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mySAP Career Interview Classics

Starting in 2000, Jon created the online content for mySAPcareers.com. This was a time of great transition in the SAP market - the beginnings of the applications that are now called the SAP Business Suite, the emergence of the EAI market that is now heading in the web services/eSOA direction.

For mySAPcareers.com, Jon conducted a series of in-depth, landmark interviews with senior-level consultants across the SAP product line. Now, on JonERP.com, we're pleased to present the best of this content, which is available only on JonERP.com. Jon will be adding updated introductions to all the articles in this section to frame them further in today's market. Enjoy!
The Convergence of the EAI and ERP Markets Print E-mail
Article Index
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Reed: But as you've pointed out on other occasions, just because SAP can web-enable a company's internal employees doesn't mean it's easy to do the same thing for "external" e-business ventures.

Trout: You're right. SAP still has a daunting problem: whenever companies launch an external e-business initiative - not for their internal employees, but for outside customers and partners - then they have to enable SAP to talk with other companies' non-SAP systems. Take the case of the chemical client we talked about earlier, the one that wants to join a digital trading exchange. In that case, you need XML-compliant technology. SAP has acknowledged that they can't provide all the technology and solutions needed for this type of initiative. In this case, SAP has said "We'll be an XML receptor - we'll put SAP Business Connector out there as an API funnel for XML-related communication."

The problem is that a lot of R/3 organizations out there are still using EDI on the back end, and the R/3 system wants to see information in an IDOC format. But nobody's broadcasting over the web in an IDOC format. So you need some kind of tool to translate EDI messaging into XML-related messaging. This brings to mind a senior SAP consultant I know who's made a living out of taking EDI messaging and turning it into IDOC translation format for inbound and outbound processing. That's great stuff, but the problem is that now, with the e-business world that's emerging, the standard isn't going to be EDI anymore; it's going to be XML in some format. So some of the work that these SAP-EDI consultants did for SAP clients is not going to hold, because it doesn't support XML connectivity.

When you try to install an e-business product that requires an XML-based format, you're going have to throw away the Gentran EDI translator. Now you've got a webMethods brokerage environment, which is going to allow SAP customers to take EDI and XML and throw them into the same funnel. From that funnel, the data will be dumped back into a format that SAP can grab and convert into an IDOC format. So being an SAP customer and having all this mySAP solution technology doesn't solve all these problems and insulate you from these integration challenges.

Reed: So what term will be used to describe these "Web Integration EAI" initiatives? It seems that "EAI" is still the working term for now.

Trout: That's true, I think we will continue to see the term EAI used to describe both the classic internal integration projects and the new web integration projects. We'll probably also see some trendy new terms for the web-related EAI projects, and we'll have to see if any of those stick. As a company, you have two issues, you have to be connected internally, and you have to be connected externally. Right now there's one main term for both of those kinds of projects.  

Reed: Brian, we have a career site dedicated to B2B professionals working with Ariba, Commerce One, and other B2B packages. Obviously this has been a pretty rough time on many of these best-of-breed B2B vendors. Ariba has pretty much shut down its Marketplace offering and is concentrating on Buyer, its e-procurement product. In the meantime, SAP has been gradually acquiring ownership of Commerce One, a market development that was almost unthinkable a year ago, when SAP looked more like a legacy dinosaur and Commerce One looked like a key player in the exploding B2B market. As a result of these kinds of market changes in the B2B space, there's a lot of B2B consultants out there looking for new opportunities. Do you think these folks will be able to take advantage of the emerging EAI consulting market that we'll be covering at EAIcareers.com?

Trout: Yes I do. There will be opportunities in EAI consulting for many Ariba and C1 consultants. When you look at Ariba implementations, you look at it in functional and technical terms. "Functional" refers to people who understand the design and business functionality of the software. "Technical" typically refers to those with the specific programming experience required for successful Ariba projects - usually some flavor of Java, and a familiarity with specific design tools inside of Ariba. So Ariba and other B2B technical professionals who have already honed their Java backgrounds are in an excellent position to capitalize on these new EAI opportunities.

There's also another opportunity at the EAI Tools layer: to install Ariba anywhere, you need an EAI component, usually Tibco, to link Ariba with internal ERP systems. So the emerging "external, web-based" EAI market should create a number of relevant consulting opportunities for Ariba and B2B consultants. And Siebel and CRM consultants are increasingly familiar with these EAI tools as well. The real hot topic of interest is the EAI components that bring all these e-business applications together, and that's what EAIcareers.com is all about.

Reed: How does Commerce One fit into this picture??

Trout: Commerce One is in a different situation than Ariba. When you look at Commerce One on the e-procurement side, you now have to look at SAP's EBP (Enterprise Buyer Professional) product, which is a direct result of Commerce One's technology morphing into an SAP e-procurement solution. You're going to see more and more of EBP - Coca Cola Enterprises is working on an EBP install right now. This is a familiar pattern: the "big boys" take the lead with these new e-business and EAI initiatives. The Compaqs, the Coca Colas, and the big oil and gas companies with the deep pockets roll out the new technology and build these sandbox prototypes. The results of these early projects have been good and these first implementations seem to be sticking. That means the rest of the market will follow suit when economic times are better. As more and more companies start to show real results from these new EAI and e-business initiatives, we'll see a steady increase in demand.

