Two-Minute Apps

Feature Article | November 17, 2010 by Daniel Hardt

Gateway: Building apps for all devices within the desired IDE (photo: Fotolia)

Gateway: Building apps for all devices within the desired IDE (photo: Fotolia)

Project Gateway promises to make data available from SAP systems on all possible end devices. Thanks to the transfer technology presented at SAP TechEd 2010, applications can be created in various integrated development environments (IDEs). There’s no need for developers to write code in ABAP, and they’re spared the complexity of SAP back ends.

Applications can be created directly for mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads, or Android phones, or for Web technologies. Third-party providers gain new opportunities to equip both employees and customers with applications. The Gateway architecture uses Representational State Transfer (REST) and open standards such as Atom and the Open Data Protocol (OData), an open standard for exchanging data.

Mobile devices or Web software – anything’s possible

With Gateway, SAP hopes to reach users beyond the SAP environment. However, the aim isn’t to equip them with SAP software, but to enable them to access SAP data using standard technologies that are otherwise rarely used for business applications – a strategic shift compared with middleware such as the SAP NetWeaver technology platform. As well as mobile devices, Web technologies and collaboration software play a role here.

The goal is for developers to generate apps for the mobile platforms iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone and then fill them with content. The same applies to common Web application frameworks such as Ruby on Rails, PHP, and ASP.NET. The collaboration software Duet Enterprise from Microsoft and SAP already runs using Gateway, and similar concepts exist for IBM’s Alloy and BlackBerry from RIM. A standalone Gateway is slated for the first half of 2011. This will mean that integrated development environments such as Xcode from Apple, Visual Studio from Microsoft, and the Java-based Eclipse will also be supported.

Generally speaking, data can be retrieved from SAP Business Suite and older versions of SAP ERP. SAP CTO Vishal Sikka hinted at Gateway’s potential at SAP TechEd 2010: An iPad app for Microsoft’s SharePoint was generated in two minutes and populated with SAP content.

Next page: Easy to develop, simple to use

Gateway: Hooking all devices up to SAP Business Suite (Screenshot: SAP)

Gateway: Hooking all devices up to SAP Business Suite (Screenshot: SAP)

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Gateway uses mobile and Web platforms (photo: Frank Völkel)

Gateway uses mobile and Web platforms (photo: Frank Völkel)

Easy to Develop, Simple to Use

The core idea of Gateway is to make life as easy as possible for developers and users. Many developers work with integrated development environments that are standard but not located within the SAP landscape. Creating apps in a familiar environment reduces time and keeps costs down. To do this, there are software development kits (SDKs), with which the data processed by Gateway can be brought to the application. A template – which just needs to be created once – can be easily reused, because the content can be interpreted by all platforms due to the REST-based data structure. At the same time, REST keeps developers at a distance from the complex processes in the back end. Knowledge of SAP or specifically of ABAP isn’t necessary.

This is more or less how an app is generated: A dynpro, BAPI, or Gateway model that already exists is selected from SAP Business Suite or another ERP system. Then Gateway creates a data source model, which is again optimized in terms of mapping and adaptation. Next, a proxy is created with the help of the software development kit (SDK) within the developer’s integrated development environment, and the application is finally completed.

Users enjoy the standardized look-and-feel of the user experience. Designed for simple scenarios, the graphical user interface is clear and simple to work with, regardless of the device. The applications themselves are designed to be stateless, in other words, a connection to the Internet is required. When relevant data is changed in the back end, the changes are automatically transferred in real time. At the same time, applications can be enhanced without needing to make changes to the ERP system.

Next page: REST architecture for Gateway and the Web

SAP CTO Vishal Sikka Introduces Gateway at SAP TechEd 2010 in Berlin (source: YouTube)

The route to the app (screenshot: SAP)

The route to the app (screenshot: SAP)

REST Architecture

REST – or Representational State Transfer – used with Gateway is a software architecture concept for implementing Web services. The biggest REST application is the World Wide Web itself; and Amazon, Twitter, and Google apps are also built using it. The architecture is based exclusively on four commands: GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE. Compared with the network protocol SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), this simple structure ensures ease of use when working with content.

RESTful Web services can receive data as HTML or XML versions. In the case of Gateway, the Atom is used as standard. This comprises the Atom Publishing Protocol – or AtomPub for short – and the Atom Syndication Format (ASF). ASF is an XML language used for Web feeds similar to RSS and enables platform-independent exchange of information. This isn’t sufficient for business apps, because the content changes constantly, so AtomPub is used to process incoming data. The data finds its way to the developer using SAP’s data protocol, which is based on OData and can read JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) as well as Atom.

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1 comment

  1. “Two-Minute Apps” — sounds almost too goo to be true… which of course it is

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