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If “indie” films are cool, and “indie” music is cool, wouldn’t “indie” SAP be WAY cool?

In this post here:

 The SAP Expert Shortage, SAP’s University Alliance, and NW7.0 as an Application-Free IDE

Nigel James and I were discussing NW as an IDE in the context of SAP’s efforts to grow more SAP experts by entering into alliances with universities and other institutions where SAP could be taught.

To me, there is an existing business model which says that it’s a “no-brainer” for SAP to go ahead and market NW as an “empty” IDE (without applications).

This business model is provided by the success of “indie” films and “indie” music in recent years.

Well, not actually “true” indie films and music produced by true independents with limited budgets.

I mean the “indies” that major film and music companies have spun-off from inside.

Can someone tell me why the “indie” business model that seems to have worked well in film and music would not work in the case of SAP?

Come on, SAP! As Mao said:

“Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom”

SAP has a far better chance of reversing the “greying” of SAP and generating interest among young developers if it simply “lets down its hair” and actively promotes an “indie SAP” subculture.


Additional background links for this post:

WDA, WDJ, or Either for Interactive Integration with 3-Dimension Visualizaton Tools

 OK – finally a bioinformatic coding problem that may not be so easy …
How would/should you invoke a javascriptable applet from WDA or WDJ?

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  • Indie implies innovation.  SAP’s flagship product (ERP) is the anti-thesis to indie.

    Re trying to lure graduates, that’s more of a content problem.  IE: Would you rather working on an accounting system, or on a social networking site?  Obviously the latter would sound much more interesting!

    • Hi Lee –

      When Mark Finnern invited me out to give a presentation at SDN/Labs in 2005 (the last one before SDN Community Day replaced SDN/Labs), I titled my talk:

      “Beyond Best Practices: SAP as a Platform for Innovation”

      I believed it then and I believe it now.

      Because the nature of SAP’s ERP applications have nothing to do with the nature of SAP’s NW stack as a flexible, integrated, and powerful IDE that can be used in a million places SAP has never thought of.

      That being said, when non-ERP applications are developed using NW purely as an IDE, there will be plenty of cases where there will be a profitable feed-back loop from “indie” SAP applications to standard SAP.

      That’s one of the reasons I’m so interested in the bioinformatic “indie” application (see links above to Scripting Languages thread.)

      Because what I’ve already learned from researching how to do this application in SAP is that SAP can use an WDA->Flash->javascript->Java applet architecture to give MM customers dynamically rotatable views of BOM components – the same architecture that I will have to use in the “indie” bioinformatic application.

      So to me, it’s a win-win no-brainer.

      Plus – one more thing.  The things that interest “youngsters” are things that they think they should be interested in because of what they read/see on the Web, TV, cable, etc.

      So if the only “cultural force” out there is pushing mass market “bling”, then that’s what kids will be interested in.

      But if SAP works with universities to develop an alt-culture in which SAP is used to do more worthwhile things (like bioinformatics), then kids will at least have a chance to be influenced by alt-culture forces.

  • Hi Lee, hi David,

    I do not agree with the opinion that ERP is the opposite of innovation. In many cases you need ERP as a basis for innovation.
    Let´s just take the cool eLearning applications in the Web 2.0 area. They are really cool but all of them lack the integration with the HCM system. Therefore you have to enter all your qualifications and your interest manually to get the cool courses. Is this an innovation? Double entries? Why not use the information you already have in your system?
    The same is true for other ares. I am working as a strategic architect from SAP with customers in the public security area, Healthcare and Higher Education. These areas are like incubators for innovations at the moment. But in many cases it is always the same story: ERP is needed as a backbone for innovation.
    I hope that I could finish a paper about this in the next week where I will outline the examples more in detail and I am looking forward to your comments.

    Best regards,


    • Hi Bernhard –

      Since I used the words “platform for innovation” and you used the words “foundation for innovation”, it’s pretty clear that we agree more than we disagree.

      However, I think that two matters need clarification.

