05 October, 2009

Another way of accessing SAP data with the SharePoint BDC

Five months ago, ERP-Link and Nintex announced a partnership aimed at integrating SAP data into SharePoint workflows. Now another strategic partnership between third-party vendors focusing on SAP/Microsoft interoperability has been announced. Simplement and Lightning Tools have joined forces to make it easier to use the SharePoint BDC to access SAP data.

Using the Simplement Data Liberator, SAP data is replicated across to a separate SQL Server database as business transactions occur, using the same approach as in a live disaster recovery setup. In addition to the replicated tables, supplementary views are automatically generated which have business-friendly names for all tables and fields. This effectively empowers .NET developers or anyone using the BDC Meta Man from Lightning Tools to navigate the data with ease and without having any impact on the production instance of SAP.

The approach to accessing the data in SAP put forward by Simplement is a bit unconventional in the sense that it departs from the normal APIs and utilises the underlying database replication technologies. But the architecture has been carefully designed to have no overhead on the SAP application server and without compromising security. It is also worth noting that the founders are certified SAP professionals both on the functional side and on the basis side. When solving the actual interoperability problem, I am personally more comfortable with a solution that is lead by SAP professionals exposing SAP rather than Microsoft professionals making their way in.

The architecture can be utilised as a way of enabling real time reporting on SAP using Microsoft BI tools and technologies or to make use of the SharePoint BDC web parts in their current incarnation for bringing SAP data into SharePoint on a read-only basis. Once the BDC is configured, the SAP data can also be exposed through SharePoint search, user profiles or used as lookup data in list or library columns.

In a previous post I thrashed out the relative complexity of configuring the SharePoint BDC for SAP and the reliance on having ABAP developers creating custom web services specifically designed for the BDC. The value proposition from Simplement and Lightning Tools is that this reliance on ABAP development is eliminated. Their screencast below explains how it all works:

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