Thursday, December 28, 2006

Point of Inflexion?

Whilst still "off" for the Christmas break I still have something of my day job to attend to, which involves some commentary on SAP's capability with regard to Service Oriented Architecture (Enterprise Services Oriented Architecture if you want to speak SAP...). I thought I'd write up some of that whilst I'm in the mood (forgive the style, I'm a compulsive enthusiast.)

If you are an "Enterprise" and you want to bet the farm on SOA then SAP pretty much have the whole thing sewn up for you. Firstly they offer you all the Business Suite stuff (ERP, CRM, SRM, APO...) in loads of industry solutions on any (big) platform you like, which gives you an API (BAPI) and a "webflow" engine for almost any business process you can think of then you get to consume any & all the services anyhow you like. Well thats the vision of it all but I reckon they are getting really close to the reality now - the problem I suppose is that they charge you loads of money for it all and you have to implement & support it all on up to 43+ "servers" in the three-tier multi-client architecture and there are only two guys who really know how all the new stuff works - and they can only be placed on the map by using a cruel and unusual algorithm based on the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle. Even with the significant costs and the investments in training courses SAP experience is ideal preparation for survival in the open source world.

There is a real crunch on new skills at the moment as all of us are having to figure out teh implications of 64-bit, Java, Unicode conversions and all that as well as the fantastic array of tools for integrating the services (Visual Composer, NetWeaver Developer Studio, /nSE80, /nSE37.. and the latest ideas on virtualisation. And of course we have trusty old OO ABAP to think about which is great - like Java that works! And they've invented "Web Dynpro" for Java AND ABAP! the latter of which is in my opinion the "Killer App" for SOA /MVC developers everywhere. If that isn't enough we now have to contend with MUSE and DUET, both of which are typically dependent on user profiles constructed in the Portal, and the Adobe Forms which are now built in the application servers.

To quote Sir John Harvey-Jones a "Point of inflexion" is happening, 4 years ago he was talking about hardware and, finally, its capability to deliver more benefit than cost (an old cynic we might say!). I think this point of inflexion is much more subtle and profound, SAP (to take just one example perhaps), having "Cracked" the technology strategy, are now seeking to flesh out "The processes" that will fuel the SOA evolution/revolution. The inflexion is all about bringing down the process complexity for organisations whilst dealing with the the complexity of the architecture as it becomes oriented to Services. Can you think of a business process? Tell SAP so they can point you to an Application or Composite Application welding together all the useful bits and presenting it to you in seamless application.

Enterprises are implementing the architecture now, often cost-justified on the basis of a particular "point" solution whilst realising what can be achieved "next month" or "next quarter" on the same set of kit, one project may need to integrate purchasing and finance systems whilst the next may need to integrate the Asset Maintenance system with the GIS. Just find or create your services, hop onto the Process Integration system and away you go. Sounds simple, eh?

Like I said, a skills crunch. And SAP even have a solution for that: with over half a million SAP "Uber-geeks" helping each other out. Its kind of like open-source on steroids but someone has to pay SAP for something somewhere along the line. The beauty from SAP's point of view is that their services can now be consumed by systems that don't speak RFC.

As SAP already "have" all the big companies and are increasingly "having" public sector and utilities most aspects of our lives will probably, sometime soon, end up in an SAP database, neatly integrated to all the other aspects of our lives using SAP's Master Data Management systems.

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