Understand the Difference Between Active and Passive Workflow Substitution

  • by Jocelyn Dart, Senior Solution Consultant, SAP Consulting
  • February 15, 2004
Most people understand the concept of workflow substitution and know that you can set up workflow substitution rules in any SAP system release that supports workflow. However, the option of "active" versus "passive" substitution is often underappreciated. Using the example of an urgent invoice, the author explains the difference.

So your workflow ensuring that authorized managers approve vendor invoices is finally up and running. You have taken great care to correctly identify the employees with appropriate financial authority to approve the invoices, have trained them well, and everything is progressing nicely. Then reality steps in — your approvers aren't always available.

Take this situation. A vendor invoice urgently needs to be paid; otherwise your company will miss out on a significant discount. However, the approver, Sue Fraser, is in an off-site meeting until tomorrow. Her boss, Gary, has just walked into the office and has the financial authority to approve the invoice. But the work item (i.e., the invoice and the linked approve/reject voting buttons) is in Sue's inbox. How can her boss access it?

What are your options? You could get the workflow administrator to find it and forward it, but that takes time and the boss only has 15 minutes free. You have escalation set up on your workflow so that after five days the work item is automatically redirected to Gary. By that time it will be too late to get the discount. You need workflow substitution.

Substitution is not a new idea and is not specific to workflow. For instance, Sue is going on annual leave next week. For 10 working days, Sue is going to be sunning herself on a tropical beach. Before the workflow was introduced, when invoices were printed and signed off on paper, any urgent invoices to be signed while she was away would have been handed over by Sue's personal assistant to her second-in-charge, Brett. Brett would check the invoice and sign for it. If necessary, before she left, Sue would sign a form authorizing Brett to have her financial authority for the period of her leave. That's really all a substitute is – a stand-in for those situations for which the usual authorized person is not available.

Of course, substitution in workflow is a little different. For one thing, all the forms to sign are electronic, and the security concerns can be more serious. While Sue didn't have a problem with Brett getting her mail, she's hardly likely to give him her user ID and password to log on to the system just so that he can approve urgent invoices. After all, Sue probably has access to view and change data that Brett is not authorized to see, such as the payroll details of her subordinates. So Sue needs to give Brett authority to access the approve invoice work items and nothing else. She needs to set up a workflow substitution rule.

Jocelyn Dart

Jocelyn Dart is a senior solution consultant at SAP Consulting working in Australia/New Zealand. She currently specializes in workflow and Supplier Relationship Management (SRM). As well as speaking at various SAPPHIREs and at ASUG, Jocelyn is a co-author of the book, Practical Workflow for SAP.

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