In our latest ASUG Asks the Authors feature, we sat down with Smitha Banda, a Senior Business Development Manager at SAP who leads the SAP BTP practice for North America; Shibaji Chandra, a seasoned Consulting Architect at SAP who has in-depth knowledge and expertise in SAP BTP; and Chun Aun Gooi, an SAP BTP Architect and Developer. All three are the authors of “SAP Business Technology Platform: An Introduction,” from SAP Press.
In this second part of our conversation, we consider takeaways from discussing BTP at recent conferences, such as last fall’s ASUG & SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) Summit, as well as common misconceptions around BTP and the importance of integrations to SAP technology.
Q. SAP hosted a BTP Summit last fall in Newtown Square, the first focused primarily on the platform. Another conference, ASUG Best Practices: SAP S/4HANA® and SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP), is scheduled for March. What can you say about the value customers unlock through discussing BTP in these settings?
Chandra: BTP was, of course, at center stage at the BTP Summit, from Kerri Tenbrunsel bringing it into her keynote to a plethora of great sessions. I interacted with many customers who had specific or product strategy questions. “I’m going on the S/4HANA transformation journey, so how can I leverage BTP?” “How can I achieve clean code by leveraging BTP?” Those questions came directly from customers, which is a good sign.
Within BTP itself, we see more questions about SAP Integration Suite. That’s the frontrunner. Apart from that, people are very interested in SAP Process Automation and the low-code, no-code offerings in our suite. I have personally interacted with customers who had already utilized BTP and brought in issues they encountered, particularly around integration, data warehousing, analytics, and application development. They wanted guidance with specific kinds of scenarios. But, overall, that reflects a shift toward greater adoption.
Multiple customers I interacted with said that, for analytics, their main choice is SAP Analytics Cloud. That’s the analytics and planning solution within the BTP portfolio. For custom report development, they are not going into SAP S/4HANA to build a custom development but rather going into SAP Analytics Cloud, perhaps extending a data model on BTP then leveraging SAP Analytics Cloud on top of that. Three or four years back, people debated other options, like extracting all data from SAP, putting it into a data lake, and then using another analytical tool. Many customers are now seeing the value of SAP Analytics Cloud, especially with a live data connection to S/4HANA systems and overall ease of use.
Q. How would you characterize the evolution of the SAP BTP practice in recent years? What do customers understand about the platform now that they did not at the time of its initial rollout?
Banda: BTP is the technology platform on which we build and extend our business. I have always said, and I want to emphasize, that we should not approach it from a technology standpoint. We have to approach it from a business standpoint. We need to first identify what business value we want to bring, what business outcomes or gaps we have, and then look at how technology can help the business. The question has to always come from the business side versus the technology side.
Chandra: Five years ago, we were asking whether customers understood that. Now, I see that technology leaders, such as IT directors and CIOs, are well aware of BTP and asking questions. I’m hoping that, within the next few years, C-suite executives will come up with requirements which BTP will directly fulfill. We have a plethora of materials lined up, and we’re pursuing that direction.
Q. The importance of integrations to customers has come to the fore in recent years. Given that SAP BTP supports both SAP and non-SAP integrations, I wanted to ask for your perspective on the growing relevance of integrations to BTP.
Banda: I’ll get to why Cloud integration is important in a moment, but integration is important in general because we don’t operate in silos. SAP deals with very complex landscapes and customers. Many customers of SAP are very, very large enterprises, and no organization works in silos. They have SAP and non-SAP applications, on-premises and cloud applications, and they all have to talk to each other for obvious reasons. Data resides in different places; integration is important for these applications to talk, for data, for processes…
Why is Cloud or BTP Integration Suite important, and how does it help customers? SAP has invested tremendously in building out-of-the-box solutions. Even for non-SAP applications or products, SAP has built out-of-the-box connectors and integrations that customers can use as is. So, I think that is the big value BTP Cloud integration provides to customers, and that's a huge differentiator.
