System integration (SI) is an IT or engineering process or phase concerned with joining different subsystems or components as one large system. It ensures that each integrated subsystem functions as required.
SI is also used to add value to a system through new functionalities provided by connecting functions of different systems.
For the last decade, the aggregation of different component systems or subsystems that cooperate to deliver a whole functionality has been the focus of industries that use technology. This is known as the modular approach to systems building, and the SI process has always been at the near-end of the development cycle. Because systems or subsystems to be integrated may span different fields in software and hardware engineering, a SI engineer must have a broad range of skills and breadth of knowledge.
SI methods are as follows:
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software works best when connected with a variety of other business applications…
across the organization. In this SAP Press book chapter excerpt, find an introduction to SAP ERP integration with other enterprise systems, and learn how SAP ERP can optimize a variety of business software.
SAP business suite applications and the NetWeaver Application Server ABAP and Java technology foundation that it runs on. In this chapter we will study the central role the SAP ERP system has in an organization and its network integration into the organization’s enterprise infrastructure, as well as to the external systems outside the organization and the SAP support infrastructure. This chapter covers various communication and integration technologies that “bind” different SAP ABAP and Java-based applications, along with the third-party enterprise solutions, external vendors, and SAP support organization into an enterprise-wide SAP solution adding value and driving the business needs of an organization. This chapter is also intended to give an overview to enterprise architects as to how a SAP solution would fit into an enterprise-wide architecture.
Companies that choose not to integrate their SAP systems with their third party applications run a number of risks – the most serious risk would be failing to get the full value out of your SAP and third party software investments.
SAP is an extremely powerful ERP system, one that can give you deep business insight into important areas of your business. However, it can’t do everything. Your third party or best-of-breed applications, whether they be Software as a Service (SaaS) or on-premise, are necessary to providing insight into other areas of your business and to handle specific business functions that SAP doesn’t handle as well (or at all).
SAP offers a huge number of applications that can be adapted to meet the needs of almost any business; the array of options available within SAP creates a challenge when answering general questions about how to integrate it with other systems. The answer will usually vary depending on which version you are running, the underlying technology, and how it was implemented originally.
A few of the versions you could be running include MySAP, SAP All-in-One, SAP BusinessOne, the R/ series or SAP ECC, or any of SAP’s more specialized applications. At the time of this writing, most companies are likely to be running licensed, on-premise applications. Most older versions of SAP are based on SAP’s proprietary ABAP (Advanced Business Application Programming) language; newer versions have moved away from that standard.
The SAP landscape, however, is changing. Over the last few years, SAP has begun moving toward a Software as a Service (SaaS) business model; BusinessOne, a popular option with SAP’s small and medium business (SMB) customers resides on the cloud.
S/4 HANA is offered in an on-premise, cloud and hybrid version. An important component of SAP’s strategy with S/4 HANA is the deployment of the HANA Cloud Platform, which will provide an SAP supported hosting platform for SAP certified third party applications. Over time, SAP will support only those interfaces that reside on the HANA Cloud Platform.
Any of these factors can impact your integration plans. Integrations with newer releases are handled differently than integrations with older ABAP-based releases. Integrations with cloud-based software differ from on-premise installations. Modifications can also impact your integration plans.
Because SAP has changed the way it builds software over the years, your integration path depends to a great extent on which version of SAP your organization is running. The most common integration tools used with SAP include:
IDOC – Intermediate Documents. IDOC sends messages between systems, querying for information. There are over 600 IDOCs, and they are generally well supported across versions.
ABAP Interfaces – Companies with the requisite expertise can write their own custom interfaces using ABAP. This is the most direct option to integrate older versions of SAP; the disadvantage is that SAP doesn’t support these interfaces and they can present a problem at upgrade time.
RFC – Remote Function Calls. These are programming hooks within ABAP that allow calls to external applications. These are typically not documented, and are not supported by SAP.
BAPI’s – Business Application Programming Interfaces. These are essentially API’s written and supported by SAP to enable integration between SAP modules and between SAP and third-party applications.
SAP NetWeaver – For companies using SAP ECC, NetWeaver is the preferred tool for moving data and triggering actions between SAP modules and third party software.
Some third-party software providers, including Handshake, also offer Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to connect SAP with their applications.
ABAP, BAPI, RFC, IDOC, ECC, ERP – the list sounds like a bowl of alphabet soup. We can’t blame you for feeling a bit confused by this point.
The good news is, it’s not as confusing as it sounds. Now that you understand the factors impacting your SAP integration, you can lay out a plan for your particular situation. It’s simply a matter of asking the right questions.
To do this, you need to identify:
In many cases, a good option when it comes time to upgrading your SAP system will be to use the SAP published and supported interface types – BAPIs or NetWeaver. Another good option is to use the interfaces supported by the third party vendor. Only when these options are not available should custom interface development be considered.
Because of the complexity of the SAP landscape, and the unique needs of each business, there are many factors to consider when it comes to SAP integration. But the added value of being able to take advantage of best-of-breed software solutions––and having those solutions fully connected with your ERP––is significant. If you have questions about SAP integration, please let us know in the comments.