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Exchange Infrastructure - The Essential Enabling Technology for Business Process Integration

by Peter Graf | SAPinsider

April 1, 2002

by Peter Graf, Head of Marketing for SAP Markets SAPinsider - 2002 (Volume 3), April (Issue 2)

Q. What exactly is the exchange infrastructure?

An exchange infrastructure is one of the key elements of mySAP Technology. Together with the portal infrastructure, it creates a platform that unifies people, information, and business processes across even the most heterogeneous IT environments. The idea is that once you add an exchange infrastructure to your existing IT landscape, you can combine the capabilities of virtually all your existing IT systems — be they SAP or not — in a seamless process flow.

Q. Why is this better than existing process integration technologies?

The traditional approach toward integration takes two systems and puts a connection in between those systems. In this way, companies have created IT environments that are integrated at a high price: the complexity of all the 1:1 connections and the costs of setting them up and maintaining them locks companies in. With the exchange infrastructure, you just integrate each system once to a central hub. The exchange then controls the process flow across all connected systems. So, the exchange infrastructure renders that mass of connections obsolete. In its place, you’ve got a much neater, cleaner picture — and one that is far more efficient, effective, and affordable.

Q. But so many customers have made huge investments in existing inter-system connections. Are you suggesting they scrap those investments?

No, on the contrary — we actively advise customers to embrace this new integration platform in an evolutionary, not revolutionary, way. (Personally, I subscribe to the maxim “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”) If you’re interested in implementing the exchange infrastructure, we suggest you start by using it in conjunction with a new, collaborative process, such as mySAP Supplier Relationship Management (SRM), and leave existing integration as is.

Q. How is SAP delivering the exchange infrastructure to its customers?

First, all solutions will be based on the exchange infrastructure. So the software components that are contained in a solution come already integrated using the exchange infrastructure. Second, SAP solutions such as mySAP Supplier Relationship Management and mySAP CRM E-Selling can leverage the exchange infrastructure to also bring suppliers’ and customers’ systems into the equation. Companies have understood that integrating systems of suppliers, customers, and business partners help unlock the value that is currently buried within business boundaries.

Q. What would be a good analogy around the exchange infrastructure?

It’s not unlike an integrated home entertainment center. Imagine yourself on your couch at home, loaded with individual remote controls — one for your TV, one for your DVD player, for your VCR, your amplifier, and so on. What you really want is a universal remote, right? Well, that’s effectively what we did with SAP Portals, we’ve created our own universal remote — the portal. Click through all its offerings and you see information from your SRM, SCM, CRM, PLM, and ERP systems, from your legacy systems, as well as the content that is pulled from both your Business Intelligence systems and the Internet. Now imagine walking behind your home entertainment center and seeing all the various wires neatly snapped into the central amplifier. That amplifier is the exchange infrastructure. The systems don’t have to be connected to each other, only to the amplifier.

Of course, this analogy has its limits — the exchange infrastructure is about a lot more than just standards-based connections. It operates at the highest application layers, too; it actually maps the semantics of one system’s application to those of another and drives a business process across all systems involved.

Q. What’s the urgency? If a customer’s integration efforts are not “broken,” why rush to embrace the exchange infrastructure?

In today’s competitive arena, you soon won’t have much choice. Information and processes need to flow as efficiently as possible across both your enterprise and those of your customers and suppliers. A highly integrated value chain is far more efficient, cost-effective, and defensible than one that is not. Companies within a value chain strive at improving their collaborative capabilities to gain a competitive advantage. Any competitor that is looking to copy or improve upon what you deliver — whether in terms of quality, functionality, price, or delivery time — now not only has to replicate the individual strengths of all the members of your value chain, but also its total collaborative capabilities. And a tight-knit value chain doesn’t just form a good defensive posture, it creates a powerful offensive stance.

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