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Understanding Integration in SAP

SAP systems function within a complex system of external applications, data sources, and cloud solutions. This requires understanding of integration concepts and best practices for all SAP consultants, regardless of their chosen specialization.

While some companies function entirely within the SAP ecosystem, using a tightly integrated suite of products for all their needs, others face a more intricate reality.

Even those focusing on areas like Finance or HCM in SAP need a good grasp of integration principles to effectively communicate integration requirements, collaborate with integration specialists, and deliver more comprehensive solutions for their clients.

Many organizations use legacy infrastructure, composed of a patchwork of SAP and non-SAP systems, that hold data and functionalities for various business processes.

For these companies, the success of any SAP implementation demands careful consideration of integration.

Ideally, integration creates a unified environment where information flows freely, allowing the necessary end-to-end view of operations and business processes. By ensuring all relevant data, irrespective of its origin, is accessible and usable, integration allows businesses to make informed choices.

As with all aspects of SAP systems, integration in SAP is undergoing a transformation. Cloud-based deployments, the increasing adoption of SaaS solutions, and AI are all changing the way integration is approached.

This post from IgniteSAP explores integration in SAP systems. We’ll look at the various types of integration, some tools and platforms available, and the best practices and standards that ensure successful projects.

Types of Integration in SAP Systems

Integration strategies meet a variety of scenarios, each requiring a different approach to ensure easy data flow and optimized business processes. Here are just a few:

With the increasing adoption of S/4HANA Cloud and other cloud-based SAP deployments alongside existing on-premise systems, establishing a reliable connection between these environments is vital. This ensures real-time data exchange, enabling a unified view of operations regardless of deployment location.

Many organizations still retain a legacy infrastructure of established non-SAP systems that contain valuable historical data and functionalities critical to specific business processes. Integration with these systems allows for the continued utilization of this data.

Third-party applications are used by some companies alongside their SAP deployments. Integrating these with SAP facilitates exchange of data, without the need for manual data entry and ensuring process automation across various functionalities. Examples include CRM systems for enhanced customer experience, e-commerce platforms for sales operations, or integrating data from supply chain management systems to optimize inventory control, or integrating financial data from external sources to gain a view of the whole organization’s financial health.

Modern businesses operate within a complex ecosystem of partners and suppliers. B2B integration allows the secure exchange of data with these external entities, enabling processes like automated order fulfillment, real-time inventory visibility, and simplified collaboration.

Integration Tools and Platforms

Integration tools have evolved to meet the demands of modern SAP deployments. While methods like Intermediate Documents (IDocs) and Business Application Programming Interfaces (BAPIs) remain relevant for specific scenarios, their reliance on custom coding and complex configurations can limit agility and scalability.

Cloud-based Integration Platforms as a Service (iPaaS) solutions can make integration much easier for SAP consultants. iPaaS platforms offer a pre-built library of connectors that simplify the connection of SAP systems with various cloud and on-premise applications. This avoids extensive custom coding, allowing consultants to focus on the strategic aspects of integration rather than the technical complexities.

Pre-built connectors can reduce development time and effort, and intuitive interfaces simplify configuration and management. Also, iPaaS solutions often offer features like data transformation and mapping, so data of different types can flow between various systems.

This translates to faster project completion, lower costs, and a more efficient use of consultants’ time, but complex integration scenarios might still require skilled developers.

API Management solutions provide a centralized platform for securely exposing and managing APIs within the SAP system. This ensures controlled access to data and functionalities, safeguarding sensitive information and mitigating security risks.

The Power of APIs

APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) act as intermediaries, enabling communication and data exchange between SAP systems and external applications. With APIs, SAP consultants can achieve a high degree of flexibility and agility in their integrations.

SAP offers a vast library of pre-built APIs for the connection of SAP systems with various cloud and on-premise applications. These eliminate the need for extensive custom coding, accelerating the integration process. Consultants can also develop custom APIs to cater to specific integration needs.

APIs allow real-time data exchange between SAP and external systems. This ensures that data remains consistent and up-to-date across the entire integrated landscape.

APIs also enable the integration of SAP with many third-party applications, creating a more connected and collaborative business environment.

Modern API development tools within SAP provide a user-friendly and intuitive experience for consultants. These simplify API creation, testing, and deployment, allowing consultants to focus on the strategic aspects of integration rather than technical aspects.

API Management

To manage APIs within the SAP ecosystem, API Management solutions are used.

Using API Discovery and Governance, API Management tools provide a comprehensive catalog of all APIs, for easy discovery and promoting adherence to API governance policies.

API Management enforces secure access controls, ensuring only authorized users and applications can access specific APIs. This safeguards sensitive data and mitigates security risks.

These solutions also use built-in monitoring tools that track API usage, identify potential performance issues, and provide insights into API consumption patterns: data which enables consultants to optimize API performance and ensure a reliable and secure integration environment.

