A Virtual Win: Why SAP Integration is Vital for ServiceNow

  • Using ServiceNow’s Integration Hub, which enables users access to the automation engine where they can create workflows inside of ServiceNow using virtualized master data from SAP
  • Organizations can jump start OT Service Mapping and OT Vulnerability Response Risk Calculations with full visibility of SAP.
  • For any organization looking at how to modernize their operations, accurate, bio-directional real-time data integration from SAP into ServiceNow is transformational, even more so if it does not demand huge IT resources to make it happen.

Data governance, data accuracy and financial efficiency are crucial for enterprises. Bringing seamlessness and common sense to SAP and ServiceNow users is key to freeing-up IT skills, driving transformation and creating real business value.

Despite some positive signs in recent months of slowing interest rates and inflation, the global economy will remain in a volatile state as we head into 2024, at least according to the World Economic Forum. For most organizations faced with the prospect of continued uncertainty, this raises a few questions around investment and competitiveness. There are some common problems around IT skills shortages, as well as managing legacy IT investments, to which digital transformations are seen as an answer. But the fact is, not all transformations are equal.

Few businesses can afford a “rip and replace” approach to legacy IT, for example, especially when it comes to ERP systems. Understanding where and how to transform and have the biggest impact is challenging, especially as so many firms are tied to legacy ERP and may not have the time or budget for major change programs. This is where tools such as ServiceNowcome in, to provide a best-of-breed, platform-based approach to enabling modern workflows using existing data from incumbent ERP systems.

However, accessing data from legacy SAP software directly into a platform such as ServiceNow has never been easy, at least in real-time. It has led to a “swivel chair” approach, with teams of people moving from one screen to another to access, manage and input data sets across the two systems. This has been exacerbated by complexity, with often complicated workarounds due to ERP customizations, all of which demands considerable resources and often third-party consultancy support to find fixes. The result is a half complete solution and a lack of Trusted Data.

This pressure on resources has been widely felt, as a Nash Squared Digital Leadership Report found, claiming that the war for talent, and keeping pay demands reasonable, has been a big challenge for business, with 70% of digital leaders stating that a skills shortage prevents them from keeping up with the pace of change. With human-intensive processes required to enable data integration across systems, it is easy to see why.

Facing up to pain

According to Matt Hail, CTO at enosix, there is “a lot of talk from ServiceNow around SAP integration and using ServiceNow as a workflow engine to automate a lot of the gaps around an ERP system, particularly in procurement and in the supply chain and finance areas”.

Hail emphasizes that ServiceNow is gearing the software “to bring those workflows out of SAP” but he says it is not as simple as that. He references a potential customer that is having to confront considerable bottlenecks due to integration issues, where the actual integration with SAP is through the creation of a workflow item via service requests. This has led to developers having to build custom forms to manage the issue.

“All of that is handled inside of ServiceNow,” explains Hail. “The actual part of the integration that they use right now is that someone has to send a workflow in an email over to somebody on the SAP security team to actually do the integration.”

This has led to many people handling requests but also people using these exception processes to get priority-access SAP data to meet their timelines, leading to frustration and disappointment. Further, not showing the real economic advantages of deploying a best-of-breed solution like ServiceNow.

“There are limited APIs into SAP, to be able to perform these automated user access requests,” adds Hail. “We are also seeing this on the procurement side and on the finance side, where people are trying to access SAP data. What they’re doing for a lot of this integration is sometimes file transfer, and sometimes human integration, where an email will be sent to somebody and that somebody has to key data from a request ticket.” This is not a true transformative user experience.

For Hail, this is not an unusual scenario. He says he has also seen prospects wanting to handle requested items coming through ServiceNow in SAP, to create purchase orders and then invoices, for example. This has led to a lot of clunky custom workflows being created, due largely to archaic APIs. It demands expertise in SAP which, as Hail points out, is not easy to find. As important, it’s leading to errors at the cost of margins.

“Being able to find those resources and ServiceNow developers that understand the structures of SAP and how to call and sequence ABAP – there’s not really a base of talent out there that’s going to be able to do that,” he says. “So, you get into these large, private and very expensive projects, trying to create a fix.”

It’s not just the more complicated financial data sharing that is creating pain, though; it’s also something that should be as simple as setting a new employee up on a system. Hail says that onboarding and providing access requests can take an unnecessarily long time and a lot of resources. Given the pressure on skills, let alone costs (profit margins), this is something most businesses can ill afford.

Citizen gain, no pain?

Despite the pain points, businesses consistently make attempts to integrate SAP and ServiceNow to solve time-consuming processes. It’s understandable, in that most SAP customers would require a modern front-end system such as ServiceNow, to manage assets and purchase requests more efficiently. So how do organizations overcome the complexities of SAP integration to enable a transformation in workflows and ensure ServiceNow users have access to real-time SAP data?

