SAP BPM Update

Yesterday I got a look at SAP's BPM v7.3, now in "ramp-up" (extended beta). I hadn't heard much lately about SAP in the BPM area, so I was really surprised to see how far they have come. The new offering, called the "Process Orchestration Solution", combines NetWeaver BPM, focused on human tasks, and NetWeaver Process Integration, which provides SOA, ESB, adapters, and Enterprise Service Repository (ESR). Unlike, say, Oracle, who (today) sells BPM as general-purpose middleware, SAP makes BPM an application extender. It exists purely to extend customer investments in the SAP Business Suite, or as they call it, "the Suite." And in this respect they seem a bit ahead of arch-rival Oracle: "The Suite" exposes over 5000 services out of the box to the ESR registry for use by the Process Orchestration Solution. I don't believe Oracle has such an application service registry linked to BPM.

Connecting the Suite to BPM is the key theme of v7.3. And it gets better. A new feature called Business Process Library (BPL) - this is post-7.3, but not that far off - can essentially introspect the core processes embedded in the Suite apps themselves and expose them as BPMN 2.0 processes! Simply documenting those embedded processes automatically is a huge benefit, but you can also use BPL to extend those processes. For example, you could insert a new subprocess in the middle of the standard flow that calls a user-defined NetWeaver BPM process. You could always do something like that with lots of programming, but this is much faster and less costly. I'm not sure SAP's professional services guys are happy about this, but customers definitely will be.

The business rules editor is nice. This is from the Yasu acquisition a couple years back. Rule design is quite business-friendly, and well integrated with process design. Originally they offered rules only as an embedded component of BPM, but they are moving back to offering it standalone as well.

I was also surprised to see how well SAP has implemented the "official" BPMN 2.0 standard; they are ahead of Oracle and IBM in that regard. They will be coming out this summer with a cloud-based collaboration environment from SAP Streamworks that includes a BPMN editor and team repository, code name Gravity - I think the real name is Collaborative Process Modeling. It looks quite clean and in some ways outdoes IBM BlueWorks Live. For instance, it supports something close to the full Descriptive palette and exports real schema-valid BPMN 2.0 xml. To me that's a big deal. And I saw a video of something called Holodeck that is just too cool for words. You attach your iPhone to a video projector displaying Gravity on a whiteboard, so that the phone camera is aimed at the screen. When you put colored stickies on the whiteboard, they get converted into BPMN activities in Gravity. My friend Shelley - the queen of colored stickies - will love this (a lot more than I have gotten her to love Visio).

I didn't see a demo of it, but SAP is talking about a vision of process intelligence that I hadn't heard before: using BI to expose real-time business information from backend systems (i.e. not in BPM) within process tasks. The example they gave was, in an approval task, showing how much of the budget is still available. That's pretty basic, but I hadn't heard of other BPMSs doing it.

SAP ought to crank up their BPM marketing in the USA. They have a great story to tell.