SAP Application Integration: Challenges, Tools and Technologies

Overview

SAP is one of the most widely used enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions today, enabling organizations across various industries to optimize critical business functions such as accounting and financials, human capital management, supplier relationship management, enterprise performance management, and many others.

One of the major challenges facing companies who rely on SAP is integration. Without proper integration between SAP applications and non-SAP applications, companies fail to fully automate and optimize their business processes.

In the rest of this article, we’ll take a look at the most common SAP integration scenarios, typical application integration challenges, and various SAP integration tools and technologies.

SAP Integration Use Cases

Although there are numerous potential use cases for SAP application integration, we’ll focus on the three most common scenarios: CRM integration; supplier integration; and integration with third party purchase order systems.

Integration with CRM Applications:

This is perhaps the most common SAP integration scenario. Companies often need to synchronize customer data between their ERP and CRM systems, such as SAP and Salesforce. For example, when a salesperson brings a new customer on board, it is important to get that information for financials, performance management, and other business functions handled by SAP. This ensures timely data synchronization between systems and increases overall business agility.

Integration with Supplier Systems:

Integrating SAP and supplier systems is another common scenario. For instance when a purchase requisition for a component or raw material is created in SAP, the request needs to be sent to all possible suppliers. These suppliers then respond to the request with quotes, which are routed back to SAP for further processing. To streamline the process, SAP needs to be integrated with these supplier systems.

Integration with Third Party Purchase Order Systems:

Integration between SAP and third party purchase order systems is also a common use case. In this scenario, integration with third party purchase order systems enables new purchase orders to be immediately transmitted and available in SAP.

Integration Challenges

While the SAP application integration use cases discussed above deliver tangible business benefits, companies often run into a number of challenges when architecting solutions.

First, the growing popularity and use of Software as a Service (SaaS) applications such as Salesforce.com means that companies are increasingly integrating SAP with cloud-based applications. The technological differences between on-premises integration approaches and cloud-centric ones can be a challenge.

Moreover, some business processes require SAP to be connected to multiple systems, each of which may communicate with SAP using slightly different technology. An integration layer is thus needed between SAP and these different systems.

Finally, as business needs change, new use cases will undoubtedly emerge. The challenge for companies is to design a software architecture that will accommodate future use cases and enable developers to quickly build new applications and integrate with SAP.

SAP Integration Tools and Technologies

There are a number of SAP integration tools and technologies that make it less difficult for developers to build application integrations between SAP and other systems, including:

  • Intermediate Docs (IDocs): IDocs is a standard data format defined by SAP used to exchange information between SAP and non-SAP applications. It is typically used to transfer data in and out of SAP.
  • Business Application Programming Interfaces (BAPI): BAPIs are defined interfaces that can be utilized by SAP and non-SAP applications. BAPIs are typically used in two-way communication scenarios, providing access to processes and data. There are hundreds of BAPIs available, which offer a broad set of functions for SAP application integration.
  • SAP Java Connector (JCo): JCo is a middleware component that enables development of SAP-compatible components and applications in Java. JCo has become prevalent in SAP environments because it is a necessary component for Java developers who need to integrate with SAP.

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