Integration projects are more than just a technical challenge. They also help map business processes across the boundaries of individual systems. To perform this task in the past, IT professionals developed, operated, maintained, and updated interfaces between individual software solutions. This approach led to unmanageable interface landscapes that now are driving up IT operating costs. SAP XI provides a uniform infrastructure for integrating internal and cross-company business processes, and it enables central administration of business data and technical integration information from both SAP and non-SAP systems. It supports internal and cross-company business processes on a standard platform. SAP XI functions as a central data turntable that you can use to exchange standardized and homogenized data and integration information. This approach simplifies the integration of SAP systems among themselves and with third-party systems. And it even lowers the overall costs of IT.
Integration Knowledge is a Matter of Experience
Integration projects based upon SAP XI demand comprehensive technological and consulting competencies, as well as extensive knowledge of customer projects. They also require an answer to the question of how the project is to be designed. Examples of previous projects can highlight solution models and answer fundamental questions. What hardware do we need? How much time will the project take? What interface do we begin with? How can we gain experience?
A typical set of tasks involved in a SAP XI project serves as a good example. The SAP R/3 solution of a wholesaler creates book orders for an internal warehouse based upon a schedule list that is updated daily. Before the implementation of SAP XI, the company transmitted the orders over a fax gateway to other wholesalers. The other dealers issued order confirmations by e-mail, based upon a formatted e-mail template with defined text modules. When incoming orders reached an internal warehouse located apart from the central office, a delivery note and invoice were added to the goods and were sent by mail to invoice verification personnel once the goods had been received. Implementation of SAP XI has removed all these media breaks. Order confirmations are now posted directly in the SAP system with an IDoc; delivery notes and invoice data are transmitted electronically before delivery.
In addition to media breaks, combinations of various types of interfaces often create problems. What happens when companies process order information from customers as IDocs, transmit orders to suppliers by EDIFACT, and store order and delivery information as text files? SAP XI integrates the various types of interfaces with a single technology.
Proceed Flexibly with an Orientation to the Real World
To answer these and other important questions, itelligence developed a step-by-step implementation methodology for SAP XI integration projects. The advantages of step-by-step integration are obvious. Each interface is a self-contained project, which means that it can be implemented more quickly. The methodology analyzes interfaces individually and in order. Integration projects based upon this model are more manageable and flexible. And the procedure is oriented to the real-world practice of setting up interfaces as needed.
itelligence begins SAP XI projects with a kickoff meeting at the customer site. Participants discuss the procedure, identify participants for follow-up workshops, and record interface problems. Typical issues involve obsolete or undocumented interfaces, security during data transfer, and the connection of new business partners. From a pool of selected interfaces, itelligence then selects one and implements it in an SAP XI system landscape as a practical example.
This practical example is used in the following workshop (business blueprint) and documents SAP’s ability to handle a typical issue for the customer. In addition to knowledge transfer, the workshop covers project planning and records, analyzes, and evaluates new interfaces. An implementation guide tailored for the company documents why and how the interfaces were implemented and serves as a reference for those responsible and contact persons. Does the customer actually operate SAP XI? Who handles tasks at the help desk? Who’s responsible for change requests and integration tasks?
From its work on numerous projects, itelligence has created document templates for projects with SAP XI. The templates list several questions and requests for information. Examples of the questions include the following topics: SAP XI operation, the appropriate hardware for SAP XI, customizing of SAP R/3, links to SAP Business Intelligence, retirement of existing systems, the effort involved in connecting new business partners, cost-benefit calculations, estimates of the potential for linking customers and suppliers, the company’s portion of the implementation, selection of the first interfaces, and technological options for connecting e-mail, HTTP, Lotus Notes, BlackBerry, and Adobe. The pool of questions is based upon project experience and is always being updated and enhanced. Of course, not all questions apply to each customer. That’s why the questions are discussed, modified, and enhanced during the workshops. At the end of a workshop, each customer has a tailor-made document to analyze and evaluate interfaces. The document contains the first, practical approaches to a solution and serves as the basis of further subprojects.
From Theory into Practice
The document prepares companies for the subsequent realization and implementation phase. This phase identifies an interface to be implemented with the agreement of all those involved (those responsible for the interface, the user department, and the analysis team) and then analyzes, describes, evaluates, and ultimately documents the implementation from a technical, process, and procedural point of view. The documentation consists of various documents, logs, protocols, and descriptions; it delivers important information for subsequent specification and definition of the technical requirements, such as mapping, security, or monitoring. At the same time, the prototypes created during the first phases of the SAP XI project are refined in consultation with the customer, tested, and then put into production.
This approach enables a rapid and structured implementation of SAP XI projects with little initial effort, which is especially important for integrating additional interfaces. Documented results and experience from the first subproject flow back into additional interface projects as templates and predefined modules (or mappings). The results of the first subproject can be reused, which means that companies can begin a subsequent project at the realization phase. The model also offers an option to collate and manage interface activities centrally, perhaps as a SAP XI service center. This option makes even large implementation projects manageable, saves time and important personnel resources, accelerates processes, and lowers costs.