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Will SAP NetWeaver Work with the Solutions You Have Now? How SAP's Technology Platform Supports Your SAP R/3, Legacy, and Third-Party Solutions

by Karin Schattka | SAPinsider

October 1, 2004

With the constant pressure to reduce costs, IT teams are looking to work with what they already have, while still continually addressing evolving business needs and technology standards. SAP NetWeaver is designed to complement, not replace, the systems and solutions already at work in your IT landscape, without a “rip and replace” approach.
 

With the constant pressure to reduce costs, IT teams are looking to work with what they have — at the same time, they must continually address changing business needs and evolving technology standards. Particularly on enterprise-level systems, this calls for leveraging their IT investments by extending functionality as far as possible.

SAP's technology platform can help companies do just that. Because mySAP ERP and mySAP Business Suite are based on SAP NetWeaver, many SAP customers are investigating what this platform means for them. They are determining how to make use of it immediately in their current IT environment — in SAP systems, such as SAP R/3, CRM, and PLM, and with legacy systems from non-SAP vendors — even as they plan their transition to mySAP ERP. This raises questions such as:

  • How will SAP NetWeaver work with our current legacy solutions?

  • How can SAP NetWeaver be used to extend existing and future SAP solutions with custom components?

  • How can we use new, more flexible technologies like Web services to connect older SAP R/3 systems and different third-party systems?

  • How can we Web-enable our legacy applications?

  • In the short-term, is it possible to use the backend systems as they are, but build new user interfaces in front of them?

The good news is that SAP NetWeaver is a comprehensive technology platform designed to work with SAP and non-SAP solutions alike — not just the most recent SAP releases. Granted, with mySAP ERP and mySAP Business Suite, SAP NetWeaver integration is built right in. But SAP NetWeaver is designed to work with your legacy applications as well, so you can continue to extend your current investments in SAP and non-SAP solutions, from SAP R/3 to mySAP PLM to third-party solutions, and use your existing IT skill base, including both ABAP and Java development skills. All the resources of your current landscape can be used to support openness and interoperability.

What's more, SAP NetWeaver is designed for incremental implementation, so that you can start by incorporating enhancements that bring high return in terms of design, development, and use. This article details a step-by-step, three-stage incremental implementation path to extend your current solutions and custom applications; this enables an enterprise to build skills while bringing clear benefits to users, before moving on to more complex "behind-the-scenes" customization challenges (see Figure 1):

  1. First, create portal-based user interfaces to extend current, underlying SAP applications and functions to a broader audience via Web technology.

  2. Create custom applications that combine data from multiple sources and allow users to interact with it in a coherent and user-friendly way. The SAP Web Application Server (SAP Web AS) allows existing SAP R/3 functionality to be recombined into new forms accessible through J2EE or ABAP components and Web services.

  3. Finally, deploy applications that can easily make use of a variety of applications and technologies— role-based user interfaces, SAP NetWeaver integration tools, Web services, components from mySAP Business Suite, legacy applications, and applications from other vendors. The resulting applications, which SAP terms "composite applications," are the foundation for a high degree of interoperability, reuse, and adaptability in your business processes.
Figure 1
SAP Roadmap for Extending SAP R/3

The initial step has a relatively short-term impact on users and functions, but the ultimate goal goes beyond simply extending your current application functionality. It also creates an open and extensible platform for the more efficient development, deployment, and management of SAP R/3 extensions and of custom applications. The result reduces TCO of your entire IT landscape, fully utilizing existing solutions and components to support the creation and adoption of new and innovative business processes.

Step 1: Enhancing Access to Current Functionality with SAP Enterprise Portal

Employees work with a vast number of applications, often requiring several user IDs. Valuable information is spread across various desktops and servers, out of reach to many users, and collaboration among employees must take place via email or by phone. SAP Enterprise Portal (SAP EP) provides an alternative to this — role-specific, Web-based, and secure access to all kinds of relevant information, applications, and services. The employee simply requires a desktop and a Web browser.