Hail talks about the rise of citizen integration, with low-code and no-code software enabling a new generation of employees to implement data integrations in real-time, without the need for costly and lengthy IT projects. Against a backdrop of stretched IT resources and a need for speed and data accuracy (Trusted Data), citizen development has become a more viable solution.

As Varsha Mehta, senior market research specialist at Gartner said recently, organizations are increasingly turning to low-code development technologies to fulfill growing demands for speed application delivery and highly customized automation workflows. To do this, they are “equipping both professional IT developers and non-IT people with diverse low-code tools to enable organizations to reach the level of digital competency and speed of delivery required for the modern agile environment.”

For Hail, this is where enosix comes in, with its low-code SAP Connector, uniting SAP Procurement and Asset Management with ServiceNow, and SAP Plant Maintenance (PM) with ServiceNow OTM. He says that the business has deliberately avoided technical language and focused on business terms to help non-IT people use the software.

“What enosix brings to the table is our certified, native framework on SAP and our library of pre-built integration objects,” says Hail. “These are essentially point and click, enabling citizen integrators to use these low-code tools to automate workflows and access SAP data and virtualize SAP data with ServiceNow. So, they will be able to run those same transactions that they would normally run inside of SAP, through the APIs (that are now simplified and easier to use) and instantly into ServiceNow.”

There is no competitive solution, nor can this be easily replicated without years and millions of dollars of investment.

Enabling real-time transformation

Hail says that enosix has taken a couple of approaches for customers looking to get access to SAP data in ServiceNow. Firstly, there’s an app on the ServiceNow store, a turnkey product that “drops right into the ServiceNow workflow, for procurement and for IT Asset Management.” This means, thanks to virtualization of SAP data, ServiceNow users can instantly access vendor lists, materials, transactions, including purchase orders and so on.

“We provide a full vertical stack, all the objects into SAP, and our Connect API platform that runs on SAP’s BTP cloud that hosts all of the API’s. We provide an app that is point and click install and some minor configuration steps to hook it up to the BTP cloud.”

The second approach is using ServiceNow’s Integration Hub, which enables users access to the automation engine where they can create workflows inside of ServiceNow using virtualized master data from SAP. Hail says this means workflows, such as goods movement, PO creation, invoice release and request for quotation are 100% accurate, based on real-time data from SAP, without the need for writing code.

There are significant advantages here. As well as eliminating manual data entry with no-code integration, direct access to real-time data in SAP ensures trusted data is being used in ServiceNow and that there are now no constant swivel-chair actions between screens. Also, there is no middleware to worry about (in terms of licensing but also management) or custom data tables to maintain. It also means organizations can jump start OT Service Mapping and OT Vulnerability Response Risk Calculations with full visibility of SAP.

Hail says that for many companies, “quantifying the reduction in swivel chair” can determine their return on investment – but he says this really comes down to what sort of mess these companies got themselves into in the first place, with custom tools and workarounds.

“With the two screens, there’s such a disparity and a potential for inaccuracy and that’s just scaring needlessly,” says Hail. “With enosix, the virtualization – it’s basically the same system. It’s completely seamless and real-time integrated.”

There is also a data governance benefit here. With data virtualization, as opposed to traditional import ETL processes, you get the same data, one set of trusted data – and not two different versions of data that have not been synced or contain errors through manual inputs. With data governance and data sovereignty an increasing concern, this ability to ensure data accuracy is key. If data is being replicated across systems it becomes more difficult to control access and ensure accuracy.

Another benefit is managing internal IT resources. The ability to provide low-code tools reduces the reliance on valuable IT skills, freeing-up development teams to focus on other tasks. For any organization looking at how to modernize their operations, accurate, bio-directional real-time data integration from SAP into ServiceNow is transformational, even more so if it does not demand huge IT resources to make it happen.

The data integration issue is clearly a concern for both SAP and ServiceNow. Multiple customizations of SAP over the years have rendered each implementation almost unique. This, of course, makes it difficult for any subsequent upgrade to solve all issues. These customizations have led to complexities, something which SAP, through its Clean Core Strategy, is trying to address as it moves customers towards its cloud-hosted S/4HANA upgrade.

SAP is saying businesses should now do any customizations through custom apps on the SAP BTP cloud. ServiceNow is suggesting that users build any custom workflows through its platform. It fits with ServiceNow’s own raison d’etre to “allow employees to work the way they want to, not how software dictates they have to.”

For enosix this is more than solving a trusted data problem but also a skills and financial problem. As businesses look to transform their data with ServiceNow, the prospect of doing so without embarking on lengthy and expensive IT projects that will fail, is attractive. enosix’s ability to extend out to even the legacy ECC base of SAP users with a tool that works out-of-the-box, and with a typical implementation cycle of just two weeks, looks like a panacea.

In other words, that’s what you call real transformation.