web-based user interface for administrators that provides access to a range of functions for configuring and managing applications and connecting them to services on the cloud platform. It can be used to manage resources, services, security, monitor application metrics and perform actions related to cloud applications.

This is important to us because some services run exclusively in the Neo environment, such as SAP Web IDE, even if we use SAP Cloud Platform Workflow in the Cloud Foundry environment. As a result, we will be switching more frequently between the two environments.

In addition to these general differences between the two runtime environments, their respective implementations of SAP Cloud Platform Workflow also differ. These differences are summarized in the table below.

Neo Cloud Foundry
Development SAP Web IDE
  • SAP Web IDE (in der Neo-Umgebung)
  • Es werden nur die Rollen DiDeveloper und Space Developer benötigt
Interfaces POST/PATCH/PUT/PUT/DELETE requires CSRF protection.
  • No separate CSRF token required when calling OAuth-protected resources.
  • API calls through the Approuter require a Get call to generate a token by the Approuter. Use X-CSRF token API from UIs.
  • The API endpoints are different.
  • Access from UIs is different.
Deployment Workflow, forms and user interfaces are deployed individually. Multi-target application for deploying or transporting all modules together
Service instances One service instance per subaccount
  • Multiple service instances per space.
  • Workflow definitions are provided at subaccount level (no isolation of data across spaces in a subaccount).
Authentication Basic and OAuth
  • OAuth
  • Use the Principal Propagation for all service calls.
  • Client ID and Secret at the level of the workflow service instance.
  • Cloud Foundry using XSUAA.
Fiori Launchpad Site Automatic provision of FLP content for the standard page, configuration cockpit Defined in Web IDE and provided via MTA.
Availability SAP data centers in different regions. AWS in Frankfurt and US East. Further regions planned.
Features Some new functionalities only in the Cloud Foundry environment, e.g. integration with Process Visibility, Form-Start UIs etc.

SAP recommends using SAP Cloud Platform Workflow in the Cloud Foundry runtime environment. Therefore we are going to take a look at this service in further articles.

The bigger context

Finally, let’s take a look at the big picture. The SAP Cloud Platform Workflow is one of a number of other services that, when combined, become a more powerful solution.

The upper part of the figure shows the components available in the SAP Cloud Platform. This includes, for example, the SAP Fiori Launchpad and the portal. This provides the “My Inbox”, in which end users can see, among other things, their due tasks. You will also find the Monitor Workflows application on the Fiori Launchpad.

The upper right corner shows the Web IDE. In this IDE you will find, for example, the Workflow Editor, options for designing UIs, and the configuration of the SAP Fiori Launchpad pages.

Using the Workflow Editor of the SAP Web IDE, you can use the services provided in the SAP API Business Hub directly. If the APIs are not available in the API Business Hub, you can also call other REST or OData interfaces. If you want to make a call using SOAP or IDOC, for example, you can use the Cloud Platform Integration.

With SAP Cloud Platform Workflow in the Cloud Foundry runtime environment, you can also use the other two Intelligent Business Process Monitoring Services: Business Process Visibility and Business Rules. Business Process Visibility, for example, allows you to track process flows and thus identify error situations.

In addition to the services mentioned above, other REST-based services can also be called directly. This is independent of whether SAP or non-SAP services are involved.

Conclusion

We now know the theoretical basics and background of the SAP Cloud Platform Workflow Services. We also know some features and advantages. In summary, we have now created the basis for being able to get a rounded picture of the service.

The next step is to do something practical with the service. So next time let’s take a look at how we set up the service, model our first workflow and implement the use case between Qualtrics and SAP Service Cloud.

But there is enough written for this article, next time more.

Best regards
Tobias

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