Joel Farquhar, VP Technology Pivotree
Yvon Lavoie, Solutions Architect (SAP Commerce) Pivotree
SAP Commerce is a leading omnichannel commerce platform because of its best-in-class features as well as its ability to integrate into the extensive SAP ecosystem. When it comes to integration techniques, however, when and how you enter that ecosystem can really impact your options.
Are you a legacy ERP customer? Completely new to SAP? Adding SAP Commerce onto your implementation? It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, and there are several strategies to consider depending on your situation. Working with an SI who can help guide you through this decision process for your unique situation is key to succeed.
The Four Implementation Techniques
First, companies should examine the four major implementation techniques for SAP Commerce, which include:
- Hot Folders (CSV File Transfer)
- Data Hub
- PI/PO (Process Integration and Orchestration) or another ESB (Enterprise Service Bus)
- SCPI (SAP Cloud Platform Integration)
Because of the possible complexities, it’s crucial to consider the pros and cons for each technique, taking into account what challenges the company may face. These complexities could include:
- Having an older version of Commerce with a newer version of S/4HANA, or vice versa
- Complex product configurations which carry varying implications
- Resources that know how to integrate older versions of SAP Commerce, but not newer versions
- Licensing and budgeting constraints
- Data Orchestration requirements
- And so on and so forth
How do you choose what’s right for you?
To help guide your decision, this article provides basic information on each technique along with advice on:
- Why and how to use each technique
- Advantages and drawbacks
- Beginner’s info on licenses
We’ll also provide our ‘bottom line’ recommendations on what type of company should use each technique. Let’s dive in!
#1: Hot Folders (CSV File Transfer)
Hot Folders in SAP Commerce Cloud relies on CSV File Transfer technique. The method relies on dropping flat files into a folder which SAP Commerce Cloud will automatically ingest and process. It is based on the Spring Integration Framework and it’s fast, easy, and reliable, though not particularly flexible.
How it transfers data: SAP Commerce configures a hot-folder where the CSV file is dropped, and interprets the data however you tell it to. The ERP pushes the CSV file to SAP Commerce. Traditionally, files were transferred by SFTP to a local or shared directory accessible by the hot-folder. However, with the introduction of SAP Commerce Cloud CCv2 which utilises Kubernetes, a new Cloud Hot-Folder mechanism has been provided. Azure Storage replaces local or shared directories and blobs are pushed to a Cloud Hot Folder instead of files.
Licenses: No additional licensing outside of SAP Commerce Cloud.
Advantages: No license is needed, and no additional infrastructure is needed. The format is simple and easy to customize, edit, and debug. Proven technology and can be used with very large CSV files containing hundreds of thousands or records. Well suited for non-SAP or legacy ERP systems that cannot easily make use of modern web services.
Disadvantages: It’s not recommended to use this method with S/4HANA for anything but the simplest integrations as it represents a point-to-point integration with S/4. As system requirements change, it can prove inflexible and is not easily extended to support other SAP systems. Additionally, this technique only covers inbound data from integrations. Any outbound data would need further integration strategy.
The bottom line: We recommend that small, basic sites running a non-SAP ERP, or an old version of SAP Commerce or SAP ECC, are best suited for this technique. For example, a company without access to a technical team, or with a technical team that is not equipped to handle more advanced techniques. It may also be suited for clients whose catalog structure is simple and not highly customized.
#2: Data Hub
The Data Hub technique is specific to older SAP Commerce versions. It was first introduced in SAP Commerce 5.2, but can be used with more modern versions of SAP Commerce, as indicated in the diagram (diagram reference and details available here).
How it transfers data: Data flows from the ERP through Data Hub to SAP Commerce Cloud, leveraging existing connectors. The Data Hub uses an internal database for staging data before publishing it to the Commerce system. This allows the system to function using an asynchronous process and allows for a certain level of data validation and integrity before being pushed into the commerce system.
Licenses: A specific license is required and needs to be negotiated with SAP.
Advantages: Prebuilt connectors are included, but it’s important to know that the connectors still need to be customized if your product has any additional attributes to the out-of-the-box setup.
Another strong point for this technique is data staging, which is useful for combining data from multiple sources. For example, imagine a large cinema chain offering digital downloads alongside its normal cinema services. This data can enter the commerce system from 3 sources: data from their ERP (such as SKU, Pricing, and Description), third party info (such as cast information, or the director of the film) and information related to the digital download itself (such as file format, size, etc). Without gathering information from these multiple sources into the commerce system in a usable format, the cinema will not be able to sell their products. This is a huge advantage of Data Hub – it allows you to first stage this data outside of your commerce platform before importing it.
Disadvantages: This technique is not as flexible as other methods we will discuss, because when making a change to the model, it requires changes in both SAP Commerce Cloud and Data Hub. For example, if you’re adding an attribute to your catalog, you would need to change the code, rebuild, and redeploy both SAP Commerce Cloud and Data Hub. Also, supporting the Data Hub can be problematic for some development teams as it’s based on Core+ and requires Apache Maven for it’s build process.
