What is SAP and Microsoft interoperability

Dear readers,

I often hear customers running SAP arecomplaining about the usability of SAP’s standard GUI. In many casesthere is a gap especiallyinuser interfaces between whatend users expect from SAPand what SAP can providethem. Due to this gap, endusers tend tospend long time on manual operationsbefore entering data to SAP or after retrieving data from SAP. For example,a salespersonask foran approval from their boss fora discount by phone or mail, or a business manager createreports and graphs every time for pipeline review meetings.These manual processes can lowerthe productivity, and can causeoperational mistakes.

Manycustomers stilldevelop custom programs in ABAP to change or increase the SAP’s standard functionalities. ABAP is a programming language and has its own run time called ABAP VM, which is the basis of all SAP applications. With ABAPyou can do anything from the business logicto the presentation(Dynpro). Having overa thousandcustom ABAP/Dynpro objects is still common.

Howeverpeople started to gettired of full ABAP development, because it’s very costly. I’d say one ABAP program deveopmentcosts about30 man-day. Plus, Dynpro’slook & feels are very different from other business applications based onMicrosoft Office or Web.

Now SAP Business Suitehas such an open architecture with Enterprise Services (Web Services) and BAPI/RFC (SAP’s application protocol for external systems), that non-SAP technologieslike Microsoft .NET, SharePoint, SQL Server BI and BizTalk can becomethe presentation layer or eventhe business logic layer of SAP applications.

Following are the steps whenSAP NetWeaver or Microsoft technologies integrate with SAP Business Suite. Always same stories.

(1) Search SAP’s standard APIs (Enterprise Services or BAPI/RFCs) for necessary actions (create, read, update, delete etc) to the objects (e.g. customers, products, sales order)

(2) Ifstandard APIs don’t meet therequirements (e.g.so many input/output parameters, custom table objects),develop your own APIs in ABAP, and publish them as Enterprise Services or BAPI/RFCs

(3)Callabove APIs to dodata retrieve or data entry, from thetechnology that you use (not necessarily SAP products). (*) Transaction management, single sign on, connection pooling etc are possible.

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Every day I have this kind ofconversation with different customers.Why do they want usin this area? Maybetheysimply want to placeMicrosoft in the desktop and SAP in thebackend.

Following are the most frequently asked scenarios.

1. Business intelligence

SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) automate the retrieve of master data and transaction data, from SAP R/3, SAP Business Suite (ERP, SCM, CRM, SRM, PLM),SAP BW and othersources like Oracle DB, Oracle EBS, IBM OS390/400, DB2, and various types of file. The delta retrieve is mustwhen the data volume is huge. SSIS unloadthe data into the data mart once, after data cleansing.SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) create OLAP cubes from the data mart for multi-dimensional analysis. OnceOLAP cubes are available, you can publish themthrough SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), SharePoint Server or Microsoft Excel (Pivot table).

2. Realtime web reporting

SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) can dynamically retrieve data directly from the data sources like SAP R/3, SAP Business Suite, SAP BW and other DB/Cube solutions. SSRS have variety of presentation parts like table, graph, gauge andmap.

3. Front end extension

Visual Studio and .NET Framework can allow developers to access SAP R/3, SAP Business Suite,SAP BW and othersources like Oracle DB, Oracle EBS, IBM OS390/400, DB2 etc, thenit can provide end users with various kinds of user experience, like Web (ASP .NET, AJAX, Silverlight..), Microsoft Office (Excel, Word, InfoPath, Access..), Windows Forms, Windows Presentation Framework.

4. Workflow or Business process management

Windows workflow foundation or the 3rd party software like AgilePoint, K2 or Nintex can automate business processes like approval requestsprior todata entry to SAP. The business process in this context is expected to cover all of the business cases. For examplean approval process needs to coverthe case when an approver rejects a request and push it back to the requester, oran approver is taking a day off and the requester need to ask an alternate for approval. The entry form can be Web,Microsoft Excel, Word or InfoPath.

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These are what I’ve called “SAP surrounding solutions” since 2003. I’ve evangelized them inthe SAP community and I know how my customers actually implemented them. On the following postI’ll share thethe case studies,demo installation guides,and best practices with you.

Warm regards,
Takayuki

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