Companies that choose not to integrate their SAP systems with their third party applications run a number of risks – the most serious risk would be failing to get the full value out of your SAP and third party software investments.
SAP is an extremely powerful ERP system, one that can give you deep business insight into important areas of your business. However, it can’t do everything. Your third party or best-of-breed applications, whether they be Software as a Service (SaaS) or on-premise, are necessary to providing insight into other areas of your business and to handle specific business functions that SAP doesn’t handle as well (or at all).
SAP Integration: Which SAP?
SAP offers a huge number of applications that can be adapted to meet the needs of almost any business; the array of options available within SAP creates a challenge when answering general questions about how to integrate it with other systems. The answer will usually vary depending on which version you are running, the underlying technology, and how it was implemented originally.
A few of the versions you could be running include MySAP, SAP All-in-One, SAP BusinessOne, the R/ series or SAP ECC, or any of SAP’s more specialized applications. At the time of this writing, most companies are likely to be running licensed, on-premise applications. Most older versions of SAP are based on SAP’s proprietary ABAP (Advanced Business Application Programming) language; newer versions have moved away from that standard.
Choosing SAP Integration Tools
Because SAP has changed the way it builds software over the years, your integration path depends to a great extent on which version of SAP your organization is running. The most common integration tools used with SAP include:
IDOC – Intermediate Documents. IDOC sends messages between systems, querying for information. There are over 600 IDOCs, and they are generally well supported across versions.
ABAP Interfaces – Companies with the requisite expertise can write their own custom interfaces using ABAP. This is the most direct option to integrate older versions of SAP; the disadvantage is that SAP doesn’t support these interfaces and they can present a problem at upgrade time.
RFC – Remote Function Calls. These are programming hooks within ABAP that allow calls to external applications. These are typically not documented, and are not supported by SAP.
BAPI’s – Business Application Programming Interfaces. These are essentially API’s written and supported by SAP to enable integration between SAP modules and between SAP and third-party applications.
SAP NetWeaver – For companies using SAP ECC, NetWeaver is the preferred tool for moving data and triggering actions between SAP modules and third party software.
Some third-party software providers, including Handshake, also offer Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to connect SAP with their applications.