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Do a 3-Phase SAP NetWeaver XI: Proof of Concept

by Ratnang Desai

August 11, 2009

The methodology for an SAP NetWeaver XI POC should consist of three phases: planning, design, and implementation and assessment. While it requires significant effort in terms of time, resources, and budget, a POC can help you choose an effective integration technology to support your company’s long-term IT strategy.

Any company planning to use SAP NetWeaver Exchange Infrastructure (SAP NetWeaver XI), should consider doing a proof of concept (POC). It’s important to understand the functionality of SAP NetWeaver XI and how it can meet your architecture’s interfacing requirements during the early stages of implementation.

If you run a POC as a small project, instead of creating one-off interfaces, you can structure it so that its deliverables and results are usable during later phases of the implementation. That’s why it’s imperative to lay down a detailed methodology at the beginning. Finding out early also gives you adequate time to change course, if necessary.

The Devil Is in the Details

The methodology for an SAP NetWeaver XI POC should consist of three phases: planning, design, and implementation and assessment (as shown below).

SAP NetWeaver XI POC Methodology

1. Planning phase: Establish POC foundation

This phase creates the foundation of the POC (see “Activities in the Planning Phase,” above) and is, therefore, one of the important differentiators among effective, mediocre, and ineffective assessments. The POC should be well organized in terms of functional and technical resources. In addition, the knowledge building and knowledge transfer activities should be well defined.

Activities in the Planning Phase

The planning phase has three primary steps:

1) Define the POC interfaces and the results criteria

A list of the interfaces and conversions needed for implementation provides the raw material for this step. If the project is already in production, a list of these elements probably exists. The list is typically prioritized by how critical each item is to the business and to performance. It’s important to test interface variations from both a business and a technical standpoint so you know how they will affect your system. For example, synchronizing the material master is a common interface that usually appears at the top of the list, but testing an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) interface may be equally important depending on your implementation.

To become confident in your SAP NetWeaver XI solution, you need to detail the features of each interface in the prioritized list. It’s helpful to add a “features” column to the list to record this information. It also helps to catalog and prioritize the interface features required to demonstrate the POC. Remember, this exercise is a middleware evaluation and requires a focused approach; otherwise, the scope of the POC can easily expand into aspects of the overall implementation.
When the list of interfaces is finalized, you need to define the criteria you will use to evaluate the results of the POC. These criteria may also act as an execution guide. For example, if the primary purpose of testing an interface is to see how it will handle the volume of transactions, you should focus on methods of generating, communicating, and translating large quantities of transaction data. If its primary purpose is to test complex transformations in SAP NetWeaver XI, you should focus on defining and incorporating the transformation logic.

For example, at one of the largest automotive manufacturers, material master conversion was very complex and the company wanted to test the merging of files from multiple legacy systems before loading the data into ERP. Therefore, we focused the requirements around how SAP NetWeaver XI can stage and merge data from multiple sources.

2) Define the SAP NetWeaver XI POC architecture

Next, you need to make decisions about the POC’s architecture because SAP NetWeaver XI relies heavily on the adapter framework. SAP provides a set of adapters out-of-the-box to connect to SAP, as well as non-SAP systems. In addition, SAP has built a community of certified third-party adapters that provide specialized services, such as EDI connectivity. Your interface selection provides a basis for architectural decisions about the SAP NetWeaver XI build and the adapter framework. The interfaces also indicate the SAP and legacy systems involved in data exchange.

Since SAP NetWeaver XI connects relatively seamlessly with SAP, the potential challenge lies in connecting to legacy systems. SAP provides some standard adapters, such as FTP, out-of-the-box. Using the FTP adapter to transfer files is a practical way of connecting to a legacy environment. At one of the Fortune 50 companies, the customer used the standard MQ series connectivity of an existing SAP R/3 sandbox system to get data into SAP NetWeaver XI. Then we analyzed the output generated by SAP NetWeaver XI.

Many companies choose an EDI transaction as the SAP NetWeaver XI interface to be tested during the POC. A third-party solution can help achieve EDI integration using SAP NetWeaver XI, but it may not be practical if you’re only trying to understand whether SAP NetWeaver XI can convert data into an EDI format. There are several standard EDI formats, but if a third-party solution isn’t available, test the custom conversion function in SAP NetWeaver XI.

Custom conversion can be used to convert SAP data into a format that a legacy system currently sends to an EDI translator. It can also be used to convert SAP data directly into ANSI X12 or any other standard EDI format. You can gain a good understanding of the custom conversion features of SAP NetWeaver XI if you take this route, knowledge that will most likely apply when developing other interfaces during an SAP NetWeaver XI implementation.

3) Define implementation accelerators

Performing an SAP NetWeaver XI POC can provide a unique opportunity for the early definition of implementation-related templates. These templates, many of which are independent of SAP NetWeaver XI, can help jumpstart your implementation by providing a baseline. And if you create these accelerators in the planning phase, they can lead to a more disciplined and structured POC.

