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Do SAP Cloud Platform integration services deliver?

SAP Cloud Platform is touted for its integration capabilities, but some think that while it's good for SAP-to-SAP, it may not be the best platform to connect SAP and non-SAP systems.

SAP Cloud Platform is billed as the glue that binds the intelligent enterprise together. However, there are questions about whether SAP Cloud Platform integration services really deliver on this promise.

Integration has become increasingly important as more companies want to connect their SAP ERP systems with other SAP and third-party applications. While SAP Cloud Platform integration services work well to connect SAP-to-SAP systems, some experts believe this raises third-party integration questions, including those of indirect licensing.

The primary use cases for SAP Cloud Platform are integration, primarily SAP-to-SAP integration, as well as application development, API management, and even IoT in small doses, according to Massimo Pezzini, vice president and distinguished analyst and research fellow emeritus at Gartner.

Approximately 5,000 to 6,000 customers are using SAP Cloud Platform integration services for SAP-to-SAP systems, according to Pezzini. SAP's recent partnership with Cloud Elements should help with connectivity to non-SAP applications.

"With the inclusion of Cloud Elements technology into the platform, [SAP] will be able to address more heterogeneous use cases," he said.

Of note is the 30 or so pieces that comprise SAP Cloud Platform, Pezzini said. Some of these components are more mature than others, so he cautions that it may be too early to commit to SAP Cloud Platform for everything. For example, blockchain as a service is part of the SAP Cloud Platform, but it's still very new, while the application development and integration capabilities are much more proven.

"The warning for clients is that they should not assume the components are of the same level of maturity," he said.

Early signals indicate that SAP Cloud Platform integration services for SAP-to-SAP are solid, according to Chris Crone, senior vice president of strategic communities and relationships at ASUG -- Americas' SAP Users' Group.

The vision of having an easy place to do integrations, the speed to do it and tools that developers know with microservices is all cool.
Chris CroneASUG

"The second piece, more interesting to everyone, is SAP-to-non-SAP integration," she noted.

ASUG members say that connecting SAP ERP to an SAP cloud solution like SAP C/4HANA -- formerly Hybris -- or SuccessFactors hasn't proven to be an issue, and most users are comfortable doing so, Crone said.

"The vision of having an easy place to do integrations, the speed to do it [and] tools that developers know with microservices is all cool," she added.

SAP Cloud Platform fills specific integration niche

SAP Cloud Platform integration services provide generic adapters that allow users to connect applications via a REST interface, SOAP or SQL.

"If one of the patterns that people are following when they decide to adopt SAP Cloud Platform is to integrate their application estate with another application or into a portal or load [and] synchronize some data, it's really convenient," said John Rymer, Forrester vice president and principal analyst serving application development and delivery professionals.

There are other cloud platforms available for integration, most notably from Oracle. The Q2 2018 Forrester Wave report ranked the Oracle Application Development Cloud higher than the SAP Cloud Platform, mainly because Oracle has a strategy to back up the product, Rymer said.

SAP is trying to serve its base, and the Forrester Wave noted that it has a solid foundation, but it still needs continuous integration/continuous delivery, for example. Ultimately, SAP isn't trying to compete with AWS or Azure, but it is trying to provide a general application development or integration platform for its customers to create customizations.

"We don't find that customers are confused about when to use [SAP Cloud Platform integration services] or when to go with Informatica for a full-blown ETL [extract, transform and load] solution," Rymer said.

Informatica tends to be more sophisticated and independent as a platform for integrations, while SAP Cloud Platform shines as an adjunct to application investments.

Users are adopting SAP Cloud Platform in addition to existing application investments, according to Rymer.

"It's a very different pattern than you'll see with AWS or Azure," he said.

While a company like Netflix will build an entire video distribution platform on AWS, SAP Cloud Platform users tend to stick to integrations and application development, Rymer added.

Indirect licensing, cost questions remain at the forefront

However, integrating with non-SAP software raises eyebrows in the SAP user community. SAP's licensing structure can be complex, even though SAP is trying to simplify it with consumption-based models, Gartner's Pezzini said. However, these pricing models are complicated to understand.

"One of the real questions [about SAP Cloud Platform] is 'What is it going to cost?'" Crone said. Users are concerned about how integrating with third-party products will impact licensing costs, even on the SAP Cloud Platform.

In discussions with IT executives, some have said that they are hesitant to adopt SAP Cloud Platform -- and, by extension, non-SAP integrations -- because of the licensing uncertainty and the cost to integrate these third-party products, Crone said. While SAP has done a good job explaining SAP Cloud Platform architecturally, the next piece is to show the business value.

SAP Cloud Platform could prove to be very useful for companies that want to integrate SAP ERP systems with other SAP products and third-party applications. However, indirect licensing issues and the need for more sophisticated tools may create some hesitation in the minds of users.

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