5 Examples of How SAP NetWeaver Helps You Build On Your Current System Landscape

Even before you make any upgrades, SAP NetWeaver can help you:

  1. Move a current module from an SAP R/3 or a third-party solution to the Web

  2. Use Web technology to combine functionality across different vendor applications or other installations of SAP R/3

  3. Build custom components and applications that rely on existing data or modules but deliver specific new functionality that is unique to the company or industry

  4. Deliver an innovation not yet provided by vendors or develop a custom product to enhance a relationship with a business partner

  5. Rapidly assemble information from various data sources for decision support

So, where can you make immediate use of the SAP Enterprise Portal? Look at any and all applications that can be called by a URL and that employees, partners, and customers constantly need — these are excellent candidates for portal access. Not only do role-based portals make all applications or transactions easily accessible, they also support principles like user management, user roles, adjustable user interfaces, security, authorization, and so on. SAP EP allows you to extend underlying SAP solutions, including SAP R/3, as well as other third-party applications, based on UI technologies like HTML, BSP, HTMLB, and Web Dynpro. All these applications or transactions will be visualized as iViews (an executable unit or application within the portal), as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2
SAP Enterprise Portal with iViews Built with Different UI Technologies

Consider the steps required to enter an order — Customer Service needs to check the order and customer credit limit, verify materials and product availability, confirm delivery, and so on. This could require financial and materials management systems, and perhaps other solutions acting as backend systems.

Rather than requiring users to know all these systems and transaction names, SAP EP allows the application developer to design iViews especially for this role, so a user can access all this information from a single desktop. The order is represented in one iView based on the CRM system, and the credit limit check is done in another iView connected to the financial system.

Users no longer have to toggle back and forth between interfaces, cut and paste data, or perform any of the other activities previously needed to get data from one area to another. Instead, the user can see everything organized in iViews on a single screen. Once the SAP Enterprise Portal is up and running, application developers have access to lots of prebuilt and preintegrated content, so this phase also does not assume a huge learning curve for application developers.

SAP EP helps all members of the supply chain — employees, partners, and suppliers — better access your current system functionality, in a way that makes a dramatic difference in users' everyday tasks. The next step addresses developing custom-built content and information to extending the functions of the overall solution.

Note!
  Thousands of prebuilt iViews are already at your disposal at the SAP iView Studio, www.iviewstudio.com/sapportal/home.asp. Here, application developers can download iViews bundled as business packages, which contain preassembled, role-based content for complete business tasks.

Step 2: Enhance the Overall Solution with SAP Web AS Tools for Custom Design

Prebuilt iViews for SAP Enterprise Portal are very powerful, but there will inevitably be cases where custom development is needed — perhaps something as simple as adapting the look and feel of the portal user interface. For this, you can easily adjust colors and logos by applying predefined or custom portal themes delivered with the Enterprise Portal, without having to code or touch the applications at all.

There are other situations where you need functionality beyond the scope of predesigned iViews, or where you want to combine the data of different processes in one application. For instance, your customer service team may be getting information from an SAP R/3 system, but require related information from a CRM system as well, all available through the portal. SAP NetWeaver lets you create a user interface that combines data from multiple sources and allows the user to interact with those in a coherent, user-friendly way.

To meet those requirements, the SAP Web Application Server helps you take existing SAP R/3 functionality and recombine it into new components based on ABAP (RFCs and BAPIs) as well as on J2EE and Web services technology. Then, design new user interfaces for your application by picking and choosing the information from those components — all supported by the SAP Web Application Server and its integrated development environment, SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio, which includes Web Dynpro.

With Web Dynpro you can use model-driven and graphical tools (see Figure 3) to customize and Web-enable applications with both traditional and new leading-edge UI elements like Roadmap, Office Integration, Adobe Forms Integration, and DateNavigator.1 Visual tools help you build the user interface as well as the connections to multiple backend components and data sources.

Figure 3
The Web Dynpro Design Tools in SAP Netweaver Developer Studio

What's more, with Web Dynpro, two independent iViews can "talk" to each other. For example, in Figure 4, we have two iViews — Order Inbox, which is connected to your CRM system, and Credit Limit Check, which is connected to your financial system. With Web Dynpro, these iViews can also be connected to each other. Users no longer have to drag and drop or cut and paste content; if they select an order, the partner ID information for the appropriate customer will automatically appear in Credit Limit Check.

Figure 4
SAP Enterprise Portal with iViews Built with Web Dynamo

In this case, these separate applications communicate using a Web Dynpro development feature called portal eventing for Web Dynpro applications. The Order Inbox iView fires the event, and Credit Limit Check subscribes to the same event. A Template Wizard guides you through each step in just a few clicks (although you could manually code portal eventing into your application as well).

With the SAP Enterprise Portal up and running and SAP NetWeaver development tools in place, you can use both prebuilt content from SAP and custom-built applications to support business requirements. The next step looks to take these applications to the next level: a landscape-wide shift toward full services-based applications that makes extending and adapting your current solutions even easier.

Step 3: Building and Running Composite Applications

From the programmer's perspective, the next, more advanced step is to use SAP Exchange Infrastructure, Composite Application Framework, and services from SAP R/3 to build entirely new applications that achieve a high degree of interoperability across systems and applications.

