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For Those Unfamiliar with Workflow in SAP S/4HANA

The wholehearted adoption of flexible workflow by the SAP S/4HANA applications is cause for celebration and cause for a new blog to coincide with the 1905 Release of SAP S/4HANA Cloud. Crystal-balls can reasonably predict that these features will be visible in the next SAP S/4HANA On Premise Release, too.

The S/4HANA 1905 Release News will describe the new adopters, such as the process for releasing Sales Orders, so this blog will only describe the technical changes from the flexible workflow point of view.

To recap, flexible workflow is the new capability engineered specifically for SAP S/4HANA, which uses some underlying SAP Business Workflow framework (such as the workitems, which you'll still find in SWI1), but a radically different way of designing, executing and storing the workflow definitions.  In a nutshell, the workflows are configured using the Fiori Manage Workflow Apps, and not in the Windows GUI Workflow Builder (SWDD). This allows a business process specialist to configure the workflows directly without technical assistance from basis consultants or the IT department - saving costs, and enabling full and dynamic control of the processes.

Fig 1: An SAP S/4HANA Workflow

(See images at the end of the blog for closeups or if you want to download images)


The screenshot shows a workflow created to release a purchase requisition item, and I'm sure you will see at a glance that this is a two-step approval, for purchase requisition items above 250€, where the second approval is only necessary for requisition items above 1000€. You may also spot that I have assigned the approvers by name, whereas in practice I'd probably use pools of users defined in the Teams and Responsibilities App, or the procurement-specific BADI.

The rest of this blog shows the enhancements that have been made to the workflow tooling. In some cases the enhancement is automatically available wherever workflow is used by the applications, in other cases the application has to enable the feature for their application in order for it be be available, and to avoid disruption. This means that not all enhancements described below are visible in all applications that already use flexible workflow.

Improvement - the Possible Workflows are Sorted by Ranking by Default

In SAP S/4HANA, rather than create one complex workflow to cover all situations, you simplify creation and also maintenance by configuring many small workflows, each to cover one situation. The precondition based on attributes provided by the application (or extensions that you have configured in your Cloud tenant) determine which of the individual workflows are triggered. Only the first matching workflow is triggered and the others ignored, so ranking plays an important role.

My pet nag was that sorting was not possible according to rank in previous releases. I'm very happy to say that this has now been corrected, and is now the default view.


Fig 2: The workflows sorted according to evaluation order.

Improvement - The Instance-View is Unrestricted

When a human workflow is launched, there is the inevitable suspense about what the final outcome is or how far it has progressed. SAP S/4HANA applications can embed the view of the workflow progress directly in their main application, irrespective of how the workflow has been defined in the Manage Workflow Fiori App. This allows anyone who is able to look at the original request to see how far the workflow has progressed, and what other steps are necessary before the workflow completes. Ergo - Process transparency!

Fig 3: The purchase requisition approval progress embedded in the purchase requisition itself.

This view has proved so useful that its enablement has been extended to allow it to be embedded in multiple views of the same object. So an application, such as Procurement, that provides simplified as well as professional views can embed the workflow progress in each of them.

Improvement - Final Comment Displayed in Progress View

Typical of an approval process, and nearly all the SAP S/4HANA workflows are approval or release processes, is that when the request is rejected, the approver can add a comment explaining why. Sometimes there is even a legal requirement for this. Because it is of such significance, the final comment is displayed in the workflow progress view as an active link so that it can be read.

Fig 4: The final comment is displayed - in this case the reason why the request was rejected.

Improvement - Deadline-Handling

Deadlines can now be specified when creating a workflow and the deadline is displayed in the workflow progress and also in the My Inbox app.

Fig 5a: The upcoming deadline displayed in the workflow progress indicator


Fig 5b: The overdue deadline displayed in the workflow progress indicator


Fig 5c: The overdue deadline displayed in the My Inbox

The deadline-handling is only available if the application has enabled it in their scenario, specifying what time-points are relevant. This is normally from the start of the process or the creation of each approval item in a multi-step approval, but it could also be more sophisticated and application relevant. For example, in the case of a (fictional) leave request, the timer could be specified as a week before the vacation requested is due to begin. This is then reflected in the Manage Workflow App, and the relevant timer can be selected.

Fig 6: The deadline timer can be selected when configuring the workflow in the Manage Workflows App.

The next screenshot displays the view of the developer who develops the workflow scenario. This is hidden from view to the SAP S/4HANA Cloud users, but should help explain the mechanism to those of you developing your own scenarios in SAP S/4HANA On Premise - treat it as a lab preview.

Fig 7: Behind the scenes with the workflow scenario development.

Improvement - Workflow Outcome Email Notifications

What was available in previous Releases, was that when a task (work item) is created, a notification is propagated by Fiori Notifications and also email (SMTP) to users that receive the task in their My Inbox, so that they are informed right away, even those users who only sporadically access their SAP software. In the 1905 Release an additional mechanism is available, if it has been enabled by the SAP S/4HANA application, so that emails are sent when the process completes. For example (fictional example), when a leave request is approved, the requester receives an email informing them that they can book their vacation. Alternatively, if the request is rejected, than an email with a different conciliatory text is sent to the requester.

Mail templates, one for each outcome, can be assigned to the workflow scenario, and each customer can adjust the text/layout according to their individual needs using the standard Output Management App. Once enabled, the business process specialist configuring the workflows can select who receives these messages. For example, those involved in a complex approval chain may need to be informed when the document is finally released (or not) so that they do not need to keep returning to the request to determine its status.

Miscellaneous Detailed Screenshots for Improved Viewing...

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