Last year I was a judge at a The SET InnoCamp 2011 for SAP's SET Research team. I kept hearing about something called the “Business Web”. During the event, I asked myself – ‘What is the “Business Web” and what was its relationship to SAP?’ I was curious, did a preliminary search on the Internet and found only one public referenceto the project with a very vague description and absolutely no details:
The Business Web is envisioned as an easy-access, real-time trading network that provides the necessary secure infrastructure, technologies, applications, and content to deliver end-to-end business services optimized for mobility.
I promptly forgot all about the topic and blogged about other subjects.
Recently, I saw that SAP Research had published a magazine. There was very little publicity (tweets, blogs, etc) about the document but I still found it and took a look. I was surprised to see that the Business Web was the featured project. Hervé Couturier, executive vice president and head of SAP Research, provided more details about the scope of the project:
As a “true business cloud,” the aim of the Business Web is to serve two different target groups with one and the same cloud solution. On the one hand, a one-stop shop is planned in which companies can get all of their needed applications, services, and content, thus providing a unique entryway for business software on the cloud. On the other hand, the Business Web will be a platform for service and content providers to develop, offer, and operate their solutions and services, reaching out to a huge number of customers in need of business software on the cloud.
Supporting a new kind of applications and services means:
- Customer connectivity (B2B2C)
- Machine awareness (M2M, B2M)
- Interconnected trading networks
- End-to-end solutions
There was also a diagram that depicted the various business models of the Business Web.
Let’s take a moment and examine why this diagram and Couturier’s description are interesting.
- The article is still relatively vague and could refer to a variety of SAP OnDemand activities. The focus on “business” was a little strange. I wasn’t quite sure what the difference was between existing offerings and the new one. Wasn’t ByDesign focused on “Business” as well? It appears that the Business Web is more concerned with the interactions between businesses rather than end-users of enterprise software.
- Some features present in the diagram (“End-to-End operations”, “End-to-end orchestration”, "Technology and Infrastructure”) can be found in many OnDemand offerings.
- On the “Demand side”, there are some new entries – “Government and “Concerned citizens” – not usually in the focus of SAP’s OnDemand efforts.
- Some familiar faces are present. The “One-stop-shop” described in the context of the Business Web might be the same entity as the existing mobile store for SAP mobile apps.
- This is a “platform” on which developers can create applications – “SAP researchers have designed the Business Web as a platform that supports diverse JAVA development and deployment models, lowering the entrance barriers for many small, independent software vendors.”
- A few tidbits are definitely intriguing – For example, “Machine awareness (M2M, B2M) and “Interconnected trading networks”. There was a particular sentence in the article which was especially important: “Based on prior efforts in which we investigated the Internet of Services and the Internet of Things, the research group is working together with partners on a cloud platform and business environment.”
Despite the presence of more information in the article, the description is still rather vague. I was fascinated, so I decided to dig deeper and see if I could find even more information on the Business Web.
Note: If you look at the various publications noted in this blog, the description is always of the Business Web rather than a business web. The references are to something specific rather than a generic depiction of the relationships between businesses.
Note: I’m not saying that SAP activities regarding the Internet of Things are just restricted to the Business Web or indeed have only just emerged in the recently. SAP already had a patenton “Exchange of article-based information between multiple enterprises” from 2005 which shows that research in this area has been around for a while.
Note: The Business Web project doesn’t exist in isolation and there are various interactions with other SAP products. Regardless, I found very little information regarding the relation of the Business Web to SAP’s existing OnDemand offerings. Indeed, there was also hardly any references to HANA – the use of InMemory technology is just taken as a given. One of the few references comes from a HANA blog.
This initiative (my addition: Business Web) integrates in memory computing for real time responsiveness both at the platform level (HANA DB integration) and at the infrastructure level (e.g. HANA infrastructure and next generation large memory systems for extreme computing).
As I started expanding my search beyond SAP Research and started looking at SAP in general, I found an interesting interview (in German) that SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe gave a year ago that describes the Business Web, emphasizes its focus on “business” and its revolutionary quality. I’ve included the Google translation (which sort of sucks) below:
There are American companies like Amazon or Google, setting the tone. What makes the largest provider of SAP enterprise software to break this dominance?
You have to be realistic here. In the retail business on the Internet, Americans are beginning. We are convinced that there is a second major wave of development in the net, the Business Web, and is aimed at businesses. Entire business processes between companies will then play on the net. This allows the company to make a giant leap in efficiency and productivity, because SAP is right up there.
What potential does it mean?
The potential is enormous for the Business Web. This will revolutionize the management of companies and value chains through intelligent and very powerful virtual networks again.
This is one of the first references to the Business Web that I found and I was surprised to see that it came from one of SAP’s co-CEOs.
More recent articles / presentations on the Business Web show that it is evolving beyond a broad focus on “business” to other areas. This shift is evident in the trends that influence the development of the Business Web.
