SAP stands out as a prominent ERP system, trusted by thousands of companies worldwide. SAP's influence is undeniable, with 39,668 businesses and 75,000 customers across 120 countries, including 86% of Fortune 500 companies. In 2023, SAP reported that SAP customers generate 87% of total global commerce ($46T), highlighting its critical role in global business operations. In 2022, the global enterprise resource planning (ERP) software market experienced an 8% growth, reaching a total software revenue of $44B. According to Gartner, SAP, Workday, and Oracle hold the top three global market share positions.

Revenue share

SAP excels in automating core functions such as finance, supply chain, and HR. However, the evolving technology environment poses a crucial question: how can we effectively incorporate SAP into the wider technology ecosystem? Enter SAP integration: the key to seamless connectivity with other applications and data sources. The need for this integration stems from the increasing complexity of modern business processes, often requiring various external tools and partner software beyond SAP's native capabilities. While some integrations with partner software come pre-configured, others demand development efforts and business analysis. This holds even for partner software products when the predefined scenarios don't encompass the specific requirements, as in the case of integrating SAP with OpenText.

Nowadays, the existence of information silos can be detrimental. Data confined within isolated systems hampers agility, productivity, and efficiency, limiting your organization's potential for success. Now, envision a scenario where all your systems, whether SAP or non-SAP, existing or newly implemented, residing in hybrid or cloud environments, seamlessly collaborate to create a unified flow of data and insights.

This is the essence of SAP integration. It transcends mere system connectivity; it involves transforming critical business functions like supply chain management, customer relationship management, and financial accounting. Picture a continuous stream of real-time information circulating throughout your organization, enabling faster decision-making, efficient processes, and a harmonious ecosystem where customers, partners, and employees can fully leverage the potential of your data.

The SAP ecosystem is vast and intricate. Navigating it effectively demands the adoption of the right integration strategy. So, let's explore SAP integration's intricacies, strategies, and possibilities, aiming to enhance every stakeholder's experience.

Read more: Guide to SAP outsourcing: how to overcome challenges and achieve results 

Challenges of SAP integration

Integrating SAP, a complex software system many companies use, can be challenging for various reasons. First, SAP involves different technologies, ranging from older systems to modern ones, making it tricky to connect with other software. SAP has its own language and processes, making working with other external systems challenging.

Second, when companies use SAP, they often customize it to fit their specific needs. While this is helpful for the business, it can create problems when trying to integrate SAP with other software. Each customized SAP system might be unique, making it harder to connect with other systems.

Finally, working with SAP can be time-consuming and costly because it's a complex system. This complexity means that projects involving SAP may take a long time to complete and can be expensive. Consequently, careful consideration of these challenges is crucial during the planning stages of any SAP integration strategy:

Considerations for SAP integration compatibility

When integrating SAP, there are some technical things to keep in mind. SAP has different ways to connect and share data within its systems, like IDocs, BAPIs, ABAP, RFC, and JCo. However, these methods are mainly designed for SAP's functions and may not work smoothly with other software from outside. This can cause problems for integration in a few ways:

  • Standardization: Making SAP work with non-SAP systems can be tricky because SAP has its own unique technology. It might follow different rules than other software does.
  • Complexity: SAP has many options for connecting to other systems, like over 600 IDoc types. Choosing the right one for a specific job can be tricky.
  • Limited functions: Some SAP tools, like BAPIs, might only cover some of what SAP can do. So, when integrating, you might only get access to some of SAP's features.
  • Support issues: Some SAP technologies, such as RFCs, might have little helpful information or support from SAP. This can make it harder to use them in integration.

Because of these challenges, organizations that want to connect SAP with other systems might have to use different solutions. But this can make things more complicated and less flexible if they need to change things in the future or use new technologies.