      First, I think it is fair to say that going into the decade 2001-2010, SAP’s market strategy was to characterize itself as a repository of “best practices”.  And while this characterizaion will always remain true and always remain a selling-point for SAP, “best practices” are by definition the opposite of innovation. (That’s what I think Lee was getting at.)  So going into the decade 2011-2020, I think that SAP has to work harder at developing a dual strategy involving not only “foundational” best-practices but also “innovativenss” of the type you mention.

      Second, I do not believe that SAP can fully and meaningfully incorporate “innovation” into its product development/enhancment cycle until it does what I am suggesting in this blog: market NW as a full-fledged IDE with no applications, so that developers can use NW as a stack for creating applications in vertical sectors that SAP hasn’t even thought of penetrating yet.

      My example here, again, is the one that I’ve been discussing in the Scripting Languages Forum.

      Molecular biologists need a web application that let them select a protein or protein component from a database and then link out to a frame in which some specialized application lets them rotate the 3D structure of the protein/component to see it from various angles.

      But this is precisely the next step for SAP customers who can now only link out from a ERP BOM component to static pictures of the component in a 3rd-party application like Documentum.  If Documentum were to develop an applet that let the user rotate the 3D structure of a BOM component, SAP would have to do exactly the same thing as is required in the “bioinformatic” case.

      So, if SAP lets me or someone else use NW to develop the “bioinformatic” case, it can “cream-off” the architecture and design that it needs for the ERP BOM case.

      This would be true innovation that rests on the “platform” or “foundation” which SAP’s core product provides for such innovation.

      Best regards

    • Hi Trond –

      Regarding “hip to be square” – I couldn’t agree with you more.

      The hippest dawg out there is Johann Sebastian Bach, and he always will be.

      By “indie”, I meant a “indie” CD of some guitarist playing Bach’s lute suites.

      This is very different than when Julian Bream recorded them for his “big” label back in the 60’s.

      Best regards

  • Hi David,
    This is a good conversation starter and leads into several thoughts of attracting new developers to the SAP ecosystem and building support for smaller ISV’s. This comes off the back of a week when the trial downloads were limited to thirty days and then reopened again. [If you don’t know the details, I wont bore you with them]

    If I find the time to get more thoughts out I will but in the mean time where is SAP’s platform being used outside of an ERP implementation?

    If there was this type of ‘product’ available other applications that don’t initially touch an ERP sized application might grow up and then companies would have less integration issues later as developers are familliar with the platform.

    Why is PHP/MySQL the biggest web platform today? Because the software was really east to get hold of and the components of the platform work together well. Sure there is a lot of ordinary PHP out there but it does rule the web because it is very good at what it does. (Solving the web problem)

    Could opening up Netweaver Technology Platform do the same for SAP?

    It’s worth thinking about.

    • Nigel –

      Regarding your question – where is SAP being used outside of ERP?

      That’s exactly my point.  It’s not!! (unless you consider fringe apps like Campus Management to be ERP in the broadest sense.)

      But it could be!  As I just said to James Geddes – give me NW7 SE80 (with WDA capability), SE24, SE11, and a decent database beneath them, and I can put up dazzling applications in remarkably short time in all kinds of vertical sectors that are not ERP in the traditional sense.


  • Hi David

    I don’t really get it. What I mean is, I completely agree with your idea that SAP should let its hair down, because I think their products would be more effective if they were less restrictive in some cases. I also agree that they seem only to have considered the use of their products within one enormous, interconnected, all-or-nothing stack. But I don’t think that, in their current form, they would see any adoption by “indie” developers, no matter how accommodating SAP were. Here’s why (and this is long):

    All things being equal, developers use development tools and technologies/frameworks for two reasons: they’re the best or the fastest at delivering the results they want, and they’re a pleasure for developers to use – they’re developer-friendly.

    Before I get going evaluating SAP’s technology against this standard, let me mention that I’m talking about the Java side of things here. You mentioned WDA in your post, and my comments below are about WDJ. You also mentioned the NW IDE, though, so I assume you’re at least partly talking about SAP’s Java technology.

