Aligning People, Information, and Business Processes

Feature Article | May 17, 2005 by admin

More than 40,000 companies run SAP installations on Microsoft Windows. Almost two-thirds of new SAP solutions are installed on Windows, and many SAP customers develop applications based upon Microsoft technology. These situations make interoperability among SAP and Microsoft products essential to creating the greatest possible value from IT investments.
SAP and Microsoft began cooperating on interoperability issues in 1994 when SAP R/3 was ported to Windows NT. In May 2004, the companies agreed upon a schedule for cooperation on Web services, expanded various technical initiatives, and set up the Collaboration Technology Support Center (CTSC) in Walldorf. These moves significantly expand compatibility between two strategic platforms: SAP NetWeaver and Microsoft .NET. Overall, interoperability between the two vendors comprises four levels that require integration: people, information, business processes, and applications.

People Integration

The integration of SAP NetWeaver and Microsoft .NET offer various options for integrating employees. Microsoft Web applications and products can be seamlessly integrated with the user interface of SAP Enterprise Portal (SAP EP), access to SAP NetWeaver can be enabled with Microsoft Smart Clients, and integration between SAP NetWeaver and Microsoft Active Directory, the Microsoft directory service, simplifies user management in Microsoft work environments.
The SAP portal development kit (PDK) for Microsoft .NET enables the creation of new components for SAP EP within the familiar development environment of Microsoft Visual Studio. Integration here goes far beyond a simple visual depiction of existing, Web-based user interfaces. Complete integration with the infrastructure of SAP EP, including user context, authorizations, roles, and forms of communication with iViews, have become part of the standard repertoire.
The PDK for .NET is inserted seamlessly into the Microsoft Visual Studio development environment to simplify work with the C# or Visual Basic programming languages for .NET developers. Portal components can be created with portal add-ins; .NET objects handle access to the infrastructure of SAP EP and services. The PDK for .NET contains a variety of .NET controls based upon SAP NetWeaver; components like entry fields, buttons, or tables together form user interfaces so that the newly created portal components share a uniform appearance with other portal views. Portal views can be installed in SAP EP directly from Visual Studio. The PDK for .NET thus offers customers of both companies a secure foundation for the integration of .NET-based, in-house developments with SAP EP – with little effort.
Integration of the technologies of SAP NetWeaver and Microsoft Smart Clients also pays off. Tight interoperability and integration among Microsoft Office and SAP NetWeaver increase the value of the investments of SAP and Microsoft customers. SAP and Microsoft cooperate closely in this area to offer SAP users the best-possible applications based upon the newest technologies. A joint product announced at SAPPHIRE ’05 in Copenhagen with the working title Mendocino enables deep integration of Microsoft Office with SAP business functions and serves as a good example of this type of integration. The joint product announced at SAPHHIRE ‘05 in Copenhagen under the working title of Mendocino is a current example of linking the two worlds even more closely together at the employee level. Uniform, companywide business processes and data based upon SAP solutions are still not integrated comprehensively with the data and processes handled and managed with Microsoft Office. Mendocino will make the enormous potential for synergy usable. Doing so simplifies individual work and, naturally, lowers costs in the company.
Last, but not least, interoperability of the two systems simplifies user management. Integrating SAP NetWeaver and Microsoft Active Directory makes user logon easier because it joins the single sign-on (SSO) mechanism of SAP with Kerberos, an authentication service used predominantly on Microsoft Windows servers. This feature enables users to log on to many Microsoft applications with their SAP access data. One password for all application not only increases user friendliness and productivity, it also reduces the number of calls to the help desk because of forgotten passwords.

Information Integration

Integration of information is increasingly simplified – for the knowledge management area of SAP EP connected with Microsoft SharePoint Services and for content management – with the integration of SAP EP and Microsoft Content Management Server.
SAP EP offers a comprehensive, open platform for knowledge management that enables users to find and use unstructured company data. Microsoft Windows SharePoint Portal Server offers management and common use of documents and close integration with Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows Server. A repository manager integrates the applications that Microsoft uses to link its SharePoint solutions with SAP EP. This approach means that users of SAP EP have access to data stored in SharePoint services. In the future, Microsoft Exchange Server can be linked via a repository manager to SAP.
For content management, Microsoft Content Management Server can create and make available content for Internet and extranet scenarios. The content can then be integrated with SAP EP in context with an integration solution from a partner company.

Process Integration

Sophisticated technologies handle the integration of business processes. The foundation for flexible integration of processes across the SAP and Microsoft environment is support for Web services protocols, which are also the foundation for the service-oriented Enterprise Services Architecture.
The main focus is on SAP Exchange Infrastructure (SAP XI), a key component of SAP NetWeaver, and Microsoft BizTalk Server. Both products offer direct interoperability based upon existing or upcoming open standards, such as Web services reliable messaging (WS RM), simple object access protocol (SOAP), and business process execution language for Web services (BPEL4WS).
Currently, the connector for Microsoft .NET that SAP offers is the most widely used SAP development tool for Microsoft. It enables developers to have .NET applications access the functionalities of SAP applications synchronously, which can be quite beneficial – primarily for the development of desktop applications. Principally in connection with SAP systems installed before the availability of SAP NetWeaver, the connector for Microsoft .NET offers advantages because it processes communications by a selection of remote function call (RFC) protocols from SAP or open Internet standards like HTTP, SOAP, and XML.

Application Platform Integration

The partnership between SAP and Microsoft began with the porting of SAP R/3 to the then new Windows NT operating system. Today, more than 60% of SAP customers use Windows as a server operating system. Microsoft SQL Server has also been a great success as a database. Earlier challenges in the areas of scalability, availability, and performance of the platforms have been successfully and collaboratively solved. That’s the result of more than 10 years of close collaboration between development teams in Walldorf and Redmond. SAP engineers work in Redmond while Microsoft engineers are closely involved in development in Walldorf. Both sides can learn from each other and improve the abilities and qualities of products. Customers of both companies profit from this approach. And last, but not least, the tremendous progress in the development of processors and servers means that almost every SAP installation today can be run on the Windows platform with SQL Server.

Thomas Meigen

Thomas Meigen

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