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SAP NetWeaver BPM a good choice for SAP shops, but has weaknesses

SAP NetWeaver BPM is a solid option for SAP shops because of its integration capabilities. But there are still weaknesses to overcome.

When SAP launched NetWeaver BPM a little over a year ago, the goal was to provide a business process management tool for its existing customers.

And SAP has largely succeeded in that initial goal, according to analysts.

For SAP shops, “it’s almost a no-brainer” to purchase and implement the NetWeaver BPM tool, according to Clay Richardson of Forrester Research.

“It’s a good story, even outside SAP,” he said. “I think it’s a good product. It’s more technically oriented, and that’s OK.”

NetWeaver BPM is particularly strong in its integration with SAP applications, according to Janelle Hill, vice president at Gartner Research. It essentially understands all of the metadata that SAP keeps for its application and is very nicely integrated with its enterprise service directory.

“There’s no way third-party vendors are going to have that understanding of the metadata,” Hill said. “The more your portfolio is dominated by SAP, the more valuable it is to you.”

But analysts say that SAP’s NetWeaver BPM has its shortcomings as well. Because SAP never made any BPM-related acquisitions, there’s no indication there’s any best-of-breed functionality in there, according to Dennis Callaghan of the 451 Group.

“What they have sounds pretty standard to me — a process composition or modeling/deployment environment, a rules engine, and a process integration engine, all of which they built to work with their business applications,” Callaghan said.

SAP NetWeaver BPM first became available in May 2009, and there are 170 customers using it, according to Harald Nehring, director of platform marketing at SAP.

“For a product that’s roughly one year old, compared to some that are 10 years old, it probably has not as many features, but it’s not as cluttered as competitors,” Nehring said. “And some of the shortcomings we’re upgrading fairly quickly.”

NetWeaver BPM 7.2 was released earlier in 2010, he said, and a smaller refresh, 7.3, is coming later in the year, with only minor improvements expected.

“It’s not spectacular,” he said. “It’s more like maintenance. Support for the Web Dynpro environment.”

More substantial improvements are coming next year, Nehring said, focusing on the introduction of a process management methodology for all of SAP.

“We want to provide one model for the whole thing,” he said. “Right now, there are still two things — the NetWeaver BPM model and SAP. I want to see what’s happening between the two steps. That’s the major direction of development we’re having that’s different from other vendors. That’s what our customers are expecting.”

As it stands now, NetWeaver BPM is used primarily to enhance existing SAP operations, said Bill Swanton of Gartner Research. Organizations with other BPM software in place don’t need it, he said. But for SAP shops looking to enhance operations, it’s a good approach.

SAP NetWeaver BPM’s major areas of weakness are management reporting, process monitoring and business activity level management — “the real-time dashboards,” Hill said. The idea is to be able to monitor work in flight and trigger more proactive activity.

“If you’re going out of tolerance for service-level agreements, you can look at what’s causing that and do some reassignment and trigger those decisions into the production environment so actual workers’ queues change,” Hill said. “It’s that type of more real-time interactive business monitoring from a process intelligence perspective that they’re still weak in.”

Another area where NetWeaver BPM is weak is execution, according to Tony Baer of Ovum.

“Most implementations are for modeling processes and don’t progress to actual automation,” he said.

SAP also needs to do a better job of tying NetWeaver BPM into its other applications so customers can make changes more quickly, according to Forrester’s Richardson.

“Most of our customers are trying to implement solutions that support rapid change,” he said. “As market conditions change, it allows them to adapt and look at specific events and have the product adapt on its own.”

In turn, while NetWeaver BPM works well for human processes, it’s not a great tool for working with heavily automated, machine-integrated operations, Swanton said.

“If you have a heavily automated, machine-integrated operation, it’s not the best tool,” he said. “It’s best for human processes.”

But this is intentional. The bottom line, Nehring said, is that NetWeaver BPM was never intended as a be-all, end-all product.

“SAP has a NetWeaver Process Integration that deals with heavy operation,” he said. “And there’s NetWeaver BPM for the human side. You can use both for both, but both are showing their strengths and weaknesses.”

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