S/4HANA Integration with MS Teams via BTP : A Siemens Experience Story

Enterprise customers of SAP have been using standard SAP desktop applications or web-based alternatives to perform their daily business operations for quite some time. However, the world is always changing, and the way people work and collaborate with each other is changing too. Demands for an improved user experience to increase usability, collaboration and productivity has emerged, especially for people working extensively via the business communication platform – Microsoft Teams. 

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As one of the pioneers who demonstrated interest and determination to bring a shift to their current work process on SAP S/4HANA, Siemens started a co-innovation project with SAP. Siemens and SAP explored how to integrate Microsoft Teams and SAP S/4HANA to simplify tasks and processes as well as enable seamless integration of standard SAP business approval scenarios

In this blog, we will introduce how Siemens currently approves purchase orders (POs). Then we will showcase how we leverage multiple services from the SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP) and our Bridge Framework to enable users to approve POs via Microsoft Teams.  

 

In the current approval process, buyers and purchase managers must log in and out of multiple systems – Microsoft Outlook, SAP S/4HANA, SAP Fiori Launchpad, and Microsoft Teams – just to process one request. The workflow starts with a buyer creating a purchase order (PO) in S/4HANA. Then SAP S/4HANA will send an email notification with all the pertinent information about the PO to the purchase manager. The purchase manager would open and read that email in Microsoft Outlook. But that email notification would then send the purchase manager back to SAP GUI or SAP Fiori Launchpad for the purchase manager to approve or reject the request. If the purchase manager needs to discuss details of the PO with the buyer before making a decision, he/she would need to email the buyer and wait for a reply or start a conversation in Microsoft Teams. 

To complicate things further, what if the purchase manager or buyer do not regularly work in SAP or are new to SAP? Unfamiliarity with SAP S/4HANA, SAP GUI, and SAP Fiori Launchpad could make it even more time consuming for responsible parties to finish approval tasks.  

On the other hand, if the purchase manager and buyer are already using Microsoft Teams in their daily communications and are quite familiar with it, what if we ask the question, “How can we process SAP workflows via Microsoft Teams?” 

The Answer 

We can integrate SAP S/4HANA with Microsoft Teams using SAP BTP. The buyer will still create a new PO in SAP S/4HANA. However, instead of receiving an email via Outlook, the purchase manager can receive a notification in Microsoft Teams in the form of a dialog card. Via that dialog card, the purchase manager can view the details of the PO and either approve it, reject it, or request more information without having to go into SAP S/4HANA or SAP Fiori Launchpad. Clicking approve or reject in the dialog card will result in the corresponding PO’s status to be changed in SAP S/4HANA. If the purchase manager needs more information before making a decision, he/she could start a conversation with the buyer directly from Microsoft Teams. 

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Illustration of PO workflow via Microsoft Teams

To make this concept a reality, we have created the Bridge Framework. The Bridge Framework is an integration framework deployed on SAP BTP that reduces the cost and effort required for the development of Teams-based solutions.  

The simple configuration files within the Bridge Framework allow swift development of user interfaces and API connectivity, simplifying the process of bringing various business objects from SAP systems into the convenience of Microsoft Teams. The framework also handles the user action events within Microsoft Teams, so the overall cost and effort required to build a new solution are significantly reduced. 

With the increase in the number of Teams integration solutions, it is crucial to support different SAP systems. Thus, the Bridge Framework is built to be easily extensible across different SAP solutions by simply using the configurations to achieve connectivity in most cases. The framework has built-in support for the connectivity interfaces like SAP Integration Suite, SAP Graph, and the SAP Destination service that simplify the process of API development and connectivity with SAP systems. 

SAP BTP is the principal component of integrating Microsoft Teams with different SAP products. In the notification-driven solution as shown in the diagram, the events such as the workflows generated by SAP S/4HANA are captured using SAP Event Mesh and then forwarded into the Bridge Framework. The Bridge Framework then notifies the appropriate recipients in Microsoft Teams.  

The actions taken within Microsoft Teams using the Bridge Framework, such as approving or rejecting the PO, are propagated back into the SAP S/4HANA system using SAP Destination service (along with the Cloud Connector in the case of SAP S/4HANA on-premises system).  

This architecture uses Microsoft Azure services such as Bot Service and Blob Storage to deliver notifications and handle user actions within the Microsoft Teams.  

Additionally, the solution uses the principal propagation approach to translate the identity of Microsoft Teams users into the SAP BTP identity for authorized access to the SAP S/4HANA system. 

As mentioned above, this solution can be extended to other standard SAP approval scenarios on SAP S/4HANA or other SAP offerings like SAP SuccessFactors. For example, within SAP S/4HANA there are quite a few more approval scenarios like purchase requisition approval, supplier lists approval, purchase contract approval, sourcing projects approval, and others that can benefit from this solution. In SAP SuccessFactors, our solution also has the ability to simplify leave request approvals by letting managers review and handle leave requests directly in Microsoft Teams. 

Here are some additional documents and blogs that can provide more details about the key SAP products and concepts mentioned above such as Principal Propagation between Microsoft Teams and SAP BTP, SAP Event Mesh, SAP Destination service, and SAP Connectivity service. 

Hopefully, this blog gives you some inspiration on how you can leverage SAP BTP and our bridge framework to create a new collaborative way for your users to perform approval operations via Microsoft Teams.  

Before this blog comes to an end, I would like to say thank you to all the colleagues who worked on this project: Sivakumar N, Feng Liang, Adarsh Hegde, Sandesh Shinde, and Weikun Liu. 

We really appreciate your patience and reading this blog post to the very end. If you have any questions or feedback, please reach out to ci_sce@sap.com or you can contact the authors of this blog: Adarsh Hegde, Feng Liang and Weikun Liu.

Also, we will have more blogs on this topic published in the future. Please stay tuned!