Like most modern businesses, SAP customers are increasingly looking to move IT operations to the cloud. Moving to the cloud not only brings advantages such as efficiency, scalability, simplified administration, and lower costs, it also opens the door to a host of innovative capabilities that help companies make the transition to becoming a digital business.
With SAP S/4HANA Cloud, SAP brings these advantages to ERP software with a suite of solutions that can serve as the digital core for your enterprise by enabling digital, integrated processes across your business. Built on SAP HANA, SAP S/4HANA Cloud comes with features such as machine learning technology, predefined and preconfigured business processes, and embedded analytics, enabling SAP customers to put these technologies to use in their core business operations, such as order-to-cash and procure-to-pay processes.
However, most existing SAP customer landscapes include multiple systems from various vendors used for different purposes. So how do you integrate SAP S/4HANA Cloud with your already existing software landscape? What options are available to support integrations between SAP S/4HANA Cloud and other solutions — such as the ones shown in Figure 1 — to enable end-to-end business processes across your organization?
This article walks through three different integration approaches that are available with SAP S/4HANA Cloud so that you are prepared to make the best choice for your own organization. CTOs and enterprise architects will learn how to:
- Use preconfigured, end-to-end integration scenarios provided by SAP for rapid deployment
- Customize predefined content to tailor SAP-provided integration scenarios to your requirements
- Create a custom-defined integration to meet your organization’s unique business needs, such as integrations with third-party systems or solutions built by customers on SAP Cloud Platform
Let’s take a closer look at each of these integration approaches, and when it makes sense to use which in your SAP landscape.
Using Preconfigured, End-to-End Integration Scenarios
Let’s start with the integration scenario that leads to the fastest return on investment: the end-to-end, predefined, and ready-to-use integration scenarios SAP delivers for integrating SAP S/4HANA Cloud with other SAP solutions, both on premise and in the cloud. These predelivered scenarios offer complete definitions of integrated business processes across various SAP systems, including cloud-based SAP solutions such as SAP Ariba, SAP SuccessFactors, and SAP Hybris solutions, and on-premise SAP ERP implementations, known as two-tier scenarios, where SAP S/4HANA Cloud runs in a subsidiary and SAP ERP in the headquarters location.
To help customers find the scenarios that best meet their needs, SAP provides SAP Best Practices Explorer. This free web tool (available at https://rapid.sap.com/bp) enables SAP customers to browse and view best practices for implementing SAP solutions, such as SAP S/4HANA Cloud (see Figure 2), including details on the complete functional scope of SAP solutions and all available predefined integration scenarios and business process definitions. SAP Best Practices Explorer makes it easy for customers to determine which combinations and processes are offered and which will meet their specific requirements.
Using the SAP-delivered predefined integration scenarios is ideal for organizations ready to implement the proposed standard processes without extensive customer-specific adjustments. The preconfigured scenarios cover many use cases that bring the value of the cloud and innovative technology across the organization quickly and easily. For example, one of the available scenarios is the integration of SAP S/4HANA Cloud and SAP Ariba Guided Buying to enable employee self-service procurement. By combining the functionality of these two solutions, organizations can ensure the regulatory compliance required by chief procurement officers while providing a consumer-grade experience for end users, delivering touchless invoice processing for chief financial officers, and ensuring a short and simple implementation process for chief information officers.
Using Predefined Content as a Template
While the predefined integration scenarios cover many beneficial use cases, there may be some instances in which customers find that a standard scenario does not meet their specific requirements — for example, when the integration is to a system that is similar to the one covered in the best-practice content, but has some minor differences.
Adapting the content delivered with the predefined integration scenarios is an ideal approach for organizations that run processes that are slightly different from the ones defined in the standard integration content. With this approach, customers can still take advantage of the standard integration scenarios by using the predefined content as a template to speed the implementation. You can simply check the predefined content and identify any areas where adjustments to the process flow are necessary to meet your specific requirements. Then, by leveraging the extensibility and self-service configuration features provided with SAP S/4HANA Cloud, you can extend and adjust the standard content until it fits your specific requirements.
This template-based approach can save a lot of time and effort, since you don’t need to start the integration project from scratch — the integrations are already configured right from the start of the project, and you can simply adjust them as needed based on a stable foundation of predefined and preconfigured content.
Starting from Scratch with a Custom-Defined Integration
In some cases, a customer will be looking for a combination of integrated systems that is not covered in the best practices available from SAP Best Practices Explorer, or in which the process definition differs so much from the available best practice that the predefined content cannot serve as a template. For example, the integration may be with a third-party system that is not covered in the best-practice content, or with processes that are not included in the best-practice content.
