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SAP Research Program: Business Process Modeling & Semantic Interoperability

In order to streamline the storage, processing and communication of data, companies use data-management systems as part of complex system architectures. Many a time this data has a direct impact on the bottom line and future business strategies.

How can companies harness that impact and use it to their advantage?

 

Enter Business Process Management (BPM).  BPM technology offers an independent software layer to decouple business processes from application code and manage them separately in an integrated and transparent platform. The major advantage is the separation of business process logic from component applications involved in process execution. This makes BPM a major player in Enterprise Services Architecture by providing a much needed application integration.

 

The BPM&SI team has identified several key areas for research, which mirror the major challenges of BPM technology:

 

 

Modeling, Visualization and Simulation

The BPM&SI team seeks to strike the right balance between conflicting process modeling language requirements taking into consideration several approaches.  The result will be a simple and easy-to-use process modeling language that can be used in process engines. In addition, the researchers try also to span the existing gap between business-oriented process models and the underlying IT infrastructure.  BPM&SI researchers will also deploy the latest correctness analysis approaches and develop relevant new techniques for ensuring correctness in process models.

 

Model-Driven Coordination and Execution Infrastructures

The core activity in this area will be investigation of how tools for model-driven coordination and execution of business processes can support requirements for collaboration.  This is especially applicable between partners that do not want to reveal details about their internal processes but nevertheless have to provide sufficient information to interact effectively.  Working on this, the BPM&SI researchers have developed the enactment engine Nehemiah, which is now part of the SAP Research toolset.  In parallel, they look into ways to combine enactment tools with service-oriented architecture to provide model-driven execution.

 

Service Enablement and Ecosystems

The BPM&SI team is researching an additional tier on SAP’s Enterprise Service Architecture (ESA) through which its enterprise services can be procured through conglomerates of services known as service ecosystems. This comes in response to the emergence of “dotcom” ventures that offer consolidated enterprise applications through open service marketplaces.  Within this context a number of research challenges are being addressed including: process composition support for multi-party service interactions (for example, voting and auctioning) conducive to marketplace, which extend beyond current BPM capability; free-text service discovery and planning tools which complements ontology-based semantic querying of Semantic Web technologies; and automated service integration using generated adaptors over service interfaces.

 

Applied Semantics

The BPM&SI research program investigates how to get additional benefits for enterprise applications by using semantics in several areas of SAP's Software Oriented Architecture (SOA) like for example in Service Enablement and in Service Composition. The underpinning assumption is that the usage of semantics boosts performance of enterprise systems by automating the transformation of messages, data, and processes. Beside the technology-related aspects a clear work focus is also put on SAP's business solutions. The team studies possible enhancements of current applications through introduction of semantics.

 

Interoperability

The BPM&SI program focuses on finding ways to manage collaborative business processes executed across organizational barriers, i.e. their interoperability. Such processes necessitate the use of highly sophisticated and fine-tuned communications and messaging technologies. The used approach spans the full spectrum of interoperability from technology components to applications and services, supplemented with thorough business research, thus clearly aiming at a holistic approach to the problem of interoperability. The findings of this specific area will be directly applicable to the development of cross-organizational integration of SAP enterprise applications.

 

Working Prototypes

The traditional domains of business process technology have been areas like purchasing, approvals, and insurance claims. The BPM&SI program focuses on other areas as well, like e-Learning and Customer Relationship Management (CRM). For them, the program team builds prototypes to show the benefits of the BPM technology. A functioning example is the business process management system Nehemiah supported by the modeling tool Maestro. Maestro lets developers lay out processes and display them graphically. In inter-enterprise scenarios, it can define the process steps open to business partners while keeping the rest hidden. The Status and Action Management (S&AM) prototype, another practical achievement of BPM&SI, enables developers to define a constraints model for actions performed at runtime on business objects.

 

SAP NetWeaver as a Unified Business Process Management Platform

Business process technologies play an important part in the SAP NetWeaver infrastructure. In addition to consolidating such existing technologies as business workflow, SAP is striving to develop new business process technologies to meet new requirements. The BPM&SI program supports these efforts through several research projects and by attracting the world’s leading experts in the field. The ultimate goal is a unified platform for business process management that will support a wide range of flexible business processes.

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