For a long time, many businesses viewed their IT departments as an overhead expense which kept the business running but didn’t add a lot of value to the bottom line. In recent years, this line of thinking has changed dramatically as there have been so many notable examples where technology innovations have completely disrupted a particular industry. This change in philosophy has caused companies to make commitments towards achieving digital transformation like never before.
While such developments are exciting, this shift in philosophy has placed even more pressure on enterprise IT departments to deliver solutions in a fast and efficient way. While this is certainly a daunting task, the good news for SAP shops is that help is already here in the form of the SAP Cloud Platform. The remaining challenge is to figure out how to embrace this technology to achieve continuous integration going forward.
Moving Towards Hybrid Landscapes
One of the bigger challenges IT departments face today is that the enterprise landscape is becoming increasingly fragmented. In the old days, a company might decide to become an SAP shop and that decision strongly influenced the software purchasing habits of the business. Here, if a business need arose, the company would look to SAP to provide the solution they were looking for. If the solution was a perfect match, that’s great, but even if not, there were still advantages from an IT perspective to sticking with one vendor in terms of cohesiveness, tight integration, and familiarity. On the business side of these transactions however, these kinds of choices were oftentimes not very well-received.
While a best-of-breeds approach may not be ideal from an IT perspective, individual departments want the solution that best matches their requirements. And now, with the advent of the cloud and a proliferation of SaaS offerings in the marketplace, these departments now have the freedom to purchase packaged software solutions without having to go through the IT department. Regardless of the circumstances, suffice it to say that the days of the monolithic landscape are numbered – even for companies that swear they’ll never take their ERP systems to the cloud.
As the dust begins to settle on all these developments, enterprise IT departments are finding themselves left to manage hybrid landscapes which combine on-premise systems with cloud-based systems. Whether these systems are provided by SAP or another vendor is largely immaterial since these systems are built using different technologies. For SAP developers, it’s not like the old days where everything was built on ABAP. Plus, when it comes to cloud-based solutions, developers are usually restricted from making changes anyway, so whatever programming language is used underneath the hood doesn’t really matter.
Innovating Around the Edges
More and more, companies are starting to realize that the safest bet for building new solutions is to move towards a centralized (and separate) cloud platform like the SAP Cloud Platform. Here, rather than using proprietary technologies like ABAP to customize solutions, innovation takes place around the edges with extension apps that access application functionality through well-defined RESTful interfaces (e.g. OData). This design-by-contract approach to extension app development simplifies the design and offers lots of long-term flexibility.
To appreciate these differences, consider a typical web app built on SAP’s SAPUI5 framework (i.e. the toolkit used to create Fiori apps). If this app was developed on-premise, the basic component architecture would look something like what you see on the left-hand side of the figure below. Here, the front-end server is a standalone instance of SAP Gateway and the back-end server might be SAP S/4 HANA or an older SAP Business Suite system.
Now, let’s imagine that the app is so successful that the business wants to be able to access the app in different ways. Here, there might be a desire to access the app on mobile devices/tablets. Or, perhaps the business wants to share this app with business partners via a self-service portal. In a traditional on-premise scenario, these might be difficult requirements to address due to a variety of restrictions around change management, hardware procurement/installation, and so forth.
The diagram on the right-hand side of the figure above shows how moving the app to SAP Cloud Platform changes this scenario quite a bit. In this case, data is still securely accessed via the SAP Cloud Connector component, but the app is hosted in an environment that offers all the services needed to expose the app to mobile devices, self-service portals, and more. Plus, the IT infrastructure team no longer has to worry about maintaining the front-end server or ancillary servers that might be needed.
The examples described here barely scratch the surface of what’s possible with centralized PaaS solutions like SAP Cloud Platform. The point in all this though is that the only way to keep pace with digital transformation demands is to provide developers with an environment that allows them to focus squarely on solving business problems and get out of the business of worrying about mundane proprietary details, environmental/scaling issues, and so forth.
This trend is not unique to SAP; you see it across the industry with other major vendors moving towards cloud-native designs. The benefits in terms of scalability and flexibility are too great to ignore, so we see this as a trend that’s here to stay. So, the next time you’re thinking about building a new app, maybe it’s time to see what SAP Cloud Platform can do to transform your business.
James Wood, is the Principal Consultant of Bowdark Consulting, where his work domain includes being an architect and technologist in the enterprise software space. He has expertise in the development of custom software solutions using cloud-native, SAP, and Microsoft-based technologies. James’ extracurricular activities include blogging, writing, working with the SAP Mentor Community, and technology research.