When to use which workflow inbox ?

Introduction

Since the introduction of SAP workflow in 1996 there have been introduced quite some alternatives to handle workflow tasks besides the standard SAP Business Workplace (SBWP) . For example, already more than 10 years, the Universal Worklist (UWL) can be used to handle workflow tasks in the SAP Enterprise Portal.

In the recent years there have been introduced more alternatives next to the above two "settled technologies" which may provide a better user experience for specific user groups. The latest example is the SAP Fiori applications and the possibilities that come with it. This not only brings the user experience to a higher level, it also offers more possibilities to handle workflow tasks. Example of the latter for instance, it provides your users mobile access to their workflow tasks. The latest improvement in the workflow area within the SAP Fiori spectrum is called the "My Inbox" application. This standard SAP Fiori application was released in january 2015 about which SAP stated that this is the future way of working for handling SAP workflow tasks.

All SAP Workflow inbox alternatives are described in this article. We'll mention the main features, advantages and disadvantages of each option. We also compare the alternatives on the main features. In that way you can get a clear picture on when to use which workflow alternative.

 

SAP Business Workplace

As already mentioned, the SAP Business Workplace (SBWP) is the default option to handle SAP workflow tasks. SAP Business Workplace "runs" in the SAP GUI and is not accessible via web browsers or mobile devices. Since the release of SAP workflow in 1996 the SAP Business Workplace has changed slightly, but generally it currently embraces the same functionality as 20 years ago. Despite its "old age", the functionalities offered in the SAP Business Workplace have been used as the basis for all the new technologies that have been deployed to date in order to process SAP workflow tasks.

SAP Business Workplace

 

DISADVANTAGES

  • Not suitable for consolidation of tasks from multiple systems
  • No support for SAP NetWeaver BPM
  • Few opportunities for personalization of the inbox and simplifying display
  • Can only run via SAP GUI
  • No intuitive screens : the SBWP can be "overwhelming" in terms of functionalities and options towards new users


ADVANTAGES

  • No additional infrastructure required
  • Proven technology
  • Comprehensive analysis capabilities. Navigate directly to the Workflow in any screen
  • Dynamic columns are  configurable to show specific process information
  • Outbox available with treated items and started workflows
  • Possible to set up and manage a replacement
     

Universal Worklist (UWL)

The Universal Worklist (UWL) is the inbox for workflow tasks when the SAP Enterprise Portal is being used. It runs out-of-the-box and provides occasional users of SAP workflow a better user experience than the SAP Business Workplace. The degree of flexibility and to which the UWL can be extended is rather high. It is possible to display tasks from multiple systems into a universal inbox : the Universal Worklist. Also, SAP NetWeaver BPM tasks and workflow tasks from non-SAP systems can be incorporated into the UWL.

With the configuration files (XML) the user interface can be adapted in various ways. It is for instance possible to have certain specific tasks to be handled via Web Dynpro ABAP, others via Java Web Dynpro, and others with specific buttons on the UWL screen. There is also the ability to see in finished workflow tasks and filters may be used to group certain tasks in particular tabs in the UWL.

Universal Worklist

 

DISADVANTAGES

  • Works only in combination with the SAP Enterprise Portal
  • Not suitable for mobile support
  • Challenges in terms of performance when multiple systems are linked


ADVANTAGES

  • Many possibilities of configuration, personalization and extensions
  • Support for tasks from multiple backend systems
  • Supported SAP NetWeaver BPM workflows
  • Possibility to set up and manage a replacement
  • Standard features such as forward and reservations are also available here
     

POWL Lean Workflow Inbox

Since ECC6.0 Enhancement Pack 5 (EHP5) the POWL Lean Workflow Inbox is available as an alternative to the Universal Worklist, or SAP Business Workplace. POWL stands for "Personal Object Worklist" and is based on Web Dynpro ABAP technology. This technology combines the best of both worlds (SBWP and UWL) in a generic inbox. The POWL inbox is, for example, suitable for the display of workflow tasks from different backend systems. In addition, it offers the greatest possibilities that you have at your disposal in the SBWP, such as setting substitutes.

The POWL workflow inbox can be incorporated into the SAP Enterprise Portal, but can also be called from the SAP NetWeaver Business Client (NWBC). Since the POWL inbox is based on Web Dynpro ABAP technology, the POWL inbox can even be invoked in a separate browser if you do not have access to the SAP Enterprise Portal or the NetWeaver Business Client (NWBC).

