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The SAP ICOD: Filling the Gaps for Industry

by Adolf Allesch

August 11, 2009

SAP’s Industry Composite Development Program (ICOD) addresses functional gaps, or white spaces, within the SAP Business Suite with new lightweight composite applications. Find out more about this new approach that involves SAP partners.
 

The SAP Industry Composite Development Program (ICOD) isn’t some sort of counterfeit iPod. Rather, it addresses functional gaps within the SAP Business Suite using new composite applications with user-centric designs. ICOD-generated solutions are lightweight with connectivity to only a few business objects. The concept is to call Web or enterprise services and combine their logic as needed to tackle the gaps between business processes. An ICOD designed and developed solution has, by definition, 10 to 15 screens and is considered a micro vertical-industry composite.

For example, in maintenance order processing for the industrial machinery and telecommunications industries, the business process requires logging a defect, assigning a technician, and coordinating the repair process. A microcomposite application coordinates equipment maintenance, from defect-capturing to order closure, using the simple workflow assignment of a technician and forms-based order confirmation (offline and online). No ABAP required! All you need is a model-driven enterprise application that calls back-end logic and is displayed with a Web 2.0 front end and some Java for application logic, mainly for “glue coding” and simple business logic like validations.

With ICOD, SAP has examined its products in various industries to determine the business processes that have gaps, needed enhancements, and customer requests. For example, return-management authorization (RMA) in the high-tech industry and back-order processing (BOP) in the automotive spare-parts industry are both complex and require handoffs to multiple parties. Given the enterprise service-oriented architecture (enterprise SOA) framework of SAP ERP 6.0 (with SAP NetWeaver 7.0), why not use micro-vertical composites to address these needs?

Previously, the market for composite business solutions (SAP xApps) was seen as consisting of bolt-ons from SAP (for example, Resource and Program Management, or xRPM) or third-party partners, such as IBM Trade Funds Management (xTFM), and the capability was priced separately. Now, SAP is using the concept of composites for its product-development process delivering all but the core functionality as composite applications using the enterprise services that came with the enhancement packages. These composites have their own life cycles, i.e., they can be deployed separately and just need the required base to be installed (e.g., ERP with an enhancement package) in the standard maintenance program put in force last year. The Enterprise SOA Roadmap was announced in October 2006 (see my column “Enterprise Services to Go,” SAP NetWeaver Magazine, Winter 2007), and the Enterprise Services (ES) Community provides the primary roll-in mechanism to drive these types of solutions. To benefit, I advise upgrading to SAP NetWeaver 7.0 to access these solutions.

Building Micro-Vertical Solutions

The microcomposite focus of ICOD is reminiscent of the custom ABAP or user-exit programming that you see in traditional SAP R/3. With a model-driven approach, the user interface (UI) is concurrently developed using the latest set of task-management techniques, such as workflows, alerts, and embedded analytics, and UIs, such as SAP Interactive Forms by Adobe and guided procedures. This approach combines logic with the proper UI during the unique build process, which requires a transition to a new style of “agile” or “extreme” programming.

Agile methods minimize risk by developing software in short time boxes, called “sprints,” which typically last from two to six weeks. Each sprint is like a miniature software project and includes all the tasks necessary to release the mini-project’s new functionality: planning, requirements analysis, design, coding, testing, and documentation. This approach, called “SCRUM,” is the new framework that SAP used to develop industry composites and emphasize real-time communications instead of written documents. Most agile teams are located in a bullpen environment and include all the people necessary to create the solution.

Don’t confuse the ICOD approach with “cowboy coding,” which does not follow a defined and rigorous process. The toolset for agile development is SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment (SAP NetWeaver CE) powered by Java Enterprise Edition 5 (Java EE 5). ICOD is an SAP internal frontrunner project to pilot a new type of applications (composites) with a new toolset (SAP NetWeaver CE) and new processes (SCRUM). Be aware that ICOD is an approach, not a set of tools. SAP NetWeaver CE provides the means by which you execute the approach.

Closing the Time Gap

SAP NetWeaver CE is a complete technology stack to develop and operate composite applications using model-driven development capabilities enriched with Java coding. This offering closes the time gap between design definition and deployment. SAP appears to be launching a complete toolset for rapid application development based on Web services, one that leverages the logic in the SAP Business Suite and uses the latest Web 2.0 UIs. Packaged software is now a platform for custom-developed software. The approach and toolset offer both developers and business-process experts a platform for composite application development and solutions that can accelerate business-process innovation. For strategic consideration, these tools and approaches are now available to early adopters.

When you examine the life cycle of traditional ABAP programming, the effort and cost are typically higher than an agile Java programming effort. In addition, using Web services minimizes the ERP upgrade challenge for ABAP user exits and custom-code validation. The Web and enterprise services delivered by SAP Enterprise Services Bundles meet published Web standards (HTML, XML, and core Web Services specifications SOAP, WSDL, WS-Addressing, and WS-Policy) and require less integration-testing than traditional ABAP extensions.

Challenges in making use of the toolset and methodology also exist. SAP uses this toolset and approach for its own development efforts. But in reality, these tools are available to licensed customers and the methodology is in the public domain. I have some concerns, however, that could limit widespread adoption; for example,

  1. This optional methodology departs from the traditional structured approach, and a high degree of cultural change for developers exists. There is also potential difficulty in contract negotiations for third-party developers, given the style of work.

  2. As a prerequisite, your environment must be on the latest release of SAP NetWeaver 7.0. You also need experienced Java skills and the vision and desire to use a model-driven architecture approach to address the gaps and extend SAP ECC.

A Business-Services Catalog

As SAP and enterprise computing move to a service-based orientation, leveraging the core investment is becoming easier with tools such as SAP NetWeaver CE, the SCRUM approach, and agile coding. You can look at SAP as a business-services catalog with the means to create unique patterns, assembling distinctive solutions. Using these new tools as an innovation platform still requires a complete understanding of the business challenge, adoption of the tools, and expanded skills. Those who can embrace the change can rapidly differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Adolf Allesch is the global SAP NetWeaver lead partner at IBM Global Business Services. A pioneer with the Web, he is now the SAP Net-Weaver evangelist for IBM. He specializes in technology-enabled business transformation using SAP and is a frequent presenter at SAP events worldwide. You can reach him at adolf.allesch@us.ibm.com.

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