Thursday 14 July 2011

Business Benefits of Duet Enterprise and Comparison to SAP integration via Biztalk/Custom Solutions - Bringing SAP Business Data and SharePoint Collaboration Features Together and Ensuring a ROI

I've been involved in several SAP-SharePoint integration projects recently. Such projects typically relied heavily on an Enterprise Service Bus (ESBs - such as Biztalk or SAP PI), customizations and code. When you integrate SAP with SharePoint, there are many benefits that are provided when users don't have to use SAP GUI directly:
  • Hard benefits such as reduced licensing costs
  • Usability benefits such as allowing for a much simplified User Interface (people familiar with SAP GUI and SAP Portal will chuckle at this)
  • Supportability Benefits (as SharePoint and .NET skills are more common that SAP Portal skills - at least in the Australian market).
However, since the release of Duet Enterprise 1.0 ( at the end of January, another integration option has been thrown into the mix.

When my clients have been considering Duet Enterprise, one of the most often asked questions is

"What does Duet Enterprise offer me that I can't do already with SharePoint, SAP, custom BAPIs, SAP Enterprise Services and SharePoint 2010 Business Connectivity Services?".

Duet Enterprise brings a lot to the table - both on the SAP side and on the SharePoint side - however it's not the perfect solution for all problems. While consistency between systems is a vital principle in enterprise architecture, you really do have to choose the right combination of tools to fit a given problem. Indeed, as with any architectural approach - you have to weigh up the pros and cons.

I see the Duet Enterprise product offering (and the development framework it provides) as having the following advantages over just a custom integration build:
  1. Security and Security Best Practices. Through the Duet Enterprise Claims-based Role Provider, it allows you to leverage the SAP security model and SAP Roles in SharePoint. This avoids the duplication of a potentially massive security hierarchy into the SharePoint space. By design, communication channels between systems are encrypted. This is one of the biggest value-adds. This also allows you to keep all your unstructured data (e.g. pdfs/documents) in SharePoint and still leverage the security model in SAP to limit access to these resources.
  2. SAP UWL Functionality - It exposes your SAP Universal Worklist (UWL) into the native SharePoint task list - you don't have to do a mashup or WSRP or some other IFrame hack.
  3. Maintainability and Reduced Development Efforts -  It provides some out of the box functionality (site creation, business centric collaboration) as a guideline and template for further development.
  4. Diagnostic Tool Support - Duet Provides Health Checks that allow you to check your setup, and provides mechanisms (via Correlation Identifiters) to help you diagnose problems if requests are failing. 
  5. Official Supportability - It is a product supported by Microsoft and SAP that incorporates their recommended approach for integration. There is also official documentation for this integration approach.
  6. It has a Roadmap - It is a platform that has a roadmap (as opposed to a completely custom system) which is something you build and have to take a lot more responsibility for. As Duet Enterprise grows in capabilities, you will regret  going down the 100% custom path.
  7. Reporting Functionality - it brings Reporting Functionality out of SAP via the Reporting Request mechanisms and alows you and your colleagues to collaboration around SAP Reports via standard SharePoint functionality (e.g. Social tagging)  
  8. The BCS Solution Design Gallery - It provides an enhanced model for the deployment of Office Based Solutions through SharePoint e.g. Administration screens for arranging your solution and for generating your solution from within SharePoint. See for more details.
  9. Entity Collaboration Functionality - Supports creation of collaboration sites surrounding SAP business entities. This however has to be checked against your SharePoint governance strategy and capacity plan.
  10. SAP HR Information imported into SharePoint User Profiles - ForeFront Identity Manager is used synchronize SAP User information (HR infotypes) from SAP via a BCS user profile connection, along with role synchronization via the Duet Enterprise Profile Synchronization timer job.
I have also been approached around concerns that it Duet Enterprise doesn't use a full ESB. However that's not true. Duet is a mechanism for providing services on the SAP side (via an ESB on the SAP side e.g through SAP's middleware solution "SAP PI") - and consuming these services on the SharePoint side. Duet Enterprise can live comfortably in an ESB-enabled an ecosystem. 

If you have SharePoint and SAP in your environment, I suggest that you consider Duet Enterprise as part of your enterprise strategy for improving the accessibility and collaboration around your most important business data.

In most circumstances, it will give you a large amount of momentum (and provides all the plumbing) to allow you to provide a solid and supported solution for SAP to SharePoint integration - with an upgrade path.


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