In previous steps, we discussed why IoT is relevant and how to find a good starting point to improve your business with IoT. This blog is going to focus on step 3 of our Enterprise IoT Strategy journey.
Once we have identified areas in the enterprise where an IoT improvement could be implemented, the next step is to evaluate the basic options available to achieve this improvement. For a better illustration, I will also provide a number of examples related to the SAP IoT product portfolio.
My general options
Those of you who are already familiar with my blogs and videos will not be surprised by what I am about to say, as I have made the point frequently in the past.
You can always break down your options for software improvement into three distinct categories:
- You can adopt software
- You can adapt software
- You can develop your own software in one of two ways:
- By extending the adopted software based on given enhancement technologies
- By developing it from scratch
I mentioned these options in my very first whiteboard video “General Options to improve user experience” back in 2013. Although the focus area was not the same as the present one, the statement itself holds true, and can be equally applied to the Internet of Things.
With these general options in mind, we can now put them into the context of IoT.
In the following sections, I will illustrate and explain various options, together with a discussion of the main advantages and considerations. I will also provide a number of examples from the SAP IoT product portfolio.
Adopt SAP IoT Applications that solve your current business challenges
This option is my favorite, and not just because I’m a SAP employee. From the point of view of customers, there are a lot of benefits in this option. It’s fair to say that the development of SAP software includes a lot of upfront analysis on the particular business challenges that the software is intended to solve. Not to mention the architecture and design work that goes into the products. Compared to a custom-made solution (see option 4 or 5), adopting SAP applications therefore saves you a lot of effort. What is more, you can also benefit from future improvements as part of the standard maintenance agreements.
From a landscape architecture point of view, another argument for this option is the potential sharing of SAP platforms or components you already have in your enterprise. Obviously, SAP’s applications typically use SAP platforms.
Finally, there is always the possibility of optimizing option 1 by making adaptations (option 2) and extensions (option 3)
- Applications are ready to use
- Address common business challenges as identified in customer and user analyses
- Can be optimized to particular business requirements with configuration, customizing or personalization
- Can be extended to satisfy specific business requirements
- Future improvements according to standard SAP maintenance definitions
- Some required scenarios might not be addressed by SAP software yet. Can be tackled with option 4 or 5
- If option 4 is used to overcome current functional gaps, it is easier to return to a standard SAP solution once the particular scenario is covered in a future release or software
- SAP Predictive Maintenance and Service, Cloud Edition
- SAP Predictive Maintenance and Service, On Premise Edition
- SAP Vehicle Insights
- SAP Asset Intelligence Network
Adapt existing SAP IoT Applications with provided SAP tools
As mentioned in option 1, it is possible to optimize SAP applications to meet your requirements using ADAPT functionalities. This includes the configuration, customizing and user personalization of the software. Remembering the importance of user experience, adapting the user interfaces to specific user needs for instance can be an additional valid driver for adapting the software slightly.
- Easy adaptation to specific business and user needs
- No coding and coding skills required compared to option 3, 4 and 5
- The standard adaptation methods are configuration, customizing and personalization, and usually take effect at a system, business or user level
- Beyond this standard adaptation, additional tools might be available, that do not need coding skills (UI adaptation for example)
- If this option does not meet all of your requirements, option 3 can be an alternative
- Application specific adaptation tools
- SAP Web IDE (for UI adaptations)
Extend existing SAP IoT Applications with your own coding
Beyond adapting SAP software to your business and user requirements, it is also possible to extend the software with your own coding using existing extension mechanisms provided by SAP. Typical examples are the extension points provided by the SAPUI5 framework or the Business Add-Ins (BADIs) provided by the ABAP stack.
Besides these classical ways of extension, the SAP IoT Application Enablement plays an interesting role in the context of IoT.
