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Hybrid Integration Platform – why go with SAP?

As you may know by now, I am working as a pre-sales at SAP since 2016 in the integration and API Management space. I have talked with plenty of customers, performed many workshops (including TechEd) and presented SAP’s integration strategy numerous times (including my latest co-presentation with Globus „API Management: beyond Integration“).

What I am not so good at, is fingerpointing and making competition look bad. But on several occasions, I had to face customers who asked me to answer to competition’s remarks about our integration products. Sometimes these remarks were simply wrong, sometimes illogical statements.

Anyways: I thought that there may be more customers I don’t even know about, who got approached by my non-SAP colleagues. In this blog I will try to respond to my customers remarks, show how efficient SAP Cloud Platform Integration can be and open the conversation towards future-looking aspects of integration.

Note that the following is expressing my own opinion based on my experience and knowledge.

IT was not born yesterday in the cloud

When talking about SAP, one may forget that we are now a cloud-first company. Many of our customers are using our cloud products, which are all based on cloud-software paradigms including modern and standard-based interfaces.

However, a lot of customers are still using older on-premises SAP products. These products, like so many others, have been built over the years and have been optimised by customers to adapt to their requirements. Older SAP ERP systems provide multiple ways of accessing information und functions. IDOCS for instance can be used for exchanging information across SAP-Systems. But they can also be sent and received directly over HTTP in XML format. Also, an SAP system can very easily be accessed over REST APIs, be it through the Netweaver Gateway Hub or natively in the case of SAP S/4 ERP.

Also, multiple and regional backend systems are not specific to ERPs. There are many examples of distributed architectures, be it databases, datawarehouses or CRM systems.

My point is: it is not relevant how many interfaces or how many systems customers have.

The question really is: can they easily be integrated by your integration developers?

Using an integration solution like SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite will simplify integration overall: indeed, the SAP Integration Suite supports both open standards (like HTTP, SOAP, OData, XML, …) and SAP-standards (IDOC, RFC, ODC, XI …). Hence your integration team, and even the citizen integrator, will be able to easily integrate SAP and non-SAP, on-premises or cloud systems.

Also, SAP Cloud Platform Integration is capable of implementing typical EAI patterns as required by customers who are running globally distributed systems: message router, dynamic router, scatter-gather, Request-Reply, Content Enricher,….

So overall, the SAP Cloud Platform Integration Service can be used as a central hybrid integration platform, accommodating both SAP and non-SAP integration scenarios.

But looking only at technical integration challenges will not solve the business requirements of the future: API Management and Integration cover important use cases, but that’s not all customers have to care about.

Customers need a holistic and future-proof integration approach, based on flexible and easy-to-use integration building blocks. The SAP Cloud Platform Integration services are capable of dealing with all of your existing and future integration challenges such as delivering digital products, enabling event-driven integration architectures, simplifying connectivity through „connectivity-as-a-service“, simplifying integration through machine-learning, etc..

Here is an overview of the most relevant SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite Services.

Interested in more details? Check them out here!

 

What makes the SAP Cloud Platform Integration service so unique?

Predefined content

While writing this blog, I wanted to investigate how much predefined content is actually available to our customers.

At first, I found more than 5.300 artefacts: Value Mappings, Message Types, Integration Flows, User Guides,  API Management templates, API definitions, Business Rules, Events, …. I was quite surprised but then I remembered that we provide predefined content for all of our integration services. Not only for integration. And that includes API Management, Enterprise Messaging, Workflow and Business Rules, Integration Advisor, etc..

After that first round, I refined my search and found 226 integration packages that can be used, free of charge, within the SAP Cloud Platform Integration service (for A2A, B2B, B2G integration use cases).
Each integration package contains numerous integration flows which implement specific integration use cases. Targeting integration flows only, I ended up with 1254 results.

All this integration content covers both SAP and non-SAP integration scenarios: Validic, ELSTER, Kronos, Workforce, Active Directory, Google, BenefitFocus, Vertex, Facebook, IBM Kenexa, ADP, NGA, …

And the best is that all these integration flows are free of charge, maintained by SAP and can run on either your SAP Cloud Platform Integration service or on your SAP Process Orchestration instance, on-premises!

You can check the predefined content in the API Business Hub.

Central web-based user interface

When I use SAP Cloud Platform Integration, I do not have to know much about the intricacies of the product. Indeed, everything is available over a Web UI, centrally.

For instance, once I have copied a predefined integration package, I do not need to open the so-called „integration flow“ (the technical implementation of an integration process) ta dapat it to my environment: I simply configure some parameters.
There are no „complicated_difficult_to_read_properties“ file to configure somewhere, no variables to set in another file, no projected number of executions to define anywhere…. Only parameters that need to be filled-in using a simple UI.

Hereunder I have captured the 2 steps of configuring an integration flow.

This approach really make things simple for the integration developer, and is a step towards empowering the “citizen integrator“.