API Management also simplifies the process of versioning APIs and managing their lifecycle so developers have access to the most current API versions and smooth API updates.

Cloud-Based SAP Integrations

Adoption of cloud-based deployments like S/4HANA Cloud have changed SAP integration, with accompanying benefits and challenges.

Cloud-based SAP solutions use pre-built integration capabilities and readily available APIs. These simplify connections with external cloud applications and on-premise systems.
Cloud-based APIs also allow real-time data exchange.

Cloud-based integration platforms offer scalability and ease of management, allowing consultants to focus on designing and implementing the integration solution itself.

This type of integration avoids upfront hardware and software investments: meaning lower overall costs for clients. Cloud also allows for faster deployment times and quicker adaptation to changing business requirements.

Cloud providers invest heavily in security measures and compliance certifications, so by using cloud-based integration platforms, consultants can rely on strong security features and ensure their integration projects meet relevant data privacy regulations.

Cloud-based integration also presents some challenges.

Reliance on a specific provider can lead to vendor lock-in, potentially limiting future flexibility and potentially raising TCO.

While cloud-based solutions simplify many aspects of integration, complex scenarios might still require specialized expertise. Consultants must possess a strong understanding of both cloud and on-premise integration concepts.

While cloud-based solutions can use pre-built connectors and APIs that simplify integration with external applications, establishing a strong connection between these cloud and on-premise environments remains critical. SAP provides a variety of integration tools specifically designed to address this hybrid deployment.

Building a Solid Foundation

Adhering to best practices and established standards as well as customer needs is the easiest way to meet integration requirements successfully.

One crucial element championed by SAP itself is the concept of a “clean core” architecture. A clean core minimizes modifications to the core SAP system by the use of extensibility tools and pre-built integrations, reducing reliance on custom coding within the core.

Minimizing modifications within the core reduces the risk of introducing instability or conflicts during upgrades.

A clean core architecture then simplifies upgrades, as fewer custom code elements need to be reviewed and potentially adjusted.

By adhering to clean core principles, SAP consultants can ensure their integration strategies are adaptable and can accommodate future innovations.

Beyond the clean core concept, several other best practices contribute to successful integrations:

Proof of Concept: Before starting integration, consider conducting a Proof of Concept using the chosen tools and platforms. This is for testing the integration approach, identifying potential challenges, and refining the implementation strategy.

Data Mapping and Transformation: Real-world integrations rarely involve systems with perfectly aligned data structures. Data mapping and transformation techniques are needed for ensuring data flow between sources. This might involve converting data formats, reconciling inconsistencies, or enriching data with additional attributes for optimal use.

Security Considerations: Data security for integration involves implementing access controls, encryption measures, and adhering to relevant data governance regulations. Consultants should maintain a thorough understanding of SAP’s security protocols and best practices for securing data throughout the integration.

Testing and Monitoring: Thorough testing throughout the integration lifecycle is required for identifying and correcting any potential issues before they affect production environments. Consultants should implement comprehensive testing that includes data flow verification, functionality testing, and performance evaluation. Also, ongoing monitoring of the integration processes identifies any emerging problems that may require attention.

Change Management: Successful integration also requires high user adoption. A well-defined change management plan and comprehensive user training are crucial for ensuring users understand the new integrated environment and can use it effectively.

The Evolving Integration Landscape

Over time, the importance of real-time data exchange, pre-built capabilities and APIs, connection with external applications, and simplifying the overall integration process will increase as cloud adoption becomes more widespread.

AI and Machine Learning are also changing the way SAP consultants approach integration tasks.

AI and ML algorithms can analyze various data structures and automatically generate data mapping routines. This reduces the time and effort required for manual data mapping and minimizes the risk of human error.

AI can use historical data to predict potential integration issues before they occur. This allows for preventative maintenance and optimization of processes, minimizing disruptions and ensuring a more resilient environment.

The use of Low-Code/No-Code (LC/NC) platforms from SAP empowers consultants and also client-side personnel to participate in the integration process. These platforms use drag-and-drop functions and pre-built templates, so business users with limited coding expertise can create basic integrations. While LC/NC solutions are unlikely to completely replace the need for skilled consultants, they can make the simpler integration tasks easier, and free up consultants for other tasks.

Customer Integration Needs

A successful integration needs a thorough definition of the client’s specific requirements.

Evaluate the client’s data landscape. This includes assessment of the type and location of data sources (internal and external), their formats, and any data quality concerns. This is essential for determining the data mapping and transformation strategies required for integration.

Work with the client to map key business processes. Identify data touchpoints, system interactions, and any existing integrations. This process overview helps to identify potential integration gaps and opportunities.

