SAP’s e-business integration gambit

SAP AG CEO Hasso Plattner shared a message at the recent Sapphire expo that probably will echo throughout the IT community for some time. He promised customers a new layer of applications, xApps (cross applications), that deliver e-business integration functionality from SAP’s own software and, interestingly, from other vendors’ solutions.

In SAP’s words, xApps will operate on a “virtual mirror,” a dynamic, consolidated repository of information existing in various software layers, such as supply-chain management, and front-and back-office applications, both inside and outside a company.

SAP’s openness to other vendors’ solutions is good news for customers using heterogeneous solutions. Moreover, it builds on an emerging concept among major software vendors and analysts: Web services is not the panacea for e-business integration problems.

That claim has validity. Although architectures such as .Net and J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) should not be downplayed, their contribution to e-business integration is expected to extend apps beyond company and platform borders to create communication paths between incompatible software.

Unfortunately, communication channels between apps don’t necessarily generate e-business integration. The two applications need a common data semantic structure, or a translator, to communicate.

In addition, business transactions live in a context of common rules and protocols often extending across company boundaries. For instance, a purchase order needs to be properly authorized inside the purchasing company, which in turn needs to be recognized as a partner by the vendor.

Building apps to reconcile semantic differences and to manage those rules and protocols can be a major challenge.

With that in mind, SAP may have a winning proposition. The aim of xApps is to collect consolidated information from multiple sources and multivendor solutions to support interactive e-business decisions.

SAP suggests that its MySAP technology, with its offering of portal and exchange infrastructures, is the gateway to securely collect data, with normalized semantics, and the necessary landscape for xApps.

xApps sounds promising and has the appeal of minimizing implementation and development costs, in addition to extending the life of existing software. Perhaps more importantly, xApps could promote a more liberal attitude toward competitive solutions among other software vendors. Either way, SAP’s gambit may be a winner.