Enterprise systems seem to grow like rings on a tree. Ideally, the vendor starts with a grand blueprint that can evolve. However, as history tends to toss curveballs, it’s difficult for vendors to 100% “future proof” their architectures. So they end up adding new layers of technology. While the extensions draw vendor support, the drawback is added complexity and cost.
SAP is a good (but not the only) example of this. Since introducing R/3, the client/server successor to the mainframe R/2 app, it has superimposed new technology demand changed. Of course, that makes sense given that SAP customers are not about to rip out billions of dollars of R/3 investment every time they want some new capability.
So, when demand first materialized for the need for a simpler alternative to ABAP4 programming for exposing R/3 to other systems, it devised Business APIs (BAPIs) containing pre-defined paths to SAP’s data and process models. As need for web enablement and business intelligence emerged, SAP introduced the MySAP.com web infrastructure, complemented by a series of SAP BW analytic applications. And when it came to enterprise integration, SAP responded last year with NetWeaver, a new services-oriented architecture for building “composite applications.”
While a good start for customers with SAP-centric environments, until now, NetWeaver was just the latest SAP tree ring. You still needed other SAP tools and middleware if you wanted to access core R/3 processes, build portals, or enable mobile devices. A year later, SAP has taken the logical next step by integrating NetWeaver with most of its middleware. That’s an approach that looks a lot like BEA’s and Oracle’s, but with native R/3 connectivity added.
We’d like to see SAP take matters a step further. Today, MySAP and NetWeaver remain separate. Maybe that makes sense for customers that simply want web access without the integration or portal. But in the long run, that’s an artificial separation. For instance, if you let customers place orders via the web, sooner or later it may make sense to tie that to related processes such as invoicing or customer history without awaiting batch updates. As SAP is competing largely on its ability to deliver soup-to-nuts solutions, why not finally put MySAP.com and NetWeaver together where they belong?