Clearly define the client’s integration goals. What specific challenges are they aiming to address? What business objectives do they hope to achieve through improved integration? A well-defined set of goals ensures the integration project aligns with the client’s overall business strategy.

Compile a comprehensive inventory of all relevant applications and systems within the client’s IT ecosystem. This will inform the selection of integration tools and platforms.

Security and data governance should be prioritized from the outset. Understand the client’s existing security protocols and data governance policies.

Selecting And Implementing Integration Tools

The next step involves selecting and implementing the most suitable tools and platforms. This requires careful consideration of various factors to ensure optimal performance and a successful project outcome.

Evaluating Integration Requirements

Complexity of Integration: The complexity of the integration scenario guides tool selection. Simple data exchanges might be served by pre-built connectors within an iPaaS solution, while intricate integrations involving custom code or real-time data processing may necessitate a more flexible platform or the combined use of multiple tools.

Type of Data Integration: The nature of the data being integrated also influences tool selection. Master data management (MDM) solutions might be ideal for consolidating and harmonizing customer or product data sets, while Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) solutions cater to secure B2B data exchanges.

Security and Compliance: Ensure the chosen tools and platforms adhere to the client’s security protocols and regulatory compliance requirements.

SAP Integration Suite vs. SAP Cloud Integration

(Be aware that these two SAP solutions have had various names as they have evolved and some refer to SAP Cloud Integration as SAP Integration Suite)

SAP Integration Suite is an excellent choice for a wide range of integration needs.

It provides pre-built connectors, low-code/no-code development, API Management, and
Cloud-based scalability.

SAP Integration Suite is ideal for:

Integrating cloud-based SAP solutions like S/4HANA Cloud with external applications.

Automating data exchange between SAP and CRM or ERP systems.

Building basic process integrations within the SAP system.

For complex integration projects requiring greater flexibility and customization, SAP Cloud Integration provides:

Better development capabilities, supporting custom coding for highly specific needs.

Advanced data mapping and transformation for integration of different systems.

Event-driven architecture, which is used in real-time data processing for dynamic integration scenarios.

SAP Cloud Integration also uses open integration standards to connect to various third-party tools and platforms.

SAP Cloud Integration is well-suited for:

Integrating legacy systems with SAP solutions.

Building complex process automations that span multiple applications.

Implementing real-time data integrations for critical business processes.

SAP Datasphere

SAP Datasphere is a unified data service platform that simplifies data management, and integration processes, for a more cohesive and stronger data environment.

Datasphere acts as a centralized hub for all enterprise data, regardless of its source. This avoids complex data extraction and transformation, for easier integration with external systems.

The platform enforces data governance policies and supports data cleansing. This allows clients to make informed decisions based on trustworthy information.

It integrates with existing SAP security frameworks, for access control and data protection throughout the integration process.

The platform scales to accommodate growing data volumes and integration needs. This future-proofs the integration solution, allowing clients to adapt to changing business requirements without significant upgrades.

For consultants SAP Datasphere automates many data management tasks, freeing up consultants’ time to focus on the strategic aspects of integration projects.

The platform provides a centralized workspace for data management and integration activities, easing collaboration between consultants and clients.

Using Datasphere, consultants can deliver a more comprehensive and valuable integration service to their clients.The platform’s built-in governance and quality checks minimize the risk of errors during the integration.

Integration For The Future

As organizations increasingly rely on complex IT ecosystems consisting of diverse applications and data sources, the ability to connect these is an absolute necessity.

The demand for skilled integration consultants is on the rise. Organizations recognize the strategic importance of a well-integrated IT landscape: to optimize operations and gain a competitive edge, so consultants with the expertise to deliver these integrated solutions are highly sought after.

Integration projects play a central role in driving business transformation. Skilled consultants can use their integration expertise to identify process inefficiencies, optimize data flow, and provide valuable insights for clients. This positions consultants as trusted advisors, not just technical specialists.

In order to ensure their value to clients for the future, SAP consultants looking to specialize in integration should also become comfortable employing automation and AI as part of their professional practice.

Automation can handle repetitive tasks like data mapping and basic integration configuration. This frees up consultants to focus on higher-value activities that require strategic thinking, business process expertise, and strong communication skills.

AI-powered tools can automate data quality checks, simplify data transformation processes, and predict potential integration issues. This enhances the overall efficiency of integration projects and minimizes the risk of errors.

The practice of integration within SAP environments is changing, driven by the rise of cloud technologies, automation, and the increasing importance of data connectivity. For SAP consultants, proficiency in integration has become an essential skill. By understanding how integration is changing, and adhering to best practices, consultants can deliver exceptional value to their clients.

If you are an SAP professional looking for a new role in the SAP ecosystem our team of dedicated recruitment consultants can match you with your ideal employer and negotiate a competitive compensation package for your extremely valuable skills, so join our exclusive community at IgniteSAP.