It can also prove difficult to debug data issues and the extra step of first processing and loading into Data Hub can lead to performance issues with large data sets. For simple integrations and/or when data aggregation is not required, the Data Hub can be overkill.
The bottom line: We recommend that people with specific SAP Commerce versions (as outlined above) should consider this technique. But be warned, another drawback is that Data Hub may be deprecated in future releases based on the adoption of SCPI as discussed later in this post.
#3: PI/PO or another ESB
Leveraging something like Process Integration and Orchestration (PI/PO) or another Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), is a good choice for organizations that are currently using SAP ECC, have a license to PI/PO and have expertise in-house.
How it transfers data: Orchestration systems focus on data transfer and manipulation. The data enters in one format and – potentially – leaves in another often using different transport protocols.
For example, ECC uses iDoc, and leveraging pre-built or custom connectors, these can be easily converted into a CSV file that SAP Commerce can digest via a Hot-Folder. These tools provide easy interfaces for manipulating the data in the middle – avoiding customization to either system.
Licenses: You may already own a license. Although there are low-cost options available, most enterprise versions can be costly.
Advantages: The primary advantage is that you have a single piece of middleware, which has everything you need in one place. In all likelihood, you already have internal expertise on the tool.
Disadvantages: A big consideration with PI/PO or ESB is that you’ll have to manage your own infrastructure or be prepared to onboard the right resources to do so. There may not be pre-built connectors, which can require extensive customization. As such, any translation logic between the ERP and SAP Commerce will need to be maintained in PI/PO.
The bottom line: Who should do this? Mature SAP organizations with a deep investment in SAP ECC and PI/PO where the license is already in-house. If you are going to have to buy an ESB, you will be better going with the next option (SCPI).
Finally, let’s review the SAP Cloud Platform Integration. This technique has a lot of advantages, and is great for those with SAP Commerce versions 1808 or later (use if you have S/4 as opposed to SAP ERP, and a newer version of SAP Commerce Cloud).
How it transfers data: When it comes to flexibility, SCPI checks all the boxes. Because it’s a SaaS-based tool, an intuitive user interface makes changes quick and easy. Less technical resources can perform the data transformation work, as opposed to Data Hub which requires a developer. According to SAP, the SCPI technique will “allow people with different skill sets to leverage wide-ranging and synergistic integration approaches, intuitive tools, and prepackaged content.”
SCPI is ideally suited for replicating SAP Master Data such as customers (B2B), consumers (B2C), products, pricing data, and stocks. Data is represented using the Open Data Protocol (OData) which is a universal format for data transfer using simple HTTP messages. It is lightweight, fast and very simple to use. For large catalogs, bulk persistence allows you to update or create multiple Integration Objects with one POST request.
Licenses: SCPI is a cloud-based service and requires an additional license to anything you currently have in place. This may be a disadvantage depending on your situation.
Advantages: Along with its excellent flexibility, you get prebuilt connectors to most SAP products including S/4 and Commerce Cloud. The connectors cover most scenarios but generally do require some level of customization. This greatly reduces the amount of custom development required to integrate the two systems. Furthermore, you will be supported by the larger SAP ecosystem and more in line with SAP’s long term strategy.
Of course, as one of the more forward-thinking front-and-back-office leaders, SAP’s move to a SaaS model has really struck a chord with its audience. With a SaaS, you don’t have to manage your own infrastructure, allowing you to really benefit from lower costs, more flexibility, and greater freedom.
Disadvantages: See “Licenses” above. For on-premise implementations or non-SAP clients, SCPI may not be suitable since it runs in the SAP Cloud and requires a cloud connector as a proxy. Also, not as many SAP implementation partners have experience with the tool and pre-built connectors, meaning you’ll have to find a specialist who knows what they’re doing with it. Pivotree is happy to help.
The bottom line: If you have the latest and greatest versions of SAP Commerce and SAP S/4HANA, this is your #1 choice. Just remember, for this option, the more custom your solution, the more customization you may need to do. SAP will help you get started, but to get it just right, you really need a team that understands your business requirements, as well as the features of the platform, to truly help translate your brand into a great customer experience.
Great Information! Now What?
There you have it – the four main SAP Commerce implementation techniques!
On one hand, we’ve given you a lot to chew on. On the other, there are in-depth factors we simply can’t cover in a short overview. If you want to dive deeper, we recommend this article for a technical analysis with additional documentation that may aid a more detailed decision process.
Our snapshot of pros and cons hopefully gives you something to consider as you continue your SAP Commerce adventure. Whatever you choose, a good partner will help guide you through selecting the “just right” integration methods for your needs and set you up for success.
That’s where Pivotree steps in. We combine our SAP Commerce implementation expertise with our ERP partners to deliver end-to-end SAP Commerce and S/4HANA implementations and integrations. Check out what our clients are saying about how we’ve saved the day.
Have more questions? Want to talk about SAP Commerce, techniques, or licenses? We’d love to chat. Just contact us by filling out this form.