Creating a custom-defined integration is an ideal approach for organizations that, for example, have a huge system landscape with systems tailored to their specific needs. For these cases, SAP provides a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) with over 1,500 interfaces available for SAP S/4HANA Cloud that customers can use to implement their own end-to-end integrations. SAP supports custom-defined integrations with best-practice guidance that helps customers leverage the unique tools included in SAP S/4HANA Cloud. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key aspects of this best-practice guidance, which explains how to start, plan, and implement a custom-defined integration.
The first step is to define the end-to-end process that will be implemented across the integrated systems. SAP Best Practices Explorer can be useful for this task, as it contains descriptions of all standardized processes covered by the scope of SAP S/4HANA Cloud functionality. The description delivered for each business process step — or “scope item” — defined in a standard-delivered process contains a diagram rendered using Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN). With the BPMN process visualization, customers can easily understand which part of the to-be-defined process is already covered in SAP S/4HANA Cloud and how this process will fit with the integrated system.
In addition, each scope item included in a standard-delivered process is linked to the API methods that are related to that scope item. Access to this API information is useful for determining which interfaces to use to connect process steps across the integrated systems. The link to the description of the scope item also provides business context for the APIs, which is helpful since API documentation usually contains only technical information, such as parameters and payload examples. Understanding the business context of the API helps to ensure the APIs are used correctly.
Once you have successfully defined the to-be-integrated processes, the next step is to find the right APIs to implement the integration. SAP API Business Hub is a useful tool for this task. SAP API Business Hub (available at https://api.sap.com) is a central repository of APIs developed by SAP that developers can use to build applications and integrations. Using this tool, you can browse through the available APIs and see which scope items are related to a particular API (see Figure 3). In this way, SAP S/4HANA Cloud links the technical implementation of the integration and the implemented end-to-end processes in both directions.
Let’s take a quick look at the types of APIs that are available for use in custom integrations.
OData and SOAP Services
The APIs available from SAP API Business Hub for SAP S/4HANA Cloud are OData and SOAP services. While in the on-premise world, customers can still use APIs based on the remote function call (RFC) protocol, such as IDocs and BAPIs, RFC technology is not recommended for the cloud. For this reason, SAP S/4HANA Cloud supports cloud-ready HTTP-based APIs, such as OData services for synchronous communication and SOAP services for synchronous and asynchronous communication. Customers can choose the API type that best fits their integration needs — for example, OData services are a good fit for scenarios with direct application-to-application integration, while SOAP services are a good fit for business-to-business asynchronous integration via electronic data interchange (EDI).
Custom CDS Views
In addition to using the available SAP S/4HANA Cloud APIs, customers can also create custom core data services (CDS) views to access data in SAP S/4HANA Cloud and wrap them as OData services. CDS views are a way of modeling data access without modifying the underlying data source. You can also use them to provide access to multiple data sources by including elements from the sources in a single CDS view. This API approach is a useful way to integrate SAP S/4HANA Cloud with other applications when the access you need is not supported by existing APIs. Custom CDS views are created using the Custom CDS Views tile in the SAP Fiori launchpad for SAP S/4HANA Cloud.
As of its latest release (currently 1802, with 1805 due for release soon), SAP S/4HANA Cloud can be configured to trigger a “business event” — when a new invoice is created, for example. A business event is a simple notification with a very small payload, and therefore a small footprint, that informs another system that a new object has been created. The receiving system can then decide if it needs additional information (about the invoice, for example), which can be accessed via SAP S/4HANA Cloud APIs, or if the event contains enough information to trigger follow-up steps. This API is useful in a custom integration scenario because it helps to decouple the actual event (such as “invoice received”) and the time at which the integrated system reacts to that event — it can react immediately or later. The integrated system can, for example, decide to react only if a certain chain of events takes place.
Data Replication Framework
Another useful API technology is the data replication framework (DRF), which is a standard functionality of SAP S/4HANA Cloud. Customers can configure this framework to push master data changes from the system of record to the receiving systems. In this case, SAP S/4HANA Cloud can be either the system of record or on the receiving end, depending on the object type and the customer’s settings. This capability is useful in a custom integration scenario to simplify master data integration in a distributed system landscape — for example, when delta information is required instead of complete data sets.
A Holistic Path to the Cloud
For organizations that want to move their ERP systems into the cloud, SAP S/4HANA Cloud offers a holistic path that supports integration with existing systems, enabling businesses to modernize their core business processes in an easy and cost-efficient way. By implementing SAP S/4HANA Cloud and integrating it with other solutions, organizations can enable end-to-end business processes across the enterprise that bring innovation to core business processes. With options tailored to different customer needs — including preconfigured integration scenarios, predefined integration content, and APIs to support custom integrations — and a consumer-grade implementation experience, SAP S/4HANA Cloud is designed to put digital business within reach.