Navigating the interplay of customization and integration in SAP environments

When you use SAP software, you can customize it to fit your specific needs, which is excellent for improving your business. However, this customization can also make connecting SAP with other software harder. As companies grow, buy other companies, or use more outside software, the SAP system can become more complicated, which can cause problems when trying to connect it with other systems in a few ways:

  • Different configurations: Because different parts of a company might want different configurations within the same SAP system to cater to their unique needs, each SAP system can be set up differently. As a result, sharing data and making everything work together can be challenging, requiring more expertise and time.
  • Different data structures: SAP organizes data in a way that's different from most other software. When a company starts using more outside software, it has to figure out how to make these different ways of organizing data work together, which can make connecting things even harder.
  • Rising costs and timelines: Figuring out how to connect customized SAP systems with other software can take time and money. Consequently, projects can cost more and take longer to complete.
  • Scalability concerns: Making a custom connection for a specific setup might not work well if your business changes or you want to use new technology. It can make it harder for your company to grow and adapt.

So, thinking carefully about how customization and connecting SAP systems work is essential. Investing in good tools and strategies that can handle these challenges and make it easier to connect different systems can help you get the most out of both customization and smooth connections between your software.

Complexity considerations with SAP development and integration

When working with SAP software, it's essential to know that it has many features and ways to connect with other systems, like IDocs and BAPIs. But because of all these features, it can get pretty complicated. This complexity can make SAP projects take a long time, sometimes even months, because they're so detailed and vital. As a result, a backlog of requests can build up from different parts of your business, frustrating employees. And because SAP holds essential data for your organization, even small changes can be time-consuming and tricky.

To deal with all these challenges, you must make intelligent choices about the technology you use, how you approach your projects, and how ready your team is. It's also crucial to pick the right digital transformation partner to help you with SAP integration, as they can make a big difference in ensuring everything goes smoothly.

Read more: List of SAP implementation companies: make the right choice

SAP integration: key use cases

Optimizing workflows and business performance often hinges on the efficient interaction of various systems and data sources. Integrating disparate systems empowers organizations to leverage collective capabilities, enhance operational efficiency, and unlock their full potential. While implementing such integrations brings significant benefits, effectively bridging diverse systems and maximizing their value can be complex.

Selecting the most appropriate integration approach for your organization is crucial. By taking a strategic and mindful approach to integration, you can unlock substantial benefits now and in the future. Key integration approaches include:

  1. Master data synchronization consolidates and unifies data from diverse sources, enabling actionable insights and data-driven decision-making across departments. It's low-cost and low-risk, but data may become outdated quickly.
  2. Application-to-application integration bridges the gap between applications through APIs, sharing functionality, and improving data accessibility. It offers real-time data access and streamlines enterprise systems like ERP, CRM, and SCM. However, it requires significant upfront investment and robust API management protocols.
  3. Business-to-business data integration tailors integration to support specific business processes across various solutions. It highlights workflow logic and minimizes risk but may face language compatibility issues and require eventual application migration.
  4. User-centric integration prioritizes user experience by offering a unified platform for managing presentations, even with diverse systems running in the background. It's less resource-intensive but may need multiple UIs and compromise interactivity for convenience.

SAP integration tools

SAP provides a range of integration options to connect its solutions with SAP and non-SAP applications. The diverse world of SAP applications has multiple tools to bridge the gap with non-SAP systems: 

Application to application integration

SAP aims to make future application-to-application (A2A) integrations in cloud and hybrid landscapes easier and less complex. They achieve this through two key approaches:

  1. Public APIs: These pre-built interfaces offer standardized access to SAP applications with formats like REST and OData. They eliminate custom coding and reduce integration complexity. Developers can build directly upon these APIs for a consistent and user-friendly experience.
  2. Pre-packaged middleware content: This optional layer acts as a "bridge" between applications. Customers can customize this content as needed, allowing them to focus on adding value rather than building middleware from scratch. This also simplifies upgrades and extensions.

SAP's A2A integrations allow for less custom coding, faster implementation, and tailor-made solutions, reducing costs and boosting developer efficiency.

