by Lauren Bonneau, Senior Editor, SAPinsider
Having transparency into business processes to see precisely where and why problems might be occurring is key for SAP customers to become intelligent enterprises. The four building blocks for achieving this state are in digitizing the core processes of total workforce management, lead to cash, source to pay, and design to operate.
Each SAP customer has specific needs for digitizing these workflows and automating the related structured and unstructured activities on top as process extensions. To help in this area, SAP has built an intelligent enterprise suite of software products and services that help automate digital workflows, manage business decisions, provide end-to-end process visibility and flexibility to manage process variants on top, and build departmental or localized processes. However, customers often want to leverage these business processes, digitize the associated workflow, and extend and configure the processes to their various needs.
This is where SAP’s business technology platform, SAP Cloud Platform, steps in and helps in the area of business process management (BPM).
As Markus Noga, Senior Vice President of SAP Cloud Platform Business Services at SAP, said during a presentation at SAP TechEd 2019 in Barcelona, SAP is building a business technology platform to help organizations solve real-world customer problems. “These problems include how to manage business processes more intelligently and extend them in directions that help tailor their business to their customer base, as well as how to extend capabilities of systems and bring the user experience to a new level with capabilities like chatbots, unified portals, and the ability to provide one digital workplace,” he said. “This is what SAP Cloud Platform is about — helping businesses solve their toughest problems.”
A couple weeks prior, at SAP TechEd 2019 in Las Vegas, SAP announced the launch of a family of SAP Intelligent Business Process Management (SAP Intelligent BPM) services — for workflow, robotic process automation (RPA), business rules, inbox, process visibility, and conversational artificial intelligence (AI) — that are generally available on SAP Cloud Platform. These services help customers to automate their business processes, manage decision logic, and gain end-to-end visibility as well as allow them to, among other things, configure variance in specific processes, such as hire to retire.
“When SAP customers come to SAP with a business problem, their problem is not the end-to-end hire-to-retire process, which involves hundreds of processes, but rather they have a specific problem, such as with time-sheet processing for contingency workers,” says Thomas Volmering, Head of Product Management for SAP Cloud Platform Business Services BPM. “Customers are looking to SAP for successful business outcomes for one business problem at a time.”
For example, if a hiring manager notices a problem with retaining new hires, he or she would want to get to the bottom of precisely where and why the company is losing so many candidates. Historically, this activity would have involved implementing deep changes in the hire-to-retire application and a lengthy change management project to implement these changes. And modifying the processes often involved heavy consulting engagements and exercises to customize the process via modeling diagrams that were filed away and never referred to again.
“With the traditional software life cycle, companies plan a specific project that has a future go-live date when that software solution will be ‘live,’ and then to perform changes involves a change request and another project with a new go-live date where the changes would be implemented half a year later,” says Volmering. “We are now introducing this notion of ‘Live Processes’ so that business process experts have real-time process flexibility in the constraints (pockets of flexibility) that IT provides them to enact changes directly on the running process. This flexibility could mean to simply choose a process variant out of a process content package or to change the default process variant according to the needs of business, omitting steps, adding additional approvals and reviewers, or changing the sequence of activities. Business process experts will also be able to review and change the decision logic of business policies for automated or managed decisions, for instance, the rules that define the threshold by which a second approval needs to happen for an order, or the amount of budget that is allowed within a relocation budget, or if the price change of a material needs to be reviewed by different experts and the business owner. This level of flexibility, enabled in business process expert tooling, will be a game changer because it comes with a combination of traditional use cases but also with intelligent technologies plus content packages that SAP and its partners will deliver.”
Intelligent Automation: A “Game-Changer” for SAP Customers
For more than two decades, SAP has offered BPM technology — as workflow management, rules management and process monitoring tools — as part of the back-end SAP ERP system, which was heavily focused on traditional workflows in areas such as procurement and accounts payable. After SAP launched its SAP NetWeaver platform, the SAP NetWeaver Business Process Management suite was released at the end of 2008, and the notion of “composite processes” came about. Composites are business processes that customers can build on top of the traditional applications as process extensions instead of changing the processes in the systems of record. Using these BPM tools, customers could build a differentiating process, try it out to see if it worked, and change it as they like.
While tools like these achieve faster change, IT involvement is still required in change management projects, which is costly, according to Volmering. “Nowadays, we are moving ahead with cloud computing, and SAP customers expect SAP to offer certain ubiquitous services in the cloud — such as workflow management, an inbox for your tasks, or a process visibility service — so they can build the kind of systems of differentiation and innovation in SAP Cloud Platform with a lot of speed in the sense of time to value,” he says. “They also want fast change management and a frictionless, integrated experience so end users don’t feel the difference between the cloud applications, the business application, and the extensions.”
