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.
What is SAP Information Interchange OnDemand (SAP IIOD)?
The simple answer is SAP Information Interchange OnDemand is EDI in the cloud. But it is more than that. Technically, SAP Information Interchange OnDemand is SAP’s B2B integration solution sold as a managed service.
What does this include? SAP handles the physical connectivity to your B2B trading partners through existing VANs or direct connections. SAP handles the partner-level mapping of the business transaction data to/from an canonical XML document. Since it is a managed service, SAP also manages the transmission of the B2B messages to/from your trading partners and will work with your IT organization to resolve transmission errors per the stated service level agreement (SLA).
Why is SAP IIOD a Better Model?
As an IT professional that has been specializing in SAP integration for more than 15 years, I’ve become way too jaded to get excited about new integration products or standards or paradigms or buzzwords. Buzzwords aside, there is much about the SAP IIOD model that gets me excited. What excites me the most is how SAP IIOD represents a major positive shift in the way B2B communication links are created and maintained. To further explain, please let me demonstrate with the following analogy:
Your existing B2B communication landscape is a data network. So is the telephone network. But, while the telephone network is quasi-regulated (or was at one time), and has a small number of true standards. B2B networks are mostly decentralized and suffer from an over-proliferation of standards.
A common B2B communication landscape may encompass trading partner communication via VAN, AS2, direct FTP, portal, and other methods. And even if most of the B2B messages flow through a common transmission media (e.g. a single VAN), each trading partner’s B2B communication scenario is unique, requiring its own personalized mapping and translation logic in order to be effectively relegated.
Now imagine if the telephone network operated in a point-to-point topology. You would need separate telephone circuits for each and every person you wanted to talk to as displayed in the following graphic.
While there are some benefits to this phone network (no more telemarketers!), in reality you have a communication network that is hard to manage, difficult to upgrade, and expensive to maintain (sound like your current B2B operations?). Left unchecked, this type of unregulated growth eventually ends up looking like this.
Thankfully, what occurred in the United States and elsewhere during the infancy of the telephone network buildout, local telephone companies were heavily regulated, standards were devised and enforced, and a single, comprehensive network was constructed. So, today, our telephone network looks something like this.
Not only does SAP IIOD replicate the telephone company’s single access point advantages as well as management of the communication through a service-level agreement, SAP IIOD actually offers a better value proposition than the phone system because in addition to data transmission, SAP IIOD performs data translation. To match this functionality, the phone system would have to build auto translators so I could pick up the phone and truly talk to anybody in world regardless of language.
Through its recent acquisitions, SAP is aiming at bringing a much needed standards-based single network approach to B2B communications. In the next article in this series, I will discuss how a company is expected to connect to the SAP Information Interchange OnDemand Business Network.