Tech Talk and Cloud Migration: Tech-telmechtel with SAP Commerce Cloud [Interview]

Tech Talk Cloud Migration SAP
Markus Hartleb, team lead at dotSource and SAP expert

Last week we launched our new interview series. We want to give the floor to those who can provide real first-hand insights. After Mirco took us into the world of microservices a few days ago, we are talking with Markus Hartleb today. At dotSource, he is leading the team that is responsible for our major client BayWa and therefore mainly works with SAP.

Tech Talk with Markus Hartleb

Markus, for how long have you been working at dotSource?

I’ve been working here for eight years, and I’ve been a team lead for five years. I started out as a developer.

Did you study traditional computer science?

Not directly. I’m a media computer scientist. I studied at Bauhaus University in Weimar. We were the techies in a rather artistic environment. The study programme was great because it was extremely practice-oriented and project-based. There were lots of things to take away for my later professional life.

You also have an artistic streak, don’t you? In your offices, you painted the walls with lovely caricatures of your team members!

That’s right, drawing is my passion. When I was younger, I even thought about studying something creative, but I’m glad that I decided to do something technical. As a developer, you don’t have to be creative at the push of a button, but you have to be just as meticulous.

Here in my home office, there are some of my paintings in the background as well [Markus pans the camera and shows canvases – some of them larger, some smaller].

Wow, one looks a bit like Banksy, the other like Pollock…

By the way, despite the coronavirus, I haven’t even had a chance to draw this year because our business with existing customers is booming.

At BayWa, the Corona crisis didn’t have a negative impact. Instead, the company continued to work without interruption. Customers even placed more orders. For this reason, I’m more likely to bring in my artistic streak in architectural sketches and process diagrams.

Tech Giant SAP

BayWa relies on SAP software, you mainly work with SAP Commerce there, but also with SAP Marketing Cloud. What makes SAP stand out?

SAP is a very powerful software provider because it offers such a wide range of solutions. Due to its size and development capacities, SAP can respond to the market very well. If a solution is required, SAP can develop it on its own, for example SAP Marketing Cloud. SAP developed this solution from scratch. This means that there’s a lot of development power behind it.

And if solutions and innovations aren’t developed in-house, they’re integrated into the SAP Cloud through strategic acquisitions.

Tech Talk: SAP Cloud Migration

Cloud is the keyword. Many SAP customers still use on-premise licences. Why should they switch to the cloud as quickly as possible?

Simply to be able to use the full potential of the SAP Customer Experience Suite in the long term. In the future, cloud-native functions will only be available in the Commerce Cloud version. On-premise customers can also use the migration to set the course for a future-proof architecture.

SaaS products are much more agile than on-premise products, which have to pay attention to backward compatibility. Just take a look at the frequency of updates: in the cloud, there are monthly updates. By contrast, on-premise solutions have updates every half year on average.  In addition, the SaaS approach turns system updates into a one-click event.

What are other advantages of software as a service (SaaS) as compared to on-premise?

The main advantage is that you don’t have to take care of everything yourself. With SAP Commerce as an SaaS product, customers are provided with the software including the necessary infrastructure and maintenance as well as integrated tools for operation and monitoring. In the past, you would have had to build and plan it yourself. As a result, the time-to-market is greatly reduced.

Where are the servers of the cloud located?

There are two options: customers either use the SAP infrastructure as a private cloud, for example SAP servers located in Frankfurt am Main, or they use the public cloud version. In this regard, SAP works together with Microsoft Azure. You can of course choose the server location, in other words the data centre. For Europe it would be Amsterdam.

Tech Talk: Key Features of SAP Commerce Cloud

You mentioned earlier that new features are only being developed for the cloud. What are the key features of SAP Commerce that make the product so good? After all, it regularly comes out on top of Gartner’s and Forester’s rankings and does incredibly well in our evaluation of systems.

Well, first of all I have to say that it’s one of the most feature-rich systems on the market. At SAP, it plays an important role that the company has been very reliable for decades and that the manpower is simply enormous. The industry giant is a real innovation driver that covers a lot: they have a ready-made connection for almost all use cases that exist.

In terms of basic features alone, SAP Commerce Cloud comprises a new integrated CMS called SmartEdit and an integrated PIM system for dedicated product data management – something that very few e-commerce systems have. It also features a promotion engine for voucher codes and offers and there are ready-made accelerator modules that have already implemented typical industry use cases. In addition, B2B and B2C scenarios can run on one system.

Does this mean that B2B2C commerce could easily be mapped as well?

Exactly, I can meet the users’ needs – whether it’s B2B or B2C.
The different business logics run on the same system.

Do you have to use all these features or can you also personalise them?

No, customers always have the possibility to exchange it for something of their own or something else. For example, they can connect an external PIM system or extend the standard features to meet their own requirements.

SAP Cloud Platform Extension Factory is another option. Based on Kubernetes, it can be used to develop microservices that react to events in the standard system and then carry out customer-specific logic. This leaves the system’s standard unaffected and extensions can be developed in a very agile and modern way.

Tech Talk: Integration and SAP CPI

I would like to go back to the features and the connection of other systems. For example, how can you connect the CMS of another provider to your SAP Commerce?

Via interfaces. Content management systems are actually a good example: SAP Commerce does have a CMS and the new one, SmartEdit, is already pretty good. However, the requirements elicitation often shows that it makes sense to connect an even more powerful CMS. For example, our team is currently working on the implementation of Bloomreach for BayWa.

The back end of SAP Commerce Cloud is headless, making it independent of the front end and CMS. This shows that SAP has long since adopted the API-first approach. The back-end functionalities are carried out by domain services that I can handle and there is of course a front end. This can be an SAP front end, for example. The front end provided by SAP is called Spartacus.

Spartacus? Sounds like a Roman commander or a sports competition in the GDR…

Yes, but the pun is »Spa«, because of single page application. Spartacus is based on Angular and well integrated with SmartEdit. I can use it to manage my storefront. But if I say no, I don’t want that, then I can just build my own storefront. Depending on the use case, I can connect all kinds of things – other systems, an app, IoT devices… Thanks to the APIs, I’m extremely flexible.

SAP has also created innovative possibilities to get an overview of all interfaces and to accelerate the connection by doing so…

Are you referring to SAP CPI?

Exactly. Can you explain how SAP CPI works?

SAP CPI is a so-called middleware that connects systems together. It is now also available in the cloud. I always imagine it like this: it’s a distributor, a kind of adapter, you know? It helps you build the right interface at the entrance. This is where the data comes in.

This data is then processed and adapted before the interface towards the other system forwards it so that this other system can read the data. As a result, the integration is decoupled from applications and contributes to a modular architecture in the long term.

SAP already offers numerous predefined integrations with both SAP and third-party systems, which in turn greatly accelerate the implementation. The CPI can also help migrate legacy systems and their data to the cloud.

In our next episode, we’ll pick off right where we left and talk about migration in depth. Thank you for your time and expertise, Markus!

It’s my pleasure.

Modern E-Commerce Landscape for BayWa

BayWa E-Commerce Success Story

Find out in our new success story what Markus and his team have developed for BayWa’s e-commerce landscape.

The cooperation between BayWa and dotSource now also goes far beyond e-commerce services, and interesting projects in the field of marketing automation software and e-procurement have been initiated.

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