Chandra: In addition, the business content is the main key. If you look at the Cloud integration portfolio within BTP Integration Suite, we have over 2,500 standard integration flows: SAP to SAP, SAP to non-SAP, non-SAP to non-SAP. That’s all prebuilt. At least 70-80% of integration is already done; you just configure and deploy it. When customers see that they’re getting a leading-class Cloud integration platform and that we have content relevant to their needs, why would they not choose BTP?
Q. What are some of the popular misconceptions around BTP that you sought to clear up with “BTP: An Introduction,” your book?
Banda: I don’t know if it’s a misconception, but I don’t want people to be afraid of BTP. When you first look at it, BTP has a lot of products, services, and tools under it. I encourage everyone, from businesspeople to technologists, not to get overwhelmed.
From a business standpoint, look at the problem statement at hand; don’t worry about technology. Just look at what you want for your business, define that, and then start thinking about how technology can support your challenge or your vision of how you want to take your business.
From a technology standpoint, don't get overwhelmed by looking at the number of services that are available to you to use. Start small. If I’m an architect, I need to understand what services are available for consumption and what purpose they have, right? Then, I can architect the solution as a developer. But I can totally get overwhelmed: “Where do I start? What do I learn?” You can’t call yourself a BTP developer simply because there is not one solution. There’s SAP Analytics Cloud, SAP Integration Suite, SAP Application Development and Automation, the Cloud Application Programming Model (CAP), the ABAP Restful Programming Model, SAP Process Automation, SAP Workflow Management…
I would say start small. That’s what we did within our teams. For example, we have a UI5 Fiori developer who has expanded their skills into CAP. I have on-premises workflow developers, who extended their skill sets into Cloud workflow and Process Automation, and AAP developers ramping up in Rapid Application Programming (RAP). Start with your current skill set, see what's most relevant, and expand into that and beyond. Don’t get overwhelmed. Don’t be afraid. Take it one step at a time.
Q. Any other misconceptions?
Chandra: To address another misconception, many customers think that BTP is synonymous with Cloud Platform Integration (CPI) because they started their BTP journey with CPI and think that’s it. But it’s not. BTP extends beyond CPI as an integrated suite and a vast platform.
Banda: I agree. BTP is not simply CPI. And similarly, SAC customers think that BTP is SAC, but it is not. BTP is, in fact, a collection of multiple services and products. If you are implementing CPI or SAC, you can still think beyond that and think beyond your SAP landscape because you can build independent applications on BTP that do not have SAP backing. It could be an independent application using your S/4HANA database or any other database you have.
Additionally, if you are a non-ABAP customer, BTP has an environment where you can build using languages other than ABAP. And if you are an ABAP customer, SAP now has ABAP in the Cloud so that you can leverage your ABAP skills to build, extend, or interface. You have both options with BTP.
Gooi: One misconception that I encounter with customers is that they are reluctant to on-board BTP, based on the fact that they see SAP changing its technology frequently. Obviously, in the cloud, nothing is static; everything keeps changing. That's called innovation. But they might come and say, “I'll wait a few more years for it to mature.” That is a very wrong misconception because by that time, you will already be late to the game. BTP is a technology platform, so it will keep changing. We have to keep learning along with it. That’s how we work, and that’s what it means to work in the Cloud.
Banda: We very clearly describe that in the book as well. In the introduction, when we talk about the different services and products BTP offers or that are categorized under the BTP umbrella, we say, “Don’t get hung up on the fact that BTP has a set number of services.” Today, there might be 10 sets of services. Tomorrow, that set of 10 might grow to 20, with some additions and deletions. You need to understand: “How am I bringing these services and this technology together to solve a business challenge?”
I think the focus has to be on that rather than the product itself or the technology from an architectural standpoint. If I, as a customer, am implementing SAP Analytics Cloud, then I'll only focus on SAC, of course. But then, I'm not thinking about the other services, which also means that I’m not leveraging the full potential of BTP. The full potential of BTP is in consuming more than one service and stitching those services together to make that big, beautiful quilt