Business-to-business integration

Connecting with diverse business partners across industries and regions is crucial for modern companies, but achieving efficient communication comes with several hurdles:

  • Incompatibility: Different partners use varied data interchange protocols, requiring constant adaptation and development.
  • Unscalability: Manual integrations or bespoke programs for each partner become problematic as partner numbers grow.
  • Maintenance burden: Managing numerous one-off integrations leads to complexity and high maintenance costs.

With deep expertise in SAP Integration Suite, N-ix recommends these two key tools to tackle your B2B integration challenges:

  1. Cloud integration: Provides a robust framework for managing message exchange with diverse partners, ensuring smooth data flow.
  2. Integration advisor: Leverages a community-powered knowledge base to recommend and structure message definitions and mappings, speeding up partner onboarding and simplifying information exchange.

Data integration

In some situations, businesses need to exchange data between different systems. This data integration approach is most valuable when systems are relatively simple and the exchange isn't part of a complex business process.

Deciding whether data integration is necessary alongside existing application-to-application capabilities depends on several factors:

  • Performance: Data integration tools efficiently handle large datasets, whereas A2A might be slower for bulk data transfers.
  • Development model: Data integration can offer a smoother solution if the receiving system relies on SQL access instead of direct API calls.

SAP Datasphere, a comprehensive data service within the SAP Cloud Platform, is the primary tool for this type of data exchange. Its user-friendly interface, robust data transformation capabilities, and seamless integration with various SAP and non-SAP systems make it the ideal choice for streamlining data movement within complex landscapes. N-iX, an SAP service provider with extensive experience in SAP solutions and data integration, can be your trusted partner to leverage the full power of SAP Datasphere and optimize your data workflows.

Data integration tools utilize various technical APIs to manipulate data directly, often bypassing the application layer. This is advantageous for efficient data loading. 

However, ensuring seamless data exchange can require more than just transfer. Data structures and values may often differ between systems (especially for reference data). In such cases, data integration helps with processes like:

  • Transformation: Reshapes data to fit the receiving system's format.
  • Cleansing: Corrects inaccuracies or inconsistencies in the data.
  • Enrichment: Adds additional information to the data for enhanced value.

Data integration simplifies and optimizes the data exchange process between different systems by addressing these aspects.

Master data synchronization

Ensuring consistent and accurate information across different systems is crucial foran integrated business environment. This is where SAP Master Data Integration (MDI) comes in.

Consider it a central hub for key business information like employees, customers, products, etc. MDI helps different applications access and share this data seamlessly, minimizing discrepancies and improving data quality.

Here's how it works:

  • Centralized data management: MDI acts as a single source of truth for master data, making it easier to maintain consistency and eliminate conflicting information.
  • Flexible integration: Applications can connect to MDI through individual "point-to-point" connections or a centralized hub-and-spoke model. This flexibility allows smooth integration with existing systems.
  • Non-disruptive implementation: Existing applications aren't forced to change their data structures. MDI translates data between different formats, ensuring everything works together smoothly.
  • Real-time updates: When one application updates master data, MDI notifies other connected applications so everyone has the latest information. This enables everyone to work with the same accurate data.

Where does SAP Master Data Governance (MDG) fit in?

While MDI focuses on data exchange and synchronization, MDG goes further, offering tools for data quality management, cleansing, and enrichment. MDI and MDG can work together seamlessly, with MDI handling data synchronization and MDG ensuring its accuracy and completeness.

Overall, SAP MDI offers a powerful tool for businesses looking to:

  • Improve data quality and consistency across their systems.
  • Streamline data management processes.
  • Gain valuable insights from accurate and unified data.

