What Makes a Great ISV Enablement Partner?

DataXstream is a company that specializes in SAP and most readers of this blog are SAP professionals.  So, I have some shocking news for you–news SAP doesn’t want you to know.  Are you sitting down?  Good.

SAP isn’t the only software vendor out there!!

Shocking, I know.  But there are other software platforms than NetWeaver; software languages other than ABAP and Java; and there was a time in the not-too-distant past where the center of the SAP universe, HANA, didn’t even exist!

While you are coming to terms that SAP is not the be-all and end-all, I would like to point out that no modern software system exists in a vacuum.  Because of this fact, attention has to be paid to how software systems interact with each other.  There is a seemingly endless supply of enterprise software solutions that supplement existing functionality, introduce new functionality, improve the user-experience, and, in general, bring value to the enterprise.  SAP’s predominance in the enterprise software market means that it these new enterprise software solutions need to interact with SAP–either getting data from SAP or sending data to SAP (or both).

But, SAP is not an easy software system with which to integrate.  The depth of SAP product offerings and modules make learning how to properly merge SAP functionality with an external software system difficult.  SAP NetWeaver is not known as a particular open or easy-to-access platform.  And while I personally laud SAP for their decision to enforce proper multi-tier data access restrictions (i.e. no direct read/write database access), this decision makes the SAP learning curve especially steep.

Many software companies desiring to integrate their software solution with SAP choose an independent software vendor enablement partner.  So, what makes a great ISV enablement partner?

  • Functional Expertise: In order to make the most of an integrated software solution, you must understand the needs of the business user.  Once these needs are understood, you need to transfer these requirements into software functional units of work.  Finally, an end-to-end workstream is defined across all participant software systems that will deliver the required functionality to your customers.
  • Technical Expertise: The best end-to-end workstream definition is only as good as the framework upon which the integration executes.  A great ISV enablement partner understands all of the technical aspects of SAP NetWeaver integration and development.  They will use this expertise to design and implement a solid, robust, scalable technical integration solution.
  • Go-To-Market Experience: Once the solution has been designed and built, it will need to be made available to the market.  A great go-to-market strategy involves market analysis, promotion, and working with the SAP ecosystem including SAP partnerships and certification.
  • Technical Sales and Marketing Support: Even the best software solutions don’t sell themselves.  Your ISV enablement partner should be there throughout the customer sales process to answer any questions and remove any barriers to sale.
  • Flexible Partnering Agreements: A great ISV enablement partner will work with you to craft a partnership agreement that benefits all parties while giving your customer’s the world-class solutions and support that they need.

DataXstream has been a leader in SAP ISV partner enablement since 2005 and has assisted dozens of software companies successfully enter the SAP market. Contact us today, to find out how we can unlock the SAP world for you!

What Makes a Great SAP Custom Development Partner?

SAP Development Reality versus Reputation

Have you ever met someone whose reputation precedes them?  You’ve heard great things about his/her ability to get things done, the technical expertise and all kinds of accolades.  Then you meet.  And disappointment sets in.  The disconnection between reality and reputation smacks you in the face.

This (alleged) rock star cannot articulate what he does in a language you understand; he can’t give you a good sense of where he has done similar work before.  Where’s the magic?  I’m often amazed at how often technical gurus seem to have a skill deficiency when dealing with regular folks.  But why do I care, they’re a bunch of technical folks with specialized skills who do what the specification says – right?  Not so much.

SAP Development Core Competency

For me this situation touches on a core competence found in a great SAP development partner: the ability to communicate, question, understand and explain in non-technical language is critical.  As an SAP end user, business representative or business analyst (or, true confessions, sometimes as a project manager) you don’t care about how efficient the code is, which select statements are best, the funky table joins, the use of internal tables, memory parameters, and so on.  This is like explaining relativity to your dog – he’s hoping something good is going to happen when you stop talking.

Great developers have great coding skills; they understand technology and relish the tough assignments.  Don’t get me wrong: I love these folks and what they can do.  But the ones I want to work with know I don’t care that much about their esoteric universe and their alphabet soup.  Instead they know we need to use a common language to work together: the language of business and business goals.

My Checklist for a Great Custom Development Partner

The things I value most in a great SAP custom development partner are communication and collaboration, this means:

  • developers who understand business goals, business process and business data
  • comfort using business language
  • understanding of SAP business processes
  • SAP technical and integration expertise

DataXstream developers know quality output comes not just as a result of a well written functional or technical specification: it comes from common language and collaboration.

Now, let’s talk.

 

What Makes a Great SAP Integration Partner?

An SAP integration specialist’s responsibilities are to design and implement a robust, extensible solution that uses the appropriate standards and technologies to guarantee ACID programming guidelines (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability) while leveraging the available programming interfaces to the best of their capabilities.  This may sound like a daunting task.  That’s because it is.  Integration is a very complex, specialized areas of expertise in the SAP ecosystem.

