Alloy by IBM and SAPOver the past 2 days I've been involved in the Alloy "Next" Design Partner meeting at IBM in Westford, MA. Now due to NDA agreements that are more water tight than a duck's rear I can't divulge anything from this meeting. I can, however, bring the Yellow Submarine up to date on Alloy 1.0.1 which IBM and SAP released last December. Based on the fact that the Alloy sessions at LS10 were pretty well attended I think it is time to start evangelizing this amazing technology to a wider audience. Yes, that is you, dear reader. Oh and if you were expecting to be reading about 17" low profile car wheels, you got the wrong Alloy.

So what is Alloy? Well basically Alloy is a (somewhat) extensible  framework for surfacing SAP workflows (approvals, rejections, etc) and/or SAP reports via the Lotus Notes 8.0.2 and higher standard client. "Workflows? But Darren, Notes does that already!". Well yes, it does. But if an organization also uses SAP chances are there are far more business critical workflow processes controlled by SAP than there are in Domino. To show you the value of Alloy I'm going to talk money. Money your company can save. Money they can re-proposition to other projects, like XPages. Money they may give you a raise with! How does that sound? Thought so.....

Most organizations (called customers from this point on)  in the world purchase widgets and/or services from vendors. These widgets have to, at some point, be paid for. This payment goes to the vendor. Simple. Business 101 right? Now, most vendors will give the customer a discount on the price of the widget if they receive payment in 10 days or less. This discount is usually between 1 and 3 % of the invoice amount. This is also known as an "Early Payment Discount" and is fairly common. Most vendors would be willing to reduce there invoice by 1-3% from prompt payment. It allows them to better manage cash flow, and it gives them warm fuzzy feelings when the check arrives early.

"Great, but how does Alloy help with this?", I hear you ask. Well, if your organization uses SAP for invoice approval chances are Alloy can help. Some of your vendors will be offering early payment discounts and hopefully you are taking advantage of it. Chances are that some, if not the majority, of the potential discounts are dropping though the cracks and the discounts are going bye-bye because you didn't approve the invoice in a timely manner, so payment was delayed after the discount day. "Sure, but 1%, really?" Really. Over the course of a year you may have $50,000,000 in payable invoices. If you could get a 1% discount on even a quarter of those invoices, you have just saved $125,000. Right, and that's just a quarter of them!

So why don't more customers do this? Well, it requires work at an individual level. A typical flow goes like this....
1.        Manager gets email indicating Invoice approval is needed.
2.        Said approver is in Lotus Notes, sees the email and thinks "Man, I have to log in to another system to approve this, lets flag for follow up and I'll approve later"
3.        Later comes along, approver eventually logs into SAP and discount date has expired. 1% potential savings gone.
4.        Doh

This actually happens more than you think. People do it all the time. Especially in our interruption driven culture we are all part of.

Now, lets relive the above scenario but with Alloy added to the mix....
1.        Manager gets email indicating invoice approval is needed
2.        Inside the email, on the action bar, are all the appropriate SAP actions available to approve invoices (approve, reject, with comments, etc)
3.        Manager immediately acts on invoice and it is approved, inside of the approvers mail client
4.        With immediacy brought with Alloy, invoice is approved, payment is process and discount is given.
5.        1% of the invoice amount is now available to use elsewhere

"But with proper training, won't the manager just approve in a timely manner?". Shocker here folks, not usually. The "link" email is not immediate, it is not contextual. In short, it is not simple. With Alloy the context is in the message, along with the approval or rejection options.This makes it simple, transparent and easy. And we all like easy. The idea is the same with Notes doclinks. How often do you click into the doclink to the Note? How often do you just close the email and never think about it again?

If you don't believe me take a gander at the screenshot below. This is an Alloy 1.0.1 workflow for just the above SAP workflow. It provides invoice approvals and is available right now, today. This workflow template is available from OpenNTF. Obviously this requires Alloy and the SAP requirements to be met too.....

