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Planning a career in APO in light of ESA and NetWeaver

I have four years of consulting experience in the supply-chain domain, wherein I used to work with i2 Technologies in their supply-chain network planning solutions. For the past year I have been working with SAP on their APO solution, primarily into development in PPDS where I am doing ABAP coding with considerable customer interaction.

I not only had to make this shift from consulting to development because of personal reasons, but also because I thought this is the best way I could diversify my knowledge in SCM by gaining expertise in more than one vendor. I also do have an APICS CPIM certification. I do want to stay with SAP for some more years and I could not think of a better place other than SAP to enhance my knowledge in APO. I have been seeing the shift towards ESA with NetWeaver, and I had few questions on how I should plan my career from here. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

1) Considering that I want to make a shift back to consulting in SCM after few years, then what should be my focus towards NetWeaver and ESA?
2) Primarily, I want to know how the ESA is going to play a role in shaping solutions like APO, and how we should plan for the right knowledge acquisition?

OK, you stumped me. You asked an outstanding question that I couldn't hope to give a perfect answer for! However, I want to applaud you for your forward-thinking about your career. If you're one step ahead of me, you're definitely on the right track. The good news is that Axel Angeli, a NetWeaver/ESA guru with his own Ask The Expert section on SearchSAP.com, has agreed to answer your question, and I think you will enjoy his insights. See below.

Axel: NetWeaver is branding all of SAP's new products that are meant to follow R/3. ESA is a philosophy to allow the seamless collaboration of components.

There is no real technical definition to describe what a NetWeaver product is. The very essence is that SAP changed the paradigm from catering for an all-in-one integrated package like R/3 to a modular approach. The individual special components for finance, sales, materials management, production planning etc., will now be able to run stand-alone and communicate with each other through the network. This allows for a peaceful and harmonic collaboration of SAP-made components and non-SAP components. APO was one of first modular components on the market. APO was designed to replace the MRP of PP, BW replaces the integrated Logistics Information System, and more recently, XI replaces the internal Workflow components. Starting with mySAP ERP (read: R/3 5.0) R/3 has been restructured in a way that now the major components like FI/CO and MM/SD can now be run independent of the other business components.

While modularizing by itself is a clever approach -- known as being successful for most industry sectors like electronics, automobile manufacturing, etc. -- it requires some infrastructure to allow proper communication between the components. Basically, this requires that every component has a well-defined interface allowing any external program to access and control the functionality and defining a protocol and a messaging infrastructure to transport data safely and orderly between the components.

In terms of your reader's question about how ESA fits into the picture, ESA gives a name to this modular concept. In this sense, ESA is the commitment and promise given by SAP that they will comply with the industry's open standards for collaboration and interoperability.

ESA is not a product, but a philosophy. ESA is SAP's wording for what is otherwise known as SOA (Service-Oriented Architecture), which is one section of the wider field of EAI (Enterprise Application Integration). The core technologies that form ESA are HTTP, XML, WSDL and Message Queues. (For more details see my SAPtips white paper series on ESA, called "Sidestepping the Labyrinth.")

To return to your question about how APO fits into the ESA vision, let's first recall that APO is the flagship product for SAP's SCM (Supply Chain Management) product suite. The SCM arena is a natural front-runner for the Service-Oriented Enterprise. Simply think of integrating the numerous individual software applications for production, packaging, transportation and tracking, laboratory equipment, also including barcode or RFID-scanners and many more. You can see how an overall integration approach based on universal standards would be a huge asset to an SCM project.

In order to be a valuable player in the SCM arena for the future, you need to know two things:

1. You need to understand all the possible interfacing technologies involved in ESA; and
2. You need to understand how to orchestrate the collaboration of heterogenous software systems.

In terms of the first aspect, mastering SAP interfacing technology means knowing "older" interfacing technologies like IDoc, ALE, and RFC; but it also means understanding new technologies, including how HTTP and SMTP-based protocols can facilitate the data transfer. A good SCM consultant will also understand the benefit of using middleware and message queue software. This means not only to get some grip on XI, but also knowing the value of the front-runners in this area like IBM Websphere/MQ, Mercator, Seeburger, Seebeyond and Fiorano.

The essence is that in future, an SAP ESA scenario will allow SAP users to integrate other vendors' components to provide seamless integration. For example, in the ESA environment of the future, you may have mySAP ERP SD components collaborating with Oracle Finance, with i2 or Manugistics to do the job of APO. In another ESA context, APO may be running as the production planning tool while Websphere takes the role of the ERP system.

The more challenging aspect is to push your career in order to learn how to manage those ESA projects. A successful ESA project will have to incorporate the common design and differences of the products of different vendors. A critical element is the psychology of such projects. Personal communication, agility, and networked thinking are of utmost importance. Those who believe in top-down organized ("waterfall") project management and hierarchical authoritaritan structures will ultimately fail. ESA will function like modern ground traffic: ESA is the responsibility of the individual driver, but the driver is controlled by a minimum set of universally-accepted rules.

APO is one component out of many, and it won't be shaped by ESA -- it is simply part of it. ESA is the infrastructure, while APO is the component. To compare it with ground transportation: APO and other similar products are the cars, buses, and trains, and ESA provides for the streets and highways and the street code.

Jon: Axel, thanks for your outstanding answer!

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