Recently, I attended the first stop of SAP's SMB Innovation Summit in Ho Chi Minh City, an annual event for Partners to align with SAP around the latest insights and innovations in the SMB space. This year's event centered around the core product as a solution for digital transformation, and less on future innovations. With the recently announced general availability of SAP Business One 9.3, the future is now for SAP's largest customer base (in terms of numbers and customer adoption).
However, my main takeaway was a somewhat quiet evolution taking shape on the topic of integration. The team driving the SAP Business One Integration Framework shared the latest updates in the new version 2.0; this exciting development should help partners and customers better understand where this solution fits and how to leverage it.
The SAP HANA Service Layer versus B1iF
With the different integration tools available from SAP, one might feel a need to decide on just one to use. This is certainly an area where I have heard differing opinions as to which one you should choose or which approach to take. But as I outlined in my most recent blog, I think it misses the mark to take a one-size-fits-all approach; each solution meets different needs.
Customers are best served by matching the integration options (whether SAP or third-party solution) to each specific use case. I find that just looking at the naming of the various products can be helpful in matching your use case to your integration option.
Let's start with the SAP HANA Service Layer. This option is just as it is named—a component of SAP Business One that provides a service-oriented architecture via SAP HANA. Developers can work with this architecture to utilize the latest technologies and build applications that link to and leverage the SAP Business One transactions and master data. New applications can be loosely coupled and facilitated by interfaces like oData and Web Services. But remember that this approach only works with SAP HANA.
The SAP Business One Integration Framework (B1iF) is absolutely targeted at integration use cases. The team showed an example of this at the summit with a "factory in a box" example; this showcased how B1i enabled scenarios around process integration on the manufacturing floor, as well as other ways B1i can be leveraged. The "plus" with B1iF is that it's platform agnostic. SQL or SAP HANA? It does not matter; you can build with B1iF.
But if you weren't paying attention, there's a good chance you might have missed the significance of what is now available as part of the new version 2.0 of the software.
What's New in Version 2.0 – Business Process Modelling and Automation
On day three of the event, while many participants were out sightseeing, I did some sightseeing of my own at the venue by speaking with the team driving B1i development and rollout: Heinz Pauly, Annemarie Kiefer, and Nicolas Fuchs
I very much appreciate that they took two hours out of their day to take me through the solution and help me understand the end-to-end picture of what has been delivered in version 2.0. They also shared their thinking behind the product strategy and where it fits in to the SAP Business One world, so that I can share it with our community.
Product Strategy and Design Goals
Behind each software release, there is usually a set of design goals, and B1i is no different. However, the best product improvements start with addressing user feedback, and I am happy to share that that is exactly what the team at SAP has done. As you will see, the team's design goals very much incorporate user feedback and user-focused improvements:
- Reduce the learning curve: Make the solution easier to learn, understand, and use.
- XML at the Center: XML is the language of integration; make it the center of B1i.
- Optimize Performance: Enable the solution in a light weight, portal format (you can even run it stand-alone on a Raspberry PI).
- Multi-Tenancy at the Core: To help address the SAP Business One Cloud deployment model.
- UX Refactoring: Make the experience more user-friendly upon start up, rather than the current UI (which excites people who understand it, but turns off those who don't).
Perhaps you're thinking, "That sounds great, but what does it really mean for my business?" Of course, the answer comes to the ever popular topic (and theme of the summit): digital transformation and innovation within your business.
Digital Innovation and Your Business Processes – B1iF 2.0 Is the Enabler
Step one in the execution of any digital innovation exercise is a review of the processes in the business. Step two is to map what those business processes should or could be in your desired future state. Finally, you can then look at how these processes might be automated and monitored. An easy way to look at this is: design, execute, and manage.
To do this, you need to have access to an ERP solution that allows for the Business Process Automation to occur. While this functionality has always been a core component of B1i, the new release adds a few missing components and now enables users to manage all three steps (design, execute, and manage), either working alone or together with their business partner.
B1iF 2.0 adds a new set of tools to do your business process modelling that are based on a subset of Business Process Management (BPM) 2.0. More importantly, it adds the capability to optimize those business processes with Business Process Monitoring and more importantly, Activity Monitoring.
I could write pages of explanation on what these are and why they matter, but instead I have summarized a quick glossary on the topics below:
What Is BPM and What Is BPMN 2.0
Business Process Management is defined as the discipline of managing processes to continually improve agility and business performance outcomes.
In order to provide a framework for building and understanding Business Process Modelling, a set of standards for describing these processes was developed—this is Business Process Model Notation. BPMN 2.0 is the latest iteration of the standard and B1iF supports an applicable subset of the standard.
Why Business Process Monitoring is important
When business processes stall or fail, it can be hard to debug where the problem is for the following reasons:
- No one really knows where the problem lies.
- Single problem or composite of several issues?
- Everybody looks at their own management domain.
- Finger pointing (usually: “it must be the network”).
With the correct Business Process Monitoring tools in place, these blocks or bottlenecks can be identified quickly and objectively and then, of course, resolved.
Business Activity Monitoring and the Benefits
For this one, it is Wikipedia to the rescue, with a great summary of what Business Activity Monitoring is about and how it assists a business:
Business activity monitoring (BAM) is software that aids in monitoring of business activities, key performance indicators, business / operational exceptions, and business risks, as those activities are implemented in computer systems.
The term was originally coined by analysts at Gartner, Inc., and refers to the aggregation, analysis, and presentation of real-time information about activities inside organizations and involving customers and partners. A business activity can either be a business process that is orchestrated by business process management (BPM) software, or a business process that is a series of activities spanning multiple systems and applications. BAM is an enterprise solution primarily intended to provide a real-time summary of business activities to operations managers and upper management.
You may also hear this referred to as Business Activity Management. Either name is describing the same thing.
Bottom Line for SAP Business One Customers
The good news is that for SAP Business One 9.3 and subsequent versions, all three of these components of BPM are delivered as part of the SAP Business One Integration Framework 2.0.
The license to use the tools are provided as part of SAP Business One when the endpoints of the business processes are internal to SAP Business One. It's important to note, however, that you do attract additional licensing fees when you start to bring in external endpoints to the execution and monitoring piece; your partner can help you understand the applicable pricing model.
Bottom Line for Developers, Partners, and Consultants
Version 2.0 of the SAP Business One Integration Framework is a great solution for building integration scenarios.
- It now gives you a way to design and build those business processes.
- It can call and consume the SAP HANA Service Layer, Web Services, or file transfer.
From a developer's perspective, this matters. Developers are now enabled to use the right tool for the right step in the process. XML is the language of integration and B1i 2.0 provides you with an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for building the processes. You can also continue to use your tools of choice (XML Spy, CyberDuck, etc.) to write and mange the processes and have them stored in the WebDAV-compliant B1i repository.
I had been a B1i skeptic for a number of years because of the complexity of the solution and UI. However, I now believe that version 2.0 addresses many of the previous challenges and sets a great baseline for continuing to fix the ones still left.
If you are heading to Orlando for the North American stop of the SMB Innovation Summit, make sure you attend the B1i sessions. If you are not attending, here are the presentations for you (courtesy of the B1i team):
Take a look at the solution. You'll be doing yourself (and your customers) a favor!