What Can SAP Cloud Platform Do?

SAP Cloud Platform is a simple way to create applications that enhance the standard functions of SAP ERP or SAP S/4HANA. Through its strategic focus on open standards, it also plays an important role in connection with SAP Leonardo.

Holger Seubert, SAP Cloud Platform product expert, and Christoph Liebig, head of strategy and product management for SAP Cloud Platform, recently shed light on eight fundamental questions about this exciting offering.

1. What is SAP Cloud Platform?

SAP Cloud Platform is formally defined as a platform-as-a-service (PaaS). The idea is to use a cloud-based delivery model to offer current and technically innovative functions as services, which will give companies the simplest access possible to machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and other more recent technologies.

The platform concept refers to the integrated ability to combine these different services, which our customers use in varying ways. Here, the most obvious approach involves combinations with existing SAP systems. SAP Cloud Platform provides technology modules in the form of cloud services that can be deployed as add-ons for SAP ERP or SAP S/4HANA – or as software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings in a manner similar to SAP SuccessFactors.

In addition to enhancing existing solutions, SAP Cloud Platform can serve as a standalone innovation platform for implementing and delivering all-new cloud-based applications. We’re also working with customers on using it as a technology platform for our own SaaS offerings, such as SAP Analytics Cloud and SAP Digital Boardroom.

2. How does SAP Cloud Platform support companies in the context of digital transformation?

The business world has a different understanding of digital transformation. For our customers, it often means the following: Digitalization gives companies the opportunity to stand out in the marketplace with new, personalized, customer-oriented offerings that are easy to use. This is where the user experience comes to the fore in connection with the optimization and customization of established processes. That applies not only to external offerings, but to a company’s employees, as well, who can then do things like request and approve vacation time while on the move.

It’s also possible to expand areas of business and identify possible entry points into new market segments. These cases often involve business models that concentrate more on a given service than a particular product. In the automotive sector, for example, we’re seeing a transition from the product – vehicles, in other words – to the “service” of mobility.

SAP Cloud Platform supports both of these facets.

3. What can SAP Cloud Platform achieve?

There’s a variety of areas where it can be used, and they often complement each other in practice. SAP Cloud Platform makes sense for customers that are looking to integrate systems they need to have at their disposal. This might involve customer information or orders that need to be incorporated into a digitalization project.

In addition, SAP Cloud Platform can be used to enhance existing applications, such as by connecting them to SAP ERP and adding in an intuitive mobile interface. It also enables customers to adapt standard SaaS functions to their particular needs. All-new applications can give rise to flexible offerings that would have previously required significant resources to implement. It’s another example of products giving way to services.

Finally, customers also associate digitalization with creating a quality user experience – that is, user-friendly interfaces that make it easier for people to do their jobs.

4. What specific examples are there of customers using SAP Cloud Platform?

MAPAL, which specializes in small machine components and precision machining tools, is using SAP Cloud Platform to collect data on machines in a central repository. This gives the company a means of managing machine life cycles – a big step toward achieving more efficient warehouse management. Meanwhile, MAPAL employees can use a smartphone app to find out how long special class-C parts have been in service. In a maintenance record for drill bits, they can also view the entire history of a particular tool and determine when it will need to be replaced earlier than before. This helps prevent machines from breaking down.

Until recently, a member of the ground crew at Shell Aviation had to write the number of liters of kerosene down on paper whenever confirming the refueling of aircraft. Today, he or she only has to tap the information into a tablet to enter it right into the company’s back-end system. This means Shell Aviation’s data is updated after each refueling operation, which is enabling the company to plan with greater precision.

