During what was at the time of beginning this blog a recent conversation with Jon Reed, he told me how the community didn’t really know what Nakisa was. The day after I blogged about what to look for when trying to find a Nakisa Consultant and the first comment I got was “what is Nakisa?”
So, about time somebody told y’all what this “Nakisa” is. After all, VSN is now an integral part of OM/PA and, especially, Talent Management and all HCM consultants involved in these areas should have, at the very least, a basic knowledge of the VSN solutions.
Due to the size of my initial blog, it is split into 2 parts. The first is about the background behind the solutions and the technology behind them while the second will focus purely on the solutions and their functionality. Part 2 can be read What is Nakisa? ... or Everything You Need to Know about Visualization Solutions by Nakisa (VSN) part 2.
Straight into it
Nakisa is the “colloquialism” for SAP’s suite of web-based workforce management solutions for visualizing data in ERP systems. These solutions are produced by Nakisa Inc., a software vendor and professional services company based in Montreal, Canada.
Nakisa was founded in 1990 by CEO Babak Varjavandi and since 2000 has been offering org management and talent management solutions that integrate with SAP. In 2007 SAP were in the process of extending their Talent Management and Succession Management offerings and they saw a need for an innovative, web-based solution that could make succession planning easy for their clients and would also align with their strategy of Portal-based Talent Management solutions. After evaluating the solutions available on the market, SAP chose Nakisa as their vendor partner for this area and they were made a Tier 1 partner – the highest partner level. Under the Tier-1 Solution Extension agreement, SAP co-develops, tests, resells and supports the Nakisa solutions. In 2008 SAP Talent Visualization by Nakisa (STVN) version 1.0 was released and included 4 products: OrgChart, OrgModeler, SuccessionPlanning and HCM Dashboard (more on the products later). Around this time SAP implemented Nakisa solutions internally to visualize and manage their own SAP HCM data.
As a Tier-1, certified Solution Extension, VSN solutions are licensed, sold and supported by SAP. They have to go through SAP’s strict Premium Qualification program before being released on Service Marketplace, which tests the solutions for security, performance, supportability, accessibility and documentation. The solutions are supported by SAP for 1st and 2nd level support and issues are raised through the normal OSS channel on Service Marketplace (under component XX-PART-NKS). The license key file is also requested through Service Marketplace (under component XX-PART-NKS-LIC).
Who & Where
Since the SAP partnership began the solutions have been implemented at some of the biggest companies in the world, including SAP, Coca-Cola, Barclays, BBC, Deloitte Consulting LLP, GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals S.A., Lego, Sony, Statoil, Proctor & Gamble, Phillips, Kohler, Nissan, Merck and Disney. The OrgChart solution has been extremely popular with public sector organizations and government departments. There is a comprehensive list of clients on the Nakisa website: http://www.nakisa.com/customers/customers-list.htm.
VSN is pretty big in most of the major regions, but is more popular in some particular territories. The biggest markets are EMEA and North America, but the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, Mexico and Brazil are showing an increasing demand for these solutions.
Nakisa also partners with a number of global and local consultancies, including the likes of Accenture, GAVDI Group, NorthgateArinso, AspireHR, IBM, ROC, Epi-Use and Cognizant.
Skilled consultants are thin on the ground, but most of the best consultants will probably obtain Nakisa Certification over the coming months. Not all consultants can work independently of Nakisa’s support, but a few do exist.
The solution suite was originally called SAP Talent Visualization by Nakisa (STVN) when it was first released. The current version, 3.0 was re-branded as Visualization Solutions by Nakisa (VSN) – the current name used for the suite. Up until 3.0 there were only 4 solutions available. From 3.0 there were 8 solutions, split equally into two suites of four solutions.
Officially, SAP offers two SAP Solution Extensions which form the VSN suite:
- SAP Org Visualization by Nakisa (SOVN)
- SAP Talent Visualization by Nakisa (STVN)
SOVN solutions are designed to integrate with OM/PA and STVN with Talent Management. Both Solution suites are also designed to build on each other.
Solutions and Licensing
SAP Org Visualization by Nakisa (SOVN) contains the following applications:
- SOVN OrgChart
- SOVN OrgModeler
- SOVN OrgManager
- SOVN DataQualityConsole
SAP Talent Visualization by Nakisa (STVN) contains the following applications:
- STVN TalentFramework
- STVN CareerPlanning
- STVN SuccessionPlanning
- STVN TalentDashboard
How these fit in with SAP can be seen on this nice image from SAP:
It is important to note that while there are different solutions in each suite, each offers 1 license bundle for employees and 1 bundle for professional users (HR, C-Level, Directors, Managers, Talent Management Specialists, Business Partners etc).
