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SAP Article Classics from JonERP.com

Jon has been writing about SAP consulting trends and answering SAP career questions since 1995. Over the years, he's published many popular articles online that have disappeared from the Internet. In this section, we are reclaiming the "best of the archives" and sharing Jon's classic SAP articles from years gone by.

In each case, Jon will write a new introduction explaining the highlights of the article and how the market has changed since it was published. We're hoping to track down some of the interview subjects in these articles and get their updates on how the market has changed since these classics were first published.
Historical Perspectives from mySAPcareers Print E-mail
Article Index
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A Look Back with B2B Workforce's Brian Trout

 

mySAP EBP - Strategies for Global Implementation
by Brian Trout
June 2002

One of the truly worthwhile realizations to come out of the dotcom frenzy is that the Internet provides companies with a unique opportunity to redefine how they will collaborate with their customers, suppliers, and even their employees. As we all know, this trend has produced a large number of B2B/B2C software applications aimed at helping companies to expand their market share and optimize processes while reducing costs. Just two short years ago, enterprise software giants like SAP looked out of step with this emerging B2B/B2C market. Suddenly, they found themselves pushing back office ERP solutions in a market that had changed its focus to the front office and the Internet.

Of course, the irony of the economic downturn is that it bought SAP some much-needed time to roll out a truly competitive e-business solution. After weathering some past criticism for its lack of Internet vision, SAP has emerged from its shell with a clear direction for mySAP.com. The new mySAP product line features a host of e-business applications, including Enterprise Buyer Professional (EBP). Like most of the competitive e-procurement solutions in the market, EBP offers support for purchase-to-pay Processes, as well as electronic tendering for auctions, reverse auctions, web marketplace integration and the like. EBP version 2.0 is quite an improvement over EBP 1.0 and earlier BBP/Commerce One offerings - not to mention the cumbersome R/3 MM environment.

However, all this new functionality presents new questions for SAP customers. In response, we'd like to offer some insights from an EBP Global Project Manager for a U.S Fortune 50 Manufacturing organization. This EBP manager has spent the last two years leading the effort to design and develop an EBP rollout solution to support 7,000 projected users in over a dozen countries. At present, this organization has the EBP internal catalog running, and is in the process of adding new users, suppliers, and functionality on a monthly basis. There are about 2000 users now with 5000 more anticipated in the next year. The short-term goal is to have EBP handle all standard purchasing transactions for the company worldwide by the end of the year - a total purchasing volume in excess of $3 Billion dollars annually.

When we asked this project lead what advice he might have for companies embarking on EBP projects, he stressed that the primary factor in their success with EBP has centered around a phased approach to introducing functionality. Early on, the organization determined that they would set up a simple, Internet-based version of their current indirect purchasing processes, thereby allowing them to place primary emphasis on ensuring standardization of catalog information from suppliers. (Although our contact pointed out that imposing OCI standards on suppliers for the catalog presentation of their products and services has remained a challenge, as has the intensive maintenance of the catalog.)

By leaving electronic tendering and direct procurement integration with APO out of the initial scope, this organization has been able to focus on standardizing an e-procurement culture worldwide. This is good advice for future EBP implementers to remember as they wrestle with the temptation to go "Big Bang" and leverage the power of open market dynamic pricing.

Surprisingly, we have yet to see an industry-wide trend towards the purchase and implementation of EBP systems - despite the fact that sources indicate the per seat cost of an EBP license is about one tenth that of a typical SAP user license. In addition, through its new web-based interface, EBP appears to be much easier to use than in previous versions. It's also efficient enough to automate a much wider array of indirect materials. So why has EBP growth stalled? According to the customers we surveyed, contributing factors include: the lack of available, standardized marketplaces, the workload of maintaining internal catalogs, the lack of proven technology to truly integrate direct materials, and lack of a quantifiable ROI.

