The early days of integration to now – a brief history
In the past, Application Link Enabling (ALE) was the means to exchange data within an enterprise between SAP and non-SAP systems. This included IDoc and BAPI’s as the standard SAP interfaces which played an important role in the technical integration and exchange of business data.
Later, as service-oriented architecture started gaining popularity during the early 2000s, SAP re-invented its interfaces and started exposing business functions in the form of web services.
For a long time, the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) was the go-to messaging protocol that almost every web service used. SAP enables the integration of SOAP web services through its Exchange Infrastructure/ Process Integration software SAP XI/PI.
Although SOAP proved very successful, a new lightweight architectural style called Representational State Transfer (REST) emerged to simplify the communications between software applications in a service-oriented architecture. REST was developed as an alternative to web service implementation and its flexibility and speed made it very popular during the mobile adoption era. Learn more about SOAP and REST here.
With message and communication protocols evolving quickly, SAP invested a lot in integration technologies and kept on adding new components and products to its integration suite.
At this time, SAP’s Integration Suite covers all integration use cases; applications, devices, users, people and so on. The diagram below illustrates how the Integration Suite meets the different service level needs of an organisation.
Figure 1 – Service categories addressed by SAP Integration Suite
The rise of cloud integration
When many organisations began moving to the cloud and with the introduction of software and platform-as-a-service offerings, more data silos formed because these applications remained difficult to access from other systems.
A shift in integration technology was needed.
So, SAP introduced its Cloud Platform Integration offering, an Integration Platform as a Service (IPaaS) for building and deploying integrations in both cloud and hybrid environments. This SAP Cloud Platform (CP) integration service runs on the versatile open-source Apache Camel routing engine.
The comprehensive SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite of services is depicted in the diagram below.
Figure 2 – SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite services (Source: blogs.sap.com)
With cloud infrastructure, the expectation is that innovations can be delivered faster. Too often the ability to innovate is hindered by the lack of integration with cloud applications.
That’s why SAP’s Cloud Platform Integration is an important, underrated piece of SAP’s integration strategy (more on this later).
As Gartner states in its SAP vendor report published in 2019, ‘a key challenge for SAP is to raise the profile of SAP CP and position it more aggressively as a digital transformation enabler. This will remove the perception that it is “merely NetWeaver for the cloud,” which many users and partners still have’.
Where integration is today and where it’s going next
With cloud integration still being developed and improved and an ever-evolving technology landscape meaning SAP is regularly releasing new integration products to market, it can be challenging for SAP customers to know what integration strategy or product is right for them. Customers often wonder;
- What will happen to on-premise applications (as cloud integration does not fit all business models)?
- How do you integrate across landscapes?
- What about security and authorisation (a single gateway for all entry points)?
So, here it is.
Integration for hybrid and on-premise scenarios
To cater specifically for hybrid requirements, SAP has a hybrid integration platform which consists of its Cloud Platform Integration and on-premise data and Process Integration/Orchestration (SAP PI/PO). See the diagram below.
Figure 3 – SAP’s Hybrid Integration Platform (Source: SAP SE)
SAP is consistently innovating with the hybrid platform improving aspects such as content sharing and integration runtime.
The architecture below illustrates the integration use cases currently supported by the hybrid integration platform.
Figure 4 – Integration use cases supported by SAP’s hybrid integration platform
SAP says it will continue to invest in its Cloud Platform Integration as the foundation for supporting cloud and hybrid integration in the future. To understand the CP’s current hybrid integration capability further, check out this blog.
There will also be continued investment in SAP PI/PO capabilities and platform support for safeguarding customers’ core on-premise integration scenarios. SAP plans to roll out new releases (beyond version 7.5 – the current recommended version) as they are ready.
Securely managed governance to API consumption
To provide security for building integrations involving SAP platforms, SAP has Application Programming Interface (API) software called SAP API Management. It securely handles the authorisations required to protect, analyse, and monitor the consumption of API services.
Thanks to its R&D investment, particularly in the Cloud Platform, SAP has notably increased its presence in the PaaS market. Gartner says in 2018 SAP’s API management offering grew 33% and integration PaaS (iPaaS) by 73%. In both cases this was faster than the segment average which is a positive indicator for the technology’s value and SAP’s strategic direction.
The future of SAP integration
In short; integration through aligned APIs.
SAP envisions an integration architecture that is based on public, aligned APIs to ensure their systems are open to integration with other applications and extensions. By applying this approach, new applications will qualify for integration using fully documented, public and aligned APIs.
The integration will be based on the provider (application providing the services) and consumer (application consuming the services) aligned APIs. The communication based on aligned APIs can also be extended using SAP Cloud Platform Integration for adding functionality or for governance purposes. For example, additional logging can be added to the integrations for monitoring purposes, or the integrations can be extended to handle the security and authorisations via API Management.
All APIs will be available on the SAP API Business Hub.
Here customers can get and publish the integration content on their integration design-time component where they have an option to configure and/or add new business functionality or extensions. Then these get deployed to SAP integration runtime (SAP Cloud Platform Integration or SAP Process Orchestration). The below diagram illustrates this.
Figure 5 – APIs in a hybrid environment (Source: SAP SE)
Aligned APIs and pre-defined integrations for SAP applications will make integration simpler and eliminate the need for custom integrations, which will be great for customers. Still, SAP’s integration across the components of its technology platform and with third-party offerings is a work in progress.
The bigger picture – SAP’s business process integration strategy
As well as focusing on technical integration and working towards fully documented public and aligned APIs, SAP is focused on delivering business process integration in four crucial areas – lead to cash (customer experience), total workforce management (people engagement), design to operate (manufacturing & digital supply chain) and source to pay (spend management).
See the slide below for an overview of the key execution scenarios and business processes that will be integrated end to end.
Figure 6 – Key integration scenarios within the Intelligent Enterprise (Source)
In each of these scenarios SAP’s goal is to retain the modularity and flexibility of independent solutions while delivering a harmonized, integrated experience.
SAP is using SAP CP integration and orchestration functionality to implement this array of end-to-end business process and system integration (lead-to-cash, total workforce management, design-to-operate and source-to-pay). These processes are largely S/4HANA-centric but, as you can see above, they also include other SAP applications (and will potentially involve non-SAP applications or new acquisitions down the line).
Gartner agrees that SAP Conversational AI (chatbot), SAP Fiori UX and mobile service capabilities are crucial to delivering the unified, consistent user experience across the end-to-end business processes and applications. New concepts and SAP CP services such as master data are also being applied for enabling true out-of-the-box integration and openness to integrate with non-SAP applications.
SAP’s Integration Strategy is more than promising but it will take several years for SAP to deliver the end-to-end processes and re-engineer the application portfolio to fulfil the Intelligent Enterprise vision by leveraging SAP CP’s AI/ML capabilities, conversational AI, master data and other business services.
References – Important Links
To understand if you are using the most appropriate SAP integration software for your landscape and/or to see if upgrading your integration software could solve some of your innovation challenges download our Integration Informer here (no contact details required!) or get in touch with our experts.