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Deciphering s-Innovations - where does SAP’s ‘new Core’ fit into its Cloud Strategy

Dick Hirsch Profile picture for user rhirsch November 23, 2014
Summary:
Picking apart the component elements that are in SAP's s-Innovations line up. There's more than meets the eye. It is simpler than it looks, to the trained observer.

bernd laukert
Bernd Leukert, Executive Board and the Global Managing Board, SAP

During Bernd Leukert’s keynote at the recent d-code in Berlin, s- Innovations – “the new Core “ was introduced.   In my last analysis – published right before the event – I analyzed the relationship between sERP (Hasso Plattner’s name for the new HANA-based simplified Business Suite) and the HANA Cloud Platform (HCP):

Because of their relative immaturity, I don’t expect sERP and the associated products to be mentioned much at the upcoming event in Berlin – primarily because developers can’t use these products yet.

It is fantastic that HANA Cloud Platform (HCP) headlines the d-code keynotes  – yet it must also viewed in terms of SAP’s entire product portfolio. As the sERP product line starts to mature – the first customer (“Australia’s La Trobe University) is soon going live with the HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC)-based Simple Finance application-, it will be interesting to watch how  SAP responds.

Inasmuch as s-Innovations played a very important role in Bernd’s keynote, I must admit that my prediction was wrong.

Yet, I was also confused as to the relevance of this product announcement to SAP’s broader cloud strategy.  Irritated by my own confusion, I pestered various SAP executives and booth staff over the next few days – asking often irritating questions – to get a better understanding of how it all fits together.   Thanks to all who unflinchingly answered my questions.

S-Innovations: Background

The accompanying press release painted a very broad picture of the upcoming offer:

Designed with SAP Fiori user experience and fully leveraging the new multi-tenancy functionality enabled by SAP HANA 9,  s-Innovations  address the business priorities of individual lines of business, and work together on a common data and business process model with shared business semantics. With  s-Innovations , SAP envisions to help IT departments deploy modular innovations with an end-to-end digital experience, delivered in a global and secure cloud, for quick adoption and optimized IT cost.  s-Innovations  will also provide easy onboarding, from the discovery of the solution via cloud trials to the deployment with pre-configured best practices, until the actual usage by business users.

The relevant slides Bernd presented at the keynote provided more information.

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[SOURCE]

The relationship to SAP’s broader Cloud Strategy

Before we can figure out where s-Innovations fits into the general Cloud strategy, we first have to set the boundaries of the associated product portfolio.

The picture below (which comes from Björn Goerke’s presentation during Bernd’s keynote) shows the product portfolio that is the foundation of this strategy.  This picture is not a representation of the technical architecture.

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[SOURCE]

The “Managed Cloud” portfolio is based on the HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC). SaaS applications are often described as running in the “Public Cloud” as opposed to those running in the HEC. Such SaaS applications also exploit HANA to different degrees and in different scenarios –  just look at the different HANA usage patterns demonstrated by SuccessFactors, Ariba or FieldGlass.

Let’s add the new s-Innovations offering to Björn’s representation:

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What is very important to realize is that the s-Innovations products will also be available as SaaS applications.  Customers will be able to use s-Innovations  (for example, Logistics) in the HEC where they can customize the offering based on their requirements. Other customers can use the same offering as a SaaS application where customization will not be permitted but configuration will be allowed.

Recently, Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri tweeted about SAP using “Business Suite on HANA” as Cloud revenue.

My assumption is that he was referring to HEC-based Business Suite on HANA customers.  Once the s-Innovations SaaS applications are GA, then this critique will no longer be valid.

The relationship of s-Innovations to the HANA Cloud Platform (HCP)

Fundamentally, HCP is a platform with a set of features that applications can exploit and developers can use.  HCP applications can be SaaS applications (perhaps exploiting the multi-tenancy functionality in included in HCP) but they can also be non-SaaS applications (for example, a customer can use the platform to create an OpenUI5-based mobile application based on the secure presentation of its OnPremise data). Now some might be asking: why are the new s-Innovations products  described as being part of HCP?  What is their involvement with the PaaS? Initially, the s-Innovations will share the same HANA platform that underlies the PaaS.

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As it evolves, s-Innovations products will also exploit some of the PaaS services provided by the App-Services layer (for example, the ID Service or Document Service) – this usage will take place via the standard REST-based APIs. s-Innovations products won’t use the DB-Services available in the PaaS but will access the HANA platform directly. HCP provides more than just APIs – one of its main benefits is to improve the efficiency of developers (ie “dev-ops”) – my assumption is that s-Innovations will not be able to  exploit these “dev-ops”-related functions in the initial stages of its evolution.

s-Innovations internals

These new s-Innovations applications will be developed with a “Cloud First” focus with a single code base for managed cloud as well as SaaS installations. Customers requiring customization would be forced to use the HEC while those comfortable with configuration and greater standardization (perhaps, the SaaS installations would be based on standard SAP blueprints) would use the applications in the Public PaaS.    The fundamental architecture of these applications is still based on ABAP.   The SaaS implementations will exploit the multi-tenancy functionality available starting in HANA SP09.

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Note: There was some confusion after a slide shown during the keynote associated ABAP with HCP. As I mentioned above, s-innovations is based on ABAP but it is still characterized as running on HCP. How is this possible? A tweet from Björn Goerke provides additional clarification.

Note: Although Björn suggests that there are no plans regarding such developments, a possibility for running ABAP within HCP is through the upcoming Docker integration in the platform. A tight integration between such ABAP Docker containers and other HCP-based functionality (Admin Cockpit, etc), however, is probably difficult.

