Closer look at SAP cloud integration with Cloud Platform tools


How good is SAP Cloud Platform integration with non-SAP apps?

An analyst and a user say SAP partners continue to release adapters for specific applications, filling in gaps in SAP's offerings and saving the time spent using generic adapters.

Until recently, SAP Cloud Platform integration with non-SAP sources didn't work all that well.

In fact, it was a place of weakness for SAP, said Dan Lahl, global vice president of SAP Cloud Platform product marketing. To address the issue, the vendor this year rolled out a portfolio of products called SAP Cloud Platform Open Connectors to accelerate connectivity with third-party cloud applications.

"We OEM'd a product from a company called Cloud Elements that provides prebuilt APIs to over 150 different application systems, including Workday, Salesforce, Oracle ERP -- even Dropbox, Twilio and Slack," Lahl said.

These open cloud connectors enable customers to hook up different applications. According to Lahl, SAP understands that it can't just compete in an SAP universe -- it must be able to connect to other vendors' platforms.

In addition to providing these APIs, SAP is publishing metadata about its different applications. This includes its Business Partner API, which makes business partner data from the SAP Ariba cloud procurement platform available in the S/4HANA ERP system.

Lahl said the Business Partner metadata gets published in SAP Cloud Platform, making it available via the APIs or open connectors to third-party applications.

"Then, if you have Salesforce, for example, [which] has a different metadata view of Business Partner, you can do the mapping [between the Salesforce and Business Partner metadata] in the API," he said.

Lahl said SAP is trying to make it as easy as possible for customers to live in a mixed cloud environment that requires integration between different cloud platforms and applications. To that end, SAP will be publishing more of its metadata in SAP Cloud Platform, which can then be used by its open connectors and other systems to make it easier for customers to connect applications with Cloud Platform.

"That's a pretty big deal for us," he said. "Two years ago, that would not have been expected from SAP."

SAP relies on partners for app-specific adapters

However, the SAP Cloud Platform integration services to third-party apps that SAP provides are "kind of OK, but not top of the market," said John Rymer, an analyst at Forrester Research.

SAP addresses integration in two ways, according to Rymer. One is via generic technology adapters, such as a database adapter, which allows companies to develop an adapter for a specific database.

That's different than having an adapter for Oracle Database version 12c, which is "a very specific adapter," Rymer said. "It saves time in the integration task compared to a generic database adapter, where you have to do a little more work to create the specific integration link."

Rymer added that SAP has adapters for specific applications that save time and provide better integration because SAP gives the customer clear direction on how to do the integration for a specific target.

While SAP may be moving toward building additional specific adapters of its own, Rymer said that the vendor will likely continue to rely on partners to provide a wider range of adapters.

"Why? Because adapters are expensive to build, expensive to maintain and that's not SAP's bag," he said. "For those specific adapters, SAP would be quite happy to partner with a Zapier or a Dell Boomi or Tibco or other specialists that provide lots and lots of adapters."

Eric Kimberling, CEO and founder of Third Stage Consulting Group in Denver, said SAP Cloud Platform integration is built on more of an open architecture that enables integration with non-SAP sources.

"They use the more Java-based architecture, and they even have an iOS type of integration where they partner with Apple to provide that iOS mobile app support," he said.

By using those technologies and opening the SAP Cloud Platform integration architecture in that way, SAP has been able to provide better third-party connectivity than in the past, according to Kimberling.

"It's a big step for them. However, I haven't seen a ton of it yet because so many companies are still trying to figure out how to get S/4HANA and the whole [SAP Cloud Platform] deployed," he said. "So the clients I work with haven't got to that point of truly extending it to that next level of integration with third-party applications. I think the technology is there, but the [customers] aren't there yet."

SAP Cloud Platform integration underpins IoT platform

Kaiserwetter Energy Asset Management, a maker of IoT and analytics technology for managing renewable energy assets, used SAP Cloud Platform to develop its Aristoteles IoT platform using SAP Leonardo IoT capabilities and other SAP products. Aristoteles enables Kaiserwetter to boost worldwide capital investments in renewable energy by helping to maximize returns and minimize risks for financial institutions.

Kaiserwetter is also using SAP Cloud Platform integration to bring together data coming from third-party applications -- say, Microsoft IoT applications -- with data coming in from SAP apps, said Hanno Schoklitsch, Kaiserwetter's founder and CEO.

"SAP offers connectors -- standard APIs -- and, today, I would say there are enough standard APIs for clients to start. And, every month, we get additional APIs from SAP," Schoklitsch said.

For example, there is now an API for the ServiceNow service management and workflow platform that allows companies to bring all their ticketing system data from ServiceNow into SAP Cloud Platform for further use in the SAP ecosystem for functions such as workflows, to-do lists and connecting to OpenText document management.

"That all works, and it's all in place for clients and it's all working," Schoklitsch said. "I'm not saying it's perfect, but it's good enough, and we get more and more scenarios like this. We see this as a normal integration. It's not better and it's not worse than other integrations. It lets you interface nicely with the external world."

However, this integration with third-party applications will never be complete.

"You can think of, say, 500 IoT scenarios in the world and SAP will never have 500 IoT scenarios," he said. "They might cover a good market portion, but the difficulty is that each connector is an individual connector to the outside world, and there are [hundreds of IoT scenarios], so it will never be complete."

Schoklitsch said it's a balance between having standard connectors and being able to react to individual needs.

"I am fine with what SAP is delivering here, but I think clients will say that SAP needs to be faster in developing more [connectors]," he said.

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