SAP Workflow and S/4HANA

During a recent webinar on the status of the workflow customer connection program (organized by SAP product improvement) SAP reported that the coming years we can still expect many improvements around SAP Business Workflow. It was stated that SAP Business Workflow is and remains the default tool to automate (approval) procedures within the SAP Business Suite. This remains the case for S/4HANA.


To visualize and implementent business processes, various methods and tools are available on the market. Some of these techniques are bound to a technical platform, while others are platform independent.

If we look at the above, we first have to look at the alteratives offered by SAP in the organization of workflow procedures. Currently there are some alternative technologies deployable within the SAP product portfolio:

  • SAP Business Workflow, also called SAP Workflow
  • SAP NetWeaver Process Orchestration
  • SAP HANA Workflow

SAP Business Workflow

SAP Business Workflow is an ABAP-based workflow engine, which is a standard component of SAP NetWeaver, the basis platform for the SAP Business Suite. SAP Workflow is a configurable platform for human centric processes and workflows. In the context of the various solutions within the SAP Business Suite (ERP, SRM, PLM, CRM, etc) there has always been a need for a tool where tasks could be handled at the right time, with the right information for the right people. Typically, these processes require multiple approvals and steps.

There are important use cases where there is a need for pre-defined and repeatable approval processes that depend on complex rules. These are procedures for processing and approving for example, orders, order requests, incoming invoices, expense reports, leave requests, time sheets etc.

SAP Workflow provides standard features for managing SAP Business Suite data objects within the application packages (ERP, SCM, CRM, etc.) at low effort and cost. SAP Workflow is most effective when the workflow is limited to a single SAP instance where the application information is also within this instance.

SAP NetWeaver Process Orchestration

SAP NetWeaver Process Orchestration combines the power of SAP NetWeaver Business Process Management (BPM), SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (PI) and SAP NetWeaver Business Rules Management (BRM) in an integrated proposition. In contrast to SAP Workflow these components are based on the Java stack in stead of the ABAP stack.

As a workflow engine, particularly SAP NetWeaver BPM is relevant. SAP NetWeaver BPM is particularly suitable for the modeling of processes that are carried out in more than one SAP or non-SAP system. SAP NetWeaver BPM is based on the standard BPMN (business process modeling notation) format. The BPMN process models described in SAP NetWeaver BPM are directly executable ("model to execute"). This contrasts with the more descriptive process tools like ARIS. These process models are still more a graphical representation and thereby fall under the principle of "Business to Model".

By using a tool like SAP NetWeaver BPM there is no need to make a translation to a technical implementation. The possible differences between blueprint and delivered functionality belong to the past.

SAP HANA Workflow

SAP HANA Workflow is a new solution which can be used to develop simple SAP HANA workflows. HANA Workflow is part of SAP Operational Process Intelligence. It is a "light-weight" workflow solution for SAP HANA native applications.

SAP HANA native applications are applications where not only the SAP HANA database is used, but also the extended SAP HANA application services (or SAP HANA XS), a simple application server and development platform in SAP HANA.

When to use which tool

As a rule of thumb for the choice of the workflow engine, we can say that the most important criteria are where the data are located and the degree of interaction with the application.

If you enter a selection process to choose the right tool for process modeling, it is recommended to take into account the following aspects:

  • Level of detail ( "business-to-model" or "model to execute")
  • Systems (SAP or non-SAP)
  • Type of process(es) (Standard, new, dynamic, user interaction)
  • information need (management, operational)

SAP Workflow is close to the Business Suite data so that it can be approached and changed easily and without interfacing. Processes that take place within a single SAP solution and interface closely with the application are the preferred candidates for optimization using SAP Workflow.

The choice for this solution does not mean that you can not use modern user interfaces such as SAP Fiori. Even more, the current set of standard SAP Fiori apps are partly based on SAP Workflow procedures. Also within S/4HANA, this will be the case. There is even a special area reserved for SAP Workflow notifications, including linking possibilities to the task. See the following screenshot of the control view of Fiori 2.0.


If you have designed a SAP Workflow process in your current SAP system, it will continue to function after an upgrade to S/4HANA and can still be modified and expanded as well.

Dynamic processes that are only partially, if at all, supported by SAP standard are more suited to NetWeaver BPM. Also, NetWeaver BPM is the preferred choice when you have processes covering multiple systems.

SAP HANA Workflow is an appropriate choice if the application is a native HANA application. For now it is possible to develop complex applications, but only if the application is built entirely within HANA XS. Currently SAP HANA Workflow only supports end user decisions.

A combination of above technologies is possible as well.

For questions or additional information on this topic please contact Wouter Van Peteghem.