Inasmuch as I have no experience with ABAP or Business Suite, I have no further details about the use of extension packs to move innovation from the cloud versions to OnPremise customers. As the first application in the s-Innovations suite, the use of “Add-Ons” in SimpleFinance might provide some indication about how such cloud-based innovations might technically be transportable to OnPremise customers.


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Despite the “Cloud First” focus in s-Innovations products, it is critical to assure that SAP’s OnPremise customers have the feeling that these innovations are also available in their environments. This flow of features will be relatively easy in the early stages of s-Innovations’ development – yet, as the cloud-version evolves (for example, exploits the increasing number of APIs provided by the HCP’s App-Services layer), the transfer of these functions into OnPremise environments will become increasingly difficult. As Den Howlett describes in a recent analysis, the cloud-specific infrastructure-related requirements may also impact the s-Innovations’ architecture.

The Simplified portfolio is a reworking of the applications to provide both richer functionality and ease of operations through Fiori interfaces. It is anticipated these will be offered primarily as cloud apps. For the technical purists in the peanut gallery, this represents an engineering effort that recognizes the different requirements for cloud infrastructure that underpins cloud applications and which will largely run in SAP data centers.

Such changes also make a migration of new features to OnPremise environments more challenging.

Note: One initial question that I had but was unable to answer was a possible conflict between the use of one code base and the flexibility of switching from HEC-based customization to HCP-based configuration. Since I have absolutely no ABAP experience, I was confronted with a possible problem.  Luck would have it that I met fellow SAP Mentor Tobias Trapp on the S-Bahn trip to the airport after the d-Code in Berlin. We started chatting and I described my dilemma. Tobias described his research with SAP’s Business Rule Framework (BRFPlus) / DSM and he suggested that this was a possibility to reduce customization but still provide customers with the ability to adapt their environment to their needs. The use of BRFPlus in this fashion is also associated with the “Custom Code Migration Service for SAP Business Suite on HANA” promoted by SAP Services (Consulting). Thus, customers using s-Innovations SaaS applications might be able to use BRFPlus to configure their applications.

s-Innovations on the HEC

SAP already has a number of applications already running on the HEC and s-Innovations will also be provided in this environment.   As described above, the HCP-based deployment model will probably exploit the API-Services provided by the PaaS platform. How could such evolutionary changes work in HEC deployments without breaking the idea of the single code-base? The answer is that the HEC-based s-Innovations’ installations should also be able to use such APIs – these are REST-APIs that are also available for HEC-based s-Innovations products (taking into account security / network restrictions).

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As I reflected on the E2E demo from Bjorn and Ian Kimble presented during the keynote in Berlin, I thought about future integration possibilities with s-Innovations hosted on HEC or HCP. As you might remember, the keynote exploited HCP’s API Management functionality to create mobile apps with a WYSWIG development environment. It was impressive and if you project the use of these tools onto Fiori-related scenarios using either HANA Cloud Integration (HCI) or HCP’s Cloud Connector in combination with s-Innovations, you get intriguing scenarios.

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My take

The thought of SAP providing a next generation HANA-based ERP SaaS suite has great potential and one that the market has been expecting for a while.

Before you pull a Tom Cruise and start jumping on your couch at home in expectation of future SAP Cloud domination, there are a few things to consider. Despite its presence in the public Cloud, s-Innovations products are still largely based on the monolithic legacy ABAP-based architecture from the OnPremise world.

Yes, I know that the use of HANA provides great advantages (for example, the associated simplified database results in critical size reduction).  This architecture, however, is far from the modern micro-services pattern that other SaaS players / competitors (like Workday) are exploiting.   Some pundits might say that multi-tenancy support (with its associated operational / financial / scaling advantages) is more important that such fundamental architectural questions. The problem is that HCP’s dev-ops focus and its evolution towards Cloud Foundry (take a look at Hybris’ CaaS effort) means that s-Innovations products (at least in their current form) can’t fully exploit HCP’s future potential.  Furthermore, the ability of a monolithic ABAP application to fit into the API-centric development paradigm promulgated by HCP is questionable.

s-Innovations represents the new stage of the evolution of the Business Suite. Does this transformation represent a “Best of Breed” approach? A recent tweet from ex-SAP and now Microsoft employee Ohad Jassin suggests that such an approach might not be as easy as it seems.

How does Ariba fit into s-Innovations? Or Employee Central?  SAP’s existing SaaS applications might be included as part of future iterations of the s-Innovations suite. With a unified UI layer via Fiori, the typical s-Innovations end-user shouldn’t be aware of the underlying architecture even if it is cobbled together with different stacks based on a single simplified HANA data lake. Yet, the integration challenges in such hybrid architectures aren’t to be underestimated.

Den's take

Dick has spun part of my diagram of the apps portfolio line up through 90 degrees to provide more technical buyers with a better feel about how the piece parts come together. In doing so, a picture is emerging which, while at first seemingly complex is in fact much more straightforward to understand architecturally.

There will be challenges in the field, but my guess is those will be mostly around perceptions of what this means for implementation and management. We will have to wait for that part of the story to emerge and for SAP and its customers to start providing costed examples of how 'simple' means more than a technology rejig to keep abreast of the marketing.

Note: While Dick uses the terms s-Innovations we understand this is not the final marketing terms that SAP will use. They are however a useful stake in the ground for those wishing to see the differences in the portfolio lineup.

Disclosure: SAP and Workday are premier partners at time of writing

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