The first and last trends are typical for SAP’s OnDemand marketing efforts. The second and third trends are different than those usually mentioned in SAP’s OnDemand-related marketing (for example, at the recent Influencer Summit in Boston). I’d call them the next wave in terms of OnDemand offerings – there is a shift away from individuals towards things. Indeed, this how SAP views the Business Web: Business Web as one example how the Internet of Things can easily be made accessible to Enterprises [SOURCE].
A recent blog from Josh Greenbaum describes the importance of the Internet of Things in SAP’s future success.
The second is harnessing the sensor revolution, also known as the internet of things. There are literally billions of sensors being sold in the next few years, every one of them capable of enough intelligence to act as a data source, if not a data consumption device. These include the sensors in our phones, tablets, and smart appliances as well as in cars, factories, refineries, libraries, utility meters, and medical devices, just to name a few.
These devices present two extraordinary opportunities for SAP. The first is on the data analysis side: if ever there were an incredibly rich source of data for HANA to analyze, these sensors are it. The petabytes of data generated will need analysis, and HANA would be an ideal place to start. The second opportunity is on the business process side: the data streams that are analyzed from these sensors will present decision makers with opportunities to much more intelligent decisions across the enterprise and in their customer interactions, and the richness of those data and those decisions will create new ways to improve on existing business processes and create new ones. That will be particularly true when these sensor-based data are married to internal ERP, supply chain, CRM, or HRMS data: if SAP can broker that marriage, than the gains of the last two quarters will look modest indeed.
The Business Web is a perfect match to this call to arms.
Before we take a deep-dive into the Business Web, I wanted to deal with any doubters who wish to downgrade the relevance of the Business Web on account of it being just a SAP Research project and thus, quite distinct from having the status of an official SAP product. If you take a look at the publically available timeline for the Business Web, it is evident that its evolution from a research project to a product is already quite advanced.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any information on the associated Board Decision but I’m certain it was a positive response.
How important is the topic to SAP and SAP Research?
As I started to read about the Business Web, I noticed that it plays an important role for SAP Research and for SAP in general. For example, there is an upcoming chapterin a book dealing with the Internet of Things entitled “Future Internet — The Business Web” from Jim Hagemann Snabe and Hervé Couturier. The keynotefrom Hervé Couturier at the upcoming Theseus-Kongress 2012 deals specifically with the Business Web.
Dr. Uwe Kubach (Vice President Mobile Computing and User Experience Research) provided this descriptionof the Business Web in a presentation entitled: “A Core Project of SAP Research: The Business Web” . The SCN Wiki page for SAP Research also focuses on the project's importance.
One of our core projects in 2011 and beyond that drives our vision is the Business Web. SAP Research will contribute innovations from our various practices to help make this vision a reality.
We have created a strategic framework made up of seven research practices around which to focus our activities. This research portfolio is founded on trends that we have identified as promising and is a combination of technology and business strategy. Each of these areas contribute innovations to help make the Business Web vision a reality.
I also found evidence of the broad involvement of different research groups of SAP Research (for example, BI, Semantic Technologies, Mobile,Supply Chains,Manufacturing 2.0, Embedded Systems, Analytics - ETL) and different regions of the world in which SAP Research is active (for example,Bulgaria,France,Germany,Switzerland,UK, Ireland, etc. ) in Business Web-related work.
The use cases
If there were just research papers about the Business Web, then I’d be interested but not excited. What impressed me were the use cases / scenarios that are planned or are already finished. These are not just a pair of use cases but a plethora. The Business Web is reality – OK – it might not be finished but it has definitely become a source of extremely cool scenarios.
Note: I’ve restricted my research on publically available material – there is obviously much I don’t know. This blog contains many images / quotes from the material that I discovered – I’ve included references so that readers can analyze the material themselves. The main intention of this blog is to surface this material and to identify the underlying pattern that connects this information.
Here is an overview of the initial phase of pilot scenarios.
Two points of interest:
- There are a variety of well-known companies involved.
- There is a great degree of diversity in terms of the focus of the particular use cases.
As the roadmap shows, future scenarios are even more intriguing:
Many of these scenarios are not ones that are traditionally associated with SAP (for example “Crop Monitoring”).
I’ve collected information from the various presentations about the Business Web use cases and scenarios and have listed some quick details below. My intention is to show the diversity of the use cases and the central position of the Business Web in these scenarios. If you want more information about the individual scenarios, just click on the “SOURCE” links.
Use Case: After-Sales Product Services
Use Case: Product Supply
Use Case: E-Mobility
This presentationfrom Hervé Couturier about the use of the Business Web as the foundation on E-Mobility (unfortunately, the slide is in German).
Use Case: Raised Freight Containers or Swap Bodies
At SAP Research, work continues on its vision of flexible business processesand the Internet of Things. One of SAP’s primary aims in this field involves the Business Web – a platform optimized for mobile devices that could enable companies to coordinate their collaboration the way social networks do. The Business Web would both ensure the ability of swap bodies and other intelligent objects to transmit their data reliably to a central location, and also provide applications to access this information whenever and wherever necessary. Beyond reporting their location, smart swap bodies of the future could also potentially guide the nearest available truck driver to them by smartphone. [SOURCE]
Use Case: Precision Retailing
- A real-time on-demand marketing platform both for retailers and end consumers.
