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Integration Isn't Just About Technical, Backend Connectivity — Business Content for SAP NetWeaver

by Sylvia Lehnen | SAPinsider

July 1, 2004

by Sylvia Lehnen, SAP Labs SAPinsider - 2004 (Volume 5), July (Issue 3)
 
Sylvia Lehnen,
SAP Labs

When it comes to integrating your business solutions, the focus of most IT teams is typically almost exclusively on behind-the-scenes connectivity — the backend connections that link solutions to a platform and to each other. One key goal of SAP NetWeaver is to provide precisely that level of connectivity for both SAP and non-SAP systems. At the same time, many of SAP NetWeaver's benefits result from integration at other levels as well; this expanded concept of "integration" includes the management of master data to facilitate smoother business processes, business intelligence to provide decision support, and a wide variety of user services brought together in portal interfaces that support people in the way they actually think, work, and communicate.

Consider, for example, a procurement manager. He needs information from a variety of systems — a system for tracking inventory levels, a procurement system with information about vendors and prices, and perhaps external information to stay on top of news about those vendors. This user has urgent work to do; he doesn't want to become an expert in each of these systems or commission IT to build the multidimensional analyses needed to make sense of the data. He simply wants to be alerted when inventory levels are low, find out easily which vendors supply stock at what prices and conditions, investigate how those vendors performed, perhaps share documents and information with other managers, and then initiate the purchase. Long-range goals, such as lowering overall inventory levels and procurement costs, will require additional analytical capabilities, such as the ability to analyze buying patterns in order to consolidate vendors and thus negotiate better prices and conditions.

In a scenario like this, the IT team could build each of these interfaces and functions from scratch. But in many cases, predefined Business Content from SAP makes this unnecessary. Unlike other platforms that provide a strictly "toolbox" approach to the integration issues posed in this scenario, SAP's 30 years of experience in best business practices allow SAP to pack NetWeaver with predefined Business Content to help companies jump-start their SAP implementations. Rather than just providing tools to create the necessary building blocks — including data mappings, message interfaces, alert mechanisms, data extractors, data models, portlets (iViews), roles, and so on — SAP has already done much of that work for the customer.

Business Content benefits end-users in most business areas and in many industry segments, as well as IT users whose job it is to consolidate data, develop and fine-tune content, monitor operations, and optimize performance in their SAP implementations. By using Business Content as a starting point, customers can benefit from cost savings and reduced time to implementation, which in turn results in faster and wider user adoption.

What Is Business Content?

Business Content consists of a collection of objects, primarily metadata, that enable business applications to take advantage of the integration capabilities of SAP NetWeaver. Business Content supports integration by:

  • Connecting platforms and applications — SAP NetWeaver provides the technical basis for backend integration, including predefined connectors, SAP and third-party adapters, and data mappings, all based on open standards.

  • Shaping or defining business scenarios — SAP NetWeaver delivers a wide variety of role-based business packages that contain predefined application resources assembled into portal interfaces, as well as the queries, data models, and InfoCubes that define data relationships for predefined reporting and analysis scenarios.

  • Enhancing applications — SAP NetWeaver includes roles and templates for extending customer solutions by creating new portal iViews, themes and layouts, templates for adding content management and collaboration functionality, and deployment definitions for making business content accessible on mobile devices.

  • Monitoring operations — SAP NetWeaver not only provides predefined content for business users, but it also supports IT users in monitoring user and system activity and making the behind-the-scenes adjustments that benefit end-users.

Let's look at each of these areas in more detail.

Business Content Connects Platforms and Applications

At the basis of any kind of integration is the ability of platforms and applications to communicate and exchange data.

To facilitate the exchange of data, SAP NetWeaver provides connectors and adapters for both SAP and non-SAP solutions, as well as ready-made mappings and message interfaces, including industry-specific mappings that comply with standards such as RosettaNet. To also integrate the unstructured data in corporate documents that makes up so much of a company's knowledge resources, repository managers help connect the Enterprise Portal to file systems, Web servers, and databases.

On a strategic level, SAP is committed to open standards and Web services. SAP serves on the board of the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) and is following its Enterprise Services Architecture,1 on which all SAP solutions will be built, as a blueprint for standards-based, service-oriented applications. Support for the JCA2 (the industry standard for connecting J2EE servers with EIS), and for BPEL3 (the open standard for Web services) will be part of SAP NetWeaver '04.

Business Content Shapes and Defines Business Scenarios

Consider that SAP solutions are extremely powerful, typically with hundreds of transactions and data points. Although any particular role may require only a subset of all that functionality, it will likely require access to additional SAP or external solutions, as well as capabilities available through Web services. Add to that the need to look at application data in a way that analyzes multidimensional relationships, and the challenge to the user of how to navigate it all becomes truly staggering.

To help address that challenge, Business Content includes business packages — portal interfaces that already include those (and only those) alerts, transactions, reports, and analyses a particular role needs. A good example of a role that benefits from predefined access to several SAP solutions and the capabilities of the SAP Business Intelligence solution is that of the line manager. With staff and budget responsibilities, this user's tasks range from recruitment to performance reviews to budget monitoring and planning. To support such users, SAP has already pulled together those forms, tasks, and reports typically needed and has made them available in a business package for managers. With the integration of mySAP HCM, mySAP Financials (or mySAP ERP, respectively), and SAP Business Intelligence capabilities into the Business Package for Manager Self-Services (see Figure 1), a manager has easy access to the resources needed to effectively manage staff and budgets.