Other cases

For other use cases, the following instruments can be used:

  • Intermediate documents (IDOCs): These are digital envelopes ferrying data between SAP and external systems. Ideal for master data transfers and asynchronous transactions, they handle information like suppliers, cost centers, and logistics details. Triggered within SAP, an IDOC seamlessly delivers transaction data to its destination.
  • Business application programming interface (BAPI): For real-time, two-way communication, BAPI steps in. This standardized interface is a translator, enabling SAP and non-SAP applications to converse effortlessly. Unlike IDOCs, BAPI operates independently, empowering seamless integration with external systems. Need to manage cost centers from another app? BAPI allows the fetching of existing centers or the creation of new ones, making financial data readily accessible. From a technical perspective, BAPI is an SAP standard Function Call that serves a particular purpose. If you don't have a predefined BAPI to handle a specific process, SAP provides the flexibility to create custom functions. While SAP may not officially classify these custom functions as BAPIs, they adhere to the same technical architecture and usage principles as standard SAP BAPIs.
  • SOAP Web Services: SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) Web Services are a protocol for exchanging structured information to implement web services. SOAP Web Services enable communication between different systems and applications through a standardized XML-based messaging format in SAP.
  • API Business Hub: The SAP API Business Hub is a platform that provides access to a vast collection of pre-built APIs and integration content. It simplifies discovering, exploring, and consuming APIs for various SAP solutions and third-party applications.
  • OData: Open Data Protocol is a standardized protocol for building and consuming RESTful APIs. SAP OData services allow data access and manipulation in a structured way, making connecting and interacting with SAP applications and databases easier.
  • PI/PO/CPI Integration: PI (Process Integration), PO (Process Orchestration), and CPI (Cloud Platform Integration) are SAP's solutions for managing integration between different systems. They facilitate data flow and processes across diverse applications on-premises and in the cloud. 

By understanding these different approaches, you can confidently navigate the intricate world of SAP integration, choosing the best tools to connect your systems and unlock efficient data flow.

Benefits of SAP integration

For enterprises drowning in disconnected data and siloed processes, SAP integration is no longer a luxury; it's a lifeline. Failing to harness the power of interconnected systems can impede agility, choke efficiency, and hinder growth. That's why savvy businesses are racing to stitch together their stand-alone SAP applications into a unified fabric to reap the benefits:

  • Cost-saving consolidation: Integration slashes the sprawling costs of maintaining multiple isolated systems. Think fewer licenses, streamlined maintenance, and simplified data management—a symphony of financial harmony.
  • Growth-fueling agility: When siloed information breaks free, data flows unhindered, empowering quicker decision-making and agile responses to market demands. That's the recipe for accelerating profitable growth.
  • Operational control: No more piecing together information from scattered sources. Instead, you have a real-time, holistic view of everything across your company. Sales figures, inventory levels, and financial reports are readily accessible, empowering you to make informed decisions instantly.

With SAP's constantly evolving ecosystem, businesses can access various innovative tools and technologies that empower them to embrace integration fully. What was once considered a technical hurdle has become a strategic springboard for propelling your enterprise into the future. Integration goes beyond merely stacking software; it revolves around unlocking the magic of real-time data exchange. When every aspect of your organization operates on the same pulse, the potential for genuine business transformation becomes a reality. Partnering with a seasoned digital expert ensures a smooth journey toward seamless integration, allowing you to focus on what matters most—growing your business.

Read more: Hire for impact: How SAP developers can transform your business 

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Comprehensive SAP services provided by N-iX

From core consulting and custom development to cloud migration and OpenText integration, N-iX offers a full spectrum of SAP services. These services encompass SAP functional consulting, custom development (including ABAP and SAPUI5), application management services (AMS), and migration of SAP environments to leading cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, or GCP. N-iX's experienced team can augment in-house resources to enhance SAP ecosystems, integrate SAP products with other enterprise solutions such as OpenText and Streamserve, and provide full-cycle SAP development support. With over 15 years of OpenText consulting experience, N-iX excels in SAP integration with the OpenText suite. We also specialize in Business Objects, Business Intelligence, and Business Warehouse solutions and leverage SAP cloud capabilities for optimization. Additionally, N-iX assists with SAP rollout, offering fit/gap analysis and local requirements implementation, and excels in integrating Hybris with SAP products for cutting-edge B2B and B2C ecommerce solutions.

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