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This is the first in a series of four blogs that describe SAP’s comprehensive approach to standards for enterprise SOA explaining how SAP’s business process platform uses standards to deliver business value.

Approaching standards as if they were merit badges suggesting that compliance with standards were an end in itself does not deliver business value. Instead, creating business value through standards can only be addressed by taking a comprehensive perspective.

Realizing this is best achieved through the cooperative interplay of standards for business semantics – that is standards that define the information flowing through and between enterprise applications; and technology standards – that allow systems running those enterprise applications to more easily connect and communicate. Only when applied together, is the cost of building, operating and managing enterprise software significantly reduced.

Unlocking maximum business value also requires an environment in which technology standards and business semantic standards coexist in harmony. SAP’s business process platform, built on the principles of enterprise SOA, provides this environment. It combines pre-defined service definitions (enterprise services from SAP ERP 2005) with a technology platform (SAP NetWeaver) that can be used to build new enterprise services. These enterprise services are utilized to create composite applications that can then be operated and managed alongside existing SAP applications.

This series of blogs will describe provide a clear explanation of the value and importance of standards to enterprise SOA by explaining the importance of business semantic standards, describing the key role they take in enterprise SOA and the business process platform, and how SAP is using a business focus to help standards deliver value through SAP’s Ecosystem.

The remainder of this first blog entry will provide an introduction covering:

  • How SAP’s approach differs from “merit badge” based approaches and the importance of considering technology and business semantic standards together
  • The form and implementation of semantic standards
  • Standards and enterprise SOA

Later blogs will provide:

Now for the introduction …

Introduction

Using standards with the goal of increasing the value businesses obtain from software is a complex and multi-faceted issue that requires a comprehensive perspective. Many discussions of standards ignore such a perspective and instead focus on implementing standards as if they were merit badges. Compliance with standards is sought as an end unto itself without regard for how much value is created by using those standards.

Often these approaches fly under the cover of claiming compliance with open standards in the name of increasing interoperability and easing integration. Indeed, interoperability is a fundamental aim of all standards, but the goal of standardization is much broader. When properly employed, standards not only dramatically reduce the need for integration; they also cut the costs of building, operating, and managing enterprise software.

Technology and Semantic Standards must be considered together

These benefits can only be achieved through a combination of technology standards and semantic standards that define the information flowing through and between enterprise applications. While compliance with technology standards make it easier to build, connect and interoperate with other systems, without semantic standards, significant effort and investment in middleware is required to map and continuously convert the information which those systems exchange. This only really benefits those selling middleware and consulting services and does not deliver business value. But when systems communicate based on standards for technology and semantics, the need for middleware and for custom semantic mapping is greatly reduced.

The modern world of Web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA) adds new challenges which must be met that are helped by standards applied using a comprehensive approach. The promise of SOA is a radical increase in the scope of solutions that can be constructed and a dramatic decrease in the difficulty of creating them. Through SOA, users will be able to solve more problems and develop solutions faster. By providing Web services that enable access to data and functionality, instead of just configurable user interfaces, new solutions that better fit the unique processes of a business can be created by building composite applications that combine Web services from different sources. But without semantic standards, such composite applications become burdened by the need for complex semantic mapping – especially when combining services across multiple enterprises.

An open-standards based platform is needed

Making the creation of composite applications as easy as possible requires technology standards for modeling and development such as Java Enterprise Edition 5 (Java EE 5). But solutions cannot support these standards piecemeal for businesses to make effective use of them. Throwing middleware at such challenges is like providing customers with a toolbox and leaving them on their own. To really help businesses take advantage of the potential of SOA, a platform is needed that combines open standards-based technology for constructing composite applications with an extensible repository of services that are semantically compatible.

But how can such a platform be constructed? And once constructed how can it be evolved to meet new needs in an orderly fashion? And how can such a platform be tailored to the needs of specific industries? These questions focus on the complex relationship between platforms, technology standards and semantic standards that is not often addressed because the solution is so challenging.

