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At TechEd Las Vegas and Berlin, I conducted a survey and a series of interviews with attendees regarding usage of ABAP, Java, most popular tools, adoption of SOA, and general conceptions about composition.  In most cases, the results were not surprising and put some facts behind general perceptions both within SAP and amongst our greater community.  There were a couple of unexpected findings, and of course, some more questions raised by the data.

I’d like to share some results results from the survey.  I welcome your comments and questions.

Who We Surveyed

Surveys were distributed to attendees at classes related to Java development, Composition, and to a lesser extent ABAP development.  267 surveys were returned.  Nearly 10% of the responders were interviewed.  Over half the responders were customers, and another 30% were system integrators.  The responders were highly technical with over 80% identifying themselves as being a “developer”, “lead developer or development manager”, or “enterprise architect.”  Nearly 10% of the responders were interviewed.  We found that it was much easier to get attendees from SIs to volunteer an hour of their time for an interview as opposed attendees from customers. 

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ABAP Development is Alive and Well

We asked a series of questions in the survey and interviews about ABAP development and tool usage.  Not surprisingly, nearly all respondents reported doing development in ABAP.  In fact, ABAP was overwhelming voted the most common development language utilized by the respondents.  Interestingly enough, Java environments from SAP NetWeaver and open-source based were next most common, and Microsoft .NET was the only other competitor that showed any significant primary usage by respondants.  Java environments from other commercial vendors showed very little usage by respondents.

In interviews, its fair to say that many of the attendees are fanatical fans of ABAP development.  When asked what they liked about developing with ABAP, the most common perceived advantages stated included:

  • Fast implementation
  • Robustness
  • High degree of control over delivered product
  • Low TCO
  • Easy to find development resources

Many of those interviewed felt that ABAP programmers tended to come from IT and Line of Business personnel who had technical aptitude.  This meant that these developers had intimate knowledge of business domain expertise, SAP data types, and functions.  The survey showed different results though.  Greater than half of all respondents had a formal computer science background (BS in Computer Science, or MS/PhD in Computer Science).  Amongst ABAP developers, an even higher % of formal computer science training was reported.  My theory is that nearly anyone with technical aptitude can learn simpler tasks such as forms modification.  The kind of people who attend TechEd will tend to be “Guru” or most senior-level developers, and computer science training greatly enhances one’s ability to achieve this level of expertise.

We did not ask about prevelance of using procedural ABAP vs. Object Oriented ABAP in the survey.  However many of the interviewees reported they were trying to do more new ABAP development in OO as opposed to procedural.  Nobody reported rewriting old procedural code into object oriented without a good reason.

Java is Not as Common for Custom Development

Despite the fact that we targeted many classes devoted to Java development and composition, ABAP remains a clear winner amongst our respondents.  In my opinion, this is mostly due to our customers relying on a proven technology base that works well for them, and in which they have invested to build expertise and talent.  I say this because SAP’s Java tools and open source were the next-most popularly reported development languages.  No other competitor showed any significant usage amongst our respondents, other than Microsoft .NET which was primarily reported for UI development.

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Interestingly enough, the ABAP workbench shows up as the third most popular IDE despite the overwhelming popularity of programming in ABAP.   My theory is that many developers may not think of the ABAP Workbench as being an IDE since this is accessed through the SAP GUI.  Microsoft Visual Studio was the only other competitive IDE with any significant reported popularity. 

The interviews yielded interesting testimony that many respondents felt that Java can be harder to work with than ABAP for the following perceived reasons:

  • More primitive:  Java is a more primitive and less productive language for business applications programming.  It takes more lines of code to conduct common operations such as connecting to data bases, opening and closing transactions, and allocating and managing data structures. (Java language experts at SAP rebut: the new Java EE 5 standard improves developer productivity, and that many respondents may not be familiar with the new standard.  SAP NetWeaver CE 7.1 is compliant with Java EE 5.  In addition, the model-driven tools that are part of SAP NetWeaver CE greatly reduce the need for writing this kind of common code).
  • Too flexible:  The flexibility of Java requires Java programmers to have more self-discipline.  Its very easy for Java programmers to cut corners in ways that can adversely affect the reusability, robustness, and quality of a custom application, whereas ABAP programmers are more rigidly confined in ways that ensure discipline.  The same concerns about Java programmers were also voiced about .NET programmers.
  • Domain still matters:  Java programmers still need to learn SAP data types, BAPI and enterprise services calls, and the general business domain.  This additional training overhead makes training an SAP Java programmer about the same as training an ABAP programmer.

Many interviewers stated that available talent dictates many of their design decisions.  Some SIs reported that a few customers were now standardizing on ABAP since WebDynpro for ABAP allows companies to develop for the SAP NetWeaver Portal without having to use Java.

