ASUG recently conducted interviews with SAP leaders for year-in-review highlights and commentaries on what’s next in key technology areas, solution portfolios, and industries. Here we explore 2022 progress and the 2023 outlook for SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) with Vikas Lodha, Chief Solution Advisor for the Customer Office SAP BTP Core.
Question: It has been a very big year for SAP BTP. We would like you to recall what you believe were the 2022 highlights and milestones.
Answer: First and foremost, the customer community very clearly told us that they keep hearing about BTP but still don’t fully grasp of it. This was not just a highlight but also a lowlight and, more importantly, an eye-opener. What is BTP? 2022 was all about providing visibility and reaching out to the community to identify and educate about BTP and all its usage/patterns. BTP is the foundation of their transformation. Without BTP, customers miss out on critical functions in their journey toward digital transformation. To me, that idea was the first grounding that started and set the stage for BTP.
Q: Where did you find success this year in reaching out to the community around BTP?
A: We had an S/4HANA Summit in Chicago, where we did a BTP overview, discussing where you can use BTP, how practically embedded inside every intelligence suite of SAP, and that customers will either need to use BTP or probably didn't even realize that they were already using parts of BTP. That was the first event, followed by our Sapphire event, where we dove deeper. We had customers come in and say, “Wow, looks like I'm missing out on quite a few things. I’m on my S/4HANA journey, my system integrators said I didn’t need to use BTP, but now my eyes are open.” These were a couple of reflections that led us to say we needed to invest quite a lot in awareness.
Q: When a customer's light bulb goes on related to SAP BTP, what business and technology challenges can they see they can overcome?
A: I will start with the easiest one, a no-brainer, which every customer is probably already using. If they were to change, enrich, or build a new user interface, they are already using BTP, which they might not realize. Either their system integrator or developers are already using BTP to change Fiori UI screens or enrich them. Secondly, when customers are transitioning from ECC to S/4HANA, they are supposed to do custom code checks to determine how much custom work they have done in the ECC system Identifying that custom code while upgrading the existing on-premises system is a huge undertaking. Now, if they were to use an ABAP stack in BTP, they would be able to do it instantly because that is upgraded and updated on a monthly basis, and we have the latest and greatest in terms of connecting to their on-premises system. Customers don't realize that BTP is now available for their ECC systems, on-premises systems, and hybrid cloud environments. This is a huge total cost of ownership (TCO) gain to customers instantly. Customers can now build, enrich, and automate applications that are no-code solutions to drive quicker value. Finally, every customer has to transform their interface when they move from ECC. This is where BTP’s integration suite and DWC predefined content come in handy to drive this quick value again.
Q: How would you assess the increased awareness and adoption of SAP BTP this past year?
A: First and foremost is the advent of this whole “no-code/low-code” offering. As a business user, you want to build an application or automate your processes and build it quickly, but you know that you need to learn how to code it, which IT has traditionally done. Building a very nice user interface, either a responsive interface or a mobile app itself, can now be placed in the hands of business users or citizen developers. Often, citizen developers will want to build an app but then, when they hand it over to IT after building it, IT will say, “Your requirements are much too broad, and I still need to do more professional, complex coding.” But you don’t need to throw out that no-code tool; you just enrich it, so it’s not throwaway work. That’s a huge advantage over others in a competitive marketplace. Once you hit a brick wall, and IT is saying you can’t use it beyond a certain point without using professional code, you have a truly collaborative development environment between business developers and IT people so they can work together to enrich and continue to build better, faster apps.
Secondly, we have integration aspects. Customers are moving to cloud or hybrid cloud. Customers need quick innovations and pre-delivered content for integration into the cloud. Every interface changes when they move over from ECC to S/4HANA. The interface changes SAP provides for BTP involve pre-delivered content, already available publicly on a website to search. More than 2,600 content interfaces are available. Hundreds of public APIs are available. All of this is available for consumption easily for integration. If customers are looking at something else, they will have to really build it from the ground up, whereas SAP makes sure that, if you are within S/4HANA as one of the sources or destinations, and we know the customers have non-SAP solutions, we're providing that pre-delivered content.