SAP Intelligent BPM on SAP Cloud Platform accomplishes this by offering the ability to define workflows that cross application boundaries and providing process visibility with a live view into business operations tracking process performance against targets to detect and remediate potential bottlenecks — before they cause unnecessary costs or negatively affect service-level agreements. The services provided include business rules and decision logic management (i.e., rules and policies in natural language format so line-of-business [LOB] workers can manage rules and policies for decisions inside multiple applications) as well as a unified central inbox as the dispatching place for business processes impacting actual users. The services also include the following AI and RPA capabilities:
- Conversational AI or chatbots simplify and improve the user experience and productivity by enabling natural language interaction with the process — for example, triggering workflows or tasks — or by automating certain interactions within a process flow, such as handling repetitive customer support inquiries, guiding users to certain information, and answering questions. “Chatbots on intelligent BPM services improve the process experience “live” as you can ask them directly about the cycle times of processes, the number of tasks that are pending, and the sentiment score that they achieve,” says Volmering.
- RPA bots or digital workers serve to automate high-volume, standardized and repetitive human tasks by emulating user interactions with the systems. They complement BPM workflows in that they address different automation requirements — such as process orchestration and task automation. For example, RPA bots execute certain tasks within a process hierarchy or integrate data from legacy or software-as-a-service systems with insufficient application programming interfaces into a process flow.
Automating business processes is a goal that 90% of SAP customers still have on the top of their list, according to Volmering. He describes three centerpieces of the SAP Intelligent BPM suite that are important for customers to understand:
- Start anywhere. With intelligent automation, customers do not need to follow a specific lifecycle approach. It is not a case where they must first model processes or analyze them with a tool before they can start streamlining them. “Customers can start directly with evaluating how they can automate their business processes as much as possible to eliminate manual work and tedious, mundane tasks that are repetitive and cost intensive,” Volmering says. “Some customers are striving directly to achieve the highest level of process automation possible. This does not necessarily mean anything runs without human interaction. The goal is to digitize paper-based or isolated activities into a structured workflow that executes specific activities automatically and involves human tasks where necessary for audit and compliance reasons. These processes can be further improved through the help of digital workers — bots provided by intelligent RPA.”
- Look at experience data (X data). Customers can elevate these experiences for people working in processes with the help of AI chatbots or RPA bots, or directly with input from sentiment analysis, which could also come from bots. Qualtrics, for instance, allows for sentiments on product, brand, and company and customer satisfaction comments to directly feed into the operational data (O data) of a process visibility dashboard, which is visible also to the business process experts when they configure process variants so they can directly leverage the experience data on the live (running) process.
- Do it yourself. In the context of Live Processes, LOB key users and experts don’t have to request IT support for every little change they see needed in a process. Many organizations want to build a factory approach where IT provides the technical building blocks — such as process templates, user-interface building blocks, and business rules — and the business leverages this pre-defined content live to assemble workflows and process visibility dashboards without any developer support.
How Do “Live Processes” Work?
SAP Intelligent BPM for live processes is akin to how some mobile phones have a Live feature where a photograph becomes a small movie — when users hold their thumb on it, suddenly they see a live snapshot of the situation. “Nowadays in the cloud and with live processes, there’s a specific breed of processes that are live by nature. Customers go live with them and they stay live with them, and they stay flexible in production in the sense that when they want to perform changes, they can still do it live, and that means a real-time offering based on predefined content shipped as Live Process content,” Volmering says. “And so customers can start using these processes with the help of pre-defined content, available for real-time authoring and publish to production, increasing immensely the velocity of reaction time to business changes.”
Following the previous hire-to-retire example of the recruiting manager, let’s see how this problem could be handled and configured using SAP Intelligent BPM without any IT involvement:
- Click on the Process Hub to see the list of content packages available.
- Click on the content package to see a graphical view of what is included. For example, the hire-to-retire content package includes plan workforce, recruiting, onboarding, and offboarding.
- Click on a process, such as recruiting, to see the workflow model and view the process details.
- Take the executable workflow model (complete with the baseline steps for the master process) into the Process Flexibility Cockpit where the process can be adjusted.
- Simply drag and drop the process steps in the cockpit, where the process can be saved and activated. It is clearly visible when specific tasks or steps of a process have constraints.
“Users can reshuffle certain steps, but sometimes the constraints prevent actions, such as deletions,” Volmering says. “They can drag and drop new steps that are available to them, but they can’t invent anything crazy. They work on the live process, and as soon as it is saved and activated, it becomes available and is launched into production live.”
