Today I would like to answer the question why SAP’s Transportation and Logistics applications SAP Transportation Management, SAP Extended Warehouse Management, and SAP Event Management use SAP Visual Business to integrate geo-maps. Often I am asked why we don’t integrate a plugin of vendor G* directly. It’s free!!! Or why we don’t use the product of vendor E*. It has sooooo many features! Or why we don’t in standard integrate all vendors you could possibly think of! Maybe after reading this it becomes clear.
Globalization / Openness
When starting with this topic for Transportation Management 7.0 it was clear that we wanted to deliver a solution as global as possible. This means it should be able to display high quality maps anywhere, even respecting local specifics. In addition, we saw that most of our customers and known prospects in some way already had business contracts with one or another GIS vendor. So even if we would have integrated a GIS vendor specific product capable of using different data sources and having global content, we would kind of run into issues with those customers as they would not like to have a new contract with just another GIS vendor. Also, we have foreseen requirements driven more by politics taking a look at Chinese customers (locally hosted, local content,…).
Goal 1: SAP T&L applications shall use a tool potentially capable of integrating any geo-map content.
I say potentially as it was not a must have for a first rollout, but the tool should be from a technology point of view able to grow into such an open component.
No core T&L know-how
Hey, we are developing software for transportation and logistics! We are no GIS experts. (Well, actually I have some GIS background…) Of course we could have taken something and somehow get it to work with the restricted capacity we can spend on that topic. But that for sure would not have fulfilled our and our customer expectations. And each hour we spend on converting geo-coordinates, navigating through content, displaying legends, keeping WebService calls up-to-date, speaking with legal departments, and so on is a lost hour for our core business processes. But nevertheless, we need for our applications a high quality geo-map component.
Goal 2: SAP T&L applications shall use a top-class geo-map plugin regarding usability, stability, and flexibility.
Re-Use SAP wide
We wanted to use a component with the potential to become the SAP standard geo-map. As simple as that. When starting to investigate this topic internally, I was amazed how many different solutions we have SAP internally. It seemed like any application somehow did it differently. With different technology. Different partners. Different content. And I wondered why…In the end all want to display business application specific information / objects on geo-map content. Maybe attach additional information. Maybe attach functions to each object. Taking a closer look very seldom something really application specific remains in this area. And very seldom there are really requirements demanding a GIS vendor proprietary solution.
Goal 3: SAP T&L applications shall use a geo-map component that could become the SAP standard geo-map.
SAP Visual Business
My vision was to have a middleware between the SAP external geo-map content and our applications taking on all of those GIS specific challenges. Back those days and in the following years after it was not always easy. And it still isn’t. Of course there was no component available fulfilling our major goals ad-hoc, but out of SAP research SAP Visual Business evolved into the top candidate position.
Here is the SCN space: http://scn.sap.com/community/visual-business
Did we have to make compromises in the beginning? Yes, quite a lot. Limitation regarding content. Limitation regarding operating systems and browser. Awful installation. Functional limitations.
And whenever an issue came up, the first questions I got was: Why didn’t you use plugin if vendor G*? Did you check the product of vendor E*? Of course taking a single requirement and matching the best product against it, it always looks like a no brainer. But combining functional requirements with the above described architectural background, we believe that we are on track. With each new SAP Visual Business release we are coming closer to achieve the goals. SAP Visual Business is now a NetWeaver UI standard component that can be integrated into any SAP UI technology (from old style SAP GUI over WD/Floor Plan Manager up to UI5). The control is stable and quick. Programming the interface is easy and can be enhanced, what might be interesting for partners. The content is kept up-to-date and even free content was made possible together with the SAP legal department.
So whenever today I am faced with complaints about not being able to draw dotted lines, a probably missleading text, the last and already tackled installation issues, and other ‘high’ important things potentially being ‘killer’ or ‘showstopper’ criteria, I remind myself of where we are coming from, why we took this path and smile for myself. Because everything that now will come our way is so much easier to overcome compared to what we have already faced. And having our first geo-map customers live in SAP TM and SAP EM makes me proud. Thanks to a fantastic Visual Business team I am sure that our vision will come true.
Maybe next week I spend on showing you what else we can do with SAP Visual Business. Speaking of 3-D load optimization…