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Norbert Kytka, Headquarters PlattlingContact
SAP appeared to be making every effort to wipe out any poor impressions left by the technical problems that arose during “Sapphire Virtual” in the spring, with all systems blazing for its December technology conference. The results were superlative: the 48-hour event went smoothly from start to finish, offering the 60,000 registered participants a range of ways to interact, and making use of various innovative technologies. The conference theme was “Intelligent Enterprise” and the associated cloud-based infrastructure.
Most of SAP’s development resources are currently being directed into its “Intelligent Enterprise” program. The goal of this program is to combine the diverse business tools – SAP S/4HANA, SuccessFactors, Concur, Ariba, etc. – into a single integrated, intelligent suite, which can be used to seamlessly handle the core business processes within a company or group. The suite will also have a standardized user interface (SAP Fiori 3), standardized data model (One Domain Model) and centralized workflow inbox. SAP announced that at the end of 2020, the project was 80–90% on the way towards its “Wave 1” target. “Wave 2” will see event handling within the suite being developed along with an event-based extension capability.
The central theme of the first keynote, given by SAP CTO Jürgen Müller, was extensibility for business solutions. One announcement that should please the classical ABAP developers: the SAP Cloud Platform ABAP environment now offers “multitenant mode”. This means that existing ABAP-based add-ons can be migrated into the cloud as required and made available centrally to the various user companies. Given the numerous extensions out there, this represents a major plus. At the same time, there is an increasing focus on event-driven architectures, which can exploit the benefits of a looser coupling between applications. The relatively new Enterprise Messaging service provided by SAP Cloud Platform will also help with this.
In the field of data management, SAP launched the HANA Cloud in 2020. One use for this is to aggregate and evaluate data from diverse data sources – cloud storage, relational databases, and of course HANA backends. It can also be combined with the HANA Data Lake to store and process petabyte volumes of big data. The SAP Analytics Cloud provides end users with simple, intuitive ways to analyze data.
Another core feature of the Business Technology Platform, after extensibility, will be integration. After all, that’s the Intelligent Enterprise suite’s core USP. SAP’s Cloud Platform Integration Suite is a comprehensive bundle of services, just recently made available under a single integrated license. New integration scenarios, specially designed for B2C applications, include “Open Connectors”: over 150 standard connectors are available to link to services such as Slack, Google Drive, Salesforce, Office 365, etc., and can be used to develop a wide variety of interesting use cases. Of course, integration with SAP’s own business applications is also important; the goal here is to use the Master Data Integration Service and the One Domain Model to support exchange of master data in standardized formats.
In the Day 2 keynote, Jürgen Müller explored the topic “Industry Cloud”. Part of SAP’s product strategy reorientation involves strengthening its industry focus. The company aims to offer more cloud-based add-ons for the 25 supported industries, with 80% of the solutions originating from partners and distributed through the App Center. The “Architecture and Development Guide” published for TechEd provides an overview for partners, highlighting which services should be used and which conditions apply.
The intelligence in “Intelligent Enterprise” refers, of course, to machine learning and AI. Independently of the core technical services, SAP is increasingly integrating AI-based scenarios into its specialist modules. The AI Business Services provide prefabricated solutions promising rapid added value; for example, these might be used to classify unstructured business documents, using OCR tools to extract the document contents.
Last but not least, the “low-code development” model came under the spotlight. There is a good reason for the considerable hype surrounding this topic at the moment: as the demand for digital solutions continues to skyrocket over the next few years, it simply won’t be possible for professional software developers to meet every need. Instead, the idea is to make it possible for business users to build their own applications to solve specific problems. SAP offers appropriate tools for this in the various domains, such as Cloud Studio in RPA 2.0, and Ruum for collaborative workflows.
Unsurprisingly, TechEd had to take a quite different, perhaps unique, shape this year. The conference was also marked by the absence of any major product announcement. SAP’s new, rejuvenated Board of Executives is driving a stronger focus on the company’s core competence of end-to-end business processes, supported by an integrated business suite. The current emphasis is on consolidation and harmonization. The Business Technology Platform is the stable foundation underpinning this strategy. Its stated goal is to be the best platform available for extending and integrating SAP data and processes – and it is certainly well on its way to achieving this.