Data drives business, and opportunities abound for finding new ways to derive value from one of your most valuable assets. Social media offers new possibilities for marketing and customer service to interact with potential customers. Increased use of tablets and smartphones opens the door to mobile solutions, such as SAP Citizen Connect, which allows residents of a city or municipality to send concerns directly to the government’s SAP system from a mobile device, eliminating intermediate steps and speeding the time to resolution. Visual selection of product attributes, enabled by the variant configuration component of SAP ERP, increases the accuracy and efficiency of product configurations.
Each of these scenarios requires access to the mission-critical data stored in your SAP system. So how do you provide this access to the back end while keeping the data secure? How do you do this while supporting the user interface technologies that users know and love in their day-to-day business?
Because the SAP system is very open, it has been technically possible to implement these scenarios for some time, but it has required point-to-point solutions and in-depth knowledge of the SAP system (see Figure 1). Today, it is common to find two parallel organizational structures within a company: one to manage the SAP systems and the other to handle issues that are not relevant to SAP systems.
Launched in 2011, SAP NetWeaver Gateway seeks to bridge the divide between these two teams by enabling both SAP and non-SAP experts to easily connect devices, environments, and platforms to SAP data based on open standards. Here, I take you through some of the ways that SAP NetWeaver Gateway supports developers — from breaking down communication barriers to providing development and maintenance support — and how SAP is enhancing its own products with SAP NetWeaver Gateway functionality.
An Open Standards Approach to Connectivity
SAP NetWeaver Gateway is an add-on to SAP NetWeaver Application Server (SAP NetWeaver AS) ABAP that provides a development framework for creating services that connect application user interfaces to back-end SAP data (see Figure 2). By exposing SAP data as REST-based Open Data (OData) protocol services, SAP NetWeaver Gateway enables any ABAP-based SAP application to easily but securely share data with a wide range of devices, technologies, and platforms. The open, REST1-based interface generally allows developers with no specific knowledge of SAP systems to start development using standard tools and without a great need for training. The OData protocol2 is based on open standards such as HTTP, XML, JSON, and AtomPub; known operators defined by HTTP, such as GET, POST, PUT, PATCH, and DELETE, always have the same meaning.
The OData protocol is especially tailored to meet the demands of the user interface — it allows user interface technologies from various manufacturers to be combined with mission-critical data from the SAP system using simple and standard methods. The ability to support commonly used user interface technologies reduces the time needed for training and increases the level of user acceptance. If the information stored in an SAP system can be displayed and edited directly in Microsoft SharePoint, for instance, the barriers that surround entering data in the SAP system can be dramatically reduced and the quality and accuracy of the data can be improved.
Support for Defining and Implementing Services
SAP NetWeaver Gateway accelerates and standardizes the development of the REST services required to expose data in ABAP-based SAP systems to a solution’s user interface. Developers are freed from many of the tasks that are not directly related to the development of services — for example, supporting various dialects such as XML or JSON, formatting messages, analyzing messages, and central monitoring. SAP NetWeaver Gateway provides support for many use cases, including the ability to define a new service or to reuse and redefine existing services using a variety of methods.3
The Service Builder (transaction SEGW) is the central interface within SAP NetWeaver Gateway that is used to define and implement services. Once the relevant service has been implemented or generated in the SAP system, it can be used directly in any interface, depending on the requirements of the solution.
Because SAP NetWeaver Gateway services are based on the open standard OData format, they can be used with a variety of tools and solutions that directly support OData, including:
SDKs for various platforms
Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch and Microsoft Power Pivot for Excel
SAP NetWeaver Gateway productivity accelerator (developer edition) and the UI development toolkit for HTML5 (SAPUI5)
Support for Maintenance and Monitoring
One of the advantages of SAP NetWeaver Gateway is that it provides a flexible tool for developing innovative user interfaces, while at the same time ensuring the security and maintenance aspects that are required of a solution that shares an environment with the mission-critical SAP system.
If an error occurs in an SAP system, it is important to determine its cause as quickly and easily as possible. This can be challenging if, for example, several SAP systems are connected to a central SAP NetWeaver Gateway system. The error log is therefore available in both the back-end plug-in and in the central SAP NetWeaver Gateway system (see Figure 3). The log provides information about:
The exact time and location in which the error occurs in the source code
How often the error occurs
The option to reproduce the error by recording the OData calls
SAP NetWeaver Gateway is all about user interfaces, regardless of whether they are used on a desktop or a mobile device. In either case, users expect fast response times from the system. OData service developers can use the performance trace tool, included in the SAP NetWeaver Gateway support utilities, to improve the analysis of response times. Each call is analyzed and its details displayed. This enables the culprits that are affecting the overall response time to be easily identified.
This information can also be supported in a browser by using the “sap-ds-debug=true” parameter in the OData service URL. In this case, the XML document is shown in the browser with additional fields that contain further information (Figure 4).
Integrated Test Environment
To test and analyze the created services, you can use add-ons to common browsers that enable you to analyze REST- and OData-based communication. In addition to simply analyzing the details of a REST call, support is also often required for centrally carrying out test cases and executing complete test runs that can comprise multiple OData service calls.
