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Author's profile photo GED HURST

What UI and Platform for what business application?

Here at Danone we have been making our first forays into the SAP HANA Cloud environment. Already we have gone live with 2 projects (a ‘light’ CRM/Sales Order capture application and a webshop), and based on the success of projects and increasing ease with the technology, we are starting to see more and more candidates for new applications on the SAP HANA Cloud platform. During recent discussions about these new applications, we realised that we were making some broad assumptions about the platform and UI we should use, and not all of us were in agreement with that. This prompted a good discussion about what kind of application should be matched to a particular platform and UI, and what factors should influence those decisions.

I must add at this point that there are many resources on SCN to help you in this process, and in particular, this SAP presentation helped us a lot: SAP User-Interface Technologies

Maybe a bit of background will be useful for you to see the context of the discussion. We have a long-established SAP development team with skills mostly concentrated in the ABAP, traditional dynpro and Webdynpro areas. Recently, with the introduction of the SAP HANA Cloud platform, we have created a new team alongside the abap developers. This team has a great background in SAP but also increasing amounts of experience in SAPUI5, SAP Cloud Portal and assorted web technologies. Our ABAP team is around 3 times the size of our SAP Cloud team, to give you an idea of numbers.

So when the business comes to us with an idea for a new project, we have to ask ourselves, where should this application be hosted? What platform and what UI? In a sense this boils down to a choice of 2: either ABAP/Webdynpro on an ECC6 platform or SAPUI5 on an SAP Cloud portal platform. Just a note here that we have taken an early decision to build applications on the SAP Cloud Portal rather than build ‘native’ SAPUI5 applications because we find the development process easier – so we are not really considering all flavours of SAP Cloud development in our schema.

In our discussions we found we could easily categorise applications in the following way:

B2B – applications focussed on external business partners (for example, the ‘Light’ CRM/Sales Order Capture application)

B2C – applications designed to interact with external consumers (for example, the webshop)

B2E – applications geared towards the internal users of the enterprise

Very quickly we could also see that the first two application scenarios lent themselves to applications hosted on a cloud platform. This is simply because it is easy to build secure web-based applications, with built-in backend integration, for external users based on a SAPUI5 + SAP Cloud Portal combination.

The B2E category however, was what gave us problems and the most fuel for our discussions. Surely the logical choice for all enterprise applications is ABAP/Webdynpro on ECC6? Why would we consider building these applications on the SAP Cloud, bearing in mind the ABAP resources we have available and the power and robustness of ECC6? Added to this, SAPUI5 is still in it’s infancy and good developers are hard to find.

So we had to categorise those B2E applications. Here are some of the types we came up with (I’m sure it’s not exhaustive):

* Informational (display-only) vs. transactional (linked to a business transaction on ECC6 perhaps)

* Backend integration: heavy (BAPI) vs. light

* Usage scenarios: static (desktop) vs. mobile (or any device)

* desktop footprint: SAPGUI vs. web browser

We also considered key design factors for applications such as:

* user sophistication

* performance requirements

* existing SAP user licence

* rapid release cycles

* UX – enjoyable user experience

* application complexity

Again, not an exhaustive list, and I’m sure you can think of many others. The two prospective applications, still at the drawing-board stage, are a ‘light’ WMS system and a supply chain information system. Neither application would use standard SAP business functions, but would access SAP data on ECC6. The target user populations are both within the enterprise, but not currently SAP users. This fact presented both problems and opportunities:

* we wouldn’t have SAP-savvy users but on the other hand we have users with no preconceived ideas about what an SAP applcation should look like (giving us a freer hand in the design process);

* also using the SAP cloud to host the application means we don’t have to worry about rolling out SAPGUI on PC desktops

* in addition we probably wouldn’t need SAP user licences since our SAP Cloud Portal contract is charged on a ‘per-visit’ basis

So, purely on a cost-benefit basis, SAPUI5-constructed applications on an SAP Cloud Portal platform is probably our best bet (though, of course, this is a rough estimation of the costs). Also the ‘agile’ design and development process, probably founded on a Design Thinking methodology, is the best way forward for those applications. I should say also that we have formed a close collaboration with SAP which gives us added confidence with these new technology platforms.

At the end of our discussion, we suddenly remembered we also had available the on-premise SAP Portal, which is currently hosting a single application. This too, would have been an option, although we would have to investigate the SAPUI5 development process from scratch, just like we had with the SAP Cloud Portal. Yes, I know SAP has released the add-on for SAPUI5 on ABAP WAS, but we have no plans to apply this yet, or any idea how to use it.

This, of course, doesn’t mean the end of ABAP/Webdynpro on ECC6 for new applications at Danone. Proposals for new applications and innovative business functions will always be assessed with all the platforms at our disposal in mind, and we are very reassured about SAP’s statements concerning future development and support of Dynpro and Webdynpro. One thing is for sure however: SAP Cloud applications are firmly established in our company and their use can only grow in the future.

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