The Problem With SAP Indirect Access Licensing

by Michael Pearson

Indirect Access remains a concern for many SAP customers, and a large number of customers remain exposed to the risk of additional licensing costs.

SAP has added a new type of license called SAP Digital Access. It allows the customer to buy licenses based on the number of documents created by external (non-SAP) systems.

Broadly speaking, indirect access occurs whenever a non-SAP system interacts with an SAP system. This could be read-only, updating information, or creating new documents or transactions in an SAP system. Even an event such as sending out an EDI invoice from your system to a customer qualifies under SAP's definition of "Indirect Access".

Here's where the confusion comes in, and even the messaging from ASUG doesn't necessarily help clear things up.

SAP Digital Access allows customers to license indirect access, but is only based on the number of documents created in SAP as a result of interfaces or interactions with other systems. It does not address all other types of indirect access; namely read-only, updates, and other types of access.

SAP has publicly gone on record as saying that "static read" will never require an indirect access license, as announced by former-CEO Bill McDermott in his SAPPHIRE keynote speech in 2017. "Static read" occurs when data is transferred in bulk out of an SAP system; usually as a result of a batch or scheduled job.

But what about all other types of indirect access? How are these situations to be licensed, or will they ever require a license? SAP hasn't formally made any public statements or announcements on this, one way or the other.

Going back to the example of an outbound EDI invoice being sent to a customer, this is not static read, nor is it covered under the Digital Access licenses which only count the number of new documents being created in an SAP system. So, in theory, a customer sending EDI invoices is, according to their contracts, still potentially offside on licensing.

Most customer contracts define indirect access in broad terms and, conceivably this could easily allow SAP to change their minds down the road and require that additional licensing is required for indirect access that does not create documents in SAP.

SAP should go on public record as stating that it will never require licensing for indirect access except in cases where documents are being created in SAP.

However, such an announcement would still be problematic as it would directly contradict the terms and conditions of almost every customer license agreement. Therefore, it would seem that the only permanent solution would be to execute new license agreements with customers with a new definition of what usage is licensable and what is not.

Geoff Scott, CEO of ASUG, made a confusing statement in a webinar on the topic of indirect access licensing earlier this year. He stated "If you are moving data into your SAP system and it's coming via EDI, through an interface or a BAPI ...... and it's generating one of these nine documents, that's digital access.". Perhaps somewhat correct, but that's not the whole picture. Creating documents in SAP via an interface is one example of indirect access, but that doesn't cover everything. Currently it is the only type of indirect access for which you can buy licenses. There's an important difference.

Just because SAP is allowing customers to purchase licenses for indirect access based on the documents being created in their systems doesn't necessarily mean that they are covered for all indirect access as defined in their software license agreements.

Until SAP provides customers with published and written confirmation that they will not now, nor ever, require licensing for all types of indirect access questions will remain and uncertainty will surround the risk of indirect access and customers' licensing requirements.

ASUG should pressure the new management of SAP to clear up this matter once and for all by:

1) Publicly stating that the only licensing that will ever be required to cover any and all types of indirect access is SAP Digital Access based on the number of documents created, and
2) Giving customers the option to renegotiate their software license agreements, or issuing addendums, with clear and concise definitions of what is licensable usage.

Until then, uncertainty and license compliance risks will remain in the SAP community.

About the author: Michael Pearson

Michael is President of CONTAX and claims to be one of the few people in the western world who understands SAP licensing.