Various companies have taken advantage of this phase to accelerate the creation of templates for development strategy, naming conventions, test-tool selection criteria, functional specification, and technical specification. These templates are then used in actual implementation of the SAP project.

The three steps above support the creation of a sufficiently detailed work plan, against which your team can execute the remaining phases.

2. Design phase: Detail the interfaces

At this point, you should have a work plan, a list of interfaces, architecture design, evaluation criteria, and the templates/procedures that are required for the POC. The design phase is used to detail the interfaces to a greater degree through the following activities:

  • Create functional specs: The POC team works with the functional teams to create functional specifications for the interfaces to be built. Besides functional requirements and details, it is useful to have a gap-resolution section in the functional specs. During initial phases, there may not be sufficient information on the SAP application side to get all the details required for the interface build. Making logical assumptions and assigning default values are acceptable practices as long as they don’t compromise the purpose of the POC interface build. After the POC is completed and sufficient facts are gathered, the gap-resolution section can be revised, filling in the new, accurate information. In addition to gap resolution, identifying requirements for error handling and reporting is also critical.

  • Create test cases and plans: The team should describe in detail the tests that need to be performed on developed interfaces to confirm their functionality and the features of SAP NetWeaver XI.

  • Build the architecture: Building the SAP NetWeaver XI POC architecture includes installing SAP NetWeaver XI and connecting it to the various systems through the adapter framework. You also need to configure file systems, if FTP is used, and SAP, where relevant. At the end of this activity, all the required systems should be connected.

3. Implementation and assessment phase

Build the interfaces. The interfaces are built in the implementation phase. Once completed, they should be tested and the results compared to the evaluation criteria defined in the planning phase. This typically involves:

  • Develop technical specifications: Using the inputs from the functional specifications, the team then develops technical specifications. These specifications detail the SAP NetWeaver XI development, data dependencies, and non-functional requirements. Non-functional services are particularly critical to the effectiveness of the SAP NetWeaver XI POC. Error handling, reporting, logging, reconciliation, staging, correlation, flexible routing, and common information formats are examples of non-functional services. Definition of these services can help you to understand the business-process management functionality of SAP NetWeaver XI, especially in the case of complex interfaces.

  • Build and test interfaces: Based on the technical specifications, the interfaces are developed. Once they are built, they are tested in accordance with the test cases and plans laid out in the design phase.

  • Assessment: Once the interfaces are developed and tested, the results should be confirmed against the functional specifications and the evaluation criteria. In case of any gaps, the interface designs or builds should be changed.

Lessons Learned

This methodology will help to provide a structured method for conducting an SAP NetWeaver XI POC and assist in determining if SAP NetWeaver XI is right for your organization. Based on real-life experiences, the following are the significant lessons learned that make this methodology effective:

Allocate adequate time and resources to the planning phase. This can help establish the foundation of the POC. Compromising on one or more activities in this phase is likely to lead to rework or poor-quality results, which in turn is likely to lead to higher costs. In addition to thread-management-related resources, the rule-of-thumb is to dedicate one full-time person from the technical team and one full-time person from the functional team to the planning phase.

Focus on the middleware features rather than on the end-to-end detailed design of the implementation. The SAP NetWeaver XI POC will be conducted before the business processes are finalized. However, companies do have a good handle on the functionality they expect from their middleware solution. It is therefore important for project management to keep the team and the project focused on the features of SAP NetWeaver XI rather than on the application-level details of the interface.

Build SAP NetWeaver XI competency in-house. The project team should include one or more individuals experienced in SAP NetWeaver XI implementations. My experience suggests that in the new world of SAP NetWeaver, the individuals most skilled in SAP NetWeaver XI are usually consultants. Therefore, to help achieve desired results, it is important to build in-house competency in SAP NetWeaver XI while going through various phases of the POC. A leading practice is to transfer knowledge continuously at each phase of the implementation rather than waiting until the end.

POC Gain Is Worth the Pain

Implemented correctly, I’ve seen companies derive the following benefits from an SAP NetWeaver XI POC:

  • Assessment of SAP NetWeaver XI’s development areas and strengths as they pertain to the interface requirements for an SAP NetWeaver platform implementation

  • Reuse of templates and accelerators developed during the SAP NetWeaver XI POC to jumpstart interface implementation in the realization phase of the overall project

  • Confirmation that the budget that has been allocated for interfaces versus the actual effort required is going to be sufficient

A POC requires significant effort in terms of time, resources, and budget. However, the benefits can help you choose an effective integration technology to support your company’s long-term IT strategy.

Ratnang Desai is a senior manager with Deloitte Consulting in the Technology Integration Practice. In the past 10 years with Deloitte, Desai has provided leadership to the technology, architecture, and development threads of large, global SAP implementations. Currently, he provides his services to a global automotive and industrial equipment manufacturer on a challenging SAP NetWeaver program. RD is a part of the SAP NetWeaver Leadership Group within Deloitte and is the SAP NetWeaver XI component lead.

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