A great SAP Integration Partner will offer individuals that design and build integration solutions that adhere to the following concepts:

  • Robust – A good integration solution can recover from data and/or transmission errors. A truly robust solution should automatically attempt reprocessing where appropriate and, barring automatic processing, alerts the support personnel to the exception with context-specific data to assist in the exception resolution.
  • Extensible – Change is constant in the world of business.  A good integration solution is able to rapidly adapt to changes in process, requirements, and/or functionality.  More often than not, the individual that initially implemented the integration solution is not available to make the changes.  A combination of good design, process and procedure adherence, and documentation lowers the total cost of ownership for the integration solution.
  • Standards – Good integration partners understand standards, how they should be applied as well as their strengths and weaknesses.  Integration solutions that conform to standards are usually more robust and extensible, and therefore easier and cheaper to support, than their custom counterparts.
  • Atomicity – Robust integration solutions require atomic actions.  That means if one part of the transaction fails, the whole transaction fails.
  • Consistency – A consistent integration solution leverages the application programming interface to ensure that all business rules and processing logic are applied to the data prior to posting it to the database.  It is also important that data created via the integration solution passes the same validation and business rules as data created via the user interface.
  • Isolation – Great SAP integration partners understand how transaction isolation can greatly impact overall system performance.  Providing isolation means concurrent execution of data transactions results in a system state that would be obtained if transactions were executed serially–or in other words the interface can be executed in parallel, and therefore, take advantage of SAP NetWeaver parallel processing.
  • Durability – A durable integration solution is not affected by errors outside of the transaction–whether these errors be related to environment (power, network, database, etc.), data (business rules, missing data, incomplete data, etc.) or other factors.
  • Programming Interfaces (APIs) – A great SAP integration partner understands available programming interfaces and standards, their relative strengths and weaknesses, and how they interact with other components of the application.  Not all APIs are created equal and a great SAP integration partner will choose the API best suited for the integration solution.

DataXstream solution architects and integration specialists are trained in every one of these aspects and have the experience necessary to ensure every integration solution is a great one.

SAP Information Interchange OnDemand: Why Your System Integrator Matters

This post is third in a series on SAP Information Interchange OnDemand (SAP IIOD).  The first post covered why SAP IIOD’s model is a better solution than your existing EDI solution.  My previous post covered the steps involved in an SAP IIOD implementation.  In this post, I will explain why it is important to have a qualified system integrator working with you on your SAP IIOD implementation project.

I’m going to be candid with you, dear reader, and give you a peek behind the curtain that ordinarily hides my blog-writing process.  You see, originally this post was going to be entitled, Why First-Mile Integration Matters.  I was going to discuss how the SAP Business Network brought a lot of stability to the EDI on-boarding process because they were experts at what they do (i.e. B2B communications is all they do).  From a macro-economic standpoint, it was a perfect case of specialization. Finally, I was going to postulate that the same logic regarding specialization should apply to the team performing the first-mile integration.  This last part was going to be where I snuck in a sell of DataXstream’s SAP IIOD First Mile Integration Services.  Pretty great idea, right?

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What Does a Successful SAP IIOD Implementation Entail?

In my last post, I discussed how SAP’s planned incorporation of recent acquisitions (Crossgate and Ariba) into the SAP Business Network offers a logical advancement in B2B communications. The SAP Information Interchange OnDemand (IIOD) integration model improves on the familiar point-to-point topology by pushing customer-specific logic to inside the business network (aka the “cloud”). Doing this simplifies the integration that any one company using the SAP Business Network needs to maintain.

Chances are, however, that your organization already has a significant investment in your existing B2B communication strategy. Even if you are new to B2B communication, an SAP IIOD implementation is still an implementation project, including all the normal responsibilities, risks, and (hopefully) rewards. SAP Business Network’s value lies in its ability to simplify the on-boarding of new business partners while streamlining the maintenance of your existing B2B network, but that doesn’t mean it is easy (or free) to implement.

While most I’ve encountered understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch, I’ve found there to be much misunderstanding as to what is even on the menu. I will attempt to explain an SAP IIOD project, its deliverables, and provide roles and responsibilities for the parties involved.

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SAP on HANA is a Game Changer*

On January 10, 2013, SAP officially announced that SAP Business Suite (including ECC, CRM, SCM, etc.) will be available on SAP HANA.  SAP’s long anticipated move to include their in-memory database platform as a back-end database option to their popular business suite has lit up social media outlets.

According to a SAPxperts blog post by Scott Priest:

Sikka said that the availability of the Business Suite on HANA, while an accomplishment, was really just the beginning for SAP. The company’s future moves — including the development of mobile capabilities to go along with the Business Suite/HANA collaboration — will depend heavily on the Business Suite’s capabilities on HANA.

SAP Business Network on HANA has a real opportunity to change the ERP landscape as it promises significant performance and cost advantages over its competitors.  Additionally, SAP on HANA has the opportunity to bring business analytics closer to the transaction processing engine enabling truly real-time data analysis and forecasting, leaving behind the traditional OLTP/OLAP separation.

