To fully explain, let’s take one step back from xApps and start with the underlying business application and integration platform that all xApps run on, SAP NetWeaver. NetWeaver is more than just the Enterprise Portal and Web Application Server. It also encompasses SAP Business Information Warehouse, Exchange Infrastructure, Mobile Infrastructure, Master Data Management, Knowledge Management, Collaboration, and Business Process Management. The ROI for NetWeaver is calculated via a simple equation; most companies today have several technologies from many different vendors comprising their business application and integration platform. SAP is the first Independent Software Vendor (ISV) to address this market with a comprehensive end-to-end solution.
For example one company I spent two years consulting at uses BEA Web Logic Server for their J2EE application server, Plumtree Corporate Portal as their enterprise portal, TIBCO ActiveEnterprise for Workflow and EAI, Business Objects Enterprise and SAP BW for Business Intelligence as well as a home-grown master data management solution. This company uses SAP for its Financials, Customer Relationship Management and Supply Chain Management transactional backbone. Right now they are searching in every direction for ways to reduce total cost of ownership in their vast investments made with so many different software vendors comprising their infrastructure, to deliver new business applications. The answer to this is simple: a single vendor (SAP) with pre-integrated software (SAP NetWeaver) can be used to address all of these needs while significantly reducing the Total Cost of Ownership.
New, next practice, best of breed packaged composite applications (xApps) can be deployed on this single vendor’s all-encompassing business application/integration platform without having to add significant complexity to their existing IT infrastructure. Along these lines, partner-built xApps represent the SAP productization of very unique, specific horizontal and vertical solutions from highly specialized software vendors and systems integrators that have chosen to build applications and use services available on the SAP NetWeaver platform. What these partners bring to the table are very specific niche solutions and technology complementary to Netweaver and the mySAP product suite.
One example of this is Manufacturing Performance Improvement from Ligthhammer. This xApp provides critical capabilities and benefits for manufacturing companies by integrating disparate manufacturing systems to improve their production processes. What does that really mean? Well this xApp has a rich set of connectors for a wide range of manufacturing data sources such as MES systems, Plant Historians, SPC/SQC systems, DCS systems, etc and the ability to unifying data from these applications. Through this core functionality provided by Lighthammer and the capabilities it utilizes on Netweaver this xApp is able to addresses opportunity / problem discovery, analysis, and closed-loop monitoring of manufacturing business processes. Descriptions of other partner built xApps can be found at http://www.sap.com/solutions/xapps/partners/applications/index.asp
What are these partner xApps comprised of? Well it’s much more than iViews/business packages rendering data at the UI level in the Enterprise Portal. Partner xApps make use of other available SAP NetWeaver capabilities such as:
The partner’s core application running on the SAP Web Application Server
BW content – Infosources, Datasources, InfoCubes, Web Queries
Predefined process integration scenarios and XI connectors
Adhoc and structured workflow, cross component collaboration and knowledge management triggered within the context of a business process
Predefined portal roles/iViews/pages for end users and administrators of the xApp
Partner xApps are not merely rendering content from multiple sources, but can be described as a new breed of packaged composite applications that snap on to existing IT environments to orchestrate new, cross-functional business processes.