How does the converison agent fit in with SAP NetWeaver Exchange Infrastructure?
Recently I posted a weblog at SDN about the new SAP Conversion Agent by Itemfield (actually, it was a month ago…it seems like last week! Where is the time going? Or, as my friend Danny says, “Time’s fun when you’re having flies…”). Anyway, I received the following question from Sanjay Kumar: “Perhaps I missed something, but why do we need this tool? I thought XI with its vast array of Adapters would do the job of mapping and transformation. In the ERP environment, we have LSMW that allows us to do the same thing.” So I think it makes sense to answer that question here, as one person asking usually means a lot of other people have the same question but aren’t asking it.
The product is called the “Conversion Agent” because that’s what it is (does); it is used for converting formats. So, for instance, I can take a purchase order in .pdf format (the example I used in my last blog) and convert it with the conversion agent to XML (any arbitrary schema; for instance, an ORDERS IDOC). So the Conversion Agent should be seen as an addition to the family of mapping technologies that SAP NetWeaver Exchange Infrastructure provides – Graphical Mapping Tool (generated Java), XSLT (Java), XSLT (ABAP), pure Java, ABAP Objects, and now the conversion agent.
I should say also that the conversion agent does a lot more than just pdf conversion; there is an extensive list of supported formats at the Itemfield site at the service marketplace (http://service.sap.com/xi), then navigate to “SAP XI in Detail –› Connectivity –› Connectivity SAP XI 3.0 –› Itemfield“
Of course, Sanjay might very well ask, “OK, so why do we need the conversion agent if we already have so many mapping technologies?” Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, the more the merrier as far as I’m concerned. There is nothing wrong with letting people use a wide variety of technologies to perform the task at hand; certain tools are better for certain tasks. Second, there are some tasks that can only be done with great difficulty using the current (that is, pre-conversion agent) toolset. For instance, trying to work with complex COBOL copybooks in SAP NetWeaver XI is difficult at best. In the configuration of a communication channel based on the file adapter you can specify rules for parsing the flat file; but that is not very easy with complex documents, and not so easy to debug. Once you have imported the file, you still need to develop a map in the GMT (or other mapping technology).
With the conversion agent, however, you get a graphical interface for mapping the file (and by the way, we really need to record a demo of the tool and post it to SDN – in the works – because the capabilities are very impressive); you map it to any arbitrary schema, so you may not need to do any further mapping; and then you simply configure the file adapter to pick up the file and call the conversion agent. It is much simpler overall.
What I hope is clear is that the conversion agent is NOT a substitute for the adapters or the adpater framework. It can be used with any of the JCA-based technical adapters from SAP. Conversions are called from an AF module in the communication channel; but it does not replace or supplant any of the existing adapters, either from SAP or the partner ecosystem. I really hope that a lot of people adopt and use the conversion agent, becasue I think it is a fantastic product that will solve a lot of customer problems. We (Ronen Schwartz of Itemfield and myself) did a presentation and demonstration of the product at the recent ASUG Northwest Chapter quarterly meeting in Tacoma, and I think it is fair to say that the audience was very impressed with the capabilities. When you see it, I think you will also be impressed.
So thank you, Sanjay, for your question. I would welcome all of you to comment on what you think of the capability (in the abstract of course, since you haven’t yet seen it – or have you?), and let’s hear especially form those of you who would like to download the agent and give it a try.