Currently, the future of Commerce One's partnership with SAP seems to be very unclear, and it's also unclear whether Commerce One will be successful as a "stand alone" vendor without SAP's partnership and support. We've also seen Ariba facing significant market and financial challenges in recent months. Nevertheless, it seems clear that e-procurement systems are going to be a real factor in the e-business landscape of the future. No matter which vendors ultimately triumph, there will be a range of relevant EAI skills required to integrate these e-procurement systems with a company's ERP back end.

EAI Consulting in an ERP World:
An Historical View of the EAI Marketplace with Brian Trout of B2B Workforce
Part Four
April 14, 2001

In the fourth and final part of our interview, we ask Brian to tell us more about how real-time computing initiatives are driving the push for EAI. Using SAP as an example, Brian gives an overview of how the e-business products that SAP is pushing are going to require real-time computing investments, as well as an EAI infrastructure. Brian leaves us with an impression of an EAI market that is poised to take off, and of course we are all eagerly anticipating the next round of corporate investments in IT. We do expect that to happen, and we also expect EAI consulting to be an important piece of the spending puzzle.

Jon Reed: Let's talk a little more about real-time computing: you feel that a company's need for real-time decision support, logistics and management tools is going to drive internal investment in IT projects?

Brian Trout: Yes, I see a lot of promising signs of that. It's pretty clear what people want out of IT, and it's apparent that we're not there yet. In order to get there, we'll need to properly implement the kinds of e-business applications that are becoming available today - products we've already referred to such as SAP's APO and SEM apps. But as I've said, those applications won't function without the right base of information - and to get that information you have to be able to pull data out of transactional ERP systems, and we're now seeing the emergence of EAI tools designed just for that purpose.

Reed: So you see this as a natural evolution?

Trout: Now that the bandwidth needed for these projects is there, it seems inevitable that companies are going to pursue these initiatives. If these projects are successful, they represent the fulfillment of the vision of what IT has been trying to do from the beginning. It just took twenty years and a lot of networking technology and a lot of wasted dollars and false starts in order to get there. But real-time computing is going to start giving executives and businesses in general control over information, and the ability to impact their businesses the way they have always wanted to. Everybody's been talking about it forever, but it's never really happened in the right way.

As products like APO and SEM grow and mature and get integrated into the infrastructure of these companies, the definition of what IT can mean to a business is going to change dramatically. Recently, I was reading in Red Herring (www.redherring.com) that some of the most significant venture capital firms were investing in EAI startups designed to support real-time computing. Kleiner Perkins, one of the most respected VC firms, has done research that indicates the amount of corporate IT spending will grow from 3.5 percent of total sales all the way up to 10 percent. And that's because these new EAI projects bring measurable results that companies can count on. Right now, it's a "nice to have," but soon real-time computing will be a "must have" if companies intend to compete globally.

Reed: That three-to-ten percent statistic is a very compelling one.

Trout: If that projection is anywhere close to being right, then this type of re-engineering and integration is going to be everywhere. It's a whole new phase for ERP - the results of this phase are going to be actual, decision-oriented results for businesses. In the traditional ERP setting, companies finished a project, looked around and said "Well, we've got accounting talking to manufacturing talking to HR, but so what? What are they saying to each other and what does it mean?" Now there's something more they can do with these systems to finally capitalize on all the money they spent integrating their back office.

Reed: Do you think that the major ERP vendors are going to have a good shot at getting in on this "real-time" market?

Trout: Yes I do. When the economy strengthens, companies are going to turn to these types of EAI initiatives. And their first consideration will usually be the e-business products being offered by their resident ERP vendor. SAP is anticipating this trend and they're doing a great job of expanding the functionality of their mySAP product line. To give you an example of how the corporate decision-making process is going, we have an SAP client that was about to put in version 2.0 of the CRM product, but they got a look at one of our 3.0 CRM "pilot project" consultants and said, "What's going on with the 3.0 release?" When they learned about all the additional functionality coming in 3.0, they decided to wait three to six more months until it was ready to go.

Reed: But how will companies that are less committed to SAP respond?

Trout: I know what you're getting at, you're thinking about the R/3 organization that was sitting on the fence and saying, "Well, SAP-CRM 2.0 is kind of weak, we're not really convinced that SAP's got what we want." Well, guess what, here comes version 3.0, and it has dramatically enhanced functionality. The combination of enhanced products and a better economy is going to start freeing up more implementations, and that means more consulting opportunities, and EAI consulting is going to be right in the middle of all this. It's not enough to launch new CRM or supply chain initiatives, you have to make sure that these applications all get along with each other. And if you want all of your systems and applications to talk to each other, you're going to need EAI resources.

Reed: Brian, thanks for this overview of today's EAI market. You've made a good case for the importance of EAI skills for many of today's e-business consultants. We'll definitely check back with you in the future and ask you to continue to define and identify the specific kinds of opportunities and skills enhancements that consultants should be aware of.

Trout: Thanks for the opportunity to contribute. I look forward to the next time.



 

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