From a staffing perspective, proven EBP functional and technical expertise is in fairly short supply, but recently quite accessible.  Direct customers can secure functional expertise in the $150 per hour range, with technical Basis support coming in at around $135 per hour on average.  The EBP independent consultants we are in touch with say demand for their skills peaked at the end of the first quarter and has been steadily dropping off since.  This may be bad news for the EBP consultants out there, but it's good news for those in search of EBP support. 

We will keep an eye on the developments in the EBP market. Look for more information in future additions of mySAP Market Watch.

 

mySAP APO - Real-Time Data Integration with CIF (Core Interface)
by Brian Trout
July 2002

The backbone of mySAP's Supply Chain Management (SCM) solution is the Advanced Planning & Optimization (APO) module. First introduced in the late 1990s, APO has evolved from its humble beginnings to the current 3.0 market release, (soon to be 3.1). APO 3.1 offers a host of collaborative planning functionality, including Demand Planning (DP), Supply Network Planning (SNP), Production Planning/Detailed Scheduling (PP/DS), Global Available to Promise (GATP) and Transportation Planning/Vehicle Scheduling (TP/VS). However, with this expanded functionality also comes added data integration complexity, and as with any other planning tool, APO's planning capabilities are only as effective as the source data it is provided with.

APO's solution for addressing real-time data integration is the Core Interface (CIF) R/3 Plug-In. The CIF provides a development environment complete with an Integration Model for mapping, a series of RFC definitions, a number of customer exits for enhancements and system monitoring, and analysis tools to support data transfer. In addition to the CIF, APO leverages integration with SAP BW through the use of extended infocubes for its DP function.

Sounds good on paper. However, what we have observed from many clients is that the CIF is quite "buggy," sometimes dropping data in transfer or rejecting data from RFC ques (qRFC).These problems are troubling for a number of reasons, most importantly that unprocessed qRFC information creates a bottleneck for subsequent data transfer and is not automatically deleted within the CIF. Or perhaps worse, critical pieces of data dropped in transfer can create scenarios where APO is operating with outdated or incorrect information, producing unreliable planning data.

In SAP's defense, they are working closely with customers to create patches to address these bugs. And it should also be noted that CIF errors can also be caused by a range of other factors, including issues with the network or source system failures. The APO customers we've spoken with advise others looking at APO to spend the time upfront to develop a clear list of specific functions they want from APO and to understand the fundamental differences between implementing execution and planning systems. This upfront work provides a more finite approach to working with the CIF Integration Model.

From a staffing perspective, we have observed a recent spike in demand for APO technical development resources. At present, most customers seeking an "expert" in the CIF development environment can expect to see resources with three to five years of ABAP experience along with six months to a year of APO-CIF background. Below this, there are a number of solid technical resources that have APO exposure, but more than likely only from a data load perspective. In terms of rates, from the smaller boutique firms, customers can expect to see rates in the $135 - 165 an hour range for APO-CIF experts, with APO data load resources available in the $100 - 125 per hour range.

We will continue to monitor the progress of the Core Interface and will have several more features on other areas of APO in the future.

 

Web Application Server - Poised to Redefine SAP Again
by Brian Trout
August 2002

Unquestionably, SAP's post Y2K mission has been to transform its image from an ERP software giant into an industry-focused, leading edge, eBusiness software company. In order to achieve this transformation, SAP has introduced the now familiar line of software products called mySAP. The mySAP product line represents a series of self-contained applications to support front office sales, supply chain, financial, and human resource systems, along with a host of business intelligence tools. Undoubtedly less familiar, but arguably just as important, has been SAP's introduction of the Web Application Server. The Web Application Server (or WAS) is an open systems, standards-based web architecture. As such, the WAS marks a major technical shift, as SAP continues to evolve from proprietary technical architecture and tools (Basis, ABAP), to a more "open" architecture ideal for collaborative eBusiness (Java, XML, J2EE, etc.).

