As a SAP developer or manager, you may have read about Web Services and tried to determine where they could fit within your organization. Or perhaps you heard a little about them but were not sure what they were or if you needed to be concerned. In this series of articles I will explain:
- What Web Services are and why they are important to the world of SAP
- What technical hurdles need to be cleared to create Web Services built on top of SAP
- How to build a SAP-powered Web Service
- What is the future of SAP Web Services
Table of Contents
SAP Web Services tutorial for beginners
Introduction to Web Services
First things first. To make sure we are all on the same page, I have included a brief overview of Web Services.
Initially, all access to the Internet was from an Internet browser, the most popular being Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. Browsers offer a very compelling user interface and we have already seen many applications that had been built as stand-alone programs now being completely running through an Internet browser. Examples of this include Project Management, Collaboration, and Training. Additionally we have seen browser-based applications that had never before existed such as Online Stores and Online Brokerage Services.
Over time, Portable Digital Assistants and Mobile Phones started shipping with Web browsing capabilities build in. With their limited screen sizes and capabilities, Web pages had to be formatted quite differently and user expectations had to be adjusted accordingly. Still many people enjoy connecting to the Internet in this fashion and doing things like checking their e-mail, the weather, traffic and stock prices.
A third way of connecting to the Internet does not involve a user interface at all. It simply involves sending and receiving information in a standard format. The entities involved could be people but most likely they will be existing software programs that have been retrofitted with the ability to communicate with each other. These programs will use Web Services for communication.
By using the Internet and Web Services for communication, programs running on different operating systems, written in different languages, running in different geographical areas, and using different protocols will be able to communicate in a standardized fashion never seen before in the world of computers.
Perhaps some of you have been involved in integration projects where two systems needed to communicate with each other. Many times, a custom solution needs to be created where data is passed through many processes and hoops before these systems can be interoperable. Unfortunately, this solution usually only works between these two systems and involving a third requires a whole new set of solutions. Web Services provides a solution that can be repeated again and again as an integration solution.
Why SAP and Web Services are a natural fit
Applications using Web Services will be transferring data in a standardized manner across the Internet. Where will this data come from? To answer this question, we must look at where this data currently resides. Although relational databases are very popular for storing information, the vast majority of large companies use Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications. ERP and CRM systems will be the most likely users of Web Services over time.
Web Services will allow your organization to communicate with buyers, partners, and suppliers in a standardized manner and give them access to your SAP-based applications and data without having to worry about issues like incompatible operating systems, geographic location, and other application to application integration issues. Your customers will be able to make your R/3 software part of their own business process and make both you and them more productive. Of course, issues like security and quality of service will have to be addressed with the utmost priority.
Until my next column, think of internal SAP applications and data that you are either currently sharing or would like to share with your business partners. If you like, send me an email with some of these ideas and I will try to incorporate them into future columns in this series.
Jeff Marin is the Director of Training and Education at Gamma Enterprise Technologies, Inc. Click here to contact him.
This was first published in April 2002