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Article Series "Bringing Together Clean Core, Cloud, the SAP Extension Suite and SAP BTP - A Clean Core and Differentiation / Extensibility Strategy"

This posting is the fifth part of a series, which proposes a functional-strategic approach to Clean Core to help overcome the challenges, which the prevalent technical approach entails. Visit the overview page for a management summary and links to the other postings.

A New Framework for SAP Clean Core Leveraging the SAP BTP and the SAP Extension Suite


A Switch of the Focus and Starting Point

As discussed in the previous article on the functional-strategic approach, moving the focus from the standard code to the custom code results in a paradigm change: It means switching from a thinking in “extensions” to a thinking in “differentiation”.

From Extensions to Differentiation

The base reference or the defining structure is not the standard solution anymore – it is the blueprint of the custom application for differentiation. Therefore, it does not make sense anymore to talk about “extensions”, because there just is not anything anymore, which could get extended. The starting point is an empty piece of paper. The first thing to put on it are the blueprints of the organization-specific processes, which shall get built on top of the SAP standard solutions. This means that is not necessary anymore to twist and tweak the processes to make them fit to the standard – or to bend and deform the standard to suit the organization-specific details, because the standard is not dealt with as a big monolith anymore.

The New Role of the Standard for SAP-Based Development

The new role of the standard for SAP-based custom development is that of a service repository. As depicted in the graphic above, with Clean Core and the SAP BTP, not only the S/4HANA core but virtually all cloud services are now available as building blocks. Thus, the custom application is still built on top of standard solutions. But these are just components. The structure of the application is not defined by the standard anymore, but by the organization-specific functional blueprint. Of course, it is not sufficient to just plug a range of standard services together. Also in this framework some custom code is required. But this custom code will define the structure of the application, into which the standard services are getting integrated. Therefore, the custom code is independent of the standard code and logically prior to it.

The Functional-Strategic Blueprint of the Differentiation Becomes the Focus Point

As indicated by the layer of transparency in the graphic, the SAP Extension Suite and its different flavors are of little relevance at this stage. The central focus of Clean Core in this framework is the functional-strategic specification of the differentiation. This means that Clean Core is not just a technical task, but initially primarily a functional-strategic one and that it requires a completely new approach.

A Powerful Platform for Development Based on Clean Core, the SAP Extension Suite and the SAP BTP

Before talking about the new approach, however, let’s dwell another few moments on the contemplation of the impact of this new framework. By moving the focus from the standard to the custom code and by switching from thinking of extensions to thinking of differentiation, it becomes obvious that Clean Core, the SAP Extension Suite and the SAP BTP deliver a powerful platform for developing applications which are specific to an organization and yet based on standard services as components. They are an important step forward in the SAP-related history of (Enterprise) Service-Oriented Architectures (ESA), the Composite Applications Framework (SAP CAF),  the SAP Composition Environment (SAP CE) and cloud-based solutions by taking their core concepts to a new level of technical reality.

A "New" Kind of Architecture in the SAP-Landscape

Applying the suggested framework and adhering to the Clean Core Principle introduces a "new" kind of architecture to the SAP-Landscape. Obviously, it is not a new architecture concept altogether, not even in the SAP space, as the above mentioned predecessors show. However, in practice, it is still very uncommon and fundamentally different from the traditional SAP system.

A differentiation application is characterized by a rather transient nature with regard to its exact composition. It can be viewed as consisting of two layers:

  • One layer defines the overall structure of the application. Although it is the (only) necessarily permanent part of the application, even this layer can continuously change in its exact details.

  • The other layer contains the services, which are used to implement the application. Here, the individual services can continuously get exchanged, new ones can get added, existing ones removed.

Some of the required architecture principles will be described in more detail in a later post.

The SAP Standard as Clean Core with only Customizing on the one Side - The Differentiation as Separate Application on the other Side

Clean Core, the SAP Extension Suite and the BTP allow a clearly separated and simultaneously well-integrated co-existence of standard code and organization-specific applications which are built by consuming standard services. The result are two worlds, which exist one alongside the other within the SAP space: The SAP Standard-World and the SAP Custom-World. External to the SAP space, there might exist further worlds, of course – compare the approach for a clean core strategy in the subsequent post. With regard to the SAP Standard-World, Clean Core delivers the benefit that upgrades can be installed smoothly and thus that the newest innovations which are shipped as part of the SAP standard are available to organizations in a timely manner. With regard to the SAP Custom-World, organizations obtain the opportunity to implement their individual and differentiating processes free from the restrictions of the standard software. Clean Core enables efficient, stable, maintainable standard processes on the one hand and flexible, cutting-edge, market differentiating process for competitive advantage on the other hand.

The benefit for the custom logic will not be realized by following the traditional project approach, though. Clean Core demands a functional-strategic perspective as well as a comprehensive and consistent concept as a basis for the implementation of the differentiation.

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