Businesses migrating their SAP environments to Google Cloud do so for a number of reasons. Most cite the agility, scalability and security advantages of migrating SAP workloads to Google Cloud; many also focus on improved uptime and performance.
At some point, most businesses also want to explore the idea that there's a fortune locked up in their business data—and that the cloud holds the key. But leveraging the cloud to transform data into dollars is a process that involves special challenges—and specialized tools to address these challenges. For businesses running SAP environments in the cloud, most of which maintain a significant stake in legacy systems and data stores, the challenges tend to get even bigger.
The promises and pitfalls of APIs
This is where Google Cloud’s advanced data analytics, machine learning and AI capabilities, especially our API (application programming interface) management tools, come into play. Our Apigee API Management Platform is emerging as a star player for many of our SAP customers because it can open the door to innovation and opportunity for SAP systems and data stores.
API management speaks directly to what it really means to get value from business data. By connecting the right data sets with people willing and able to monetize that data, your business can benefit both indirectly (for example, by generating insights that lead to increased sales or better customer experiences) and directly (such as by selling access to your data to another business).
APIs have emerged as a pillar of modern digital business practices because they facilitate precisely these types of transactions. Today, every mobile device, website and application uses APIs to access connected services and data sources. APIs provide connection points between apps, platforms and entire application ecosystems. And by using de-facto standards such as REST (representational state transfer), businesses can utilize APIs to build and deploy innovative applications quickly.
3 reasons legacy systems and modern APIs don't mix
Google Cloud customers running SAP environments may be ready to find the value in their data, but their SAP systems and data, as well as legacy APIs that don’t adhere to REST or other modern approaches, may not quite be up to the task. This is because:
Balancing accessibility, usability and security is a tough task—and the stakes are high. Opening up access to business-critical systems to third-party as well as internal developers could raise significant risks. Even for SAP teams with a high focus on security, the process of providing dependable, programmatic access to legacy SAP systems often involves significant time and effort. And while limiting access and API functionality are both valid ways to mitigate security risk, employing these tactics can slow the pace of innovation and very quickly undermine the reasons for starting this process in the first place.
Managing APIs across legacy SAP applications and other data stores can be complex, costly and technically challenging. There's a fundamental mismatch between the "how and why" of modern APIs and the types of programmatic access for which legacy systems were designed. Modern apps, for example, typically deliver API requests in far greater numbers; that's true for client-side single-page applications as well as for more traditional server-side apps running on modern, elastically scaled app servers. There are also disparities in the size and structure of data payloads between what modern apps were designed to use and what legacy systems were designed to serve.
These examples boil down to the same issue: If your business is running legacy SAP systems or is in the process of migrating away from them, you’ll have serious work to do to make your data accessible for modern use cases and integrations. And asking third-party developers to adjust their methods and skill sets to consume your legacy systems is going to be a very tough sell.
Monetizing API access presents another set of technical and practical challenges. For many companies, the name of the data game is monetization: actually charging developers for the privilege of accessing your high-value data sources. Getting this right isn't just a matter of putting a virtual turnstile in front of your existing APIs. Any monetization strategy lives or dies based on its pricing—and this means understanding exactly who’s using your data, when they access it and how they're using it. Even if you are not charging your developers for API calls, there are also some valuable insights to be gained from more advanced types of analysis, right up to having a unified view of every data flow and data interaction related to your organization's API traffic. Overall, API monetization demands that APIs be built in a modern style, designed and maintained for developer consumption rather than just, per legacy methods, for exposing a system.
It probably comes as no surprise that an SAP environment, whether or not it's considered legacy, was designed to focus on SAP system data and not designed to open the data inside an SAP system to other applications. And since these tools don't build themselves, the question becomes, who will build them?
Apigee: Bridging the gaps with API management
An API management solution such as Apigee can help IT organizations tackle these issues more efficiently. In practice, companies are turning to Apigee for help with three primary SAP application modernization patterns, all of which speak to the challenges of using APIs to create value:
1. Modernizing legacy services. One of Apigee's most important capabilities involves placing an API "wrapper" around legacy SAP interfaces. Developers then get to work with feature-rich, responsive, thoroughly modern APIs, and the Apigee platform handles the process of translating and optimizing incoming API calls before passing the requests through to the underlying SAP environment.
This approach to API management also gives IT organizations some useful capabilities. Apigee simplifies the process of designing, implementing and testing APIs that can add more functionality on top of legacy SAP interfaces; and it helps manage where, how and when developers work with APIs. This is also the basis for Apigee's API monitoring and metrics—essential capabilities that would involve significant effort for most IT teams to build themselves.
2. Abstracting APIs from source systems. By providing an abstraction layer between SAP legacy systems and developers, the Apigee platform also ensures a consistent, reliable and predictable developer experience. Through this decoupling of APIs from the underlying source systems, Apigee can adjust to changes in the disposition and availability of systems while carrying on business as usual with developers using its APIs. In this way, SAP enterprises can package and market their API offerings—for example, publishing APIs through a developer portal—and lets them monitor API consumption by target systems.
Decoupling the source system from the developer entry points also shields connected applications from significant backend changes like a migration from ECC to S/4HANA. As you make backend changes to your services, apps continue to call the same API without any interruption. The migration may also provide opportunities for consolidating multiple SAP and non-SAP implementations into S/4HANA or cleaning up core SAP systems by moving out some of the functionality to cloud-native systems. Because Apigee abstracts consuming applications from changes to underlying systems and creates uniformity across these diverse systems, it can de-risk the migration from ECC to S/4HANA or similar consolidation projects.
3. Creating cloud-native, scalable services. Apigee also excels at bridging the often wide gap between SAP applications and modern, distributed application architectures in which microservices play an essential role. In addition to repackaging SAP data as a microservice and providing capabilities to monetize this data, Apigee takes on some essential performance, availability and security functions: handling access control, authentication, security monitoring and threat assessment plus throttling traffic when necessary to keep backend systems running normally while providing applications with an endpoint that can scale to suit any of your workloads.
Needless to say, Apigee's security capabilities are absolutely essential no matter how you're using API management tools. But because Apigee also offers performance, analytics and reliability features, it can position companies to jump into a fully mature API monetization strategy. At the same time, it can give IT teams confidence that opening their SAP systems to innovation does not expose mission critical systems to potential harm.
Conrad Electronic and Apigee: using APIs to drive innovation
We're seeing quite a few businesses using Apigee to create value from legacy SAP environments in ways that didn't seem possible before. For an example of how Apigee and the rest of Google Cloud work together to open new avenues for innovation for SAP users, consider Conrad Electronic.
Conrad Electronic combines many years of history as a successful German retailer with a progressive approach to innovation. The company has digitally transformed itself by leveraging an existing, legacy SAP environment alongside Google BigQuery, which provides a single repository for data that once resided in dozens of disparate systems. Conrad Electronic is using Apigee to amplify the impact and value of its transformation on two levels.
First, it’s using Apigee to manage data exchanges with shipping companies and with the procurement systems of its B2B customers, giving these companies an improved retail experience and reducing the friction and potential for error that come with traditional transaction environments.
At the same time, Conrad Electronic uses Apigee to give its own developers a modern set of tools for innovation and experimentation. A small development team ran with the idea, building an easy-to-use tool that gives in-store staff and visitors access to key product, service and warranty information, using their own tablets and other devices.
“APIs give people the freedom and independence to implement their ideas quickly and effectively,” said Aleš Drábek, Conrad Electronics' Chief Digital and Disruption Officer. “As an effective API management solution, Apigee enables us to harness the power of APIs to transform how we interact with customers and how we transfer data with our B2B customers.”