The SAP application landscape is changing fast. Alongside the classic transactional SAP systems, user experience applications and cloud platforms are increasingly the focus of attention. Thanks to mobile technologies, SAP Fiori UX, Web apps, and developments on SAP Cloud Platform (SCP), the IT landscape around S/4 is evolving into a hybrid, digital app ecosystem.
The use of standard software is on its way to becoming part of the flexible digital workplace of tomorrow. This development also impacts how we make customer-specific adjustments in the SAP space. The approaches that we in IT use to make solutions available to our specialist departments are likewise changing.
Recently, SAP has taken many important steps in this direction – one that marks a new departure for the enterprise software vendor. By doing so, SAP is responding to the many companies that have expressed their desire to use the Web as the basis for a digital workplace.
With SAP Fiori UX in particular, SAP delivers modern, personalized access to S/4 and other applications. SAP Fiori 2.0 UX and the revamped SAP Fiori launchpad, for example, provide a considerably more effective, central point of access to users’ daily tasks.
User-specific notifications and, going forward, SAP CoPilot deliver cross-device support for staff in their day-to-day work. This especially benefits users who have to master an ever-rising tide of information and increasing freedom to take decisions.
New approaches for designing and implementing customer solutions are required. Otherwise, the functions of S/4 and SAP Fiori 2.0 cannot be implemented to best effect within companies.
The focus here is not merely on the user interface, but on the process flow as a whole. It is essential to consider the interplay of creating, evaluating, and processing information as a basis for deriving the best options for action.
For example, complex transactions might involve several people working on one document. However, to simplify this transaction it should be re-created by using smaller process steps, each with a dedicated SAP Fiori app.
With S/4, SAP delivers the technical base necessary for this approach.
The underlying idea of breaking down monolithic functionality into reusable components is nothing new. This has been one of the chief concerns in software development for many decades.
Current trends such as serverless architectures (realization of large parts of back-end functionality using third-party APIs), micro services (combination of small vertical functions to model a process step), and augmented reality (usage of many different forms of device access in the working world) show the direction in which enterprise IT is evolving.
The digital future at companies will be shaped by the interplay of various technology paradigms and solutions. Advanced digitalization in automotive manufacturing, where solutions such as voice control, and interaction between mobile devices and vehicles are already well established, shows how close we already are to that future.
From transactional applications to the app concept
Because SAP solutions are business-critical enterprise applications, many companies still approach the app concept with skepticism. In this context, people often think only of native apps – in other words, applications created for a specific operating system.
In the enterprise space, Web apps are important. These are executable in a browser, can be used across various devices, and are therefore the solution of choice for most scenarios.
The advantage of Web apps is, on the one hand, that advances in browser technology give rise to new options for accessing the device hardware. On the other hand, cross-device development means companies are no longer dependent on operating system vendors, allowing the same Web apps to be used on notebooks or smartphones, for example.
The standard SAP Fiori apps are usually Web apps of this kind and can therefore be executed in a browser. If necessary, Web apps can also be transformed into native apps (this concept is also known as hybrid apps).
Depiction: The hybrid app ecosystem of the future.
Companies’ concerns regarding Web apps are similar regardless of the type of app involved. Can they also be used to provide a value-adding replacement for complex user interfaces of existing legacy solutions?
The crux here is that this can rarely be achieved using a one-to-one mapping. Sometimes complex interfaces must be broken down into parts and fundamentally redesigned.
This approach offers new opportunities for increasing integration between applications. As IT landscapes become increasingly complex, vendor-independent solutions are often necessary to achieve this.
Better Integration Options for Users via Digital Apps
Traditional access to SAP applications has the drawback of generally requiring highly trained staff who are experts in their respective fields and in operating the software. However, the primary focus should be on completing the actual task at hand.
This is where SAP Fiori apps offer a way of giving end-users easier access to functionality. Finding a solution is difficult, as it involves meeting this demand for simplified interfaces while supporting expert users who work rapidly in the complex screens they are familiar with.
The aim is to enable not only experts to work with the functionality, but also occasional users. This latter group must always be able to gain an overview and handle their various tasks on a simplified interface, without having to delegate work.
What benefits does this offer? The main advantages are greater portability and ease of operation. Supplementing or even replacing transactional processes with suitable apps can cut the time required to complete processes and generate benefits in working procedures by using digital technologies to redesign processes.
What’s more, Web technologies are an agile means of putting applications onto a shared platform. Thanks to rapid technological advances, many scenarios formerly monopolized by specialty providers can now be realized with standard Web technologies.
When it comes to image processing, recognizing QR codes, and even the availability of libraries for voice control, the Web is gaining ground. This enables the technologies deployed to be consolidated, which entails taking open standards into consideration and adopting a process-oriented approach.
The results of process modeling and process control should also be integrated. Here, SAP Fiori apps enable process flows to be modeled using app-to-app navigation, for example.
The goal: to enhance user activities through a mix of apps, traditional applications, and new user devices so that the growing business requirements can be met more easily.
Digital Ecosystem and the Cloud: The Role of SAP Cloud Platform
With SAP Cloud Platform, SAP enables companies to separate standard processes and customer-specific application functionality at infrastructure level and to model these in development environments.
Functional enhancements can be decoupled from the transactional back-end systems and implemented with a new level of flexibility on SCP as a separate cloud infrastructure. Enhancements to S/4 and entire applications can be executed on SCP.
The advantages are clear. The Abap server of the back-end system stores the data and the central processing logics within the company.
With Hana cloud connector, SAP offers the right tool for connecting both worlds, without time-consuming configuration effort.
The resulting architecture delivers the strengths of on-premise solutions (stable core) plus the benefits of the cloud (high potential for innovation).
But it is not just S/4 users who can tap into the benefits of SCP. It also offers staff outside the company’s network simplified access to apps. Often this entails additional investments in infrastructure (security, single sign-on/SSO, networks).
Established standards such as e-mail must remain seamlessly integrated. To leverage all the benefits, modern devices should be available that are for example, equipped with a camera and have state-of-the-art computing power.
Integration of content from external providers is another benefit. Here, a cloud platform offers additional ways of closing gaps in the SAP portfolio. This enables more flexible, feature-rich architectures by integrating such custom or third-party solutions.
A Pragmatic Point of Entry
Web apps offer considerable potential for companies using SAP software. They help establish new application concepts and offer a pragmatic point of entry to the digital system landscape of the future. It is advisable for companies to take a step-by-step approach while keeping a firm eye on the big picture.
Offering only a few SAP Fiori apps is not the right approach to establishing mobile technologies, the app concept, and SAP Fiori UX within the company. Integration into a total architecture is crucial.
Only end-to-end solutions can persuade users that the app concept offers benefits. Willingness to change is also key: Companies and IT departments must be open to new ways of thinking and ideas, and foster an alternative software development culture.
This would provide the fertile soil from which a hybrid, digital app ecosystem can grow and flourish sustainably.