Well another ASUG spring conference has come and gone. It was an amazing four day experience filled with opportunities. In this weblog I would like to share my thoughts on the experiences of the last couple of days. This weblog is going to be a little different than ones I have written in the past on conferences. Instead of focusing on notes from individual sessions, I am going to discuss a few overall topics. After all there were over 600 separate sessions at ASUG! A single person could only see a very small fraction of the total number of sessions.
This conference is perhaps the best opportunity you could have to meet with a large group of your peers in an environment specifically designed to exchange ideas and experiences. For those of you reading who may never have attended an ASUG conference before, you might not realize that it provides a different kind of experience than your Tech ED or Sapphire kind of conference. Everything is about the community at ASUG. Everyone arrives with the expectation that they will be sharing ideas with the other participants. Although you have volunteers, group chairs, presenters and other people playing formal roles at ASUG, really every attendee is a contributor to the overall content. This is what I think really sets ASUG apart.
I have included a few photos from the conference, but I have a full set uploaded to Flickr. There are many in the SDN Group or search for the tag SDNASUG.
SDN at ASUG
I personally have been a part of both the ASUG and SDN communities over the years. Inside of ASUG you have the group focused on Business Information Technology (otherwise know as BITI). To me BITI and SDN seem like natural counterparts. However in my conversations with people, I was amazed at how many people within the ASUG BITI group still don’t even know what SDN is. There was also a large group of people that seemed to be aware of SDN, but just aren’t using it. I’m amazed that these same people that see so much value in the ASUG community (rightfully so), aren’t just as excited about the SDN community.
Now I tried real hard to do my part to spread the word about SDN. In one-on-one conversations, I continually recommended to people that it was in their best interest to get involved with SDN. One of the common complaints you hear is: “SAP just doesn’t have good documentation on their latest technologies.” When I hear this comment I always like to respond by asking that person if they are using SDN. The answer was always no. In my opinion, you have no room to comment on SAP efforts to educate their users on their technology, if you aren’t actively using SDN.
In my ASUG presentations I supplied links to SDN content that gave more details about the topics I was discussing. I really expected to see more of this in the BITI tracks especially. However I was disappointed to see perhaps only one other presentation that did this. I find this especially surprising of the SAP given presentations.
Overall I am disappointed by the current state of the relationship between SDN and ASUG. However I am hopeful for the future. The main reason for this was the announcement that the BITI fall conference will be combined with SAP Tech ED this year. (On a related note, the Spring Conference in 2006 will also be offered back-to-back with Sapphire to create a combined offering as well). I find this announcement very exciting. I think this will bring a fresh offering to the SAP Tech ED experience by brining customer focused presentations to the already great usual lineup. This gives people who may not have every been to an ASUG conference, the opportunity to experience that kind of content (very similar to the SDN Birds of Feather sessions last year – just on a much larger scale). I also hope that this brings a greater feeling of networking to the SAP Tech ED conference. Finally with the strong presence of SDN at SAP Tech ED last year, I expect this will go a long way toward introducing SDN to the ASUG community.
On a more personal note I think this opens up the opportunity for more people to take an active role in ASUG. I have always been unable to volunteer for such a role because the travel and expense requirements of multiple ASUG conferences combined with the SAP conferences was more than my company could support. I know that I am not alone in this position. So I encourage other active members of SDN to take this opportunity and get involved with the ASUG community as well.
I had a very interesting conversation with a few people at SAP about the ERP2005/Netweaver04S ramp up process. The details of the conversation aren’t really what I wanted to share however. Instead it was the differences in perspectives. You see I wasn’t really interested in ERP2005 per say. I was far more interested in the underlying technology of course. On one hand my company wants a stable release of the R/3 system. They really only want to go through a R/3 upgrade every 4 or 5 years. On the other hand they expect our IT group to continue to provide cutting edge technology solutions. This means for us as a development group to meet our company’s needs, we want to upgrade our SAP technology about once a year as each new release of Netweaver becomes available. So far we have taken this approach by keeping our R/3 system on 46C while having a separate standalone WebAS that has gone from version 610 to 620 and most recently 640. This solution has done an excellent job of meeting our business’s needs.
But as I discussed the ramp up process with some gentlemen from SAP, they really seemed suprised that we wanted to separate the new technology from the new business functionality. They wanted to know what new business functionality in ERP2005 my company was needing to drive us to look at the ramp up process. When I answered that we were interested in ABAP Webdynpro, they were confused. They said – no, what functionality in ERP2005? Now this confuses me because I thought that SAP was trying to promote Netweaver as a development and integration platform. To me this would be the same as Microsoft saying that they are going to release a new version of .Net with great new programming capabilities. However your developers can only upgrade to the new version of .Net development tools if all of their users upgrade the version of Microsoft Office they are using.
I think SAP needs to understand that there are many other customers in the same position we are in. To meet the needs of customers like us they should offer, promote and educate users about Netweaver as a standalone technology platform as well as one integrated into their business solutions. We have seen within our own company that this approach works, and works well. Without what we have done to extend our R/3 environment by enriching it with the standalone Netweaver system, we would be without so many of the solutions we have today. I can’t imagine my company’s R/3 environment without BSPs, WebServices, and Adobe Forms; however that’s exactly where we would be today had we not gone down this path.
The Vendor Fair at ASUG is always such an interesting experience. Some people use this opportunity to see how much free vendor crap they can acquire. Personally my office is already filled to overflowing with light-up balls, strange pens, desk calendars, calculators, and the usual assortment of trinkets you pick up from vendor booths. I find that I use the vendor fair instead to try and gage the hot trends in the SAP community. This year there appears to have been three main themes: RFID, SOX compliance, and Upgrades. RFID really has taken off thanks to Wal-Mart. This major retailer in North America is really forcing its supply chain to adopt RFID. I see this same kind of vertical market adoption of RFID to repeat in other sectors. I’m just waiting for similar mandates from the major Automotive manufactures, so I did a little investigation into the maturity of the technology. It was amazing to see how far RFID had come in just one year.
User Interface Technology
The topic of User Interface technology drove most of the sessions in the BITI Web Technology Special Interest Group (where I spent most of my conference time). From sessions on Enterprise Portal, to Web Dynpro and BSP. Speaking of BSP there was an especially strong presence of BSP customer experiences. Most customers with only ABAP development skills are still facing a considerable time period before we have ABAP WebDynpro. BSP has been and will continue to fill that gap in these developers’ toolboxes (in addition to still playing an important role once we have ABAP WebDynpro). One could see from the several presentations on BSP that customer interest in this technology is quite high and the demand for education on this topic is incredible. I got the impression that customers feel that SAP isn’t meeting this demand for BSP education/information. Fortunately the ASUG and SDN communities are there and hopefully helping to fill this gap.