So, here we are at a new paradigm in the application area, building xApps.
If you are an Independent Software Vendor (ISV) with some unique ideas for extending the reach and strength of your application – you are in the right place. xApps are built on three main pillars: The partner application, NetWeaver and the x part which makes it an xApp
x Factor: Back in those days, we had the “x”Ray – named because Dr. Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen saw the presence of radiation but needed to understand it. These days we have the XBOX, OS X, Generation X, X Files, X games etc. But the “x” we are after, is based not only on the dimensions of the landscape and the business scenario, but needs to be able to constantly evolve and interact with other x’s (applications) in the market. It isn’t easy to articulate this precisely.
Please keep in mind, that simply porting your application to NetWeaver will not always make it an xApp. It will certainly enhance the strengths and capabilities of your application, but there needs to be more, something eXtra to get to the status of being an xApp. This eXtra can be in the form of understanding of the industry, the business process and the needs of the customer. There are no xApps for the sake of slick new technology, no, they are always built for the functionality and business value that they provide.
Here are the main building blocks for an xApp that you need to understand before building one:
The Partner Application: First and foremost, your application’s core capabilities are what will be used as the base for our xApp. After spending many person hours, writing millions of lines of code, testing the application, getting the marketing team to really write about the product (and not what they think it should be about), packaging the application, and making sure it installs, etc., you are ready to take the product to the next level by joining the xApp world. In this phase don’t lose sight of the strengths of your own application that you are bringing forth, however this by itself will seldom form the “x” that you are trying to create.
NetWeaver: The second part of the xApp equation is NetWeaver. NetWeaver is an essential factor that helps make the “x” possible. Just keep in mind, that due to resource constraints and deadlines, taking a phased approach is highly recommended. There are several aspects that we need to bring in with NetWeaver: Portal, BW, MDM, XI etc.
First is People Integration through the Portal/Collaboration tool; we can bring in appropriate components of other relevant applications that are integrated into the xApp. Next step is Process Integration and Data Integration through XI and BW. You can integrate your application with XI, and through XI, you can get your data to BW, which will provide the analytics for your xApp. Since XI is pre-integrated with SAP, you can set rules inside XI to send data back and forth from all the backend applications involved in our xApp. Based on specific requirements, additional NetWeaver components like SAP Web AS, MDM, Mobile Engine, etc. can be used. I have intentionally left out CAF for right now and will further discuss this in the upcoming “CAF for Dummies” blog.
The xApp: We have seen the way the applications have evolved over the years and given us a very diverse and extensive and expensive landscape. Here NetWeaver can help you enhance, integrate and leverage the strengths of the landscape. So in other words, NW can help emulate functionality from an underlying application which can be reused in the new xApp. And the “x” will be the part where the Partner Application’s functionality is added to the business processes exposed by NW, thereby creating a new enhanced and efficient business process. With this it solves an end-to-end business scenario where the solution is spread across several different functional areas and you have done this without having to create another separate silo.
Furthermore, as you evolve in building the xApp we will find more and more business processes where we can derive synergies. If we have managed to understand and create the “x” we have certainly taken the whole thing to a new level.
One of my colleagues likes to see it at the “x” in neXt practices. But here is another shot at it with an example:
Here at SAP we have an xApp partner, Digital Fuel. Start with their app ServiceFlow, which has several capabilities. At a very high level one capability is that it does SLA (Service Level Agreements) monitoring for vendors, suppliers, VAR, internal organizations etc. They integrated to NetWeaver, but the “x” part specific to their application comes from NW’s ability to expose transactions / business processes from an underlying SRM system, for example, and add ServiceFlow’s capabilities to it. Functionality-wise, the new aspects of the xApp are
Specific sourcing of vendors based on SLA’s set for them,
Attaching SLAs to Requisitions, POs, Bids and Contracts,
Accessing SLOs (Service Level Objectives) from SAP shopping catalogs,
Filling the hole in Services lifecycle management,
Improving Requisition-to-Payment cycle time Closed-Loop Business Process.
Value: Reduced Service Processing Costs and Freed-up Working Capital.
In the customer service area the ServiceFlow xApp can provide capabilities that would otherwise not be possible, and does so without having to reinvent the wheel. For example the xApp can enable a call center agent to automatically assign a service order from a call ticket to a vendor based on his SLAs. This specifically is accomplished by exposing adequate processes from the CRM system, combined with ServiceFlow and creating a neXt process. The xApp also completes the end-to-end business process by providing invoicing and payment capabilities, by exposing these processes from an underlying Financial system. The xApp also collects performance information giving you the KPIs for a vendor. Moving forward, the ServiceFlow xApp can be set to manage IT orgs, Internal Call Centers, etc. without excessive development.
Here we see that business processes exposed by NetWeaver are integrated with the strengths of the partner applications, without creating a new silo. We have effectively managed to reuse master data, transactions and processes – and create the neXt practice with the “X” in it.
In my opinion, xApps are one of SAP’s ways of bringing forth innovation to the market. Innovation that is scalable, usable, adoptable and adaptable.