The hidden gem in SAP RISE’s crown: the SAP Business Network

SAP’s RISE initiative has a lot of moving parts that together offer customers and prospects important incentives to move to the cloud. These include new ways to engage with SAP and its partners, new ways to implement SAP’s products and technology, and new ways to think about business processes and innovation. 

Hiding in plain sight is perhaps the most important component of all, one that until this past Sapphire event was more of a wisp of an idea than a fully formed offering: the SAP Business Network. This increasingly important combination of product, services, and platform has been in the making for years. But it wasn’t until Sapphire 2022 that the moving parts coalesced into what is probably the most important offering from SAP since its inception, and equally one of the most significant contributions by SAP to the global economy in the 50 years since its founding. Assuming, of course, that SAP can execute on its admittedly ambitious plans.

In a nutshell, the Business Network is a network-as-a-platform for transacting, managing, analysing, and optimising the panoply of processes needed to do business in today’s complex global economy. While the full realisation of the Business Network is still a few years out, as of Sapphire 2022 it’s already well-positioned to begin supporting the underlying mechanisms of global trade: buying, selling, procuring, supplying, planning, servicing, transporting, operating, partnering, financing, and certifying, to mention just a few. All within a single, many-to-many business platform. 

How does this array of processes come together in the SAP Business Network? If you’re familiar with SAP Ariba, you already know the basics: a buyer can do business directly with thousands of qualified suppliers that have published their profiles and offerings – and certifications – on the Ariba Network. Likewise, a supplier can reach thousands of potential buyers by creating a single profile visible to all. For most members of the Ariba Network, merely automating the basics of supply and demand in procurement has led to enormous efficiencies and access to new business opportunities. 

 

SAP Business Network is an increasingly important combination of product, services and platform that has been in the making for years

What Ariba does for procurement is multiplied significantly in the Business Network, which also includes SAP’s existing Business Network for Logistics and Asset Intelligence Network, as well as the Ariba network. In addition to managing its procurement processes, a company can dynamically manage the movement of the goods it buys, as well as track the operations, service and maintenance of its critical assets. 

SAP has also included its most recent acquisition, Taulia, in the
Business Network, adding trade finance and capital management processes to the Business Network. SAP Fieldglass can be used in the SAP Business Network to manage the deployment of contingent labour, SAP Integrated Business Planning and S/4HANA can be used for network-wide supply chain planning and execution, and on and on. If there’s an important business process that SAP or a partner supports, it’s pretty much a guarantee that the process will find a home in the SAP Business Network. 

The analytics and insights that can be gleaned from the Business Network also impart significant value. Data underlying the B2B and B2C transactions in the network can be captured and analysed within the confines of law, regulation, and permission, and be used to provide an incalculably valuable set of metadata. That data can in turn be used to optimise the operations and relationships in the Business Network. The role of Taulia is a great example: a financial institution looking to weigh the risk of extending credit to a heretofore unknown supplier can access an unprecedented amount of information about that supplier’s on-time delivery rates and performance, and use that to make a calculated risk assessment. 

Similarly, a company looking to rapidly shift suppliers in response to a supply chain disruption can access information about which suppliers have the right supplies to meet spot demand (including actual inventory levels), are compliant with the appropriate regulations, and have a track record handling such real-time requests. And then the company can execute the change from within the Network. 

Suppliers can also find huge value in the Business Network. By publishing a comprehensive profile – including regulatory certifications, complete product offerings, supplier ratings, and other key information – even smaller, regional suppliers can tap into the global economy in ways that were never before possible. 

 

Data underlying B2B and B2C transactions can be captured and analysed within the confines of law, regulation and permission

Just to be clear though, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome before the Business Network dream becomes a fully formed reality. Enticing smaller, and potentially more vulnerable, suppliers is one such hurdle: previous attempts at building large business networks skewed the value too far in favour of buyers, and suppliers resisted for fear of seeing their margins eroded. 

SAP also has to support buyers and suppliers that might not be only using its software. The Business Network can’t be a closed shop: too many companies run heterogeneous infrastructures and won’t want to run wall-to-wall SAP in order to participate. 

SAP also works to fully integrate its own products into the Business Network, change how it charges for Business Network services, and find a way to sell something new and complex in the absence of a buying centre run by a so far non-existent ‘vice president of Business Networks’. There’s clearly still a lot of work to do.

But the odds of success are in SAP’s favour, for the simple reason that the Business Network is truly an initiative for our times. The context for conducting business has never been more complex and more time-sensitive: pandemics, climate disruptions, and geopolitical crises have all conspired to change how the global economy operates. The need for resilient supply and logistics chains, rapid time to market, increased levels of service to customers and partners, improved productivity and financial controls, and better regulatory compliance has never been greater. 

In the context of this continuous disruption, the challenge for every company in every industry is the same: how to move faster and be more productive, while navigating an increasingly demanding world of consumers, supply chains, financial networks, and regulators. The Business Network promises to be a solution that meets those challenges. Sure, sign up for RISE to take advantage of simplicity and ease of deployment, but be sure to take a look at the SAP Business Network. It’s hiding in plain sight no longer. 

 

SAP has to support buyers and suppliers that might not be only using its software. The Business Networkcan’t be a closed shop