SAP Cloud Platform pushes to break new ground, extend ERP

Tomasz Zajda - Fotolia

This article is part of our Essential Guide: A complete guide to SAP Cloud Platform integration

Pros and cons of SAP Cloud Platform integration tools

While SAP offerings are often best for cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground integration, sometimes, it's better to look elsewhere. Here's a rundown of the many options.

SAP Cloud Platform supports a wide variety of integration scenarios. And just like the SAP app ecosystem, it includes...

tools that provide significant flexibility. But SAP Cloud Platform integration options are complex, and there is some overlap, which can lead to confusion over choosing the right tool for the job.

The complexity reflects, in part, SAP's need to ensure governance, risk and compliance (GRC) requirements are maintained when SAP Cloud Platform is used to extend enterprise applications.

SAP Cloud Platform Integration services are focused squarely on supporting cloud scenarios, such as B2B transactions, or integrating between various SaaS apps and SAP applications running in the cloud. At a high level, there are really two categories of integration: one for process integration, such as for B2B transactions, and another for data integration of applications, like analytics and machine learning.

Many tooling tradeoffs

Enterprise architects must weigh several tradeoffs when considering SAP Cloud Platform Integration tools against third-party alternatives. "The main pros are related to the fact that these services include pre-packaged integration content (adapters, connectors, etc.) for the SAP SaaS applications (S/4HANA Cloud, Ariba, SuccessFactors, Hybris, etc.), which makes integration easier and faster," Massimo Pezzini, a research director at Gartner, wrote in an email interview. "SAP provides AI-assisted tools to rapidly discover the most suitable of these assets."

The main limitation of SAP Cloud Platform Integration is it is designed to support cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground integration, but not ground-to-ground integration. This makes the tools less useful for integrating SAP and third-party applications that are both on premises. To address these scenarios, SAP provides other tools, such as SAP Process Orchestration and SAP Data Services. However, they are only partially compatible with SAP Cloud Platform, which implies some duplication of technologies and skills, Pezzini said.

SAP's main offerings, such as S/4HANA and ERP Central Component, include several APIs based on open standards, such as REST, OData and Web Services, as well several proprietary APIs, including Business Application Programming Interface, Application Link Enabling, intermediate document and Remote Function Call. Pezzini said SAP integration is one of the most common use cases supported by integration platforms. Tools such as Software AG's webMethods, Tibco BusinessWorks, Dell Boomi, MuleSoft, Informatica, IBM Integration Bus, Jitterbit and many others have a proven track record in enabling SAP integration.

In general, Pezzini recommended enterprises consider one of these platforms if they need to integrate highly heterogeneous application portfolios. But SAP's integration tooling is a good choice for SAP-centric portfolios, as they can provide time-to-value benefits.

SAP Cloud Platform integration components

One of the key benefits of SAP's tooling is the rich ecosystem of components for business process integration, said Vinzenz Kremer, managing director at Accenture. The SAP Cloud Platform provides well-defined technical architectures, along with standards, governance and reusable code, as well as Technology Services. "This can simplify the creation, assembly and integration of flexible applications by using a library of prebuilt components and ecosystem solutions," he said.

A major benefit of the cloud is the ability to quickly experiment with new application features to identify which ones provide value. But the process should adhere to GRC requirements. One popular approach is to move legacy SAP apps to the cloud, where they continue to support GRC needs, but allow the enterprise to innovate with apps that could deliver value.

“While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, enterprises that want to get ahead of the curve, and operate at the leading edge of technologies, can start connecting various platforms and re-platforming now in order to be ready to incorporate innovations as they become available,” Kremer said.

Extending ERP into the cloud

One of the benefits of the SAP Cloud Platform is it can help businesses connect their internal business processes with customers and suppliers in a flexible manner. For example, c-Com GmbH, which runs a cloud-based procurement service for small parts, such as nuts and bolts, is integrating its cloud platform with SAP ERP systems using the HANA Cloud Connector. It uses the SAP Cloud Platform to improve access to material data for both standard and customer-specific materials, as well as document, delivery time and pricing information. It also uses iDoc- and CSV-based interfaces to exchange delivery notes, orders and other procurement documents.

"We really like the [SAP Cloud Foundry] service, since it lets us develop small components and apps that integrate with all kinds of software," said Matti Maier, c-Com's IT leader. "It's a lot of custom coding. However, we are not restricted in the number of users, connections or messages -- only by the computing resources. This allows us to easily distribute the computing power where it's needed."

Although the Cloud Foundry service is working well, according to Maier, other services are still in their infancy. For example, c-Com would like to use the SAP Cloud Platform Workflow service to connect various systems to the company's processes, but the authentication possibilities are limited. Maier has found basic workflow-engine features, such as sending an email notification, forwarding a task to another user or setting a deputy, are not possible yet. "Overall, the SAP Cloud Platform still seems to be under heavy development by SAP," he said.

SAP's cloud integrates well with the vendor's ERP and business workflow systems, which is a big benefit for companies using SAP back ends, he said. "However, when you want to integrate with more recent technology -- REST-based services, OAuth2-using systems or different UI technologies than [SAPUI5] -- you're probably better off with another tool."

Machine learning could be key to simplicity

Artificial intelligence has begun to enter the integration picture. SAP has placed a strong focus on addressing the complexity of integration through a new tool, called the Integration Content Advisor, said Michael Hill, senior director of SAP Cloud Platform product marketing.

The software uses machine learning to evaluate an integration scenario and can make corrections on the fly, according to Hill. This will make it easier to tap the experience of experts who have developed integration patterns for different vertical industries or business scenarios.

"It is almost like the Integration Content Advisor becomes a best practice for integrating into SAP," he said. "We think that the next battleground is to have machine learning help on integration."

Dig Deeper on SAP infrastructure and cloud

Data Management
Business Analytics
Content Management