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SAP HR Technology Review

SAP HR software is powered by the SAP NetWeaver technology platform, a complex framework and development environment that aids organizations in building, integrating and extending enterprise applications. This technology is not only an underlying foundation for all of SAP's Business Suite software (along with other portfolio products such as Business ByDesign), but is also the basis for SAP's service-oriented architecture (SOA). Because SAP Netweaver is the SOA integration framework, it can deliver customized development capabilities, provide a runtime environment, facilitate system integration, and support new, cross-functional business processes—all pieces of SAP's goal for a singular technology platform which is fully integrated, (semi) open and purpose-built. A Forrester research report indicates 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."

That being said, Netweaver is dated (with Netweaver being released in 2004) and many pundits suggest the platform is in need of significant upgrades, replacement or at best supplementation to be able to satisfy the latest disruptive technologies such as mobile, social, SaaS and the consumerization of IT—a verity that could potentially mean lengthy and expensive upgrade paths.

System Integration Capabilities

SAP HR software offers web services and open APIs for standard integrations and the ability to write custom Business Application Program interfaces; meaning the software leverages descriptive, object-oriented programming methods to enable relatively straight-forward third-party software integration.

The bulk of SAP Business Suite is managed via SAP Duet, a custom-built application which blends SAP with Microsoft SharePoint and Office enabling interoperability between the applications (including email, contact syncs, calendar appointments and tasks). Duet Enterprise delivers ready-to-use capabilities with reasonable time to value for users to collaborate around SAP data, participate in HR or other workflows, access reports, explore Human Resource information and search SAP and SharePoint. However, it should be noted that IBM's Lotus Notes is also supported (though not as widely used) within the SAP framework through another joint venture called SAP Alloy (software which leverages existing investments in SAP and IBM Lotus Notes applications and allows in-house developers and system integrators to customize and extend its capabilities).

The company also provides an avenue for business partners and independent software vendors (ISVs) to integrate their software with SAP applications through regional SAP Integration and Certification Centers (SAP ICCs)—a program that provides services such as an interface certification program, consulting, and access to test systems.

Software Customization Capabilities

The SAP HR software is written largely in ABAP and Java programming languages, comes with development licenses, and works with several databases, including Oracle, IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, and MaxDB. While the above mentioned points on Netweaver cover the bulk of integration and customization capabilities, additional information is necessary to fully understand the process and technology for SAP's workflow features.

Business Process Automation

Many SAP systems deliver workflows as content with the SAP software. HCM, ERP, CRM, SRM are examples of SAP applications that provide packaged workflows. While organizations can modify these workflow templates to reflect company processes (by using the graphical Workflow Builder), functionality also permits the creation of specific workflows from scratch. Business Process Automation (BPA) is accomplished through the SAP Business Workflow—an underlying workflow engine that can be used to create and modify business processes and is particularly well-suited to those business scenarios in which approval flow has to be routed in a specific sequence among multiple users.

Capable of handling processes that are as simple as "release or approval" routines, or more complex variable-based business progressions; SAP supports numerous out-of-the-box workflows that map predefined business processes as well as tools for custom workflow modification. These tools include:

  • The Workflow Builder: Used for displaying and making changes to workflows, users can leverage this tool to make small extensions directly to the original workflow templates supplied by SAP.
  • Workflow Wizards: Several of these wizards are available for support in the design and definition of workflows, as well as support in the creation of specific workflow components.
  • Business Object Builder: This is the tool used to define or analyze the business objects that will be used to make system functions available to a specific workflow procedure (which is made available to the workflow in reusable tasks).

In addition, several tools are also available to the workflow system administrator, for viewing, controlling, and analyzing existing workflows. Workflow items have several options for delivery (where users receive information about specific processes that they are authorized to carry out), including: users SAP workplace, email inbox, internet inbox, non-SAP workflow engine, and SAP workplace with notification to email or internet inbox.

It should be recognized that these customizations are not simple and more often than not require an SAP expert, programmer or consultant to carry them out. In fact, one of the most discussed benefits of SAP's newest SaaS venture (Business ByDesign) was Studio SDK, a somewhat simpler and Visual Studio like environment in which customers and partners can modify the application (through extensions and add-ons) without source code or other core system modification. That same ability is not present in the SAP Business Suite.

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