- Makes it possible to close functional gaps that cannot be closed by standards adaptation tools
- Extension can be performed quickly by an experienced developer using extension points provided by SAP
- It might be possible to easily transition your extension back to SAP standard, once a similar functionality is available
- The extending option requires developer skills
- You need to support your custom development on your own
- This option should be used once option 1 and 2 have been fully evaluated, and there are still gaps
Custom develop your own end-to-end IoT solution using an SAP platform
If your current requirements cannot be met with a ready-to-use SAP application, an obvious alternative is to custom develop what you need. This option takes into account the fact that the SAP IoT platform provides a perfect basis both for SAP’s applications and for your custom-built, end-to-end IoT applications. The SAP IoT Application Enablement complements the platform services with additional valuable features.
- You can rely on an IoT platform provided by SAP that provides the services you need to develop end-to-end IoT solutions
- You can leverage your own SAP experience
- SAP IoT platform provides the flexibility to choose from cloud and on-premise features
- You can benefit from continuous improvements and maintenance support for the platform
- Developing your own end-to-end IoT solution typically requires several skills, including developer, process expert and designer skills
- You also need to support your custom-development on your own
- This option should only be used, if you have thoroughly evaluated options 1 and 2 and discovered that you cannot use them
Custom develop on any IoT platform and integrate with SAP backend
Finally, there is of course the option of developing your end-to-end IoT solution from scratch, based on a non-SAP platform. Even with this option though, you can still leverage integration services from SAP to connect your solution with your SAP business systems.
- If you already use a non-SAP platform, probably guided by your enterprise IT strategy, this might a suitable option
- You are pretty much on your own with this option
- Although there are services that will help you to connect with the SAP business systems, this option might be much more expensive and resource-intensive than option 4
- You might need additional platform skills
- Your existing SAP licenses might already include the SAP platform you need. If they do, this is an argument for reconsidering option 4
The bridge between step 2 and 3: Looking for capabilities
In the previous blog from this series, I recommended performing enterprise-specific analyses to identify those areas in your company with high potential for IoT-based improvements.
If you are an enterprise architect, you will know that one key element of this task is to identify “capabilities” that are required by several areas of the enterprise, including IT. If you are not that familiar with enterprise architecture (EA), I recommend taking a look at our video explaining the concept of EA.
The best way to evaluate your options is to start by asking yourself the following question: What capabilities do I need in order to improve the area I detected as my starting point in step 2? Ideally, options will be available, software products for example, which consistently describe the capabilities they provide.
The graphic above illustrates the relations between the capabilities and their environment based on our own EA-based information framework. As mentioned in an earlier blog, we start at the strategy level, more precisely with the business. Of course, an existing IT strategy will also influence our investigation into which capabilities are needed.
As part of our work in the SAP EA Explorer team, we plan to create a list of IoT-relevant capabilities together with a selection of customers in the German SAP User Group (DSAG). My current expectation is that we will start with this in early 2017. As soon as we have something ready, I will of course blog about it and put our findings into SAP EA Explorer.
Where to find more information about the options
SAP Enterprise Architecture Explorer (SAP EA Explorer) can already serve as a single point of entry to start exploring the different options in the context of IoT. All examples in the tables above point to information in the Explorer. If you are not already familiar with our tool, you might like to watch the short video “SAP Enterprise Architecture Explorer – The idea and the basics”.
To get a quick grasp of some of our focus areas, you might want to check out the following Explorer content:
Once you have identified potential for an IoT improvement in your enterprise, your next step is to find the right option. Your basic options are to leverage existing software solutions and adapt them as needed, or to develop your own IoT solution. SAP can help you with either complete end-to-end IoT solutions or the IoT platform to build your own solution.
To provide additional support with this process, our team plans to create a list of IoT-related IT capabilities in 2017. In the meantime, we will of course continue to produce blogs and videos, with a lot to come in the near future. Please stay tuned with us and this blog series, to keep track on upcoming blogs and content.
PS: The next blog of this series is “Characteristics of an Enterprise IoT Strategy – Part 4: Create prototypes“