Monday Knowledge Snippet (MKS) – 86 GIS Integration for SCE Applications using SAP Cloud Platform
Even though it interrupts the MKS flow for the Detailed Package Building a bit, I would like to spend today’s Monday Knowledge Snippet on the topic GIS Integration for Supply Chain Execution application. Working on this for more than 10 years now, I am personally very happy and proud that finally we reached a milestone on the road map my product owner Jens Gottlieb and I defined when starting this.
Before SAP Transportation Management started, SAP SCM applications where delivered together with a third party product providing GIS services like Geo Coding, Distance and Duration Determination, and Geo Routing. From a global and state of the art technology perspective this proved to be no good solution for the future. Therefore this setup was discontinued and we developed an open GIS integration framework enabling the customer to connect to whatever GIS vendor / product he wants to use. Obviously, the downside of this was that by default no GIS services have been available and that the connection always was a customer project. SAP tackled this by providing consulting packages and that worked for a large share of bugger customers. But of course we have been aware from the very beginning that an out-of-the-box GIS integration was required, even internally to support our development and demo landscape. Nevertheless, even being pressured quite a lot, we decided that SAP Transportation Management could NOT provide such an integration as it is not part of the core business domain we are working on. Developing and supporting this would have cost so much effort that could no go into improving our core business processes. I always demanded SAP to provide such an integration that all SAP applications can use and it took many years to get there.
The most important requirement to me was always to have a vendor independent solution. Even though we work very well together with for example HERE for many years now, SAP applications must follow the product standard to be global. You can not imagine how many times I have been approached by consultants telling me how easy it is to connect to Google GIS services and asking me why we don’t have this out of the box. Yes, for a quick shot maybe. No standard worthy solution for me. Reality is that there are plenty of GIS vendors worldwide, existing or potential SAP customer might already have valid contracts, or any other reason might force the customer to stick to with specific GIS vendor. SAP customers should be free to pick their vendor based on required quality, price, and service. If SAP works something out with a specific GIS vendor that is beneficial for customers – fine.
More details can be found in MKS33.
With the rise of SAP Spatial Services it became clear to me that finally a group within SAP was there to take over that challenge to provide GIS services for all relevant applications. Having already build up the knowledge in core SAP HANA services, the integration of external services would improve this overall solution portfolio even more.
After much work, today we can roll out the solution: SAP applications can now consume external GIS services using the SAP Cloud Platform via the SAP Spatial Services.
The SAP Spatial Services have defined standard interfaces for the relevant services independent of the selected GIS vendor, so the technical integration is stable.
How can a customer use this solution in SCE applications?
The GIS integration framework used in SCE applications is part of the SCM Basis layer. This layer has been enhanced with SAP note 2711181. The note delivers the required core process controller elements to connect to the SAP Cloud Platform and is released for SCM_BASIS 714, S4_1709 and S4_1809. SCM_BASIS 714 is the foundation below SAP Transportation Management 9.4 and following. After having this note implemented (or installed via support package), it is possible to configure the new GIS integration. This is supported by note 2751622 having the most recent setup guide attached.
Note that currently the customer must have the contract with the GIS vendor.
Geo-Map using SAP Visual Business
Next to the GIS services used for the core business processes, SAP TM leverages SAP Visual Business to display maps and provide interactive features on them (like manual planning). Technically this is kind of independent, but in reality a customer wants to use the same vendor for all GIS services including the map. This is possible, just requires consistent SAP VB configuration.
Limitations and Outlook
From an architectural view the solution fulfills the core requirements and takes away the need for custom projects coding the integration. But a milestone is only a milestone and we still see a lot ahead of us. The number of supported GIS vendors should grow and this will for sure be driven by customer demand (You might argue that my key requirement I elaborated on above is not fulfilled due to the limited number of supported vendors – for me only half true as the application side will not have to make any adjustments and the component where GIS vendor additions need to be done is clear). Configuration of the GIS account should be part of the SAP Spatial Services and not on the application side. And finally it would be nice if standard GIS vendors would be available so the customers would not need to negotiate themselves.
One thing I would like to make very clear: This solution introduces the SAP Spatial Services as an abstraction layer. And as always such an additional layer brings benefits, but of course also challenges. For large volume and high demand scenarios a direct GIS vendor specific connection can still be the better solution. But for a large share of SAP customers and use cases this is the perfect match.