Here, users access your new applications via the Enterprise Portal, but behind the scenes is a new approach to creating these applications. Here, services-based composite applications — which make use of multiple software components from mySAP Business Suite, legacy applications, and applications from other vendors — are deployed as part of complex business processes supported by SAP Exchange Infrastructure. This step extends existing and legacy solutions to support and optimize new business processes that are designed to minimize the cost of adaptation and change. The two key SAP NetWeaver components are:

SAP Exchange Infrastructure
SAP Exchange Infrastructure (SAP XI) provides sophisticated process integration and messaging. Open integration technologies support process-centric collaboration among SAP and non-SAP application components, both within and beyond enterprise boundaries. SAP Exchange Infrastructure delivers the key integration-broker technology of the SAP NetWeaver technology platform and is essential to the business process management enabled by SAP NetWeaver.

SAP Exchange Infrastructure provides a range of adapters to integrate not only SAP solutions through SAP's standard interfaces (BAPI, IDOC, and RFC, for example), but also non-SAP systems through file, messaging, and — with more and more importance — Web services interfaces. Supporting a large number of Web services-based scenarios, either with the Web service capabilities of SAP Web Application Server or utilizing the value-added functionalities of SAP Exchange Infrastructure, SAP NetWeaver helps to manage a heterogeneous landscape by leveraging the development of services-based applications following the ESA blueprint (see sidebar).

Composite Application Framework
Forward-looking companies are already busy creating architectures based on Web services to allow rapid business process evolution and get the most out of existing IT investments and technologies such as SOAP, XML, and HTTP.

SAP's Composite Application Framework (CAF) includes a model-driven development tool, the Composite Application Modeler, designed specifically for creating applications from Web services (see Figure 5). CAF brings different kinds of services from SAP NetWeaver, from mySAP Business Suite and from homegrown or third-party services, into your development environment. This allows the core SAP functionality to inform and help automate future applications, thereby leveraging the information and knowledge about your SAP system to the maximum extent. With CAF's model-driven approach, composite applications can be rapidly reused, extended, and enhanced.

Figure 5
Mapping Services from Multiple Sources in a New Application: The CAF's Composite Application Modeler within the SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio

A Step on the Way to an Enterprise-Scale, Service-Oriented Architecture

The flexibility of Web services, combined with the model-driven development supported by SAP NetWeaver, enables the sort of business process evolution that is key to unlocking the value of Enterprise Services Architecture.

In Enterprise Services Architecture, applications such as SAP R/3 provide services that can be combined to form enterprise services. These enterprise services are built to understand and handle the complexity required for automating the core processes of a business — not just individual tasks. SAP itself will offer a variety of enterprise services,2 and customers and partners will help fulfill the demands of this type of enterprise-level, service-oriented architecture (SOA).

The goal of Enterprise Services Architecture is to give businesses the flexibility that will enable a rapid cycle of innovation and quick reaction to change at the lowest possible cost. SAP's Composite Application Framework will fully utilize Enterprise Services Architecture, which provides a plan for incremental progress toward a service-oriented architecture.

Conclusion

SAP NetWeaver is designed to complement, not replace, the systems and solutions already at work in your IT landscape, so you don't have to take a "rip and replace" approach. Investigate SAP NetWeaver as a starting point to enhance the systems you already have. Make use of new features and functions without replacing, but by reusing, existing components of your current system landscape.

While this approach meets some short-term goals to enhance current applications, it also prepares the technology, solutions, and skills base at work in your enterprise for future development and change. The creation of an open and extensible platform for the development, deployment, and management of your current SAP R/3 systems, SAP R/3 extensions, and custom-designed applications is well positioned to meet the unique demands of a complex organization and reduce the TCO of the IT landscape even as you plan for future upgrades.

For more information, visit www.sap.com/netweaver. For hands-on experience, developers can visit SAP Developer Network (SDN) at www.sdn.sap.com for articles, documentation, discussion forums, tutorials, and downloads of trial versions for many SAP NetWeaver components, such as SAP Enterprise Portal and SAP Web Application Server.


1 For more on these UI elements, see www.sdn.sap.com

2 For more on these future offerings from SAP, see "Build a Services-Based Infrastructure That Enables Business Change While Containing Costs" by Thomas Mattern in this issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsider.com).


Karin Schattka is Product Manager for Java-Based User Interfaces and Mobile Solutions at SAP. She has over 10 years experience in the IT industry and has worked as a developer and a consultant on various customer projects. In these positions she develops solutions for a range of devices and platforms. In recent years these solutions have been based on Java technologies, such as J2ME and J2EE. Karin has spoken at technical conferences and also writes articles for journals and other technical publications.

 

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