At TechEd12 in Madrid, and with the added SAPPHIRE event, one of the most frequent questions I heard from people new to the event was "just what is SAP providing nowadays?" To anyone immersed in the detail, it is sometimes very difficult to step back and put yourself in the vantage point of the questioner. I always feel, whatever I say will either be too much on one thing, or ignore something important - or both. What I tried to do was provide a historical chronology in across two decades to try and show a clear journey from SAP's original core ERP offering to its intended future.
So here's my take, and if you think it's rubbish, just put your point of view in the comments, and then my answer will get better . I've tried to keep the answer reasonably concise: too many details and that glazed middle-distance look comes over them. Hopefully, the broad brush strokes and vivid colours of the Impressionists is the effect I've achieved.
The full spectrum
20 years ago, this was the motif that was indelibly associated with SAP. As a symbol of core functionality for the enterprise, it is still the mainstay of SAP business processes today.
It's interesting to go through what every module does, and then you get a sense of the ambition in creating one piece of packaged software to do all that. It ran on its own operating system keeping the technology SAP-only. Configuring the business rules was tightly coupled to a SAP defined business process. These were the halcyon days for professional consultants and developers alike. If the package didn't fit the client's requirements "out-of-the-box", there were always two answers: adapt or "re-engineer" the client's business processes to fit, or fix the package to accommodate.
About ten years ago, SAP started specializing their offerings on separate "instances" (a single database using one or more application servers).
The ERP instance remained core, but was joined by other business process specific instances. Additional components where written in Java Enterprise Edition (J2EE) which provided:
- The intra component messaging layer or "Exchange Infrastructure/Process Integration"
- Java applications front-ending to the original ABAP-written business processes.
- More versatile analytics through acquiring the Business Objects company.
- Solving the problem of a user being faced with so many different logons, a single sign-on through the Enterprise Portal provided a framework to build user roles out all the different systems (as well as all the other Portal capabilities).
- A Composition Environment to integrate business processes in all these different systems.
- the architecture for communication used SOA (Service Orientated Architecture) - as did PI too!
- the inter-component requirement for workflows was solved with Netweaver BPM (Business Process Management), with a "Universal Worklist" (UWL) from the portal providing the user integration into the process chain.
- Finally, with such a diverse landscape, the management of it requires a server all of its own, provided by the dual stack (ABAP and Java technology) Solution Manager.
Fast forward ten years to today, and SAP have embarked on a period of platform diversification. I think of this as the "instant access" age because there is instant access physically with in memory database provided by HANA, instant access on an enterprise level by new processes on demand in the cloud, and instant access on a personal level, with participation of SAP processes on device.
There is really only one picture that captures this, and that is the self-contained universe of the atom, with an on premise nucleus and its everywhere and anywhere electron orbits.
From my reflections at SAP TechEd, I think I now understand the following:
1. HANA means so much more than just faster analytics. It has the ability to do away the batch scheduling, and simplifies the underlying reporting structures. Nevertheless, the challenge here is to keep up with new arms race of competitive advantage through insights, rather than the earlier competitive advantage through process efficiency.
2. Mobile apps are the design imperative that finally pushes for simplified UI for all users. The constraints on mobile app means that each interaction is tailored closer to only what the end user needs to do. The challenge here is to design the process correctly so that the right information is displayed for the right reasons. Does that sound like BPM/workflow?
3. Cloud computing is NOT just remote sourcing by another name. The ubiquity of access to the cloud allows for new business models to become viable. If there is a challenge, it's the arguable and fleeting one of first mover advantage.