The following three SAP integration challenges must be well understood and carefully considered when planning an integration strategy.
The SAP ecosystem consists of countless, disparate technologies, including legacy on-premises ERPs, a more modern S/4Hana ERP, various SaaS solutions that SAP has acquired over the years, and multiple integration tools that seek to connect and navigate this complex landscape.
Further, SAP ERP is notoriously challenging to integrate with other systems, given its proprietary language, logic, and processes that do not easily extend beyond the SAP ecosystem. Thus, the following three SAP integration challenges must be well understood and carefully considered when planning an integration strategy.
1. SAP’s integration methods don’t extend well to third-party systems
SAP provides a number of integration methods and interfaces to connect and manipulate data and processes. Instead of using existing industry standards, SAP has developed its own capabilities such as IDocs, BAPIs, ABAP, RFC, and JCo (see Appendix). SAP’s proprietary offerings don’t extend well to third-party systems and present significant integration challenges. For example, there are over 600 IDocs types that must be considered as part of an integration project. Additionally, BAPIs don’t cover all available SAP transactions, and RFCs are often neither documented nor supported by SAP.
Consequently, customers have to resort to a patchwork of integration solutions to solve various use cases, creating tightly-coupled, solution-specific, brittle connections that prevent organizations from adapting to future business changes.
2. Inconsistent configuration increases complexity and costs
One of the benefits of SAP ERP, including ECC, is that it is highly customizable to a business’ needs, and many companies take full advantage of this flexibility. However, this customizability increases the complexity of integration, driving up the costs and the time to connect to new systems. As companies expand into new products, new verticals, and new markets, they often find the need to individually customize SAP modules to meet new and unique business needs. For example, a multinational corporation likely has different SAP instances in North America, Europe, and Asia, each with their own customizations. While these customizations best support each region’s business operations, they present significant challenges for integration. And if a company acquires a competitor with its own SAP instance (or another ERP entirely), integration challenges only escalate.
Even when companies have consistent customization within their SAP ecosystem, their third-party solutions will have their own object models that won’t match those of SAP. The more third-party software that is involved, the greater the mismatch, and consequently, the greater the challenge to integration. Navigating these idiosyncrasies without the proper tools quickly becomes insurmountable for many organizations.
3. Specialized skill set requirements lead to slow delivery
SAP’s comprehensive suite of solutions, coupled with its multiple integration methods such as IDocs and BAPIs, rapidly leads to a complicated development and software delivery environment. In order to navigate this complexity, large teams of developers with specialized skill sets are required, forcing businesses to either build an SAP team in-house or hire SAP developers from systems integrators.
Given both their complexity and their business-critical nature, SAP projects can take months to complete. Meanwhile, line of business requests move into a backlog, awaiting prioritization and resourcing, often frustrating end users who need to innovate in real-time. This pain is particularly acute given the high percentage of critical data that is stored in SAP and due to its role as the organization’s central system of record. Even when work begins on line of business projects, because of SAP’s complexity, what may appear to be a small request to update functionality will take considerable effort and time.
To combat the challenges outlined above, it’s imperative to choose the right technologies, the right approach, and to enable your teams appropriately. Read our SAP integration best practices whitepaper to get started.