Staying on the topic of SAP - what is typically the most significant, long-lasting error made by most companies when they first implement the system? The answer is middleware. I'm guessing that a number of my readers do not really know what I'm talking about here.
When a company installs a large ERP (enterprise resource planning) software like SAP or Oracle, they also typically plan to interface a number of other non-ERP systems. These could be custom built plant maintenance programs, specialized accounting packages, CRM applications, warehouse tracking systems, and hundreds of other possibilities. Given everything that a system like SAP can do, it would be logical to assume that it has built in "hooks" for these other legacy applications, right? WRONG. Any software application not built by the ERP manufacturer requires a special "bolt on".
Can you ignore the need for middleware? Yes, if you like to fire up your $60 million ERP program, while inviting the CEO, CFO, and Board to the launch party, and then watch absolutely nothing happen (except for a bunch of error messages).
Middleware is an essential requirement for ensuring that the ERP system that you are implementing is able to talk to the rest of your IT infrastructure. A good middleware capability will ensure that you not only have a successful launch but that your SAP applications play well with the hundreds of other software programs that are likely powering your company.
If you haven't heard of middleware before and would like to know more, I would suggest researching two of the most prevalent solutions. Probably the most popular package is IBM's "Websphere MQ" series. SAP also makes their own flavor called "SAP Xi", also associated with "SAP Netweaver". I wouldn't recommend spending a lot of time looking at the technical interworkings of the packages. Rather, take a close look at the whitepapers and diagrams that show how the middleware packages make data flow between applications.
As always, if you have any questions please post them to the forum and I'll be happy to share what I know.