Web Application Server represents the backbone on which SAP will ultimately launch a whole series of industry-specific web services and vertical industry content - all through a user-specific portal interface. The WAS maintains a powerful integration engine, a web-friendly development and runtime environment, and a set of landscape and administration tools that are designed to promote data integration and delivery for both R/3 and future non-R/3 customers. Sounds like an ideal infrastructure on which to build information portal solutions, and one we believe will afford SAP an opportunity to offer solutions to a whole host of non-R/3 customers in the future.

The Web Application Server concept was first introduced in 2001 with its initial 6.1 version. At the time, the release of WAS signified SAP's change in direction from a Microsoft-based NT environment with Internet Transaction Server (ITS) to a more robust Unix/Java based architecture with WAS. WAS (6.10) offered SAP users a true web browser interface known as Workplace. Workplace gave SAP users more open and focused access to information within the R/3 domain. 6.1 also offered developers an environment to publish ABAP programs on the Web via HTML. In addition, Web Application Server 6.10's adherence to standards like HTTP(S), XML, SMTP, and SOAP were revolutionary for an SAP product. (Although the SMTP and SOAP integration was not complete until 6.20).

However, it is SAP's newest version of Web Application Server 6.20 (available Q3 02') that is poised to redefine and likely extend SAP's market position. WAS 6.20 has expanded on the features of its predecessor in 3 main areas:

  • 1. It acts as a robust unification server supporting all mySAP.com, J2EE, and MS .NET applications. In addition, 6.2 now provides developers with the ability to host J2EE and ABAP applications on the same server with Java, XML, and SOAP output vs. static HTML.
  • 2. It provides a host of Business Process Connectors, comprised of SAP's IS solutions for industries such as A&D, Utilities, Public Sector, Telecomm, Consumer Goods, Retail, etc.
  • 3. It provides true extraprise connectivity, including full support for Web Services.
  • 4. Together with SAP Portals, WAS 6.2 forms the basis for the true conversion of SAP's offerings into "componentized" modules, with the realization that not all businesses require the full spectrum of SAP R/3 Financials or mySAP solution offerings. This will be most helpful in SAP's drive into the Small/Medium (SMD) field, whose requirements are not as stringent as a Fortune 1000 customer.

So what does all of this mean in today's environment for current SAP customers? Where does it leave R/3 customers looking at both mySAP and broader eBusiness initiatives?

In short, Web Application Server is not currently a requirement to run mySAP solutions. Many clients are effectively implementing mySAP components on top of 4.6C and below. However, when it comes to web-enabling standard R/3 information, such as Financials, you must be running on 4.6C with the 4.6D kernel in place, or, alternatively, running on the 6.2 Web Application Server. If you choose Web Application Server, our sources all tell us that 6.2 is very reliable, but there are still some browser output problems with certain mySAP components like APO.

If you do pursue the option of implementing the Web Application Server, your technical staffing needs will be a little different than the typical SAP Basis consultant who installed your R/3 system. Architecture specialists with specific WAS experience are very difficult to locate. Be prepared to allocate a fair amount of budget dollars for these resources, as experienced WAS architects will likely run in the $175+/hr range. The good news is that many of the new technical skills required, such as Java, XML, and J2EE/.NET experience, are often already present on the "in-house" IT staff who are rolling off e-commerce projects or other web-based initiatives. And some seasoned SAP consultants have also added these skills to their toolkit and can bring knowledge of both R/3 and web-based architectures to the table for things such as BAPI and ABAP Object customization for BSP (Business Server Pages).

Web Application Server 6.2 is the first product from SAP that can truly operate completely independently of other SAP applications. Its open integration framework allows customers to build specific information portal solutions (we will cover these in more detail next month), comprised of source data from a whole host of applications including Peoplesoft, Oracle, Legacy, or any other third party. That's quite a change from SAP products that played nice with R/3 but offered only limited integration support, if any, for other systems!


 

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