6. What advantages does SAP Cloud Platform offer companies?

  • Side-by-side extensions: Customers can adapt their core system using a side-by-side approach to extensions, which helps maintain system stability. Here, extensions and other add-ons are outsourced to SAP Cloud Platform. Maintaining strict separation between the core and a more agile surrounding layer helps reduce both the resources required for maintenance and upgrades and the number of necessary checks. This is because it is easier to upgrade a core system to newer versions when it contains fewer modifications.
  • Faster time-to-market: The agile environment provided by SAP Cloud Platform makes it possible to develop applications in shorter iterations. Besides leading to more rapid solutions that developers can continue to fine-tune, this ultimately helps reduce the time it takes to bring apps to market.
  • No-risk experimentation: Developers can also take advantage of an “incubation zone” that enables them to play around with new applications without significant risk. Thanks to the cloud infrastructure at their disposal, this experimentation doesn’t require any major initial investment — in hardware, for example — or businesses cases that have been defined down to the last detail.
  • Ready-to-use content packages: Preconfigured modules are already available that enable companies to leverage data from their SAP systems. Here, it’s possible to offer product and customer data in self-contained content packages.
  • ABAP: With ABAP support scheduled for a general rollout later in 2018, a number of select customers are already using SAP’s traditional programming language on SAP Cloud Platform. The main advantage is that experienced employees with SAP expertise can play a bigger role than before in digitalization projects involving the platform.

In most cases, SAP ERP and SAP Business Suite are each a sufficient basis for using SAP Cloud Platform. This means that SAP S/4HANA isn’t an absolute requirement from a technical perspective. That said, integrating the platform by means of service enablement is quite simple, while customers that work on the basis of SAP ERP will first need to “peel” the relevant information from their application in the form of a RESTful service in order to access the back-end service through SAP Cloud Platform.

6. What advantages does SAP Cloud Platform have over the competition?

SAP Cloud Platform is a platform-as-a-service offering that we’ve refined with business-relevant content. Besides excellent integration with SAP systems, we’re providing things like multidimensional time-series forecasting based on machine learning. We’ve also put these forecasts in a business context, however – to predict the optimal price for a given product, for instance. Then there’s image recognition, where we also offer a service that leverages machine learning. It’s easy to tailor the corresponding model to each customer’s situation and have it recognize customer-specific objects like products, components, and spare parts.

As an added advantage, customers will also soon be able to run SAP Cloud Platform on the cloud infrastructure offered by Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.

7. What role does SAP Cloud Platform play in connection with SAP Leonardo?

SAP Cloud Platform and SAP Leonardo are like two sides of the same coin. In fact, a significant portion of the SAP Leonardo portfolio is provided on SAP Cloud Platform. SAP Leonardo focuses on new technologies like machine learning, IoT, and blockchain while placing them in the context of a customer-related digitalization project.

That said, technology is just one facet of this digital innovation system. Just as important are the methodology and industry expertise that flow into design thinking workshops and ultimately make companies’ individual digitalization projects possible in the first place.

8. What strategy is SAP pursuing with SAP Cloud Platform?

Openness: SAP supports open standards, as it recently demonstrated once again in becoming a platinum member of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. In doing so, the company hopes to drive advancements in container technology and its orchestration with regard to business applications. At the heart of these efforts is the open-source technology Kubernetes, a Google development that the Cloud Native Computing Foundation is promoting in various projects. While high-uptime architecture based on virtual machines is currently bound to data centers, it’s possible – in highly simplified terms – to use container technology like this to reproduce the same scalability in the cloud. SAP is also part of the Open API Initiative, which involves aligning the development of business services on SAP Cloud Platform with industry standards rather than coming up with proprietary solutions. And finally, SAP is an active member of Cloud Foundry, another open platform that forms part of the basis of SAP Cloud Platform.

Productivity and agility: Functions are supposed to be easy to use, which is why software development kits (SDKs) package the complexities developers face into a more user-friendly format. Development methods like design thinking also expedite the path from drafting initial mockups to building prototypes and going live with a new solution. With a multi-cloud strategy, the cloud infrastructure on which applications are made available makes no difference. A company that chooses Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its strategic cloud platform, for example, can run SAP Cloud Platform on that infrastructure. Once the corresponding beta phase is complete, both Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform will be available as well.

Top image via Shutterstock

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