IBM Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions takes a different approach to integrating IBM Lotus Notes with other applications. Integration has always been one of the strong points of Lotus Notes, but mostly at the server/application level, using tools like NotesPump, the Lotus Enterprise Integrator, and the Lotus Connectors to move data to and from other program environments.
Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions provides a different kind of integration, letting users who are comfortable with the Notes client interface use it to access SAP data and processes without the need to master and use yet another GUI.
For the growing number of companies that rely on Lotus Notes for communication and collaboration and on SAP for business information processing, this kind of integration has obvious advantages: Easier access to SAP means less training and improved productivity and better utilization of SAP within the organization because users can work with SAP data off-line, yet with full Notes security.
And for Notes and Domino developers and administrators, the implementation of Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions is a textbook study in the flexibility of Lotus Notes as well. It provides out-of-the-box integration of Lotus Notes with SAP at the client level, and yet like all Notes applications can be customized and adapted as necessary.
Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions is a new feature included in the current version of the Lotus Notes client (7.0.1). Any customer who is on active maintenance for Lotus Notes can download it from the Passport Advantage site. The initial version of this new feature gives you the ability to perform five of the most common SAP functions from within Lotus Notes:
- Time reporting
- Vacation and leave request
- Contact management
- Report generation
- SAP work item processing
(Release 7.0.2 of the Notes client will add access to two more commonly used SAP functions: self-service HR information management and meeting scheduling and tracking in the Notes calendar for meetings scheduled using SAP CRM.)
The feature is installed with the Notes client (not on a Domino server), and each user must have a current license for both Lotus Notes and the SAP client to use this new feature. Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions initially supports SAP R/3 4.6C. It does not require SAP’s Netweaver.
Installation adds a client application interface derived from the Lotus Connector for SAP Solutions to the user’s Notes client and updates the design of the Mail and Personal Address Book databases.
With Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions installed and configured, you can perform these basic tasks without having to leave the Notes client interface or log into the SAP GUI. They appear as added functionality in your mail and calendar and are set up in a document in the local address book much like a POP3 mail server.
Access to a particular SAP server is defined in a Location document in Lotus Notes. If you need to access multiple SAP servers -- to do time reporting on one server, but generate reports on another, for example -- you can simply create multiple Location documents and switch among them as necessary.
Out of the box, the functionality of Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions builds on the familiar Notes UI of mail and calendar.
You can report billable or assignable time to SAP directly from the Notes mail or calendar. In the calendar, Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions adds a new section to the calendar entry form called Time Recording. When you select it, it displays fields for the entry, editing, or selection of data, such as durations and cost center codes to be associated with meetings and appointments (see figure 1).
Figure 1. Time Recording section in Notes calendar
For recording time that’s not associated with a calendar entry and for managing time reports, there is a new SAP Time Entries view in the Mail database. The view displays current time reports, buttons initiate the time entry form, and a wizard helps you manage the editing and submission of time reports to SAP (see figure 2).
Figure 2. Time report
With the wizard, you select a set of time report documents by date range and other criteria. You can edit the selected records before submitting them to the SAP server.
The Leave Request form can be submitted to SAP through either the calendar (where it's a new view action) or the Mail database's Create menu. You set the dates of the leave period, choose a type code from a list pulled from SAP, and enter the approving manager. Submitting the request creates a workflow that marks the calendar entries for the requested period as tentative and routes it to the manager for approval. The manager can see an overview of all outstanding leave requests for the period and either approves or rejects the request. Approved requests are recorded in SAP, a notification email is sent to the employee, and the calendar entries are updated.
Using Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions, you can look up contact information from the SAP HR and CRM systems and import it into your Personal Address Book. A new Add SAP Contact dialog box allows you to search the SAP contacts, either customers or fellow employees, by name, by company, by city, or by other criteria (see figure 3.)
Figure 3. Add SAP Contact dialog box
When a contact is selected, Lotus Notes creates a new Contact document and imports contact information from SAP. The document displays an icon in the upper left corner (see figure 4) that indicates the source of the contact record. While you can add or edit information in the document just like any other address book entry, those changes are not written back into SAP.
Figure 4. New Contact document
SAP provides a wide variety of reports that can be run on demand or scheduled for future creation and delivery by users with the proper access. Each report may also have many variants (a variant is a saved set of modifications that are applied to the report at runtime). Any Notes user with the proper SAP authorization can generate a report from the Tools button menu in the Mail database (see figure 5).
Figure 5. Request SAP Report menu option
The Request SAP Report dialog box allows you to see the available variants of the report and select one for immediate generation. Or if the SAP server being accessed supports scheduled report creation, the dialog box displays the necessary controls and fields for entering scheduling information as well.
Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions provides an easy way for you to review your SAP work items queue by adding a new view, SAP Work Items, to the Mail database. A button in the view refreshes the listing of current work items by querying the SAP server. When new work items are found, data from them is copied into new documents in the Mail database and displayed in the view. Action buttons allow you to change the status of items. When additional work on the item is required, the SAP client is launched and the work item opened.
Updated database templates come with documentation and open source code, so that the functionality of Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions can be customized by an experienced Notes/Domino application developer using Lotus Domino Designer; relatively little SAP experience is required.
Companies that want to use only some of the SAP functions, or that use customized versions of the templates, can edit their versions in Lotus Domino Designer to add just those design elements that enable the desired functions. Likewise, companies that have customized their SAP installations can edit the new design elements to reflect their SAP customizations.
All the new or modified design elements in the templates are identified in the comments field. The code that creates Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions adds 21 new views and 14 forms to the Notes mail template, for example, all identified by comments that begin NaSS (for "Notes access for SAP solutions").
The work of communicating with SAP is done largely in script libraries added to the Notes mail template (see figure 6).
Figure 6. Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions script libraries
The LotusScript code communicates through the Notes client's version of the SAP Connector with the SAP server, which converts requests and responses to and from SAP's Remote Function Call (RFC) protocol.
The Notes code makes calls to an SAP application programming interface. SAP defines the elements it manages as Business Objects, which include both data and processes. Lotus Notes accesses SAP data and processes by using methods associated with these objects called Business Application Program Interfaces or BAPIs. The LotusScript code uses BAPIs as remote procedure calls. Here's an example subroutine:
Public Sub InitCostCenterGetList ' Given a company code and a "controlling area," ' get a list of cost codes If gMD_BAPI_COSTCENTER_GETLIST Is Nothing Then Set gMD_BAPI_COSTCENTER_GETLIST = New SAPMetaData(2,2) gMD_BAPI_COSTCENTER_GETLIST.IsInitialized = False End If If not gMD_BAPI_COSTCENTER_GETLIST.IsInitialized Then gMD_BAPI_COSTCENTER_GETLIST.BAPI_NAME = "BAPI_COSTCENTER_GETLIST" gMD_BAPI_COSTCENTER_GETLIST.Fetch1Row = False 'inputs: company code and controlling area '(see InitCompanyCodeGetList and InitCOAREAGet) gMD_BAPI_COSTCENTER_GETLIST.InitInputItem 0, _"T_COCODE","","COMPANYCODE",False gMD_BAPI_COSTCENTER_GETLIST.InitInputItem 1, _"T_CONTROLLINGAREA","","CONTROLLINGAREA", False 'outputs: cost center code and description (list) gMD_BAPI_COSTCENTER_GETLIST.InitOutputItem 0, _"TL_CCENTER_CODE","COSTCENTER_LIST","COSTCENTER", False gMD_BAPI_COSTCENTER_GETLIST.InitOutputItem 1, _"TL_CCENTER_DESC", "COSTCENTER_LIST", "COCNTR_TXT", False gMD_BAPI_COSTCENTER_GETLIST.IsInitialized = True End If End Sub
This routine makes a BAPI call to an SAP object type CostCenter; passes in two parameters, a company code and a controlling area; and accesses a method, GetList. The SAP server returns a list of cost center codes and descriptions.
This object-oriented structure on the SAP side should look familiar to LotusScript programmers, and it makes customization relatively straightforward. Modifying the interface or functionality of Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions depends upon making frontend changes to the user interface in the forms and views and backend changes to the communication with the SAP server through the BAPIs. If a company has customized the Business Objects in its SAP system, those changes need only be reflected in BAPIs in SAP's Function Builder to be accessed by Lotus Notes.
Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions is designed to make access to SAP data and processes as simple and easy as possible for you. This new feature, free in Lotus Notes 7.0.1, provides out-of-the-box integration of Lotus Notes with SAP, so you can perform basic interactions with SAP easily and efficiently as part of your everyday work in Lotus Notes. This new feature can provide immediate returns in productivity for companies that rely on both Lotus Notes and SAP.
The client-based functionality makes adding Notes support for SAP easy for administrators. For developers, the inclusion of open code, and the familiar structure of object-oriented coding and remote procedure across both Lotus Notes and the SAP Business Objects calls eases the work of customization, whether for basic tasks, such as installing only selected functions of Notes support for SAP, or integrating Lotus Notes with larger SAP customization projects.
developerWorks Lotus article, "New features in Lotus Notes and Domino Designer 7.0"
developerWorks Lotus article, "New features in Lotus Notes 7 mail"
Lotus Notes for SAP solutions page
IBM Workplace and Lotus Software solutions for SAP software page
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David DeJean has been working with and writing about Lotus Notes and Domino for as long as they've existed. He was co-author of the very first book about Notes, "Lotus Notes at Work," and has been an editor and writer for a variety of computer publications. He is a Lotus CLP and a partner in DeJean & Clemens, a firm that does Notes and Internet application development and technical and marketing communications.