Development of standards is an evolving process applied in a business context

SAP’s response to these challenges, which is embodied in SAP’s Business Process Platform, is to provide value to customers, by treating the development and use of standards as an evolving process, rather than a set of static definitions that just need implementation. Only by participation in well-established standards bodies can technology and semantic standards develop and evolve and so deliver business value. In particular semantic standards can only be accurately defined in a business context, which requires the participation of businesses and partners familiar with that context as well as enterprise software vendors like SAP and its partners that focus on specific solutions for industries and special tasks. With all of these parties at the table, new sets of services can be properly defined and incorporated into products in a way that increases technology and semantic interoperability, reduces the need for complex integration, and further expands the scope of services ready to help construct new solutions.

SAP’s Ecosystem and Standards

To bring everyone needed together in a collaborative process, SAP has created an ecosystem of partners and customers to guide the evolution of its products and standards. It consists of the following elements:

  • Industry Value Networks that engage business executives directly to understand the context and requirements of each industry
  • The Industry Titans initiative for engaging companies that create core infrastructure to improve the environment for enterprise computing
  • The Enterprise Services Community for designing in cooperation with businesses and independent software vendors semantically-compatible service definitions; and
  • An Industry Standards group that takes service definitions and collaborates with external standards organizations to help make those definitions a standard while continuing SAP’s long-standing participation and leadership in standards bodies that develop technology and semantic standards.

Only through such organized collaboration will the maximum value of standards be delivered.

Why Semantic Standards are important

Web services provide the base level of interoperability

Web services have been one of the most enthusiastically adopted technology standards in the history of the software industry. Based on XML and other open standards and starting off with an elegant and simple approach to self description using the Web Services Description Language (WSDL) and discovery using Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI), Web services were adopted by every software vendor. A remarkably harmonious standards development culture evolved to add many related standards for services, policy, versioning, security, reliability and so forth. Developers can now create Web services and have great confidence that they will work in any environment.

An example of semantics and Web services

The problem now is to resolve the semantic challenge of Web services. Consider this example. Say you create a composite application that uses customer information from three different enterprise applications. Each of these applications stores a name and address; two use a different form for the address. One of the applications uses a 5 digit zip or postal code, the other uses a 9 digit code. Using this information on a read-only basis presents the challenge of deciding which information is authoritative. Although the information in the systems can be synchronized using solutions such as SAP’s Master Data Management (MDM), this is a prime candidate for a customer information service that reads data from the authoritative locations and then becomes the single source of truth for such data.

Attempting to update this information provides a larger challenge. It is untenable for each composite application to have the intelligence to determine how to update each underlying enterprise application. Instead what is needed is a customer information update service that accepts changes to customer records and then applies them after approval to all relevant enterprise systems. In this way the process of updating customer records is managed in one place.

The three underlying enterprise applications in this example are within the boundaries of one company. However this approach can be extended so that the customer information update service provides a Web service interface that allows customers to directly submit changes to their name and address information significantly improving accuracy and speed. In this case, the customer information update service should have a standardized interface so that each customer need implement only one method of providing the information to all their partners.

Functionality must also be standardized. For example, consider an order that has been accepted for manufacturing of a product. This order may have been originated in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application, via a portal, or directly from the customer through a Web service or even using EDI. It is then recorded in financial terms in the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application, and then scheduled for execution in a Supply Chain Management (SCM) application. Now consider what happens if that order is canceled or modified either by the customer or because it cannot be fulfilled. The version of the order must be changed in all relevant systems and the customer notified, perhaps through another web service, of the result. A change or cancel order service is the perfect way to provide one service that can remove or change an order in all systems in which it appears – both inside and outside the enterprise.

Extending Web services beyond the enterprise

Standardizing service definitions that centralize and coordinate data within a company is relatively straightforward because they are private to that organization. What is harder is standardizing the definitions of data that is exchanged between businesses since those definitions must be made public. Defining public services is the role of semantic standards organizations that can develop inter-business and even inter-industry standard semantics. It is also important, however, that vendors such as SAP work closely with semantic standards organizations to make sure that private and public service definitions are closely aligned.

Semantic standards solve both the problems of resolving inconsistent formats into a standard form delivered by a service and the processes needed to use and update such information.

