SAP is one of the world’s leading ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems. Its stated mission is to help ‘companies of all sizes and in all industries run at their best’. Today, it’s so prevalent that 77% of the world’s transaction revenue touches an SAP system.
It was first released in the 1990s — and has evolved exponentially since then. In recent years, we’ve seen SAP transition towards cloud and APIs. Now, we can likely expect another shift towards business events, as organisations seek to become intelligent enterprises: fully-integrated, data-driven, and all the more resilient, profitable and sustainable for it.
But with these new additions to the SAP system come new questions.
How should you approach SAP integration today?
My answer is simple: functionally.
The story of SAP
First, let me explain how we got here. I’ve worked with Pace on SAP systems for many years, and it’s interesting to see how they’ve changed in that time.
Traditionally, SAP was focused on large-scale enterprises. But then, in late 2006, there was a shift towards medium sized businesses, and this eventually brought about further enhancements to the ERP product lineup that SAP offered. The first version of SAP HANA was launched in 2010, which evolved into the platform that forms the foundation for most of the SAP solutions we see in the market today.
HANA offers a high performance in-memory database that powers the application, so the platform can not only store all its data, but also process and analyse the data in one system in real-time. When HANA first launched it was only offered as an on-premise solution, but with the market shift towards cloud computing, SAP soon made a cloud variant available. That variant has evolved into the solution that’s available today where the customer can choose to deploy the solutions on their own cloud infrastructure or the cloud services managed by SAP.
This is part of a larger move towards customisation: clients can select the SAP system features they want, and keep adding them and removing them as they need.
APIs offer a future of flexibility
The next stage of SAP’s development promises even greater flexibility with APIs (application programming interfaces). With businesses moving away from monolithic applications to run their operations, APIs offer you the ability to connect your SAP instance to other specialised applications within your IT landscape, like warehouse management applications, Salesforce etc, enabling organisations to execute cross application business processes while making use of best-of-breed applications.
At the moment, SAP is still developing the full set of capabilities on the API front: there’s a lack of APIs to support the majority of key transactions in the system when it comes out of the box.
But there’s no doubting the fact that APIs are the future for SAP and all ERP systems in general, thanks to the flexibility they afford you, since you decouple applications and processes allowing you to switch out one API for another at any time.
The shift to design-first thinking
Now with an API-driven approach integration is no longer a technical challenge. It’s a functional one.
This is because you don’t just look at how the integration works. You need to understand the business reason behind the integration in the first place. What function are you trying to serve? It’s also really important to understand the entities you are integrating with, whether that’s your payroll information or shipping notification information.
For example: You will find that across your enterprise there are critical data elements such as “cost centres”, which are required to support processes within SAP, but also across other functions and applications. It is a wise investment to work with your functional data and process owners to specify the needs of the many consumers, in order to develop a powerful and reusable integration asset.
You need to design your integration solutions according to the way your business works, not just the way you can make all the pieces fit together. This is a design-first approach — and it’s crucial to the success of your integration project.
Design-first thinking is especially important when it comes to making your integrations work in the long-term. The temptation is always to build your system around the business processes you have in place today, without thinking about what you might be doing in a few years’ time.
But if you consider the future of your business as you design your systems, you can add options that will work with the next stage of your processes. Sometimes, this might mean building out solutions that aren’t valuable right now. But they will be at a later date — and this saves you a lot of time, cost and hassle down the line.
Next up for SAP: business events
But while APIs are the near future, I think the far future lies in business events that works hand in hand with APIs.
Where APIs deal with data, a business event is a notification. Let’s imagine a sales order has been posted: in that case, a business event called ‘CREATED’ would also be generated against the business object — Sales Order.
These business events simply alert you to the fact that something has happened: it takes the pressure of SAP as a system to decide what to do with the information. In the long-term, business events will form part of a totally instantaneous system, where processes related to invoices, order fulfilments etc are triggered automatically across a complex IT landscape made up of specialized applications.
While SAP is working on creating a full suite of business events, there’s huge demand for them, to the extent that many customers are creating their own customised events themselves. That’s why I see business events forming a big part of the next stage of SAP’s development.
For SAP integration success, think functionally over technically
And of course, a design-first approach will be just as important when it comes to bringing these business events into your system.
This principle will always be at the core of any SAP integration, now or in the future: you have to focus on the business reason behind the technology, and design functionally over technically.
Integration Technology Guidance
This foundational post is to set the scene on how to be successful with your SAP Integration approach, however we know Integration is a core capability that crosses both SAP and non-SAP, where the ecosystem is changing and complicated. Pace Integration can help with advisory on how best to approach your Integration plans, using our integration expertise and strategic mindset. Our services have helped de-risk and accelerate large scale, multi-region SAP implementations.
Written by Praveen Pillai, Enterprise Architect at Pace Integration
To find out more about design-first thinking can help your integration project, connect with us or email us at email@example.com. You can also follow us on LinkedIn to stay up-to-date with all our latest news!