And if you want to customise a predefined integration flow after configuring it, or if you want to build a new one, you can use the graphical, easy-to-use, drag-n-drop-based and central Web UI.

Everything is available visually, through pre-defined process steps based on typical EAI patterns, providing data massage and orchestration features.

Make it secure and keep it that way

One of the most important aspects of integration is security. After all, you are opening up your core systems to the outside world. At SAP we believe that security should not be complicated: security should be simple to setup and simple to maintain. Nobody wants to get into the office on Monday morning, realising that integration is not working anymore because a certificate surprisingly expired.

This is why you can setup and manage security artefacts in SAP Cloud Platform Integration centrally through a Web UI. User credentials, secure parameter, Oauth credentials, keyrings,… are defined by a dedicated team member. These artefacts are then referenced in the various integration flows, so that changes are done centrally, not in each integration flow.

Most important of all: you can centrally manage all your certificates in a visual way, and see which ones are expired or about to expire.

This feature really helps since it avoids integration developers (not security experts) having to dive into the operating system to setup, manage and check certificates in a complicated manner.

All on board!

Using integration tools from the competition, you might find yourself in the situation where you have to manually install specific libraries to get an adapter to work. However, the integration developer expects everything on board, by default: no additional libraries to install and maintain, no command-line configuration, no XML setup.

SAP Cloud Platform Integration provides all adapters right out-of-the-box. Simply use them. Do not spend hours installing and configuring them. And if you go with the Enterprise Edition, all adapters are included in the license: you do not need to worry about licensing extra adapters later on.

For more accurate information of all of our adapters, check out the list here.

Note that within the SAP Cloud Platform Integration Service, you can also use the SAP Cloud Platform Open Connectors, for a harmonised and simplified access to 160 cloud applications (that’s what I call “connectivity-as-a-service”).

Mappings: can you see it?

When defining mappings, you have different approaches: some love to code, some have spent 10 years understanding XSLT and some simply want to get the job done. So the easiest way to get the job done, is to use a powerful graphical mapping editor. Like the one of the SAP Cloud Platform Integration Service.

There you can graphically define complex mappings, including calls to predefined functions. If the functions we provide are not sufficient, you can still program your own. But my take is that 80% can be done using predefined functions anyway, hence reducing effort and simplifying integration projects.

„What the…?“

Once the integration flow is up-and-running, you may have to deal with errors. The big question is: „How easy is it to pinpoint the issue?“. You may love to read through lengthy and not-really-human-readable logs, but only because you have never used the SAP Cloud Platform graphical integration flow debugger!

Indeed, with the SAP Cloud Platform Integration service, you can display your integration flow and see where exactly the error occurred. Clicking on the error will provide you more details so you can easily remediate the issue.

And for all the machines out here reading this blog: yes, you can still download the complete logs.

Are we there yet?

There are many more aspects I could talk about, but “features & functions” are only one part of the equation.

What is really important when I talk to my customers, is the notion of “strategic hybrid integration platform”, designed for any requirement a customer may have now, or in the future. The SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite is an umbrella of independent services (think of them as micro-services) which provide synergies when used together.

Aside the “commodity”-services like the Integration and API Management services, it is very important to keep an eye open for upcoming integration challenges. So here is a selection of services that customers should keep in mind when looking at a holistic hybrid integration platform:

  • Integration Advisor: based on machine-learning algorithms and a database of integration artefacts, the Integration Advisor will provide the integration developer interface and mapping proposals, based on his requirements (country, use case, industry,…). Hence, development of integration artefacts is largely sped up, and does not require valuable domain expert time.
  • Open Connectors: more and more customers are using cloud applications. However, they all have different interfaces, eg. authentication, error codes, technologies (SDK, SOAP, REST,…). SAP Cloud Platform Open Connectors provides access to more than 160 cloud applications as harmonised REST APIs, featuring the same data model, authentication, error codes, etc..
  • Enterprise Messaging: the implementation of an event-driven integration architecture is becoming an objective for many customers. With the SAP Cloud Platform Enterprise Messaging service, customers can start with the implementation of such an architecture, to accommodate decoupling and real-time requirements.
  • Workflow: human-centric processes are error-prone and not efficient. Business processes can be digitalised using the Workflow and Business Rules services to provide a cloud-based BPM Solution including configurable business monitoring based on customer-defined KPIs.

Conclusion

If you read the full article (granted: it was quite long), I hope I could convince you to have a look at our awesome SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite services. Feel free to ping me, comment or get in touch otherwise if you want to discuss things further!

1 Comment
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  • Hi Sven,

    thanks for such an informative blog.

    Could you please guide me with best practices and tech stack in consuming external APIs within SAP. To be precise am trying to get my head around the mandate to use PO/CPI for consuming external APIs within SAP S/4. When we use destinations in SCP applications, does that also route through some kind of middleware?

    Regards,

    Sitakant.