What will enterprise software look like in the future? This is a question that the Software Cluster is seeking to answer. The consortium of partners from businesses and academia – based around software development hubs in Walldorf Darmstadt, Karlsruhe, and Saarbrücken in southwest Germany – recently completed a project entitled, “Fundamentals of Emergent Software.” The basic idea behind the project is that enterprise software is moving away from its former monolithic block structure. Instead, it is being composed flexibly from multiple components in response to fast-changing reality – that is, in an “emergent” manner. Stephan Fischer, Senior Vice President, Director TIP Strategic Innovation at SAP AG, and spokesperson for the Software Cluster, explains the changes that this concept entails.
SAP.info: What is the basic idea behind emergent software?
Stephan Fischer: The focus is on agility – during design, development, and runtime. At the moment, software implementation projects take a very long time to complete. Yet today’s enterprises need to be able to dynamically adapt to new and changing market requirements. Our vision of emergent software provides the answer to this dilemma. Emergent software is software that is structured in a highly modular way. It consists of distributed components that can originate from multiple vendors. When new requirements arise, additional components can be “docked on” and changes made during runtime.
Approach based on scrum methodology and design thinking
Could you give us an example?
Fischer: Suppose an online retailer is having a shop system developed. Until now, a project like that would involve defining certain requirements in advance, such as checkout processes and credit card processing for three types of credit card. The specifications would then be formulated and the processes implemented accordingly. Today, we – and that includes SAP – no longer work according to this conventional waterfall model: we use a highly iterative approach based on the scrum methodology and design thinking. Requirements are listed in a “backlog”. In our example of a shop system, that means that I can add optional features – such as a visual representation of the products on offer – to the backlog in addition to my requirement for credit card types. If there is any time left when the basic features have been implemented, functions that appear further down the list can be implemented as well. In our example, the principle of emergent software would mean that you could link up a solution from another vendor to get your visual product representation.
But surely the process of linking up components from various vendors is highly complex?
Fischer: Yes, it is. So, one of the key issues we have to investigate is interoperability. You cannot simply assume that different software vendors’ modules will work in combination. And, the more vendors you involve, the harder it is to ensure compliance with security requirements. What’s more, you have to start thinking about other issues as well: for instance, what happens if one of the partners experiences downtime that negatively impacts the software as a whole? Who is liable?
SAP HANA central to future solutions
So, what you’re saying is that the interaction of modules from different vendors is one of the principles of tomorrow’s enterprise software. Doesn’t that throw a question mark over major suites such as SAP Business Suite?
Fischer: On the contrary. The current platforms and their ecosystems will have an extremely important role to play in the enterprise software of the future. These solutions may be pre-integrated initially, but they are more open for add-on solutions from other vendors. One example is SAP HANA. This major platform will be a central feature of our solutions in the future and will form the basis for our business applications. At the same time, we are offering scope for a very large ecosystem of partners to dock their products onto SAP HANA in order to serve the huge variety of new usage cases that are emerging in today’s increasingly user-centric business world. This trend will gain momentum in the future.
How firmly is the principle of emergent software anchored at SAP?
Fischer: It’s already playing a key role. For example, SAP HANA Cloud Labs (an open channel for developers from within and outside of SAP to co-innovate on ideas extending SAP HANA Cloud) has a framework for “Rapid Application Development” – a development methodology that allows rapid prototyping and therefore delivers actionable results more quickly. This framework is a direct result of a research project conducted by the Software Cluster. In the past, user interfaces were based on a single technology, such as the Web Dynpro programming model: today, you can switch quickly to another technology by using an interface architecture. The new SAP HANA Cloud Platform simplifies the task of integrating solutions from other software vendors and therefore helps customers complete implementation projects faster and cut their operating costs.
Next page: More opportunities for small vendors
What other results can we expect to see from this work on emergent software?
Fischer: We are looking to productize more results in the future, just as we have done with Rapid Application Development. The Software Cluster is also working on ways to allow large and small vendors of business software solutions to interact more closely with each other. Small vendors, in particular, are at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to identifying where they could dock their solutions onto larger players’ products. Our plans for the future include holding quarterly “ecosystem days” at which the larger vendors will present their platforms, solutions, and interfaces. These events will also give the partners a chance to discuss issues such as what influence they should have on developing standards in order to simplify interoperability, which is a fundamental element of emergent software.
The Software Cluster: innovation in the global software industry
The Software Cluster encompasses Germany’s main software development hubs in Darmstadt, Kaiserslautern, Karlsruhe, Saarbrücken, and Walldorf. The Cluster region is home to some 11,000 software enterprises that collectively generate annual revenues of €25 billion and employ more than 100,000 people. The primary objective of the companies and research institutes that belong to the Cluster is to foster co-innovation and strengthen Germany’s competitive standing in the global software industry. Under the German government’s “Leading-Edge Cluster Competition” (Spitzencluster-Wettbewerb), the Software Cluster will receive funding for its projects until 2015. The volume of funding for the projects completed in June this year, in which 29 partners investigated aspects including the fundamentals of emergent software, was €31 million.