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I was super excited when SAP announced the Integration Content Advisor (ICA) which will be part of the enterprise integration services of the SAP cloud platform. I thought finally there is a product which will provide some relief to the customer in implementing B2B scenario as it is challenging at times due to the involvement of multiple departments of an IT organization. There was a lot of buzz about the capability of the tool such as  automate the B2B scenario build, small development life-cycle, one pitch stop solution for B2B libraries etc.  I thought these features will have a direct positive impact on total project cost.

Like any other SAP integration architect I was super kicked when I got an opportunity to be part of product ramp-up which provided me some early insight into the product which for me looked promising. I thought this would be one of the best options if a customer has implemented solutions using SAP cloud platform or they are looking into handling the B2B scenario mappings in house. Which are generally outsourced as it would be a complex to maintain mappings in house.

I am not going into details of what is ICA and its features as there are a couple of blogs from our experts describing these topics. If you are interested, please read the links below before proceeding further.

In this blog, I will share my experience with ICA when tried to implement for a customer. Here is the scenario, I talked to one of our customers who are running Process Integration ( PI 7.11) dual-stack system which consist of EDI and Non- EDI scenarios. They were due for an upgrade of the existing system and they were interested in using SAP cloud platform’s integration solution and migrate the EDI scenarios and Non- EDI scenarios from on-premise to cloud. If mappings from existing scenario  can be migrated to cloud solutions then it should be straight forward with minor tweaks. There should not be a major impact to the functionality and no longer testing cycle. Our customer has a consumption model which is a newer concept of SAP licensing. Which will allow the customer to turn ON and OFF  the services when needed which will ease the procurement process. I just want to re-iterate one thing about the system of libraries which is not part of SAP Enterprise Integration Services and they need to be purchased at SAP store.

I started to work on migrating one EDI scenario which is already existing and working in PI 7.11 into enterprise cloud. I built the connection and connected the PI system to integration services to import the mapping which was the crux of the meat. When tried to reuse existing mappings it was throwing exception related to compatibility error and error saying function library is not supported so the specific mapping could not be imported. This is one of the biggest restriction of the tool as the reason being if in case a customer is planning to migrate to the cloud and move away from the on-premise system they should be at least migrate the mappings so that it would reduce a lot of tasks related to development life cycle. It does not make any sense if the customer has to re-write all the function libraries to just migrate to cloud solutions. It can be done but no customer will sign up for this option.

I worked with SAP product development team to get this question answered as there was no clear documentation mentioning about the restriction of the tool. They mentioned that their documentation is not updated and no ETA when this feature of importing mapping with function libraries will be supported. Moving on, quick education here, when a customer buys enterprise edition of integration services they will get a couple of options to implement B2B scenarios. The first , customer get additional development components in integration tenant which can be leveraged for the development of B2B scenarios. The second option is that they get the ICA as part of enterprise integration services license and can be used to build B2B scenario and then import the artifact into the integration services and deploy the solution. This creates some confusion about which option to go. In my experience, I don’t recommend using ICA as it has many restrictions which I will summarize at the end of this blog.

The second restriction is that when you try to build a new scenario you can’t use the EDI X12 format from your existing system as it would generate many errors during testing so need to use a system of libraries which is part of ICA but purchased separately. I have discussed this issue with many colleagues, and they have agreed to my point. In theory, ICA is an awesome tool but when you implement the solution it is not at all straight forward.

The third restriction is when trying to use X12 from system library in ICA you need to manually select all the respective X12 or Idoc segments and its field that need to be used in your mapping. You can’t perform SELECT ALL. This puts additional risk on the business team, and we all are aware that any development will have multiple iterations, and nothing will be on dot in the first run. There is a bigger risk with this limitation. When an enhancement needs to be performed on existing mapping it would impact the existing mapping and introduces a longer regression test cycle which no customer will entertain.

Last but not the least, when you try to develop the mapping in ICA only XSLT mapping is supported and no scope for any graphical which is like chopping off the legs and trying to run a marathon. Painful!

Finally, my experience with ICA was not that exciting and to sum up all the issues ICA is not a straight forward tool. It needs development iterations to mature and become a robust B2B implementation tool. I am sure it will get there but not for now.

Summarizing ICA tool limitations

  1. No graphical mapping only XSLT in ICA

  2. Existing mapping poses compatibility issues if the function library exists

  3. Function library is not supported if it is part of mapping

  4. Reuse of X12 is not compatible and poses lots of challenges during testing (the only X12 from the library of system needs to be used)

  5. ICA can only be used for standard mapping with no Z Idoc fields

  6. Manually need to select segment and fields in the library for  X12 or Idoc type

Like I mentioned earlier this is my take and not a general perspective about the tool. If you have good results using ICA please share your business scenarios as it may be helpful to the community.

Hope this helps!

See you in my next blog!
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