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In this blog I define what I believe to be tomorrow’s ideal environment for B2B integration from the integration expert’s point of view. However, before defining tomorrow’s ideal environment, I think it is important to take a quick look at the current environment, specifically what B2B integration experts must currently do to create semantic integration of content and enable technical interoperability between systems.

Today’s Environment

The first step after identifying the B2B integration expert (either in-house or consultant) is to explain to them the integration scenario and the specific business transaction which is to be put in place between the relevant organizations. The expert will of course need to gain a level of understanding of the integration scenario and the specific semantic and syntactic content/structure if not already held. Therefore, the integration expert has to get specifications (typically called Message Implementation Guidelines – MIGs) of the business transaction interfaces with their semantic detailing of the information that will be passed between the disparate business applications. This raises several questions in my mind:

  • Who should write these Message Implementation Guidelines or Interface Specifcations?
  • What constitutes a good and understandable Message Implementation Guideline/Interface Specifcations?
  • Which tools can be used for writing Message Implementation Guidelines/Interface Specifcations?
  • How can be these Message Implementation Guidelines/Interface Specifcations shared between trading partners?

A Gartner report has suggested that “Only 5% of the interface [between systems] is a function of the middleware choice. The remaining 95% is a function of application semantics.” Especially the application semantics requires deep business domain knowledge, and an integration expert usually does not have this domain knowledge. From my point of view, a business domain expert has normally the required skills and therefore this expert should be responsible for writing these Message Implementation Guidelines.

Interestingly enough, there are multiple tools for helping the integration expert create technical implementation and help them validate the implementation. But despite the high level of effort required for semantic integration, there is no readily available intelligent integration tool available which will simplify the process of semantic detailing. Rather, the business domain expert has to document the semantic information in some form of simple desktop application such as a word processor, or spreadsheet, and he is frequently using PDF files for sharing this information with trading partners or even integration experts. Unfortunately, the tools that generate these files neither provide  support for creation of the semantic level of detailing or validating the created content. Furthermore, there is no effective way to share this information between all involved parties, which may collaboratively work with this information. The consequence is an exhausted manual creation process with no semantic validation, and the opportunity for creating errors are quite high.

The result is that the integration expert must engage in manual reviews to ensure the resultant files are accurate. Naturally, this results in an iterative process as errors are bound to happen despite the best efforts of the expert, which results in both greater expense and longer integration scenario execution timeframes. Naturally, the semantic understanding of the integration expert is limited in terms of the business domain, so the business domain expert will also need to be involved in the iterative development and review process. All of this increases the time to integration execution as well as the associated integration execution cost.

Tomorrow’s Simplified Environment

Going along with the message from SAP to “Run Simple”, let us try to analyze how SAP can simplify this whole B2B integration process. What would be nice to have and what are the possibilities?

Imagine the following: The same scenario as before is played out - the business domain expert is provided information about cross-organization systems for B2B integration. The expert is told about the B2B standard templates being used by the two organizations in question. The business domain expert has to create a Message Implementation Guideline/Interface Specifications from scratch to facilitate the transaction flow and has to compare and semantically map his Message Implementation Guideline with the Message Implementation Guideline of trading partners, which are embraced in this transaction flow. The business domain expert has to hand over these documents to the integration expert, and the integration expert has integrate these interfaces and mapping into a middleware. Finally the integration and mappings have to be tested and the results have to be compared with the guidelines.

Let ‘s now envision that both, the business domain expert and integration expert are provided with an intelligent enterprise data integration design tool which supports the following:

  1. Content discovery from a cloud based repository of shared integration content (standard or customized) in web which can be re-used for the integration scenario at hand.
  2. Create and/or edit semantic interfaces using intelligent algorithms to provide suggestions for creating or editing the guidelines considering
  3. Sharing guidelines with trading partners via internet and collaborative work on mappings
  4. On the fly syntactic and semantic edit checking with auto-correct
  5. Automatic test and simulation and incorporated view of test results in guidelines

In tomorrow’s simplified environment, the business domain expert as well as the integration expert can leverage the tool to rapidly identify existing semantic content or mappings in the cloud based repository which are potential best fits for the integration scenario. If none exist, then the business domain expert can use the tool’s standard template to begin to create the semantic content. In support of this, the tool will – based on the process, the trading partners, and other relevant information provided by the business expert – easily create the semantic content (Message Implementation Guidelines, Interface Specifications, Mapping Guidelines, etc.,) to include the technical mappings which in today’s environment are complex, time consuming, and fraught with opportunity for mistakes. The tool will also naturally conduct both semantic and syntactic validation of the output based on the relevant source information as well as its own intelligent validation capabilities. The tool is integrated with run time integration scenario’s to seamlessly move from design to runtime, which could be an on-premise solution (NW PI) or an in-the-cloud solution (HANA Cloud Integration). The runtime itself is highly integrated with the new and intelligent design time tool; so that test results can be directly shown in the same guideline view and further runtime statistics will be used to improve the further definition of interfaces or mappings. As a result of this new tool, the gap between business domain experts and integration experts is significantly reduced and a common understanding of business by both begins to take shape. Equally important, the need for, and reliance on, yesterday’s labor intensive desktop applications no longer exists and instead the integration and business experts work seamlessly using familiar interfaces to quickly review and implement the agreed upon solution.

From Vision to Reality

This is how I see tomorrow’s simplified SAP B2B environment for its customers. The good news is that such a service is already being developed by the SAP Integration Advisor team. The service – Integration Advisor – will be a Hana Enterprise Cloud service as part of SAP HCI and SAP PO/PI. The team would be interested in knowing what your thoughts are. Specifically, are there aspects that are missing? Does such a tool make sense? Could such a tool simplify your job and help you make your company run faster, smarter, and more efficient? Please contact me if you have interest to test this completely new approach.

Invitation to Integration Advisor's Pilot Program

The Integration Advisor will start with its pilot-program in January 2015, so please follow our blogs to get further/more detailed information on this topic as the collective team will share with you our vision and solution for simplified B2B as part of an overall business network strategy.

Further Reading

The following article will provide you more details about the Integration Advisor: Streamlining and simplifying B2B integration for enhanced interoperability

Introduction of the Integration Advisor at the TechEd && dcode 2014: