SAP Technology Review
The overarching SAP ERP HCM software rests on the SAP NetWeaver technology platform. This complex framework and development platform enables organizations to build or extend enterprise applications. Not only does this technology provide a solid foundation for all of SAP's Business Suite software (along with other portfolio products such as Business ByDesign), but it is also the basis for SAP's service-oriented architecture (SOA).
Forrester Research commented in a 2010 report that "SAP makes ongoing advances in its integration capability… where the current release of [SAP] NetWeaver PI is meeting many of the integration needs of many of its customers." Because NetWeaver acts as the SOA integration framework, it can be used to deliver customized development capabilities, provide the runtime environment, integrate differing systems, and support new, cross-functional business processes. This unique technology platform from SAP is fully integrated, open, and purpose-built. However, despite being fully functional, NetWeaver is dated (released in 2004) and will likely require upgrades, replacements or, at best, supplementation to be able to satisfy the latest organizational requirements of mobile, social, and SaaS technology. The potential SAP client should consider the possibility of lengthy and expensive upgrade paths.
System Integration Capabilities
For standard integrations, SAP leverages an open API together with the option of writing custom business application programmer interfaces; in other words, object-oriented programming methods are used to enable relatively simple third-party software integration.
SAP Duet is used to manage the majority of integrations between Business Suite components and associated groupware. As an application, Duet is a custom-built blend of SAP, Microsoft SharePoint and MSOffice, creating full interoperability between the applications and allowing seamless syncing of email, contacts, calendar appointments and tasks. The ready-to-use design of Duet allows SAP users to quickly use the system to collaborate around SAP data, participate in human resource or other workflows, access reports, explore HR information and search SAP and SharePoint. Alternatively, if your preference lies with IBM’s Lotus Notes, that too is supported in similar fashion via SAP Alloy.
For partners and independent software vendors (ISVs) SAP has a network of regional SAP Integration and Certification Centers (SAP ICCs) offering consulting, access to test systems and an interface certification program.
Software Customization Capabilities
As mentioned above, the use of SAP NetWeaver covers the bulk of customization capabilities and requirements. However, for those looking to customize SAP payroll (or HR) further, the whole SAP ERP HCM software solution is written largely in the ABAP and Java programming languages, comes with development licenses, and works with the following databases: Oracle, IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, and MaxDB.
However, a note of caution: often customizations to the SAP software are less than simple and require an SAP consultant or expert to facilitate them. Interestingly, although it is not yet available in the Business Suite, SAP's newest SaaS venture (Business ByDesign) features an application called Studio SDK; a somewhat simpler and Visual Studio-like environment in which customers and partners can modify the system (through extensions and add-ons) without source code or other core system modification.
Business Process Automation
The HCM package includes ready-to-use workflows and clients have the choice of either using these templates as they are, using the provided Workflow Builder to alter them for a perfect fit with their own company processes, or the option exists to build new workflows from the ground up. Driving this functionality from beneath is SAP Business Workflow, enabling user definition and modification of business processes. Business Workflow is especially effective for scenarios in which the approval flow has to be routed in a specific sequence for multiple users. In a little more detail, the list of SAP tools for workflow and process work is:
- Workflow Builder – when making relatively simple or minor extensions to the supplied workflow templates, this graphical tool makes the process straightforward, regardless of the user’s prior experience.
- Workflow Wizards – a range of wizards provide support in defining and creating specific parts of a workflow.
- Business Object Builder – taking a step back, this tool allows the definition and/or analysis of the business objects that are used to make system functions available to a specific workflow, including making them available as reusable tasks.
Additionally, for workflow system administrators, SAP also provide a number of tools facilitating the viewing, control, and analysis of current workflows.
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