Standards and enterprise SOA

Studies by Gartner and AMR estimate that the typical IT organization spends 30% to 40% of their budget on integration alone. To a large extent, this is caused by a lack of standard semantic definitions. SAP is addressing this by service-enabling its existing solutions and creating new “enterprise” services to deliver a rich set of services that can be used, out-of-the-box, to build composite applications.

Enterprise SOA is the architecture that leverages these pre-built enterprise services by bringing them together in a way that solves business problems. The promise of enterprise SOA is that every enterprise application, and eventually applications run by partners, are enabled by services that allow its data and functionality to be used to create composite applications.

Service enablement of SAP applications and the Enterprise Service Repository

In 2006, SAP announced its strategy for service enablement of SAP ERP 6.0 and other applications. The Enterprise Services Workplace (http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/sdn/esworkplace) documents services that are built to expose data and functionality from SAP ERP 6.0 and other applications. SAP’s plan is to keep SAP ERP 2005 stable until 2010. Enhancement packages will be released twice yearly that include Enterprise Services bundles, which are collections of related enterprise services that provide access to data and functionality of SAP ERP 2005 and other applications. This strategy allows SAP customers to rely on a stable product as a foundation but to receive new functionality to address changing needs in the form of Enterprise Services Bundles. (The services in these bundles are documented on SAP Developer Network at: https://wiki.sdn.sap.com/wiki/x/LQ0.)

All of the enterprise services are described in SAP NetWeaver’s Enterprise Services Repository (ES Repository), which is the central repository that contains the WSDL describing each service along with the process models that show how each service fits into business processes and scenarios.

So, in short, the Enterprise Services Repository is the central place for semantic service definitions related to both SAP products and to semantic standards that are defined by external standards bodies and by the Enterprise Services Community. Services from partners products and custom services created by each SAP customer are also described in the ES Repository.

A Unified Business Process Platform Based on Standards

With an understanding of the role that SAP NetWeaver Enterprise Services Repository (ES Repository) provides clearly in mind, we can now explain how SAP unites both semantic and technology standards into one “business process platform” built to produce business value based on the principles of enterprise SOA.

SAP’s technology platform is SAP NetWeaver 7.0 which allows programs and services to connect to each other without regard to the semantics of the information being processed. SAP NetWeaver preserves existing technology investments in SAP solutions, leverages technology standards and allows customers to realize the benefit of new standards-based technologies as they mature.

SAP NetWeaver Enterprise Services Repository contains definitions of enterprise services from SAP and elsewhere that can be used to develop automated support for business processes.

Rapid creation of composite applications

By combining the technology platform of SAP NetWeaver and the pre-built services defined in the ES Repository, SAP’s business process platform allows rapid creation of composite applications that solve business problems.

The business process platform also accelerates the creation of composite applications constructed out of services by leveraging the benefits of advanced development standards such as Java EE 5 and open source projects such as Eclipse 3.2 which together address many of the problems related to rapid application development.

Reducing costs and delivering business value

Instead of emphasizing a narrow focus on technology standards, the business process platform creates an environment in which technology standards provide the connections and semantic standards provide the content so that applications can be constructed quickly with a minimum of custom integration to address technology incompatibilities and semantic inconsistencies. In this way the business process platform helps deliver business value and achieve the goals of reducing the cost of building, operating and managing business software for which standards were created.

Costs are lowered by:

  • ncreasing speed – services can be built and composed faster as the need to build adapters to “translate” between different business semantic and technology standards is greatly reduced
  • Improving developer efficiency – developer learning curves are reduced: technology standards such as Java EE 5 allow the creation of standards-based development environments, and standard business semantics reduce the time required to correctly understand the data provided to and from a service.

As a result, standards and the business process platform deliver business value by:

  • Increasing business agility – a business can respond to business challenges and build composite applications to support new business processes more rapidly
  • Releasing value – data is no longer trapped since enterprise services can easily enable the functionality within existing systems and solutions.

