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An SAP Cloud Platform overview: Capabilities and benefits

SAP Cloud Platform is often confused with other SAP cloud products. Dispel any confusion with an explanation of how the technology works and what it can do.

Many CIOs, business leaders and even administrators want an SAP Cloud Platform overview that distills its capabilities in easy-to-understand terms. Here's a look at just that.

Put simply, SAP Cloud Platform is a PaaS offered by SAP. It's mainly a custom development platform for building custom applications that need to integrate with an organization's SAP back end.

"It's not just JavaScript-based custom development, it's also the ability to integrate with SAP back-end systems that can be on-premises systems, like an ERP on-premises or S/4 HANA on premises, but also integrating with the SaaS tools from SAP, such as SuccessFactors, Ariba, Concur," said Steve Delien, chief technology architect of SAP intelligent technologies at Accenture. "The list goes on."

Cloud Platform environments

No SAP Cloud Platform overview would be complete without reviewing its environments.

Neo is the version that SAP hosts in it data centers. Cloud Foundry is the version available on public clouds, such as on Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.

However, SAP's strategy is to put all its investments in the Cloud Foundry version and phase out Neo over time, Delien said.

Companies use SAP Cloud Platform as a platform layer where they can build their applications, house them and build connectors between them, said Seth Lippincott, an analyst at Nucleus Research.

The benefit of the SAP Cloud Platform is that it enables an organization that has been operating in a number of disparate systems -- SAP systems, non-SAP systems, or both -- to tie everything together, he said.

"This is where [SAP] talks about that transformation piece where you're shifting from siloed systems, siloed data and siloed applications, and the platform becomes that connective tissue," Lippincott said.

For example, say a utility company implemented an application-building platform not from SAP for its customer-facing applications, and the company was also an SAP shop, he said.

If that company wanted to offer any self-service capabilities to its customers, such as letting them log into their accounts to check their balances or see how much electricity they've used, the company would build those apps on their non-SAP app-building platform, Lippincott said. But it would also need those applications to operate on the company's overall organizational enterprise platform.

"So they'd use SAP Cloud Platform to tie together their SAP applications and their non-SAP applications and systems onto the same system, so they could talk to each other and the data could be shared across them," he said.

SAP Cloud Platform overview of real-life project

Natura, a cosmetics maker based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, started working with the SAP Cloud Platform in 2017. At the time, the company was looking for a secure and managed cloud computing environment to create and extend its existing apps, said Hamilton Bokaleff, SAP enterprise architect at Natura.

Currently, Natura operates in the hybrid cloud. The company's SAP environment, including SAP Advanced Planner and Optimizer and ERP Central Component, is in an on-premises system, and many other applications run inside the cloud, including SAP Ariba and SuccessFactors. In addition, the SAP Tax Declaration Framework is also in the cloud, connected to the company's on-premises system.

However, the company plans to migrate every system to the cloud by 2021, Bokaleff said. It will do so by moving to SAP S/4HANA within the SAP Cloud Platform because of the simplicity of the platform and the way it does system and business process integration.

Integration is key to an SAP Cloud Platform overview, including what it can do.

SAP Cloud Platform is an integration suite that involves cloud integration and API management, so you can open up your enterprise data and processes or key performance indicators, said Harsh Jegadeesan, SAP's vice president and head of product management for integration.

"It involves open connectors that allow you to connect to a lot of third-party applications," he said. "There are capabilities in the platform that allow you to do those integrations."

Natura's first pilot project involved developing SAP Fiori applications with SAP Cloud Platform to improve its sales order tracking process, Bokaleff said.

Natura wanted to mobilize and extend its order delivery systems out to a number of delivery capabilities, but it didn't have the last-mile delivery services figured out for the company or its business associates, said Dan Lahl, global vice president of SAP product marketing.

"So they said, 'We already have a set of applications that are running, so let's extend those applications using the cloud platform,'" he said.

Natura developed SAP Fiori mobile apps on SAP Cloud Platform to handle the entire order process all the way through to delivering to its customers, Lahl said. It was an extension to the order entry system that used the SAP Cloud Platform integration service as well as SAP HANA smart data integration to connect SAP HANA, SAP ERP, SAP Fiori and Ariba, according to an SAP case study on the project.

However, even as Natura was building apps in the cloud, its ERP and some of its other systems were still running on-premises. Natura's digital apps are in the cloud, and SAP focuses on providing a secure connector between the on-premises environment and the cloud, Jegadeesan said.

Using the SAP Cloud Platform has enabled Natura to deliver projects with greater cost-efficiency, Bokaleff said.

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