Image:Introducing Lotus Alloy - if your company uses SAP you NEED to see Alloy

As you can see, this is a Lotus Notes Alloy enabled email with the SAP actions embedded right into the action bar......cha-ching, you can almost hear the savings on invoices getting paid early. For the approver, it is easy, simple and transparent. Note, I doubt anyone would give a 15 day 10% discount but you get the idea ;)

This movie on the SAP site shows a good demo of the original 1.0 Alloy application. Admittedly that was somewhat limited in terms of workflows, but the with the addition of Alloy 1.0.1 and the OpenNTF workflows, your organization can perform an evolutionary approach to business process integrations. Right from Lotus Notes. Right now.

I think that covers part one, workflows. Next up will be reports and report distribution right to your mail. Stay tuned.

IBM Lotus Notes and SAP. Two great tastes that taste great together.
Darren Duke   |   March 25 2010 05:22:25 PM   |    alloy  sap    |  
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Comments (8)

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1 - John Turnbow    03/25/2010 9:11:53 PM


Thanks for the post. We've asked our Lotus rep about Alloy, problem is, no one is knowledgeable. What SAP functions does Alloy work with? Is it only HR?

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2 - Darren Duke    03/26/2010 6:44:10 AM

@1, yes there is some confusion and I will attempt to clear it up. Basically Alloy 1.0 did HR functions only from a decision workflow perspective, but it also does report distribution. Most business users get *really* excited over the report distribution piece (especially if they are using the SAP reporting portal). So Alloy 1.0 has the following out of the box:

Leave request

Travel Management

Reports Management

The base install of Alloy 1.0.1 also does the above, but with the addition of the OpenNTF workflows it also adds customizable examples for the following common SAP decision workflows:

Purchase Order Approval

Material Approval

Supplier Validation Approval

Sales Deal Approval

Hiring Approval

Time Recording Approval

Invoice Approval

Resource Allocation Approval

As you can see, this is a whole lot more functionality (and hence value), and the reason IBM released them. Looking forward to Alloy "Next" based on publicly available LS10 presentations, I would expect to see Alloy morph into a fully extensible framework for quickly and simply exposing other SAP decision workflows via Lotus Notes. With the addition of the OpenNTF workflows, SAP decision makers are now able to do business at the speed of a mouse click. Additionally, as seen in the examples, you can customize the content to of the approval email/document to include context related information to allow the decision maker to have all the relevant information on their screen at the time the decision is made. This makes Alloy a great value proposition, as over the years many, many organizations have spent a whole lot of money building BPM (Business Process Management) solutions to better manage outcomes from decision makers. This is all well and good, but users (for some reason) are loath to move from one application to another in order to complete a process. What Alloy does is Business Process Integration (BPI), and extends the often substantial investment in BPM to an easy to use environment.

Oh, and don't forget the hidden gem that is reports management. SAP users love this!

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3 - Scott Souder       03/26/2010 4:36:55 PM

@1, drop me an e-mail and let's connect ( I'm one of the Product Managers for Alloy and was present in Westford while Darren's wheels were spinning...he's a pretty sharp guy, by the way.

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4 - Lisa Duke    04/02/2010 3:11:57 PM

@1, as the resident sales person lurking on Darren's blog, let me point out Mr. Duke is 1) knowledgeable and 2) available to engage with your firm to help with Alloy. Contact me any time at 678 638 6688 or and we'll be happy to assist.

@2 HELLO! Sell yourself, dude!

Goodness, it's lucky Darren has me, Ernie, Jeanne, Eileen, and the rest of the STS sales team to pimp him out. ;)

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5 - Peter Meuser    02/23/2011 9:56:40 AM

This blog entry seems to be the last sign of life concerning Alloy. Is this product still alive and kicking?


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6 - Darren Duke    02/26/2011 7:40:13 PM

Alloy is being radically updated with new SAP web services APIs. This is a major rewrite and I don't have an ETA (and if I did I'd be under NDA). There was talk of it at LS11, but I would expect it to fall into the Vulcan story pretty soon.

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7 - Peter Meuser    02/27/2011 1:52:35 AM

Darren, thank you for the info. I was just wondering about the current state because after LS09 I did not find any relevant talk about the product in the yellow bulb.

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