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Enterprise SOA – An important piece of CRM’s future

As a Product Manager working on SAP CRM I have witnessed some major changes take place over the last couple of years.  However, with the advent of Enterprise SOA and Web 2.0 I am constantly pondering if the biggest changes are yet to come.

As we build out the Enterprise SOA structure and plans at SAP, my conversations with customers are always very interesting.  Although the Enterprise SOA topic may come with the stigma of being a “technical subject”, I can clearly tell you: It is all about the business.  Enterprise SOA is nothing other than an enabler of business requirements.

As we discuss use cases with customers and discover where they plan to take advantage of Enterprise SOA in the future of Customer Relationship Management, the breadth of ideas and the excitement created is very invigorating.

Late last year I was attending a conference where Ed Thompson from Gartner was speaking.  Without quoting him word for word I will loosely rephrase his statement: Enterprise SOA is more important for CRM than any other Enterprise Application.  I was already very aware of the importance of Enterprise SOA, but I had yet to take my viewpoint to that level. 

During my time working with customers since then, it has become ever clearer that the “front-office” and CRM processes are indeed the place where Enterprise SOA can make the most impact.  The front-office is where agility, flexibility, experimentation, and differentiation can have maximum impact in helping to win against the competition.  This is not to say that Enterprise SOA does not have the potential for enormous impact elsewhere, however when you consider for example the dynamics in how a company goes to market compared to the dynamics in how they handle their general ledger, the differences in what can be accomplished with Enterprise SOA become quite apparent. 

So is CRM the ripest application for Enterprise SOA?  I say yes.  Look at the potential for working with partners for example.  One example is a company looking to setup a link from their CRM to their partner’s website, in order to service their partner’s customers, all with Enterprise SOA.  Another example is a company that will allow their distributors and agents to access their CRM to generate quotes, create orders, and check for product availability – all through the comfort of the distributors own systems with a linkage through Enterprise Services.  Talk about building in customer loyalty!  And let’s not forget about Web 2.0.  In the Web 2.0 world, unique interactions are the name of the game – and the game is fun and rewarding, until you recognize that the data from these interactions is not being collected by the enterprise.  Here Enterprise SOA can help bridge the gap between these interaction-based systems and the traditional transaction-based backend systems like CRM.  The sale might start with an interaction in Facebook, but it will always end with a transactional order in CRM! 

This area of Enterprise SOA and CRM is still in its infancy, but the future is looking bright.  I am excited to see where the unique business processes of our customers take us and I look forward to being part of the ride and sharing with you my experiences and lessons learned along the way.

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  • Thanks for this very good opinion. We had a critical business need recently to use Web services in Grants Management in CRM and the Grants Management piece in CRM 5.2 is not web service enabled so we have to go through the standard tedious way of constructing Web services using wrappers w/o leveraging the capability of the web services tool provided by SAP. So just adding : Please try to enable almost all scenarios in CRM as client regularly want to use CAF/Visual Composer and now Adobe Interative form integration with different applications within CRM and making web services from the tool will definitely make life easier.
    • Hi Robin,

      thanks for the kind words. 

      You are right, the Web Services Tool should be available for all scenarios and it is our plan to get there, however at this point it is merely a question of priority versus other requirements.  It is certainly a super tool for supporting composite scenarios like the ones you mentioned.

      However, I see even more value in the upcoming enterprise services, as their productized nature will make it even easier for customers to implement.

      It is currently our unofficial rule that we will not create enterprise services for new functionality in the same release the functionality is built.  We do this to ensure services are built on a rock solid foundation. 

      That said, we do have the strategy to enable all new functionality for use with the Web Services Tool in the release that it is built. (there can be exceptions to this rule)

      Regards, Tim

  • I mean this in a good way. Look at the UI, the OST for creating web services etc. Rest of SAP has a lot to catch up.

    However, i am a little confused on the strategy here. CRM lets you create your on services using OST from an abstract layer like BOL. Whereas others like ECC delivers canned services. It would be great if some one could clarify the end state across SAP.

    • Hi, that is an excellent point that deserves clarification.

      SAP is committed to the Enterprise SOA strategy.  This is what you called “canned” services.  In fact these are a set of services, some highly complex that are designed to meet the use cases of our customers.  I won’t go into a long winded discussion about enterprise services in this reply, but a few of the advantages are that they are; high quality productized and tested services, well documented using global data types, built to be understood and adopted quickly, reusable, and covered by SAP maintenance plans.  The creation of these services encompasses a modeling and testing period that is more than 2 times more effort than the creation of the actual services themselves.  We invest a lot of time so the customer does not have to!!

      Over the last few years CRM concentrated on our new UI and other functional developments.  Due to these commitments, we fell behind in the Enterprise SOA delivery schedule of SAP.  To compensate we built the Web Services Tool so that customers could quickly with a 4 step wizard compile their own web services.  This tool is only offered by CRM and our customers are finding it very useful.  However, when you use the tool, you will see that the services created are limited to synchronous – Create, Change, Read, and Query services.  Simple put, we can not rely on this tool alone.

      I have not heard about any other area planning to offer a similar tool.  I believe it is not that easy for them to build such a tool, becuase CRM makes use of our business object layer (BOL) to support the tool.  When you use the tool to build a service you are enabling functionality directly from the BOL.

      I hope this helps clarify the difference between Web Services (from our Web Services Tool) and productized Enterprise Services!

      • Thanks for the reply, Timothy. I have a couple of followup questions.

        When you catchup on the enterprise services eventully, will there be a migration facility to convert existing services created from OST? Is there a roadmap somewhere that tells us when these services will be delievered? Also, will OST continue to exist after you come up with “proper” Enterprise services?