The third pillar is data and analytics. There is a lot of predefined content. SAP Analytics Cloud, the UI layer for analytics, is already embedded for S/4HANA. But we know most customers want to enrich the data, merge, and bring in third-party data, so we have provided that pre-delivered content on SAP Data Warehouse Cloud with third party connectors for integration with replication or federation options. We’re providing that on-premises BW/4 content onto Data Warehouse Cloud with SAP BW Bridge.
Additionally, with respect to Automation, there is pre-delivered content via the workflows and the RPAs to do mundane tasks. As an example, you may have to do file uploads to S/4HANA or automate the steps you want to run for every transaction.
Our focus has been on predefined content across applications and the enterprise and ensuring we are bridging the gap with the business community because it's all about the business. And that's also a reason we called it the Business Technology Platform. It's for a purpose; its services need to be consumed for a purpose. There are pre-trained AI/ML services, while the customers may have to invest a lot in AI—bringing in the data, massaging the data, and making sure that the predictive algorithms are already set up for that data set. We are delivering that content to the end user as a fully trained model. As an example, Document Information Extraction helps you process large amounts of business documents with content in headers and tables. You can use the extracted information to automatically process payables, invoices, or payment notes while making sure that invoices and payables match. After you upload a document file to the service, it returns the extraction results from header fields and line items. Document Information Extraction is part of the SAP AI Business Services portfolio.
And this is the reason we call it the Business Technology Platform.
Q: Considering BTP as the foundation, I’ve also seen increasing awareness this past year of BTP as the unified data and development platform for the entire SAP ecosystem. User experience, and accessibility, are crucial to BTP, which serves as a central access point. One could say the same of SAP Build, announced at TechEd this year, which aims to provide developer tools for everyone, no matter their skill levels. Can you speak to that idea of empowerment, which appears top of mind for SAP?
A: SAP Build is all about no-code/low-code solutions. It is empowering the end users in order to empower the business. We occasionally hear the pushback that “our business is not yet savvy enough to even use no-code solutions,” but think of it this way: the business can build quick workflows in a readable format. If I need to request it and you need to approve it, that can be delivered by the business. It is so easy to do. And that provides agility. Quickly building apps is not just about empowering users but also about bringing in agility. If I'm an IT person, if I must write 10,000 or even 2,000 lines of code, that will take me two to four days. But with no-code solutions, it will not take hours before I can share that code with the business team and say, “Is this what you were looking for?” It brings in much more agility to build out applications faster. It's all about solving the business problem faster. Businesses are ever-changing, and you have to enrich those applications constantly. You have to build newer applications constantly. That’s another context of SAP Build, which actually has three portfolio components. One is building an application with no-code/low-code; the second is automating the applications, i.e. the workflows and the RPAs; the third is bringing in that digital experience, putting it all in a unified dashboard or portal, and making it available across your enterprise.
One thing we never talk about with BTP is the foundation that customers don’t even realize they have. If you’re building applications or integrating, and you get a foundation layer at no cost, it includes a lot of services like authorization, authentication, single sign-on, and the master data integration (MDI) layer, which unifies all the intelligent suites. If you were to integrate your master data with S/4HANA, you would have that MDI API that will help you make your applications more compliant in the personal privacy areas. Also, this MDI API stores all the master data at a central location within BTP. People don’t realize BTP is giving more than is even published due to its nature of as a foundation layer. SAP is a technology company solving business problems, and BTP has become the technology foundation for all SAP solutions.
Q: At the BTP Summit earlier this year, you and I discussed BTP as both a technology platform and a methodology, an approach akin to agile practices. Do you still think about BTP in that way?