A Good Base of SOA Readiness:  Europe More Advanced, Americas Behind

Nearly 2/3 of respondents reported being at ERP 6.0.  Implementing ERP 6.0 is a minimal indicator of readiness for SOA custom development since customers can access and reuse enterprise services in composition via the enterprise services repository.

With regards to SOA maturity, we asked respondents to rate their companies adoption of SOA along the following scale:

 

__ A) Not yet using SOA in custom development projects

__ B) Conducting pilot projects and limited scope proof of concepts

__ C) Web services interfaces are considered in our projects going forward

__ D) Advanced SOA design and governance – reuse as much as possible, custom built services are designed to maximize reuse

This was an area where we found differences between TechEd Las Vegas and Berlin respondents.  In the Americas, slightly fewer respondents reported being atERP 6.0.  A larger percentage of Americas customers reported investigating SOA as opposed to actively working with Web Services, or being at an advanced stage of SOA implementation.

The differences between Europe and the Americas also stood out in the interviews.  In Europe, we found some system integrators that were developing business models around utilizing SAP NetWeaver CE.   They provide templates of industry-specific business processes and components that bolt onto SAP applications via enterprise services, and can be rapidly customized to meet customer’s unique needs.  I won’t mention any names of partners in this blog for fear of accidentally leaving out others that are worthy, but I will say that the ones I spoke with are frequent participants in the forums and blogs here on SDN.

Many Still Do Not Understand Benefits of Composition

In the survey we asked respondents to describe in once sentence what they consider “application composition” to be.  This was an unaided free response question.   We  found that most respondents at most understood only a general concept about composition.  Less than half the respondents associated aspects of functional reuse or managing business processes with the concept of application composition.  I take this to mean that SAP has more evangelizing to do on the topic now that the tools are available.

Recommendations

Different groups within SAP are considering the detailed results of this survey.  I invite you dear reader, to talk back with your recommendations and comments.

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5 Comments

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  1. Vijay Vijayasankar
    It is amazing that these trends hold steady year over year.Right from the time java was spoken about in SAP world years ago, we had more people sticking to ABAP. Looks like that has not changed.

    Every participant at teched gets an overdose of SOA, and if you search on SDN – we get a hundred pages of SOA results. So I am sure evangelizing is going on really well from SAP’s side. My theory is that SIs should actually start doing this in projects – it is only if clients see it being done succesfully, that it will catch on.
    SAP has had a few events getting the bigger SI’s excited – but this is one area where I see a lot of scope for improvement.

    SAP should give some active incentive for people to do more work on CE. Otherwise, we will be along the lines of a joke I read recently “SOA will feed entire generations in third world countries with future business value” 🙂

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  2. Abdul Hakim
    Hi
    Very Nice Blog.As i always believe and it is true that ABAP is the Most Powerful Programming Language developed by SAP and Im very much happy to hear that majority of the customers are still keeping the faith on ABAP.It is perfect to say “ABAP Runs the World”.It is true ofcourse.

    Cheers,
    Abdul Hakim

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  3. Eric Taylor
    What does this really tell you:

    – That the SAP community are slow to use Java properly: Anyone who thinks that ABAP keeps the position of most popular langugage because of its “superiority” and not simply becuase of the size of the install base, is deluding themselves 🙂

    – That the ABAP IDE is rubbish (if most peolpe say this is the most popular language, then if the ABAP Workbench was any good at all it would be clearly be listed (in volume of votes) as the best IDE. Again, excuses that people don’t see it as an IDE do not wash – this data tells us loud and clear that ABAP dev tools are old fashioned compared to the rest of the world.

    – Saying that .Net is used mainly for UI development is interesting – as most Java development for SAP is also centred around UI, there is little use of J2EE back end services in the SAP community because the business rules and persistence layer they use is ABAP, accessed via JCO/JRFC. This is amusing, SAP use .NET and Java for nice front ends becuase no one in SAP appears to take .NET and Java as serious back end systems.

    The survey is interesting, but the analysis of the results is, in my view, not accurate.

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  4. Eric Taylor
    Since Eclipse and NW Dev Studio are the same thing (just take Eclpise and add some plug-ins) this tells us that a Java IDE is vastly more popular than ABAP Workbench. All the votes for Ecplise and NW Dev Studio should be added together.

    I am working on a project using NW CE 7.1 using no ABAP stack, J2EE only with open source frameworks – experience from this clearly shows that even NW 7.1 is not ready yet as a good J2EE platform for open source. WebDynpro Java apps OK, but not open source.

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  5. Alvaro Tejada Galindo
    Greg:

    I was great to meet you at Vegas and was an honor to be part of the interviewed.
    I’m so glad to see that ABAP is still the most used and loved language. And surprised about the fact that the ABAP Workbench only get the 3rd place -:(
    Anyway, Eclipse made to the 1st place, so I think it would be good for SAP to finally relase the Eclipse ABAP Editor they shown us a couple of years ago…

    Greetings,
    Blag.

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