SAP is no stranger to Generation Change. At the age of 50 this year, SAP reached its middle age by holding its original claim to a reputation as a leader in enterprise software applications. In Y2K’s runup, Enterprise pointed to a middle-aged software provider to represent a new generation of enterprise business system (it was four years before SAS).
Over the past few years, SAP’s top management has undergone a generational change, with the current executive team consisting of a group of forty-year-olds. But Generation Change goes beyond showing young faces. It is an inconvenient truth that the disruption caused by the cloud and the epidemic has pushed SAP and its customers into another wave of change whether they like it or not.
But if you ask most SAP customers what that generational change is, they’ll point to S / 4HANA, the successor to the SAP ECC and Business Suite. Or they might think of HANA, SAP’s various cloud offerings for data warehousing and analytics. Few would guess what represents the true underbelly of its transformation: SAP’s Business Technology Platform (BTP).
SAP BTP speaks, but the message is still confused
Call it SAP’s best-kept secret. Ever since SAP introduced it when it was rebranded from the SAP cloud platform almost a year ago, we’ve been confused about what BTP is.
And it’s not for lack of content, promotion or verbiage. An essential technology stack chart featuring all the latest APIs, data sources and programming languages. There are web pages dedicated to BTP, but they point out what BTP can do instead. Addressing application development, integration, automation, AI, and planning and analysis, BTP offers nearly a hundred pre-built cloud services covering the waterfront. It includes a “Discovery Center” where customers can evaluate business outcomes from an executor’s perspective. And with nearly a third of the portfolio offered on a freemium basis, SAP is certainly serious about getting BTP services into the hands of the developer. Other content on the website featured select customer success stories, such as the Belgian Westwater utility, Ferries, which was able to get reports 10x faster and was able to create a customer self-service portal that automates more than 90% of interactions, all with BTP.
But nowhere does SAP explicitly place its card on the table and clearly state what BTP really is.
At SAP’s main SAPPHIRE event this week, we finally got the explanation. BTP is a technology foundation that changes the way companies develop and expand their SAP applications.
Part of the confusion is that the main part of the message behind BTP is not new. Since the days of S / 3 and through the ECC, SAP has warned customers not to customize within the application. However, with the API still having 10 – 15 years of flexibility in the future, customers will have to custom-build their own interface to extend the SAP to keep the core application code natural. But SAP also provided consumers with the ABAP language to take the law into their own hands, which was later supplemented by Java. And so in general, most ECC implementations are likely to have a lot of custom ABAP codes within them, especially in financial accounting modules. And therein lies the rubbing.
With all that internal custom code, two words spread terror in the hearts of ECC customers: version upgrade. Updating versions or installing patches essentially means checking numerous interfaces to ensure that functionality is not compromised. Some of SAP’s largest clients had thousands of customizations in their own implementation.
API for Rescue
By the time SAP introduced what is now known as BTP, APIs had become a practice and popular among developers. The guiding concept behind BTP is to abstract all customization Out Main code by APIs. Reliance on APIs is a rule of thumb for cloud SaaS applications, which would otherwise be constantly broken if they let their customers mess with the inside. With BTP, SAP tells its customers that they should adopt these methods regardless of what generation of SAP software they are running, or whether they are running in the cloud (or not).
The principle is that if you keep the APIs stable, the main application should be well protected and the extensions should interact with them. While APIs are typically associated with integrating applications or connecting applications with different data sources, they can also be used for the purpose of securing core code. And while BTP is often described as a collection of reusable services, BTP provides APIs that enable SAP customers to get rid of years of bad habits, keeping them away from the SAP application. Given that the API is the default mode of interaction with the SaaS application, it is not surprising that BTP initially surfaced as part of its rollout known as the SAP Cloud Platform.
BTP is about SAP application modernization
As we mentioned above, SAP status and messaging on BTP is messed up. For its customer base, SAP needs to specify what BTP actually is. It is more than a set of APIs and services. At the end of the day, BTP is really about modernizing how classic and low-code developers work with SAP applications.
Most SAP customers adopting BTP are likely to move on to new offerings like S / 4HANA, Data Warehouse Cloud or Analytics Cloud, but there is also an important bridge play for customers who may still need some assets at ECC. And in fact, it has also been back-ported on legacy SAP solutions such as business by design.
BTP is also about expanding SAP beyond the ABAP developer base, and for that matter, reaching out to citizen developers. With BTP, they can write applications or changes in the language of their choice, which is very important because ABAP is a legacy language that does not appeal to many developers nowadays (like COBOL). And it extends from traditional coding to low code / codeless tools that SAP is starting to promote. It is a portfolio of pre-built cloud-based services for general capabilities to give developers jumpstarts that can be run against SAP (and for popular sources, non-SAP) data in the cloud or back-on-premises.
For SAP and its clients, BTP represents both a challenge and an opportunity. This is an opportunity to make customer SAP implementations less brittle and enable customers to become more agile, not just by upgrading, but by overcoming fears by adding new functionality. During the epidemic, businesses have had to adapt to changes ranging from hybrid workplaces to accelerating digital processes, new approaches to resilience and, more recently, to sustainability. Upgrading to the old-fashioned way won’t just keep pace.
But it is also a challenge, as organizations need to rethink their development practices, and in some cases, isolate and refine existing hard-coded changes. At SAPPHIRE this week, we heard about a large SAP customer account that more than 50,000 hard-coded changes to its classic applications make a complete migration to BTP in just one year (yes, SAP has a comprehensive change checker, but we diversify. ). We expect that there will be a longer duration for most of the process.
Progress is not easy, but since we are on topic, we have a selfish request for SAP: Would you please use BTP to move Ariba to 21?st Century?
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