    I think we can agree that there’s been quite a lot of disaffection at the way that SAP has adopted Java. I think this is because many of the technologies that SAP have created for developers to use in Java – I’m thinking particularly about Web DynPro, the NWDS and the NWDI – are not very good yet. I’ll deal with each in turn.

    Web DynPro is certainly not the best way to develop a web application with Java. Sure, it’s helpful to be able to drag your layout around (though even the layout designer is limiting – what if I want to do something that’s not explicitly supported by it? What if I, say, want to use AJAX or JavaScript in an interesting way?); but the rest of the coding paradigm is extremely constrictive. Why wouldn’t I just use JSF? It has layout tools. Or DreamWeaver/FrontPage and stick my HTML in Wicket? Web DynPro is useful for simple, business-related developments where it effectively serves as a web replacement for SAPGui. “Indie” developers will never embrace it. Can you imagine coding a sexy website in WDP? How much do you think Mr Zuckerberg would be worth if Facebook were made with it?

    I confess I haven’t used the new NetWeaver Developer Studio, based on Eclipse 3.2, so I’m prepared to concede that the next paragraph may no longer be completely valid. But everyone knows how much of a train-wreck the last one was. Eclipse 2 was a mediocre, but functional IDE. It’s been transformed into something barely usable in NWDS. It crashes, exhibits very poor performance, and provides very little useful assistance to the developer when compared with other IDEs. It’s buggy – particularly the Web DynPro tools, where projects need to be rebuilt and the IDE closed and opened again to get perfectly valid code to compile. It impedes developers’ ability to do their work. The IDE is a developer’s most important tool. They spend their lives using them. Why would they ever choose this one (as they’re forced to, when using many SAP technologies) over the likes of standard Eclipse, IDEA or NetBeans, all of which are uniformly superb?

    And finally, the NetWeaver Development Infrastructure. The source/build system provided by SAP is an important component of the suite of tools it provides to developers, and it’s fatally flawed. I constantly have to adjust my clients’ development landscapes to accommodate design flaws in the NWDI, such as the idea that everything in a particular track on QA must be transported to production at the same time. It’s also an unnecessarily heavyweight system. Why would anyone take the time to install the NWDI, when they could far more easily install, for instance, Subversion and a continuous integration system within half an hour? The NWDI is needlessly heavy for “indie” development.

    In summary, none of the technologies SAP provides for Java development meet the criteria for uptake by the development community at large: they’re not the fastest or best tools for the job, and they make developers lives harder.

    This has turned into a bit of a rant, and I didn’t mean for it to be an SAP-bashing session. I think their Java software, while still immature and sometimes flawed, works well enough in the areas that it’s usually used. But, if you’re not a large corporation that is running SAP (which I think is often the best choice of ERP – the ABAP side of things is very good, and a lot more solid than the Java), there’s absolutely no reason to use SAP’s Java technologies on their own. If SAP would like to get the larger development community involved, they’ll have to broaden the focus of their development tools and, frankly, improve them.


    • Hi James –

      Thanks very much for taking the time to compose such a lengthy reply.

      But I was actually thinking of WDA, not WDJ.
      And when I said IDE – I meant “integrated development environment” in the neutral sense – without reference to WDA vs WDJ.  Certainly SE80, SE24, and SE11 provide an “IDE” for development in WDA, and an excellent one at that – I learned how good it really is by the “experiential self-tutorial” in WDA that I blogged on here two years ago (and ticked everyone off in the process because they thought I was point-hunting.)

      So, to sum up – although I can’t speak for WDJ, I’d put SE80/SE24/SE11 up against any IDE in the business (IDE in the neutral sense.)  And I do think it’s more than robust enough to market as a stand-alone product with no app’s for developers in non-ERP-related vertical sectors.

      Thanks again for taking the time to respond.


      • Hi David

        Well, that makes a lot more sense. My experience with the tools for ABAP development (which, I agree, certainly do comprise an IDE) is much more limited than my experience to the NWDS and SAP’s Java tools, but, as I mentioned in my original reply, they seem very solid and extremely productive to me.