Figure 1
A Business Package at Work: Manager Self-Services Portal Interface

Note!
  The analyses that are part of the business packages are just a small subset of the available Business Content for the SAP Business Intelligence solution, which includes hundreds of predefined data models (ODS models and InfoCubes), as well as thousands of data extractors and predefined queries.

The package for managers is just one of about 100 such packages based on SAP solutions, which together contain over 3,500 iViews. In addition, more than 25 vendors have provided business packages to make their solutions readily available on the SAP Enterprise Portal.

Business Content Enhances Applications

Along with the business packages and data models described in the previous section, Business Content can enhance the end-user experience based on both predefined portal content and custom content.

The most basic enhancement needed is the ability for customers to create additional iViews. In addition to tools for both business users and Java developers, SAP provides templates for a range of iView types — including access to SAP R/3 transactions, database views, simple URLs, and many other types of iViews — that can be easily created with the help of wizards. Most customers also want to define a corporate look-and-feel and customize the portal's appearance for various user groups. To address this need, SAP provides predefined page layouts and themes (designs), including a theme for visually impaired users. To further enhance the role-specific work most people do, SAP provides a number of templates that help set up content management and collaboration environments and enable mobile communication.

For example, SAP provides templates that accommodate a user's preferences for organizing documents in tree structures, charts, or maps. Additional templates are available for creating collaboration environments where participants can share calendars, task lists, and documents, and participate in chats and threaded discussions. For those who need access to corporate systems while on the road, predefined deployment settings simplify the assignment of mobile applications to users, roles, and devices.

Business Content Monitors Operations

Critical to any solution is the ability to monitor system performance and the user experience — and to be able to optimize both.

SAP NetWeaver provides many tools for monitoring, including Alert Management for recognizing critical situations and alerting designated users, Central Monitoring for monitoring the Integration Engine that controls basic connectivity, and the SAP Solution Manager for monitoring systems, performance, processes, and so on. Each monitoring solution includes Business Content that can serve as a starting point, with predefined monitoring parameters and output designations. For example, the Solution Manager includes four predefined log files that can be modified as needed.

In addition, SAP provides a number of queries for monitoring the operation of the SAP Business Intelligence solution. These queries analyze and identify dozens of variables — such as content objects most or least frequently used, active users at any time, and objects with processing times above threshold values — and display the results in a graphical form to make them easy to interpret. As a result, it is possible to know how particular content objects affect performance and to plan how to improve and reduce access times.

How Business Content Helps Lower TCO

As customers of SAP's Business Intelligence and Enterprise Portal solutions already know, the Business Content available for those solutions — including the business packages and SAP Business Intelligence content — help to save time and money during implementation. A user survey in 2003 confirmed that 91% of SAP Business Intelligence customers used that solution's Business Content, and that 81% derived significant business value from it.4

Figure 2 shows how customers can benefit from Business Content during the implementation of the Enterprise Portal or the Business Intelligence solution of SAP NetWeaver. Starting in the planning phase of a project, the roles, pages, and iViews available with SAP's business packages can help define the project scope, serve as an invaluable basis for discussion among stakeholders, and make it easy to create prototypes. During project realization, the adage "buy is cheaper than build" comes into play, since predefined Business Content can be implemented "as is" or extended as needed. Better yet, there's actually nothing to buy — most Business Content is included with the SAP NetWeaver or mySAP Business Suite licenses. During the operations phase, the "Demo Content" available for the SAP Business Intelligence solution is very useful in quickly developing training and support materials.

Figure 2
Benefits of Business Content Throughout the EP and BI Life Cycle

What companies will find with SAP NetWeaver '04 and beyond is that additional Business Content for other SAP NetWeaver components — providing either behind-the-scenes connectivity or the ability to enhance the user experience — will contribute even more to lowering overall TCO. This will be true particularly in the area of operations, where synchronized releases and a single update and maintenance strategy will facilitate user support, reduce the costs of software change management, and contribute to optimizing performance and data volumes. SAP is investing in additional content to provide uniform installation and update processes, extension options, and a unified shipment and maintenance strategy for all SAP NetWeaver components.

Summary

Integration is a multifaceted challenge — one that doesn't stop at connecting systems and applications. SAP provides the basis for meeting that challenge with the SAP NetWeaver integration platform and adherence to open standards. It surpasses competitor products by not just providing toolsets for building content, but by also providing ready-made Business Content to greatly speed up projects that also seek to integrate processes, information, and people.

For more information on deploying Business Content on your SAP NetWeaver platform, visit "Related Topics" at http://service.sap.com/ep-content.


1For more on Enterprise Services Architecture, see Franz Fritz's article, "When Does a Web Service Become an Enterprise Service? An Introduction to the Principles of Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA)," in the April-June 2004 issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsider.com). For more on WS-I, visit www.ws-i.org.

2 J2EE Connector Architecture.

3 Business Process Execution Language for Web Services.

4 Results of this customer survey regarding BW Business Content are available at http://service.sap.com/bw-bct under "General Information."


Sylvia Lehnen is the US product manager for portal content. In addition to promoting predefined content developed by SAP and third-party solutions for the SAP Enterprise Portal, she is working to define and support Business Content for all the capabilities made available as part of SAP NetWeaver. Sylvia has been with SAP for five years. Drawing on an educational and professional background in journalism, instructional design, and marketing, Sylvia previously worked with various high-tech firms in Silicon Valley to create and implement comprehensive information and training strategies.

 

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