As SAP customers and SAP executive speakers gathered in Glendale, Arizona, to share their experiences, expertise, and insights at the ASUG Best Practices: SAP S/4HANA and SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) conference earlier this month, one of the most exciting keynote addresses came from Bhagat Nainani, SVP of Product Development at SAP.

During his day-two keynote, titled “Build Extensions & Integrations Across Your Enterprise with SAP BTP,” Nainani reflected upon the importance of the SAP Business Technology Platform as the foundation of the intelligent enterprise and zeroed in on the application extensions and integration solutions that customers can utilize to strengthen their business processes and simplify their journeys to SAP S/4HANA.

Speaking with ASUG at the conference shortly following the SAP announcement of SAP Datasphere, Nainani discussed the current state of the SAP customer journey with SAP BTP, major focus areas he’ll explore in 2023, and the SAP imperative to make it easy for its customers to consume innovations.

This is an edited version of the conversation.

Question: Your keynote session at this conference was titled “Build Extensions & Integrations Across Your Enterprise with SAP BTP,” and throughout it, you focused on strategizing SAP S/4HANA extensions, leveraging application development, automation, and integration capabilities on SAP BTP. Why was this the right focus for this keynote?

Answer: Many SAP customers are in the middle of broader business transformation initiatives. They’re either moving some of their workflows to the cloud, modernizing their business processes, or looking at how they can connect different parts of their enterprise together to optimize their supply chain. As part of that, they strive to use SAP standard applications, such as finance ERPs. However, in most cases, they need to customize these to meet their specific business needs or integrate with other applications that are part of the business process.

Additionally, many organizations have heterogeneous environments. When they look at their end-to-end business processes, they must integrate with other systems that are both SAP and non-SAP. At this point, when they are amid their transformation projects, these integrations are critical.

Q: Speaking with customers at conferences like this one, what have you observed about the early adoption of SAP BTP and its relevance to customers’ business challenges?

A: In the past, if you look at SAP’s traditional ECC customer base, when it came to extending or customizing processes, many organizations would mostly turn to the ABAP runtime and customize the code to their needs right in their ERP system. While that was very powerful, that limited a company’s ability to consume new innovations from SAP. Many times, when a new ERP release was available, customizations had to be redone. So, it often became a choice between consuming the new ERP capabilities or keeping customizations stable.

Today, SAP is promoting the concept of the “clean core.” The idea of clean core is that companies develop their extensions in an upgrade-safe way. They can build them around their standard business application without changing the core of the application itself. With that, customers get the same value, while they’re also able to consume innovations from SAP at a much faster rate by upgrading seamlessly.

BTP is the foundation of the clean core concept. It enables companies to extend and integrate without changing the core of the application but still allows them to extend and customize business processes to their very specific needs. This is where SAP BTP is also different from hyperscaler platforms. BTP is purpose-built to help customers extend their SAP applications and maximize the value of SAP systems.

Q: Compared to a year ago, do you feel that customers are now generally further along in their adoption and understanding of SAP BTP and its capabilities?

A: Absolutely, they’re certainly further along than they were two years ago. I also believe that, at SAP, we’re responsible for ensuring our customers understand the value of BTP. We've also had our own challenges getting there. In the past, we had the SAP Cloud Platform, the predecessor of BTP, which had a lot of individual services. The intent was to offer very granular services so that customers could use what they wanted. The challenge with that was when our customers wanted to use multiple services together, the experience and outcomes were not cohesive.

With BTP, we look at our customers’ needs more holistically and have identified broader areas where we can add value: analytics, integration, (low-code) app development, and automation. We brought our related services together and made them much easier to consume. We focus on elevating the user experience, and additionally, we deliver very tight integrations with our line-of-business products like SAP S/4HANA, SAP SuccessFactors, etc. With that, we want to make BTP the de facto choice for SAP customers.

For example, we launched SAP Build to improve productivity for developing extensions for both professional and business users and brought SAP Build Process Automation, SAP Build Apps, and SAP Build Work Zone closer together. Just now, we launched the SAP Datasphere, which brings together our various data analytics and data warehouse offerings.

Similarly, we did this with SAP Integration Suite a few years back. We used to have SAP Open Connectors and SAP API Management as standalone offerings. Today, it’s all one very easy-to-use product, with all our customers’ integration needs in one product.

SAP is committed to this path: we will make it easy for our customers to consume our solutions on BTP. Looking at this curve, there is still a lot of awareness that we must build. Around 17,000 of our customers are using BTP already. That’s less compared to the more than 400,000 SAP customers. Our goal is to help all SAP customers pursue their clean core strategy and accelerate their transformation journeys.

Q: What are the major focus areas for you in 2023 regarding SAP BTP?

A: One focus area is low-code app development and automation to improve productivity for anyone building, extending, and automating applications, this way also getting business experts more invested in co-creating software solutions.

In application development, we're also bringing ABAP developers closer to SAP BTP, so that they can leverage their existing investments in ABAP and build on them, as they're using BTP to extend. A lot of our existing customers have a rich skillset in ABAP development. It’s a huge opportunity to bring these developers and their knowledge along as our customers modernize their stack.

For integration, the big focus is migrating our customers’ integrations from on-prem to the cloud along with their applications. We had a lot of customers doing what we call PI-PO, meaning SAP Process Integration and SAP Process Orchestration for the integration of on-premises applications. Supporting customers in migrating those to the cloud with SAP Integration Suite is a big focus area.

The third one is tying our products back to the end-to-end business transformation offering from SAP Signavio. Before customers start their journey, we recommend that they introspect their business processes, understand the bottlenecks, understand where they need to make improvements, and use that to drive changes and automations that they can do on BTP.

On the data side, one major area is SAP Datasphere, the evolution of SAP Data Warehouse Cloud that allows customers to access data, regardless of where it is stored, from both SAP and non-SAP data systems.

Q: Given the announcement of SAP Datasphere at this conference, can you describe and clarify the relationship between SAP Datasphere and SAP BTP for customers?

A: SAP Datasphere is a comprehensive data service within SAP BTP that enables a business data fabric architecture. It also provides multiple services such as semantic modeling, data management, data lake, or SAP Business Warehouse bridge that customers may or may not use depending on their business needs.

SAP Datasphere is the evolution of SAP Data Warehouse Cloud that simplifies organizations’ data landscape and provides seamless access to business-ready data with augmented management, established business semantics, and flexible integration. Customers can combine data from SAP and non-SAP sources across an organization’s most important data sources.

We now also introduce a new open ecosystem of strategic partnerships with Confluent, Collibra, Databricks, and DataRobot, allowing organizations to create an integrated, semantically rich data architecture that securely combines SAP and non-SAP data no matter where it resides across cloud providers, data vendors, and on-premises.

Q: From what you’re saying, one of the major evolutions of SAP has been toward creating a more open system, rather than a closed system, with its applications and their range of SAP and non-SAP integrations.

A: That’s exactly right. We understand our customers’ reality, and we want to be much more open in terms of technology partnerships and ecosystem partners and having partners provide value-added capabilities on top of BTP. We already have more than 1,500 partners across 25 industries using BTP to build apps, automations, or integrate systems. Our online community is steadily growing and has more than 400,000 monthly users, taking advantage of learning opportunities and best practices from SAP and non-SAP experts.