Overview of SAP Workflow Management
Organisation and Management principles suggest that lengthy processes must be broken into smaller chunks of tasks that can be handled by an individual, and organise them in sequence to achieve the desired output in an efficient manner. This has resulted in work flows in every organisation and management of them as a specialised topic. SAP solutions have helped organisations to adopt standard businesses processes which encompass many such workflows. However, due to the nature of businesses each organisation has its own set of non-standard workflows. These have to be accommodated with custom-built solutions. Realising this need, SAP has come out with “SAP Workflow Management Solution” to help customers.
SAP Workflow Management is a cloud-based service offering. It consists of tools to create workflow processes and business rules. It is integrated with “inbox’ and dashboards for execution and process visibility. There are pre-packaged processes which can be easily adopted and flexibly extend SAP standard processes in S/4HANA and other solutions. This is pictorially shown in Exhibit-1 below. In this blog, we will see the two key foundational tools “Process Templates” and “Business Rules” in a little more detail to understand Workflow Solution better.
Exhibit-1 (Credits: SAP SE)
Workflow – A Simple definition
Workflow is set of activities and process steps, which pass through decision gateways to process a given set of inputs and achieve a desired output. The input could be provided by human actors or by another application/software robots. The model workflow uses the industry standard BPMN 2.0 notations (Business Process Model and Notation).
Exhibit-2 (Credits: SAP SE)
Overview of Workflow Management
As part of the Business Technology Platform, Workflow Management has multiple components. Business Application Studio is a component which consists of many tools in it. There is a “Workflow Editor”, which is used for creating workflows. It also consists of a “Forms” tool, whereby one can create forms easily to capture inputs from users. For complex situations, one can use custom UI applications as well. Business Rules component consists of tools to create Rules Project, build business rules repository, and execute them using business rules engine.
Workflow process visibility and monitoring the workflow process execution is enabled using Fiori Apps. “My Inbox” Fiori App enables the workflow notifications to be brought to the users participating in a workflow chain and also execute the actions by them.
RESTful APIs and OData connectors enable the workflow chains to connect SAP Cloud applications like SAP Ariba, Fieldglass, SAP S/4HANA (on Prem and Cloud) and others. These are pictorially depicted in the diagram below.
Exhibit – 3 (Credits : SAP SE)
Modelling a Workflow from scratch
At a high-level, modelling a workflow involves the following steps:
• Creating a Multi-target Application Project
• Defining the workflow templates including attributes and context
• Creating the program scripts
• Design User Interface
• Build and deploy
Creating workflow forms and templates is an easy process that involves a “No-Coding” approach using the Form Editor tool. This is explained graphically in Exhibit-4 below.
Exhibit-4 (Credits: SAP SE)
Creating Process Templates
Process Template is a technical object created to set-up a process flow. It consists of Process Steps, Process Context and Process Attributes. One can create a “process variant” by assembling different steps for the same process to suit customer need. The steps to create a process template are shown below
Exhibit-5 (Credits: SAP SE)
Process steps can be a “user task,” “script task,” “service task” or “decision gateways”. A user task is the one which is executed by a user e.g. entering project name, budget required, duration, etc for approval in a workflow form. Script tasks are executed by programmed script, to determine for example, an appropriate approver based on the budget amount. A service task is a task executed by business rule or another service such as “conversational AI” by taking the user input and providing an output for the workflow to continue. Decision gateways are user defined business rules, which determine the pathway to branch depending on input from previous steps like whether the budget amount requested is a low value or a high value. This is pictorially depicted in Exhibit-6.
Exhibit-6 (Credits: SAP SE)
Process Context are the context variables, in a particular instance, which carry the input/out data generated in the process flow. Attributes are variables of a form which carry the input/output values processed during the flow. A sample screen of them is shown in Exhibit-7 below.
Exhibit-7 (Credits : SAP SE)
Developing Business Rules
SAP has provided “Enterprise Rule Model” for the definition and exchange of business rules irrespective of the technical stack or execution language. With this model, SAP has effectively separated out the logic embedded in a program/routine. This enables organisations to holistically create the rules centrally and consume them in any business application like SAP concur, SAP Qualtrics, S/4HANA (Cloud and On-Prem) and so on, using RESTful API or OData connectors. This is depicted in the below diagram.
Exhibit-8 (Credits: SAP SE)
Creating and deploying business rules involves the following steps:
Exhibit-9 (Credits: SAP SE)
This describes the data structure or tables, or elements of data used in the data modelling. In effect, the vocabulary of words used in the model are defined using data objects. Sample of data objects like approvers, Investment is shown in Exhibit-10 below
Exibit-10 (Credits: SAP SE)
This is an interface to invoke the decision logic. The deployment of rule means deploying the rule service in technical terms. Rule service consists of inputs, output and other data objects. Typically, an application calls the rule service to invoke a business rule.
A rule expression language is used to encapsulate a business logic in Rules. A rule can be a text rule like an If then statements. A rule can also be a decision table. Sample decision table is shown in Exhibit-11 below.
Exhibit-11 (Credits: SAP SE)
This is a collection of rules to be processed in a specific business case. Any number of rules can be logically combined to form a ruleset. Each ruleset refers to one single Rule Service.
Using the business rules application, organisations can centrally author rules and govern the process execution in an efficient and uniform manner. The rules application is globalised in 6 different languages. It enables one to create and manage rule versions. SAP API Business hub contains quite a number of pre-modelled business rules content as shown in Exhibit-12 below.
Exhibit-12 (Credits: SAP SE)
Digitisation of processes is a key driver for building efficiency. Effectiveness in an organisation’s functioning and workflow is an important part of achieving this. Though many organisations might believe that only 10-20% of processes are non-standard, it may still consume a significant effort from employees to execute – as well as correcting the errors that might occur in them. SAP has provided a valuable tool with Low Code/No Code requirement for creating and managing workflows in any organisation. The centralised rule management tool is a great boon to enhance governance. Learning and Building expertise in this tool must be an easy task without any significant technical prowess needed for functional consultants in any stream, and it can enhance their value to customers.
Author : Ravi Srinivasan , SAP Alumni
• Workflow Management Community
• Model Process Templates
• Business Rules Help
• Developing Applications with Workflow Capability
• SAP API Workflow Pre-Packaged contents
• Workflow Management Roadmap