Real-time enterprise: IT’s race against the clock

By : |September 29, 2005 0



Author: Thomas Mattern, Product Marketing Manager for SAP NetWeaver, SAP AG, Walldorf 

Integration of people, information and processes in real time means creating the perfect real-time enterprise that not only ensures higher efficiency but also provides dynamically adjustable processes. Integrating heterogeneous system structures as well as security and availability requirements, however, demands a sophisticated architectural design. Using the open integration and application platform SAP NetWeaver, SAP allows heterogeneous integration to be implemented employing Enterprise Services Architecture. 

Call it seamless computing, on-demand business or adaptive enterprise: a new chapter of enterprise IT is opening up. The real-time enterprise era is on its way, promising integration of applications, data, processes and people both within and beyond company boundaries. In practice this means dynamically connecting internal business processes with the processes of suppliers, partners and customers and making available the information created to anyone authorized, immediately and at any time. 

This vision of interaction, dynamics and speed does not necessarily mean that all processes have to communicate with each other in real time. The critical issue is rather transporting the right information to the right decision-makers at the right time and simultaneously creating automation mechanisms allowing software programs to communicate independently with each other. In this way, companies have a completely new level of quality in responsiveness. Realizing this requires a service-oriented architecture based on open Web service standards as well as a suitable integration and application platform. 

Less complex infrastructures
The scenario of a real-time enterprise can be technically created by adapting internal processes, embedded message systems, mobile technologies, and, most of all, by creating a homogeneous, dynamic IT infrastructure. 

An integrated system environment is crucial to achieving a real-time enterprise. The maintenance of a heterogeneous IT landscape of different applications and interfaces developed over the course of decades can not only impede rapid and innovative business processes, but also lead to enormous costs.

This has been confirmed by the Meta Group market research institute in a recently published survey: large companies are using an average of about 50 different software products. According to the Stamford, Connecticut-based analysts, no less than 70 percent of an IT budget is used for integrating typical point-to-point connections. Such counterproductive IT conditions have to be resolved, not least to free up budgets for investments in innovative solutions.

From a mere technical perspective, a real-time scenario initially focuses on replacing the countless point-to-point connections with an integrated structure that can be administrated centrally. To protect the user’s investment, a software platform is implemented that takes full advantage of existing systems and links the various applications from departments across the enterprise via standardized interfaces. This integration platform provides for the harmonization of diverse data as well as data exchange between all too frequently incompatible applications. Experience with purely technical integration solutions that are generally accompanied by costly integration projects has shown that complexity can indeed be reduced drastically by taking a solution-oriented approach. Such an approach takes into consideration not merely the technical connections between applications, but rather the operational content at the business process level. 

IT blueprint for the future
With its Enterprises Services Architecture concept, SAP provides a comprehensive architectural blueprint for the critical components of application development and business process integration. It describes the basic architecture of future IT structures. Any IT designed according to this plan integrates all business process-relevant data (structured and non-structured), information and systems to optimally map the process. All individuals participating in this business process are supported through universal access to this data. Whether these are internal or external participants or SAP or non-SAP systems no longer plays a role as long as the implementation complies with the idea of the Enterprise Services Architecture. SAP’s technology and product offering adheres to this architectural plan-including the SAP NetWeaver integration and application platform, on which all SAP business solutions are based (mySAP Business Suite, SAP
xApps).

Key technologies for the future
A critical building block when implementing an Enterprise Services Architecture is the integration and application platform SAP NetWeaver. Its service-based infrastructure integrates applications and processes, such as business intelligence, knowledge management, integration broker and business process management, into a comprehensive solution. SAP NetWeaver can be used within an existing application culture, integrating all functional segments of the enterprise as required, including sales, financial or human resources functions. In practice, the financial application “communicates” with the supply chain management solution that in turn “talks” to the production planning software. The imperative security required in such an open IT scheme is provided by a central security management system spanning from the application layer-with identity and role management-to the network level. 

Web services provide the technology standard necessary to allow classical ERP and other solutions to be modularized, standardized and then integrated into innovative processes. The resulting solutions, called composite applications, combine functionality and information from existing systems, for example, financial solutions, human resources management or office applications. In essence, a composite application enables a specific scenario or business process without replacing the existing system, resulting in significant cost reductions. The composite application is based on services furnished by applications. These services are represented across platforms using XML standards and transported via SOAP, HTTP and TCP/IP standard protocols. Users can access both data and applications from any platform and location using any browser. The major highlight: applications themselves are capable of calling up Web services from the Internet. This can be illustrated by example of an on-line reservation system: a travel agent wishing to book a flight or hotel accommodation using a conventional method has to “manually” sort out an indefinite number of offers on the Web to be able to further process the data. Web services, however, provide standardized and automated access to Web resources and business applications, such as accounting and inventory control systems. This means that data from the various providers can be read, and results evaluated, automatically.

Scalable applications
For next-generation applications that can also include any functional enhancements of existing applications, SAP has developed an innovative form of composite applications – SAP xApps. SAP xApps are applications that are pre-packaged with business logic for specific business processes and snap on to existing applications. The cross-application design of SAP xApps allows heterogeneous systems to be linked for cross-functional processes. Typical application scenarios include strategic business processes – those processes that can be regarded as comprehensively spanning across multiple business entities. Examples include product portfolio management for the joint development of new product ideas, or, most recently, an SAP xApp for emission management covering processes for compliance with environmental legislation. 

This means that integration can be implemented successfully – not as a time-consuming development project but as a readily deployable solution. SAP enables the integration of people, information and processes using the SAP NetWeaver platform, based on the concept of Enterprise Services Architecture.

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