Not only is SAP Business Suite on HANA a game changer for companies that run SAP, but it also represents the single largest change in technical architecture since the inception of R/3.  If you are a SAP professional now is the time to start to educate yourself on SAP HANA (if you haven’t done so already).

SAP is currently not planning to require customers to use HANA, nor are they removing support for any existing RDBMS.  Pricing and availability were not immediately available.

More on SAP Business Suite on HANA here:

*No kittens were harmed by the existence of this post.

SAP Information Interchange OnDemand (IIOD) – A Primer

It can be said that in the SAP ecosystem, 2012 was the year of HANA.  You couldn’t turn around without being inundated with SAP’s in-memory computing full-court press. SAP has also been touting big data, mobility, and cloud solutions as well.  Clearly SAP is focusing on new, cutting-edge technology in each of these areas.  While much ink has been spilled writing about these technologies, it should be pointed out that you cannot ignore your current technological infrastructure.  For many organizations, this infrastructure includes business-to-business (B2B) communications.

In 2012, SAP acquired two companies steeped in B2B communications, Crossgate and Ariba.  These two recent acquisitions give SAP the opportunity to greatly change the face of B2B communications by combining their respective offerings under the SAP Business Network umbrella.  This blog entry is the first in a series that will explain the SAP Business Network, the SAP Information Interchange OnDemand (IIOD) managed service and how to take full advantage of its differences from legacy B2B communications.

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SAP Information Interchange OnDemand (IIOD) in a Nut Shell

You’ve seen how we can rapidly integrate and deploy SAP IIOD across your entire business network, but you still may have questions how IIOD can streamline communication between you and your trading partners. Let our friends at SAP fill in the blanks.

Upgrading your SAP System – Pitfalls and Processes for Success

Why Upgrade?

What compels a firm running multiple versions and multiple products of SAP to upgrade its ERP and other usage types? The (not always) obvious reason is the need for new functionality, which can better support company business needs and help them thrive in an ever growing competitive landscape. Basically, they want their business to run better than other businesses in their market. So a brief note on the release strategy for SAP applications, which follow a “5-1-2” maintenance concept: “5″ years of mainstream maintenance; “1″ year of extended maintenance at an additional two percent of the maintenance fee; and finally, “2″ years extended maintenance at an additional four percent fee. Not cheap, but it may be cheaper than a big upgrade project. After that, if you still don’t want to let go of the SAP release, there is always customer-specific maintenance, which is expensive.

I am sure that most of the decision makers are not aware of this information, and that is why I’m  writing this post.  SAP customers need to know of the additional investment they would have to make to keep their SAP system, running status quo.  I would encourage you, and your bean counters, to do the math on considering your SAP installations. After that, I am sure you would be compelled to focus on the upgrade (if not now, when?).

New Functionality

The main reason for upgrading has almost always been the additional functionality.  There are other reasons as well, like instance consolidation, virtualization, and requirements based on hardware, software and O/S.  Every SAP release brings new features, challenges and opportunities.  The need to upgrade is mostly driven by business needs, which in turn require new functionality in your SAP environments.  This empowers your company by transforming your processes and moving your company to higher levels of efficiency, richer reporting with new and improved analytic tools like BIA and HANA, and ability to make timely and informed business decisions.  The choice must be made whether to implement and develop the new functionality or perform an upgrade. This is not always an easy evaluation and the amount of customizing you do will certainly drive this decision.  This is the so-called “solution gap” and you have to ask, is the solution gap large enough to justify the SAP release upgrade?  And since SAP upgrades are time consuming and usually complex, is it worth investing time, money and resources to address this solution gap with an upgrade?

Yesterday’s Technology

SAP systems need to be constantly customized and enhanced in order to support evolving business needs. The time will come when the installed instances will no longer be able to suit your needs.  Staying on the same release is unsustainable from an infrastructure point of view as you will be required to stay on older hardware, software, and O/S.  If you have systems with many external touch points, it becomes more difficult over time to keep these working, especially if you are running much older SAP software. [Read more...]

SAP Tip Quick Hit: Location of saplogon.ini in Windows 7

Ugh.  I spent the last 10 minutes searching for saplogon.ini!!

I need to copy it to a Virtual Machine so I don’t have to type in all of the SAP system information.  As many of you know, SAP saves SAP Logon Pad entries in a file called saplogon.ini.  For many releases, this file resided in the C:\Windows directory.  Since Microsoft has began enforcing their improved security model, SAP has adapted and, therefore, moved the location of saplogon.ini to a directory that I can never seem to remember.  I have SAPGUI 7.20 running on Windows 7 (x64) and I find myself scouring my hard drive in search of saplogon.ini!  I have 38 versions of the file, but which is the right version? Don’t worry, I finally found the right one. But I have performed this search at least three times in the past year! I seem to never make a point to note the location of saplogon.ini.  I can’t be alone in this search.

So for future me and you, dear internet community, here is the location of saplogon.ini file in Windows 7 for SAPGUI 720:

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