A: Absolutely. Day in and day out, being a technologist, you hear about the technology and know why you have to use it. But when you talk to the business side, they say, “Wait a minute; this is Greek or Latin to us.” There’s a technology layer, but SAP BTP took the technology and made it applicable for business purposes, which means we’ve made it a mindset.
Q: What would you list as unfinished business for SAP BTP after this year?
A: We’re continuously educating and empowering the customers via BTP services, and most of our customers have used BTP in one format or another. BTP has multiple pillars, and most customers have consumed at least one. As customers get educated, they see the value, agility, and total cost of ownership coming down. Our unfinished business remains on educating the customers and community about what BTP can provide and how it can empower you and place so much in your hands. Every component of what they’ve been using, day in and day out, has been made easier and more seamless while moving them forward to cloud.
For example, BW customers use SAP Business Warehouse on-premises, and we have a component already prebuilt in Data Warehouse Cloud so that if customers want to use the best of breed in Business Warehouse, it's available. If they want to use the non-Business Warehouse components, that Data Warehouse in-memory computing, they have the agility to use it. Customers didn't realize that it provides all those semantic layers, and it provides all the Business Warehouse layers. And the total cost of ownership goes down significantly. And if I were to peel that onion further, customers have to extract the data and load it into a third-party system. Once they load that data, all the business semantics have gone away, which is a big problem. Now, after doing the transfers, they have to redo the work SAP has done pre-delivered with Datawarehouse Cloud solution. We still need to educate the customers who don’t understand BTP is for them.
Q: That aligns with what Kerri Tenbrunsel, SVP and GM, SAP BTP North America, said in her keynote, “Activate the Power of SAP BTP to Accelerate Innovation,” at the BTP Summit: “You probably have no idea the power you hold in your hands.” The scope of BTP and its prominence within the SAP ecosystem is still coming into focus.
A: We keep discussing with ASUG to educate the community with BTP that it needs to go with S/4 HANA, Ariba, SuccessFactors—every line of business, every conference because BTP is for everyone. It’s everywhere.
Q: Next year will see the first ASUG Best Practices: SAP S/4HANA and SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) conference (March 7–9, in Glendale, AZ) to address the centrality of both to tomorrow’s enterprise.
A: I’m super excited. That’s exactly what we’re working toward. We’re working for practitioners, decision-makers, and architects to come in and peel the onion themselves to make sure we educate individuals at the level around how they can transition, even to a hybrid cloud offering. We know it’s not just SAP versus non-SAP; it’s both. We know it’s not Cloud to 100% Public Cloud; it is public, private, hybrid, really a mixture of multi-Cloud environments. BTP makes that easier.
Q: What can the community, specifically ASUG members, expect from the SAP BTP team in 2023, particularly at summits?
A: We will focus more on “keeping your core clean.” At the BTP Summit, a colleague and I did a very small session on this topic, which is resonating across the board. Customers want to keep their core clean, even once migrated to S/4HANA. Because the next conference is jointly for S/4HANA and BTP, we want to focus on how you keep your core clean with Embedded Steampunk, which we call ABAP Cloud. You will have ABAP Cloud next to your S/4HANA, and how BTP can work together with its low-code/no-code offerings, will be the focus of hands-on workshops. We’re also going to discuss the transition from SAP PI/PO to Integration Suite. And many more topics.
We’re getting feedback from customers and the field engaging with them, and we’re asking them what they’d like to hear and see. We’re focused on providing that information at our summits. I would pose a question back to the customers and the community. If you are not using BTP, you are missing out; are you aware of that? And if you’re not, talk to us. If you would like an open-ended discussion and a dialogue, meet us as the experts.
Q: What are you most proud of regarding SAP BTP this year?
A: Bringing in agility with low-code/no-code offerings and focusing on keeping your core clean. The reporting and coding beats, automation, all these areas, we’re delivering that predefined content. To me, that’s compelling. And it started with what you heard about SAP Build at TechEd but will be discussed much more in detail in the form of keeping your core clean.