SAP Tailors SOA For Business Needs

By Bob Violino

Like other enterprise software application vendors, SAP has plunged into service-oriented architecture technology in a big way and industry analysts say the German software giant, which built its business on its enterprise resource planning software, is trying to leverage its position in the enterprise application market and offer CIOs a one-stop shop for SOA technology.

In marketing its SOA offerings, SAP is emphasizing ease of adoption and making a SOA implementation "relevant to the business needs of its customers," according to a spokeswoman.

To that end, it provides SOA solutions tailored to 26 specific industries. The banking solution, for example, includes support for functions such as analytics, compliance, deposits management and loans management, while the telecommunications solution supports functions such as network lifecycle management, marketing analytics, sales and service fulfillment and customer service.

SAP counts among its SOA customers Arla Foods (consumer products), Hubert Burda Media (media), Gisa Gmbh (IT service), Jebsen & Jessen (wholesale distribution), Valero Energy (oil and gas), Eastman Kodak (chemicals) and Phillips (high technology).

"Mass adoption of SOA is currently underway," says Chris Horak, head of marketing for SAP NetWeaver. "More than 6,700 customers have adopted SAP's approach to enterprise SOA" since the vendor completed its SOA roadmap last year, he says. SAP offers the service-enabled SAP Business Suite, pre-packaged enterprise services, and SAP NetWeaver, which provides the technology foundation for SOA.

But customers are succeeding with SAP's SOA tools whether or not they use the industry-specific packages.

To showcase how customers are leveraging enterprise SOA for business success, SAP in 2007 launched an enterprise SOA contest that recognized the efforts of customers and business partners that have created "a new breed of composite applications to achieve significant business impact," according to the company. More than 30,000 votes were cast against a list of the top 10 entries, determined by a panel of industry experts. Sharp Electronics was honored as the winner for its advanced use of enterprise services and portal technology to drive sales and customer satisfaction.

Next: What Sharp Did

{mospagebreak title=What Sharp Did}

What Sharp Did

Sharp identified an opportunity to use portal and process integration technology from SAP's NetWeaver to enable an automated credit card process for customer and employee orders, reducing the amount of time spent manually entering and authorizing purchases. The integration of Sharp technology with services from credit-card payment gateway PayPal and credit-card clearing house First Data through SAP's NetWeaver resulted in improved customer satisfaction, efficiencies in ordering processes and a reduction in delayed or missed payments.

According to the SAP spokeswoman, Sharp did not use an industry specific package from SAP, nor did an industry specific package result from the company's work. What Sharp achieved could be applied to multiple industries.

SAP's SOA roadmap outlines enhancements in the company's NetWeaver integrated technology platform, which provides the development and runtime environment for SAP applications and can be used for custom development and integration with other applications and systems.

As part of its SOA roadmap, SAP brought out a version of NetWeaver Enterprise Services Repository (SAP NetWeaver ESR) that provides access to more than 1,000 enterprise services. NetWeaver ESR comes with business process models and business object models, in addition to Web service definitions. Using the system, customers and business partners can ensure common business semantics for ease of composition and reuse, SAP says.

The company also released SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment. This product is an integrated set of tools that customers, partners and SAP itself can use for the composition and deployment of standards-based composite applications.

Industry analysts say SAP is trying to leverage its position in the enterprise application market to advance its SOA technology. Judith Hurwitz, president and CEO of consulting and research firm Hurwitz & Associates, says SAP, like other SOA vendors, is trying to be a one-stop shop for SOA technology.

SAP "is looking at packaged software as the control point for SOA," Hurwitz says. She says the company's selling point is that its products are all standards based, rather than a hodgepodge of products from multiple acquisitions.

SAP's SOA products are centered on its enterprise applications and are not generally sold as standalone SOA software, says Ian Finley, research director at AMR Research. "SAP's focus is enabling its customers to create new applications and integrate business processes both inside and outside their companies by leveraging SOA and their investment in SAP applications," he says.

SAP NetWeaver provides much of the capability found in competing SOA software products and has the added advantage of SAP-supported integration with current and future SAP applications, Finley says.

"SAP continues to invest heavily in NetWeaver and its integration with SAP applications in order to make it more attractive as a strategic SOA platform," he says. "SAP's current SOA software, its track record of delivering against commitments and the strategic position SAP applications enjoy in many of its customers makes it likely that many of [these] 43,000-plus customers will choose SAP as their SOA platform vendor."

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