SOVN offers 2 license bundles:
- Org Chart & Collaboration for employees (OrgChart)
- Org Planning for professionals (OrgModeler, OrgManager and DataQualityConsole)
STVN offers 2 license bundles:
- Career Planning (CareerPlanning)
- Talent Planning (TalentFramework, SuccessionPlanning, TalentDashboard, OrgModeler)
Release Strategy, Service Packs and Support Life
Nakisa and SAP’s strategy is to release a major version (1.0, 2.0, 3.0 etc) every 12 to 24 months and a minor release (1.1, 2.1, 3.1 etc) every 6 to 9 months. There is a 3 year maintenance period from the date of unrestricted shipment of the major version. The minor version is covered within the same period.
Periodically Nakisa release Service Packs for their products which contain bug fixes and sometimes enhancements. Service Packs for 3.0 will contain more enhancements than for previous versions and so far there are 3 planned for this year. The official line is that these are released every 3 to 6 months, but Nakisa are quite committed to releasing regular enhancements.
More information can be found in SAP note 1501039 (Upgradability, Compatibility, and Maintenance for STVN / SOVN) and in the Product Availability Matrix (PAM) on SMP.
SAP or not to SAP?
One of the differences most SAP consultants will notice when implementing VSN applications – particularly those from a technical background – is that the technology is very different from SAP. While the nitty gritty is familiar to consultants that understand the data structure of SAP (data sources, data elements etc) some of it is unfamiliar territory. The majority of technical consultants will be able to understand the configuration structure given a few days or weeks of teaching or self-study, but without any advanced knowledge it can be tough to navigate around the file structure. For a little more information you can see my blog on What's new technically in Nakisa 3.0.
Benefits of using VSN
There are a number of benefits of using VSN and for using it over a competitor product:
- Intuitive interface, with great look and feel and high usability
- Great visualization of SAP HCM data that is difficult to visualize or use in the SAP backend
- Tight integration with SAP
- Co-developed with SAP and aligned with Enhancement Package releases
- Offers SAP’s succession planning solution
- Certified by SAP’s Premium Qualification certification
- Supported by SAP
- Used by SAP internally!
Of course, each product brings its own benefits to the organization, whether through enhanced collaboration or better management of succession plans.
Usability and accessibility are hot topics right now and it’s pretty clear why the VSN solutions can offer a lot of benefits to organizations looking for alternatives to the SAP gui for accessing to SAP HCM data.
Technology, Architecture and Platform
VSN solutions are Java-built, thin-client, web applications that run on the SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment (CE). Up until version 2.1 the solutions were only available on the Microsoft .NET platform, but from version 2.1 the applications were available on the SAP NetWeaver CE platform for the first time. From version 3.0 the .NET platform version was discontinued (Rest In Peace!).
The solution is effectively split into 3 layers: the integration layer (also known as the data layer), the application layer and the presentation layer. The integration layer acts between the application and SAP to retrieve the data, based on the configurations in the application layer. The presentation layer displays the data that is retrieved from the integration layer, based on the configuration in the application layer. As you guessed it, the application layer is the core application engine and the configuration of how the application works.
The integration layer connects to SAP using the SAP JCo and retrieve data using a combination of SAP backend RFC calls or custom Nakisa RFC calls. As the product evolves it is moving more towards the former. There are 2 types of architecture available: Live and Staged. Live involves retrieving information from SAP in real-time while Staged involves extracting the data to a database. OrgChart and DataQualityConsole are available in Staged while OrgChart is available in Live and Staged. All other applications are only available in Live.
The Staged versions support Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, IBM DB2 and SAP MaxDB databases, although from Service Pack 1.0 for 3.0 only Microsoft SQL Server will be supported. From SP2 Oracle will be supported. The integration layer uses JDBC to connect to the database.
The solutions come with a Transport Package and ABAP Add-on that contain the HR-OCI configuration and function modules required for the solutions to run. A number of function modules for ECC6 EhP4 are including in that EhP and EhP5 will contain function modules for SOVN OrgManager. The Nakisa Transport Package and ABAP Add-on are available for ECC6 EhP4 & EhP5, ECC6 (no EhP up to and including EhP3) and for ECC5 and R/3 4.7.
Configuration of the solutions is done via the AdminConsole – a gui application designed to allow easy and simple configuration of application components, such as hierarchies, views and searches. Customization is performed in XML and XSL files and can be quite complex for inexperienced individuals, which is why Nakisa are constantly working on extending and enhancing the AdminConsole to allow more and more customizations to become configurations. Nakisa recommend that only they perform customizations, although from my experience this is limiting and often cumbersome – with experience a much greater amount of speed, flexibility and design is available when configuration and customization is performed directly in the configuration files. It is also only possible to perform some configurations/customizations directly in the XML and XSL files.
My understanding is that Nakisa will look to making their AdminConsole more like the SAP IMG in future with some configurations possible in the actual IMG – although this will be more for SAP configurations I imagine.
I’ve covered a lot about the background of the partnership but no so much about the products. Check out What is Nakisa? ... or Everything You Need to Know about Visualization Solutions by Nakisa (VSN) part 2 for a detailed run down on each solution.