Thousands of SAP developers are using SAP NetWeaver to build world-class, highly-reliable and scalable business solutions. Tens of thousands of businesses place their trust in business solutions that run on SAP NetWeaver. SAP NetWeaver is the enterprise standard.

Evolution through an Ecosystem

With the idea of a business process platform in place, the way that standards work together to create business value becomes clear. SAP’s job is to make sure that all of the technology standards and all of the semantic standards work together in a seamless environment to serve the needs of businesses. Enterprise applications continue to do their jobs, but through services new solutions can be rapidly created. Technology standards are combined to achieve the interoperability for which they were intended, and where gaps exist, the business process platform including SAP NetWeaver 7.0 fills them.

But the picture of the business process platform is not complete without an understanding of its lifecycle at all levels. In order to evolve to meet the needs of specific industries and new business challenges, the business process platform must be continually enhanced. SAP’s approach is to create an ecosystem to help facilitate the evolution of the business process platform and the solutions that are created once they are in operation. This ecosystem addresses every aspect of the business process platform.

Through the Industry Titans program, SAP works with the companies that provide the foundation of the enterprise computing environment, companies like Intel, IBM, HP, Cisco, and Adobe. Working with these firms, SAP helps drive the development of optimized and standardized infrastructure to make enterprise computing cheaper and more efficient.

Industry Value Networks are groups of SAP customers, independent software vendors, analysts, and other partners who come together to communicate with SAP about the forces transforming their industries. In essence, these groups establish and update the requirements for the solutions that SAP and partners must provide.

The Enterprise Services Community takes up the challenge of meeting those requirements through establishing community definition groups that define services that will be implemented by SAP and its partners. The Enterprise Services Community also helps coordinate the definition of nascent semantic standards that will be implemented by SAP and other partners to solve emerging problems.

Finally SAP’s Industry Standards group follows through by taking nascent semantic standards, and collaborating with many customers, partners and competitors in external semantic standards organizations to help make those definitions a standard such as for Banking (http://www.sap.com/usa/company/press/press.epx?pressid=7564). Of course, this occurs in parallel with the work that SAP has done for many years leading and participating in all major technology and business standard-setting bodies to help develop standards that provide maximum benefit to its customers.

Applying standards in a business context

Furthermore, standards are never applied to business in general, they are applied to a specific business, which exists in the context of an industry that may have its own technology and semantic standards. Therefore SAP participates in over 130 vertical industry standards organizations and closely monitors many other organizations and regulatory bodies. Many of these business semantic standards are supported by SAP products and solutions. SAP is also working closely with these organizations to streamline business semantics standards as well as reduce the current proliferation of standards and improve interoperability.

The explanation so far has consisted of a top-down explanation of standards starting with their goals, explaining how a merit badge approach is inadequate, then moving methodically through the need for an environment where technology and business semantic standards can exist in harmony, a business process platform that can leverage those standards and finally the involvement of business users and partners in an ecosystem to make sure that standards create business value.

The next blogs in the series …

The remaining three blogs will expand on the ideas in this blog by providing a more detailed explanation of SAP’s approach to standards for enterprise SOA covering:

  • An introduction to SAP’s Standards Taxonomy which provides a way of categorizing and thinking about standards as well as covering the first category: “Technology Standards”. Technology standards are designed to help computer systems work together at the technical level. These standards provide the foundation for openness and interoperability that are the basic underpinnings of SAP NetWeaver 7.0.
  • A description of the next two categories: “Languages for Defining Business Semantics” and “Business Semantics” – which, as their names suggest, are standards used for defining business semantics
  • A description of “Common Standards” that cross both technology and business semantic standards.
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2 Comments

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  1. Vijaya Lakshmi
    Hi David,

    I am into NW-XI and was searching for some kind of detailed information on SOA but cldn’t find a gud one.   Your introductory blog is very useful for starters.  I am looking forward for the series.

    Keep the gud work.

    Regards

    (0) 
  2. ravi sundaresan
    This blog is excellent demarcation of Technical standards and Businss semantic standards. When it can work in unison Business can achieve wonders.

    Hats off to the author, Excellent work indeed

    (0) 

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