SAP MDM: Boy, was I disappointed
I recently got involved in a project where SAP MDM is being implemented. One of the attractive things about this assignment was the possibility of learning MDM. I must say though, that I was very disappointed with what I found.
Now SAP, if you know, has a rich history in acquiring companies or software products to bring them into the SAP fold. Take Business Objects for example. Or Sybase. Or Virsa Systems. Or InQMy (where SAP got their J2EE server from). And I believe there was a UI library in the 1990s called Merlin, which went on to become the base for the SAP GUI.
That aside; MDM, it turns out, is one of those third-party products that SAP acquired and added to their lineup. While I am sure it is not a bad product (the gargantuan manuals that come with it make you believe that it has oodles of features, which I am sure it does), it just doesn’t seem like an excellent fit with the rest of the SAP software suite. Maybe that’s just because I am biased, or maybe it’s just because it’s not that great a product.
One of the big disappointments for me is that MDM is written as a standalone product, not on the ABAP stack or anything useful like that. As a result, you have pretty poor visibility of what goes on inside while it is churning away.
(If you have read any of my older articles, you will know that I am a strong proponent of the ABAP platform. In fact, I strongly believe that you can develop an enterprise application quicker in ABAP than any other enterprise application platform).
I had pretty much the same crticism of SAP Portals when that was introduced (which was brought on board by yet another acquisition; the company that developed the product was TopTier). Had it been developed on the ABAP stack, you would not only gain all the proven advantages of running software on the ABAP platform, including the myriad of enterprise features immediately available to you, but you gain excellent visibility of exactly what is happening inside. Besides, SAP had invested a lot into developing their WAS (Web Application Server) and BSP and such technologies, that it would only have made sense for them to take the concepts and implement them in ABAP.
To work with MDM, you have to install a suite consisting of several fat client applications on your desktop. I have watched the guys here at work, and while some of them are extremely adept at switching between these applications to carry out the specific tasks that each is designed for, you wonder how much easier all of it could have been implemented as a set of transactions on an ABAP system.
At any rate, the other thing that really bothers me about MDM is the fact that it necessitates file transfer for exchange of data. File Transfer!? File Transfer. Now I’d have to stop right there to let this sink in, but I hope your mind is reeling at the thought without the need for me to become dramatic. This is of course extremely error prone, as trying to export reference data from ECC proves when the target directories do not exist. (The export program on the ECC side falls over when it encounters such an error, meaning either all your directories must positively exist, or you need to schedule the transfer to each MDM port separately, or you need to copy and modify the program to overcome this).
Moreover, another snag is that it seems that there is currently no way to receive acknowledgements in MDM about master data sent to other SAP systems; not out of the box anyway. There is a SAP Business Expert Community document describing a solution for MDM 5.5, and you are of course welcome to roll your own, but it’s neither simple nor elegant. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.
While it seems that great strides have been made over the last few releases to get the MDM server components working on platforms other than Windows, it seems that not all components are able to run on other platforms as well.
All in all, I have to wonder if there aren’t solutions out there that would be better at this. The thought has crossed my mind that one should port the functionality of MDM to ABAP and sell it back to SAP. Knowing SAP, they might even buy it.