        I confess I’m a little disappointed that you were talking about WDA, but I thought you might have been. I think there’s an enormous dearth of critical discussion around the technology directions SAP chooses to take, and the implementation decisions they make when designing new technology. I think more discussion about these decisions – how their products work, essentially – by the developers that work with SAP technology would be tremendously beneficial to the quality of the software that SAP produces. Other, similarly large software companies – Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, Sun – get a lot of feedback so that they know what they’re doing wrong, and this allows them to improve their tools. I was hoping such a discussion might be taking shape here in an area where it’s sorely lacking – but maybe another day.


        • Hi James –

          I really do think the WDJ question is a separate issue, all the more so because according Thomas Jung, SAP is dropping support for Java applets running in iframes under WDA (in favor of Silverlight and Flash/Flex) – meaning that if you want WDA to talk to a Java applet, you’ve got to “event” it at the portal level or do it indirectly via Flash/Flex (see my last post in the Scripting Languages Forum about this.)

          What I mean here is that if SAP is dropping support for Java Applets under WDA, then what does this say about SAP’s commitment to Java in general ?????


          • I completely agree with you that it’s a separate discussion, and this isn’t the blog for it – I was just lamenting the fact that there isn’t enough discussion in this area in general.

            I should put in, though, that I’m not sure that the conclusion you’ve implied about SAP’s commitment to Java is correct. After all, the whole world has pretty much abandoned Java applets – I’m actually surprised that WDA could communicate with them in the first place. Even Sun has turned its back on them, now that they’ve invested in technologies like Java WebStart and the nascent (and, lately, much-maligned) JavaFX.

            I do think that it’s debatable how useful Java can be to SAP, and they must surely be questioning whether they should stick with it. For now, though, development appears to be ongoing (there’s a new IDE, I read a blog the other day about a SAP JVM – though I don’t understand why – etc). As you’ve said, though, this isn’t the right thread for this discussion.

          • Hi James –

            But as usual, it’s the millstone of the past that keeps on weighing the future down.

            There are probably a gadzillion useful Java applets out there that no one will ever recode in anything else because they are open-source non-commercial products supported “pro bono” by dedicated specialists who really believe in what they’re doing, e.g.:


            What to do about these ????

          • Of course you’re correct – as new technologies emerge and old ones fade away, porting projects between them is something with which the world (or, rather, its developers) will have to contend. Usually, the change happens by necessity. As Java applets become less and less practical, as other technologies have before them, the developers who maintain projects that use them will port their projects to new technologies and new platforms. If they care enough about the usability of their projects to be bothered, that is.

            I don’t think, though, that just because a software vendor moves with the times and stops supporting old technology, that we can conclude that it’s no longer committed to that technology’s newer incarnations. Microsoft has suspended support for Windows 2000. Do you question their commitment to Windows? 🙂


    • Hi James,

      I understand and agree with many of your points. It would have been better if SAP had “embraced and extended” existing standards like JSF & Maven, rather than inventing their own and wondering why nobody much uses them. Even SAP themselves appear to have stopped using WDJ and NWDI.

      Having said that, the Eclipse 3.2 version of NWDS is much more open and stable than the Eclipse 2.0 version – you can actually add in other Eclipse plugins, for a start. And WDJ does do some pretty neat things, although I still can’t work out to this day why it takes so many lines of code just to call an RFC. All that aside, the 7.1 Java stack rocks – it has Java SE and EE 5 support, the robust JVM and Eclipse 3.2, and the User Management Engine on its own can save web developers a ton of time – these are all reasons why we’re building ESME on NW CE. While there is still some distance to go for SAP to match the openness and developer-friendly licensing of Oracle’s Java stack & IDE, it’s a good sign if SAP is beginning to learn to work with the standards, rather than inventing their own.


      • Hi Darren

        Thanks for the reply. I don’t want to hijack David’s comments thread with a discussion he didn’t intend to provoke, but your comments are heartening: firstly because you say the new stack is such an improvement, and seems to embrace the community’s standards instead of kicking against them; and secondly because I’m thrilled that there are people who want to have a conversation about this. I think it’s a conversation that needs to be had – but no one’s having it, at least that I’ve seen.