- Delivers relevant product information, location, and special offers to customer in shop.
- Dashboard for Retailers
- Retailers gain information about the “who, what, where, and when” of shopping decisions.
- First pilot runs at Casino Group (July 2011)
- Now moving Prototype to Business Web platform
- First version planned for mid-2012
The technology used in the Business Web
As evidenced by the scenarios described above, we know that the Business Web plays a central role in SAP’s Internet of Things activities. Technically, however, the Business Web is still a Black Box. Is it a set of APIs, a Framework, etc? In SAP’s existing OnDemand landscape where will the Business Web be located?
Is it a SAP SaaS?
I don’t think so.
Based on a SAP job offering in Bulgaria for a “R&D Intern with a high interest in Java Platform and Application Development to join our team and contribute to the progress of projects in the context of the Business Web.”, I assume that the Business Web is going to be based on the Java-based PaaS and will add its functional to the Functional layer of the framework. I’d more interested to find out exactly what functions will be provided but unfortunately I have yet to see any details.
In particular, the following questions should be answered by SAP:
- What is the exact relationship between the Business Web functionality and the Java-based PaaS?
- What functions will be provided to help partners create their own Internet of Things-related projects?
Although much of my focus in this blog has been on the Internet of Things, the Internet of Services also plays a central role in the Business Web.
In a recent blog, Dennis Howlett also describes the evolution towards services in enterprise software.
Going forward, no-one who is building 21st century applications is thinking that way. If you believe, as I do, that the applications of the future are essentially services then the database becomes irrelevant from the buyer’s perspective. It disappears, just like the operating system becomes irrelevant. Unless you’re developing for umpteen flavors of Android. When applications are services, nobody cares about the plumbing. They only care about the business led deliverables. If that was all then you’d have to shrug, mutter something about commoditisation and say: ‘So what?’ But that isn’t all. Not by a very long stretch. [SOURCE]
Dennis’ analysis is very broad in character. What technical foundation is planned in the Business Web to meet these requirements? The use of the Unified Service Description Language (USDL) andits central role in the Business Web gives some indication of how the associated business requirements will be met.
The research regarding USDL and other work regarding services in the Business Web are focused in the actual implementation of this vision – how can you really implement a business collaboration model based on services.
Too often, pundits / the media focus on the immediate battles between OnDemand players in the enterprise space. Who has more market share? Who has more users? WorkDay or Salesforce or SAP or Oracle? Usually these debates focus on enterprise applications that reflect traditional enterprise applications – regardless of their flavor. OK – maybe, there are some new collaboration features or In-Memory technology plays an important role. These debates are focused on the short-term (this year, next quarter, etc).
While this fighting is quite vicious (life in the trenches is never easy!), the activities from SAP Research regarding the Business Web show that SAP is looking at the long-term and actively positioning itself to be a central player in the next stage of the OnDemand evolution - the Internet of Things.
SAP isn’t alone in realizing the importance of this new type of applications. Salesforce has also looked in this direction (Indeed, Salesforce Labs recently started a project called ‘The Salesforce of Things’. The goal was to create examples of “The Internet of Things” using a Salesforce technology as the backbone) and its ToyotaFriend initiative is also moving in a similar direction although the focus on Chatter in this use case is only a very early and rather primitive example of an Internet of Things scenario.
Of import is to notice that SAP isn’t working in isolation. There are also a variety of partners involved in this research effort: HP, Intel, GlobalLogic, Ericsson, Deutsche Telekom, etc [SOURCE] – notice that there are relatively few traditional SAP SIs involved in this effort. As evident in a blog from an Intel employee, Business Web partners also realize that just putting technology in the cloud isn’t enough to meet this new paradigm / set of business requirements.
What’s needed according to Intel and SAP is not just an evolutionary approach of servers, storage and networking delivering apps in the cloud. Rather what is required is a revolutionary applications approach that provides business with the kinds of on-demand services that consumers are experiencing. [SOURCE]
It might be that the existing OnDemand competitors in terms of applications won’t be the ones competing with SAP in terms of Internet of Things. Perhaps, new vendors will emerge (for example, IBM). In these future battles, SAP will have the advantage in that it has the business/process experience to match the underlying technology.
The transition won’t be easy; however, as a fundamental paradigm shift in enterprise software is taking place. Some questionwhether SAP and other traditional software vendors can meet this challenge. I’m impressed by the Business Web scenarios but I’m curious as to how quickly the lessons learned from these use cases and their wide-reaching ramifications on SAP’s existing portfolio are embraced by the company as a whole.
Although the Business Web efforts from SAP Research are evidence of an awareness of this shift, further acquisitions in this area may be necessary / desirable to provide a better foundation to deal with the revolutionary change. The recent acquisition of SuccessFactors might have given SAP’s cloud efforts a shot in the arm but the question is whether SAP acquired technology for the next two years when it should have acquired technology for the next decade.