Thanks to the technology associated with POWL applications, the POWL inbox is very flexible to the extent that it can be configured and personalized. Additional options such as the default forward and representation functionality can be added. Also, additional queries can be defined for the POWL inbox. In addition, the POWL inbox adds some standard queries for MSS scenarios such as approving leave requests.

 

DISADVANTAGES

  • No support for SAP NetWeaver BPM
  • Not suitable for mobile support
  • No outbox functionality

ADVANTAGES

  • Suitable for various infrastructure options. NWBC or portal, but also stand alone in a web browser is possible
  • Suitable for so-called casual users of SAP workflow
  • Configurable and personalize with POWL technology
  • Support for tasks from multiple backend systems
  • Possibility to set up and manage a replacement
     

Unified Inbox

The Unified Inbox is the first SAP Workflow inbox that is developed with more recent user interface technologies. The Unified Inbox is based on HTML5 and therefore has a more modern look and feel compared to the previous alternatives. The Unified Inbox is like the UWL ideal for collecting workflow tasks from multiple systems. Whether it are the traditional SAP backend systems such as ECC, SRM and CRM, or it are SAP NetWeaver BPM systems. In addition, Unified Inbox also has the ability to visualize tasks from non-SAP systems.

The Unified Inbox is based on SAPUI5 technology and can actually be called the forerunner of SAP Fiori workflow applications that have been released more recently. The Unified Inbox is not optimized for mobile use, but by using the SAPUI5 / HTML5 technology it's already a step in the right direction to support multiple platforms and devices. The Unified Inbox can be incorporated into the SAP Enterprise Portal, SAP NetWeaver Business Client (NWBC), SAP Fiori Launchpad and also runs standalone in a Web browser.

Below is a screenshot of the Unified Inbox on an Apple iPad:

Unified inbox

 

DISADVANTAGES

  • Officially, only optimized for desktop use - no Fiori SAP user experience across different devices
  • SAP NetWeaver Gateway system required

ADVANTAGES

  • Support for tasks from multiple backend systems
  • Support for SAP NetWeaver BPM workflows
  • Support for non-SAP workflows
  • Standard actions such as forwarding and book directly available
  • Possibility to set up and manage a replacement
  • Better user experience than UWL and SBWP by SAPUI5 / HTML5
  • Heading towards multiple device support - although not officially supported works on various tablets
  • branding and theming possible with the SAP UI Theme Designer

Fiori "My Inbox" app

The standard Fiori "My Inbox" app is the latest development in the field of SAP workflow inboxes and has been available since January 2015. The My Inbox app is the successor to the standard SAP Fiori "Approve Request" app and the "Unified Inbox". My inbox has basically the same functionality as the Unified Inbox, but is now released as and integrated into an SAP Fiori application. One of the major advantages of this Fiori SAP application against the Unified Inbox is that the tasks can be handled by different devices: both desktop, tablet and mobile are supported. This is obviously one of the key features of SAP Fiori. Important to mention is that the My Inbox SAP application positioned as the new SAP workflow inbox of the future.

The My Inbox app is fully integrated into the SAP Fiori Launchpad application and is configurable and extensible on various components. Some important features that are present in the My Inbox app:

  • Full-text search, sort, filter
  • Manage and set up replacements
  • Mass-approval actions
  • Attachments and notes are viewable and can be added
  • Custom attributes with additional information about the job can be seen
  • tasks options configurable (show / hide) or add additional options
  • Details of other users can be viewed in the workflow process

In addition, SAP Fiori is positioned as the new user interface technology from SAP and that is reflected completely by the release of the My Inbox app. The recent launch of S4HANA (the successor of SAP ERP) reiterates the position of SAP Fiori within the SAP landscape; The user interface of S4HANA is completely based on SAP Fiori.

SAP Fiori app "My inbox"


DISADVANTAGES

  • SAP NetWeaver Gateway required
  • Custom workflow tasks for which no SAP Fiori screen is defined are executed by SAP GUI for HTML
  • No outbox functionality, but it is included on the schedule for next releases

ADVANTAGES

  • No additional licenses needed next to existing SAP user licenses
  • Quick and easy to implement
  • Support for tasks from multiple backend systems
  • Support for SAP NetWeaver BPM workflows
  • Support for non-SAP workflows
  • Many configuration options and expandable with own screens and application logic
  • Manage and set up replacements
  • Mass-approval capabilities
  • Various sorting, filtering and (full-text) search capabilities
  • Add notes and attachments
  • SAP workflow user decisions run out-of-the-box
  • Standard actions such as forwarding and booking are directly available

More information

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