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Seven questions to ask when evaluating SAP Workflow add-on apps

When reviewing third-party applications for SAP Workflow, companies should take into account user and IT experience.

When selecting SAP add-ons for SAP Workflow, companies should assess the financial impact on the company as well as the user experience. And while using a third-party application can reduce the number of user licenses, companies still need to consider the cost of the application as well as the integration and maintenance costs over the life of the application environment.

When evaluating a third-party workflow application, organizations should consider both the user base and IT. In many cases, the SAP add-ons are full SAP partner products or SAP certified.

Here are user-oriented questions companies should consider:

  • Do non-SAP users need to have access to the information in the SAP system? This is a basic role-definition question. Often users think they need access to the SAP environment; in fact they rarely do and would be better served by the SAP add-on software.
  • How do users prefer to access the information they need? By extending SAP Workflow into their functional area or by integrating a third-party application? For example, engineers access applications designed for their functional areas of the business. Allowing them to continue in that environment by implementing an SAP add-on application that integrates with SAP Workflow significantly increases the adoption rate among employees.
  • Do existing applications have SAP Workflow integration capabilities built into their design?  I have seen organizations that think they need an SAP or a third-party application -- and nearly buy the application -- only to find they already own it or the rights to purchase it as part of an existing software license agreement.
  • Is there a desire to extend the SAP system capabilities and information into mobile applications? Mobility provides a new dimension to workflow, from administrative tasks, such as time approvals and travel expenses, to location-based sales force automation applications. Many SAP third-party partners are developing extensions to SAP applications -- including those built on the Sybase Unwired Platform -- that include role-based workflow applications.

Here are the technical questions companies should ask:

  • Does the third-party SAP Workflow app offer application programming interfaces? IT needs to know this so the team has an idea of how well the third-party application integrates with the SAP system.
  • Does the IT staff have the skills to create an SAP Workflow add-on? Companies need to look at the ramp-up time to cover this capability if it doesn’t exist and determine cost benefits, if any, of building the add on instead of buying it. Given the growing number of off-the-shelf, certified third-party applications, the need to create add-on applications is not as common as it once was, but can be an option.
  • Are SAP Workflow licenses available or can the organization reassign existing licenses to those who need it? This may seem horribly obvious, but the organization may already own the app, so it doesn’t need to buy it again. Likewise, a company may find that some employees may be on the license, but may never use the application.

After asking these questions, the next step is to map out a cost tradeoff between working with SAP Workflow and extending it with one or more third-party applications. Depending on the use case for the applications -- such as general routing, functionally specific to a part of the business or mobile extensions -- it may make sense to simply build the process inside SAP Workflow.

Don’t forget change management

Organizations also should consider change management when thinking about implementing a third-party application with SAP Workflow. I have seen several cases in which training and organization change management were neglected: Employees worked around SAP Workflow, causing hiccups in the approval processes. That said, third-party workflow applications allow reluctant users to contribute to the business environment of the SAP system without the headache of convincing a user group to use an application they vehemently don’t want to.

Extending SAP Workflow with third-party applications, such as office automation tools, is an excellent way to prepare for broad use of an SAP system because users will already have experience executing many of the steps.


William Newman is managing principal of Newport Consulting Group, an independent management and technology consulting firm based in Clarkston, Mich. Contact him via email at wnewman@newportconsgroup.com or follow him on Twitter (@william_newman).

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