The SAP NetWeaver Gateway client enables entire test catalogs to be created and processed automatically. The results are then displayed for each call and can be analyzed. The SAP NetWeaver Gateway client also supports actions that are facilitated by the REST syntax, such as create, change, and find. Any errors can be viewed in the SAP NetWeaver Gateway error log.
Message Monitor and Push Notifications
An important SAP NetWeaver Gateway function is the ability to send messages if, for example, a change occurs in the SAP system, such as a new item arriving in the workflow inbox.
Any errors that occur while processing a message can be viewed in the SAP NetWeaver Gateway error log.
When services are called, additional information, warnings, and errors are defined in the central application log of the SAP system. Since all of the logs are collated here, it is possible to display only those logs that are relevant to SAP NetWeaver Gateway by applying filters for the various error categories, such as warnings or errors.
SAP NetWeaver Gateway at Work for SAP Customers
To respond to the trend of more powerful and flexible user interface technologies, SAP’s strategy for some time has been to include OData as an additional option in more and more of its products. This strategy manifests itself in various standard products that are based on SAP NetWeaver Gateway.
Mobile Applications from SAP
Enabling mobile access to back-end SAP data has been a priority for SAP for a long time. SAP mobile applications can be downloaded from channels such as Google Play, BlackBerry App World, iTunes, and Microsoft Marketplace. These applications cover a range of everyday scenarios, including creating a quality notification (SAP ERP Quality Issue), supporting HR managers (SAP Manager Insight), supporting hospital staff (SAP Electronic Medical Record), and obtaining a financial overview of customers (SAP Customer Financial Fact Sheet) (see Figure 5). Several of these applications use an architecture based on SAP NetWeaver Gateway to enable controlled access to the SAP system, along with central administration, monitoring, and logging.
Communication between mobile devices and the SAP back end is managed by SAP Mobile Platform using the OData protocol that is generated by SAP NetWeaver Gateway. SAP Mobile Platform processes push notifications optimized for the specific device type, similar to how it processes workflow notifications. In addition, it provides a capability to serve as a reverse proxy.
Microsoft SharePoint and Duet Enterprise
Thanks to Duet Enterprise, Microsoft SharePoint can now be easily deployed as the user interface for SAP system data. Because Duet Enterprise was developed jointly by Microsoft and SAP, many of the processes that affect both systems are supported out of the box, such as single sign-on, central management of transport requests that contain changes to source code, and connection of both systems to SAP Solution Manager.
The data remains in the SAP system, while support for SAP NetWeaver Gateway and OData enables Microsoft SharePoint to be used as the user interface. This enables employees to continue working in the Microsoft SharePoint environment to which they are accustomed, reducing the time and effort required for training.
Additional SAP Applications
In addition to the mobile applications, which have been implemented using SAP NetWeaver Gateway, existing solutions are being restructured to be simpler and more flexible by using HTML5-based user interfaces and using SAP NetWeaver Gateway to enable access to the SAP back end via the OData protocol.
Solutions that leverage HTML5 based on OData services for back-end access through SAP NetWeaver Gateway include:
Certain areas within SAP ERP Human Capital Management, including interfaces for organizational management, manager self-service, and employee self-service (see Figure 6)
SAP Fraud Management and SAP Customer Engagement Intelligence, both powered by SAP HANA and in Ramp-Up as of this writing
SAP Fiori, which accesses SAP Business Suite data using SAP NetWeaver Gateway and OData
Additional solutions that are now based on OData or provide interfaces for using OData services for back-end access via SAP NetWeaver Gateway include:
SAP NetWeaver Portal
SAP Solution Manager, which uses OData services to manage and deploy mobile applications
SAP Lumira (support package 11)
A solution developed jointly by Microsoft and SAP that integrates Microsoft Office 365 and SAP Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence
SAP continues to work to keep pace with its customers’ changing needs, including support for products that are not based on SAP NetWeaver AS ABAP. To support both customers and partners in using and developing cloud-based applications, SAP plans to add parts of SAP NetWeaver Gateway to SAP HANA Cloud Platform.4 This integration will enable customers to benefit from:
Cloud-based applications that provide external partners with controlled access to data in the SAP system, enabling collaborative engineering with partners and data maintenance by external service providers, for example
Controlled use of SAP system data outside the boundaries of the company — in a mobile environment, for example APIs that provide external partners with access to services via a central platform, enabling partners to easily integrate their own systems
The ability to use OData to address newly developed solutions (with or without access to the SAP system), and to use technologies such as Microsoft SharePoint and HTML5 to easily operate them
SAP NetWeaver Gateway breaks down communication barriers to bring the power of SAP data to new environments, devices, and applications. To learn more, visit http://scn.sap.com/community/netweaver-gateway.
1 For more on REST, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representational_state_transfer.
2 The OData protocol (www.odata.org) is currently being converted into an OASIS standard (www.oasis-open.org/committees/tc_home.php?wg_abbrev=odata) to make it even more widely available in the near term.
3 Please refer to http://help.sap.com/saphelp_gateway20sp06/helpdata/en/92/56b605d2b94477a4bab2b3d574cc67/frameset.htm.
4 Please refer to http://scn.sap.com/community/netweaver-gateway/blog/2013/09/09/how-to-connect-the-sap-business-suite-to-the-sap-hana-cloud-using-gateway-as-a-service-trial-edition.