The configurable Live Process dashboard shows how many active processes are currently going on in real time. This is where users see the service coming from Qualtrics about the experience of those involved in the process, and this X data can be related to the O data. This is where users manage the process variants and policies. For example, to continue with the hire-to-retire process, there are different variants of a standard onboarding process, such as differing policies for housing, company car allowances, background checks, drug testing, and so on. These are configured and monitored here.
And “configuration” and “activation” are seamless and non-developer-focused activities. The packages are easy to understand, and the SAP-delivered templates are simple to activate and modify. Activate in this sense does not mean deploy, so there is no developer effort required.
The workflows and processes shipped today are application extensions covered by customers and partners alone. But there are many processes planned to ship as content packages: for example, workflows for requisitions and purchase order approval, requests for proposals and contract creation, invoice approval, invoice accrual processing, situation handling in these accrual processes — and then also in HR — relocation management, cross-boarding, and time-sheet processing for contingency workers, among many others.
“If SAP customers want to manage invoice accrual processing with workflows, they get the content for that directly in our tooling, and then they can directly start with managing the different variants of invoice accruals, and so forth,” says Volmering.
Currently in progress, SAP plans to roll out a full-fledged general availability of a selection of tools and content packages by the middle of 2020 so customers can use this content seamlessly in the tools directly as templates. The Process Flexibility Cockpit and the Qualtrics integration are planned to go live (pun intended) and be released for general availability in the same 2020 time frame, in addition to the content packages for live processes.
Live Processes in Action
To go back to the earlier problem of the recruiting manager trying to understand why new-hire retention is low, let’s see how SAP Intelligent BPM can help illuminate the key trends, present a live picture of how the processes run, and allow the manager to modify the process in real time. By looking at the hire-to-retire process in the Process Flexibility Cockpit and diving into the live process, the manager can find out what is driving the problem and what the demographics behind it are.
For example, perhaps some onboardings are canceled while others are completed with issues. By jumping into Qualtrics, the manager can identify the underlying issue by understanding the results of new-hire surveys and engagement questionnaires. Perhaps there is negative sentiment or dissatisfaction with the equipment and provisioning provided. Reviewing comments from new hires can show precisely which terms are being rated positive and negative.
With the Live Process view, the manager can change the live process to ensure that new hires are getting what they need. For example, managers can drop in the assignment of an onboarding buddy to help new hires with the orientation, or remove steps that are highlighted as having a negative impact in this process or causing delays (such as an excessive approval step) to make the process run faster. And it’s not a process model diagram of old. These steps are live, and when the process diagram is changed, it is changing the actual way the process runs.
An impressive example of a company that is an early adopter of SAP Intelligent BPM is Delivery Hero SE, which was a 2019 SAP Innovation Awards winner in the category of Process Innovator. This startup was able to build an intelligent enterprise with SAP S/4HANA, and then extended the digital core via SAP Cloud Platform and integration with SAP Ariba and SAP Concur solutions. Moving to SAP Cloud Platform was an easy decision for Delivery Hero, as IT staff needed to offload administrative tasks and focus on strategic projects, and the cloud platform simplified on-premise application management as well as offered a preconfigured workflow and user-friendly business rules framework to help with resource allocation.
“Not only is Delivery Hero a part of the Customer Engagement initiative and co-innovation of the Live Process content, but they have one of the most fascinating stories,” says Volmering. “Their story is about a startup that wanted to conquer the online food market, and now they are changing the rules of the game in online delivery and becoming a company that is managing to deliver not just food but many other kinds of goods through their channels.” See the case study “Delivery Hero Drives Automation and Scale with SAP Software” for more details on how the company leverages SAP Cloud Platform and SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite to drive high-growth global business.
Helping SAP Customers Become Intelligent Enterprises
As Noga describes, SAP Intelligent BPM helps companies with faster time to value and increased flexibility in the way they deal with processes, surface actual process metrics, and integrate them with process definition. “By automating their workflows, customers can reduce manual effort and make the experience of every business process vastly better than before,” he says. “This is why SAP Intelligent BPM on SAP Cloud Platform is SAP customers’ best choice.”
To sum up, Volmering explains what he finds particularly unique about the notion of live processes: “First, it’s that companies don’t need to go through any long change management project to implement changes,” he says. “There’s an increased level and quality of process automation, which limits the number of manual activities performed, when it comes to combining automated workflows, rules, and RPA bots — that’s what we call intelligent automation. And with Qualtrics providing the process experience — whether that’s a product, brand, or customer experience — the beauty is that companies can get the sentiments of the experience of customers directly into their operational process so they can make changes in real time based on the sentiment received.”