Employee Self-Service (ESS) is an increasingly prevalent trend in human resource management that allows an employee to handle many tasks (such as expense claims, leave requests and updates to personal information) that otherwise would have fallen to management or administrative staff. By enabling ESS, HR departments can reduce operating costs, provide better service to employees and allocate more resources to strategic initiatives.
For organisations running SAP HCM (HR/Payroll), the typical way of rolling out ESS functionality is to deploy the required standard business packages through the NetWeaver Portal. But what if the organisation is utilising SharePoint as the main portal? Then the natural question to ask is whether SAP ESS can be deployed through SharePoint. And indeed a great number of organisations around the world have been or are currently considering their options for ESS deployment. These options can be narrowed down to three: a pure NetWeaver solution, a pure SharePoint solution or a hybrid solution.
The NetWeaver solution
This is the traditional approach where ESS is deployed to the NetWeaver Portal as a standard business package. If no customisations of the standard user interface are required, the implementation is straight forward and can be achieved in a relatively short period of time. Another advantage of this approach is supportability going forward where new standard functionality can easily be deployed through enhancement packs.
Out of the three options outlined here, this is by far the simplest and most cost-effective. However, the issue in companies with a SharePoint-oriented portal strategy is that the users will have to become familiar with another user interface. Because ESS potentially affects every single employee, this can be a serious concern. And I dare say there is a general consensus that the SAP user experience is not as well received as SharePoint usually is, at least when trying to reach casual users.
The SharePoint solution
Increasingly SharePoint is becoming the 'portal of portals' within organisations, particularly due to its success as the lowest common denominator that appeals to the broader user base. There is therefore an obvious desire to deploy ESS through SharePoint and many companies are or have been exploring this option. In particular, this is being considered by organisations that have no other reasons to run the NetWeaver Portal than ESS.
The key thing to understand here is that SharePoint is an agnostic platform. It does not come with any SAP ESS functionality. In other words, every bit of SAP ESS to be delivered natively in SharePoint has to be developed from scratch. It is in essence bespoke application development of functionality that NetWeaver Portal provides out-of-the-box. This approach can indeed deliver a user experience exceeding all expectations, but for most CIOs this is not a realistic option. And rolling out any new functionality in the future would require long lead times for development.
So, until someone actually develops a product offering SAP ESS as a low risk SharePoint solution, this approach will entail a high total cost of ownership from a technical perspective. There have been some very dedicated attempts out there, but I am yet to hear about anyone who has managed to do this successfully on a larger scale. But there is hope for the future. Duet Enterprise looks promising in terms of delivering SAP/SharePoint interoperability out-of-the-box making this a viable option.
The Hybrid solution
With a hybrid solution, the aim is to leverage the best of both worlds without going down a costly custom development path. The idea is to take the standard iViews from the NetWeaver Portal and render them inside SharePoint pages. This is one of the two common dual portal scenarios for NetWeaver and SharePoint.
For this approach to work, the scope has to be confined to basic ESS only. For the more advanced ESS scenarios (and MSS scenarios in particular), the iViews will not work outside of the context of the SAP Portal. Many iViews depend on the NetWeaver Portal for runtime. For example, the Universal Worklist (UWL) relies on NetWeaver Portal's event model and object-based navigation and hence will have fundamental issues when rendered outside of its natural habitat.
There are certainly a number of organisations currently displaying simple iViews through SharePoint. For example, in case study sessions at the SharePoint Conference 2009, Coca-Cola Enterprises and Deloitte mentioned they were doing exactly this. The hybrid approach has the advantage of being able to keep users in the same portal window and retain the navigational context. The disadvantage is the severe restrictions on scope because of the iView limitations mentioned above.