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Every year around this time, I find myself in arguments with people who don’t see the relevance of SAP TechEd to business users. That’s too bad, because I think SAP TechEd is the grand prize of all the SAP shows, for business users and unapologetic tech geeks alike. So I decided to tape a video rant about it, and also share a few ideas for building a business case for SAP TechEd, since nobody flies for free these days. I even donned a tie for the video to mark the occasion. And no, SAP didn’t ask me to shoot this video. In fact sometimes SAP itself plays down the business relevance of TechEd, which is a shame.

I should add that if you do end up watching the video and going to SAP TechEd, let me know. I’m planning to go to SAP TechEd Vegas, but I have friends attending the others as well – we’ll make sure to get you introduced so you have an awesome time.

Note: if you are having trouble viewing this video embedded, you can also see this SAP TechEd Business Case video or any of my other videos on my JonERP YouTube channel.

If you’re in too much of a crunch this week to watch the video, here’s a few highlights:

1. SAP technology and business is converging. Geeks and suits are morphing and fluid identities. Process-driven ERP (6.0) requires us to understand process orientation and end-to-end business, but also how to map those scenarios into SAP solutions. Knowing what you can do and what you can’t is critical. You’ll find answers to those questions at SAP TechEd.

2. SAP TechEd does have tracks with plenty of business content – the Business Intelligence and BPM tracks in particular. It’s hard to imagine an outstanding SAP professional going forward who does not have some grasp of BI and BPM trends. The BPM additions to SAP’s ASAP methodology are one key point.

3. SAP TechEd is the most soulful SAP event of the year because it’s driven by the community. The Community Clubhouse is the heart of TechEd and excellent expert networking discussions and informal talks go down there. Better SAP networks translate into better SAP teams (not to mention a better SAP career).

Well, if this video rant has had any impact on your desire to go to TechEd, then you may find yourself in the position of building a business case for attendance.

Here a few keys:

A. Make sure that the project team is clear that TechEd is not just for “techies.” To get across the range of sessions available, share links of the relevant session tracks.

B. Explain how your role can be enhanced by TechEd attendance. For example, one person I talked to is involved in working as a liaison to a technical team that uses SAP’s Composition Environment (CE). So, attending a few CE-related classes should help this person work better with CE colleagues.

C. Propose a reporting structure that will allow you to return to your company after the conference and share the lessons learned. This could include: tutorials with other team members and/or management-level presentations of what you have learned.

D. Remind your team that companies (even competitors) freely share valuable information at such conferences, including the ups and downs of implementing products that may be on your “short list” of projects on the horizon.

E. Point out that SAP sends leaders in its product management group to these sessions – valuable contacts you will be able to call upon after returning. (Example: last year, one person I talked to about attending TechEd had some PLM-related responsibilities. A contact at SAP verified that some of the key PLM product leaders inside SAP will be at TechEd).

Finally, as I wrote last year, don’t fear the geeks – especially of the “Enterprise” variety. There’s a ton to learn from deep dives with the technical virtuosos. 

Note: if you want some more ammunition to build your business case for SAP TechEd attendance, check out the longer piece I did last year, “Making the BPX Business Case for SAP TechEd 2009,” which draws on interviews I did with SAP’s Marco ten Vaanholt.

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  1. Michelle Crapo
    How to phrase my comment?   I’m still wondering.

    I’ll just write down what I’m thinking about:
    By business people – equates to process architects, and functional types.   I do a cross over type thing, but we do have all three.  The lines are just grey.

    Anyway you mean someone who is technical and not an end driver (user) correct?   If that’s true, I can sort of agree.   I think our solution architects should go.  I think our functional type people should go.   However, we have limited dollars.   Most of the time solution architects and functional types go to ASUG fall focus event, and not TechEd.   Why, you ask – or rant?   The Fall Focus gives customer solutions to problems we are / may currently face.  It does not focus on future tools.  It stays within the currently available tools.  Limited dollars mean those people chose to go to ASUG instead of Teched.   Which is the better event?  I’m not sure.  There is a lot of networking at the ASUG event as well.  Honestly, I’d love to go to both.  However, I am one of the VERY lucky ones that get to go to one of the events.  I only get to go to TechEd this year because I’m presenting.  Not all of our developers get to go.

    My manager went to Teched.   There was some value added for her.  But she felt with our limited dollars that all her employees should get to go before she did.  (Great boss, by the way.)   So another one of us gets to take her place.      In other words, it was valuable.  There was not an argument.   But limited dollars, limited people that can leave, means the people who get the MOST benefit get to go.

    While I agree TechEd offers information for the “non-technical”, I’m not sure it is THE event to be at for a non-technical person.   By the way most of the process experts  and functional folks would be offended if I called them “non-technical”.

    I prefer TechEd.   The hands-on, networking – OK everything you said here.   SO – I don’t get to go to ASUG Fall Focus even though some of the content would relate to me.   I’m just still smiling about going to TechEd.

    When I get home I do my best to share the information.  It never is as good as actually attending the event.

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    1. Jon Reed Post author
      Michelle – a couple of comments – I should have been a bit more clear that I was limiting my talk to SAP-run events rather than ASUG-run events. Aside from the co-located ASUG/SAPPHIRE show, I don’t have much personal experience with ASUG. Clearly ASUG and other user groups provide a ton of relevant and worthwhile education. I still think there are some unique aspects of TechEd, in particular the Community Clubhouse, but I labelled this a rant to make clear I’m talking from my own experience and not trying to be fair to every point of view.

      Your other point about limited resources meaning only those getting the most benefit is certainly understandable. I don’t think a business user needs to be at every single TechEd for that reason. However if I ran a team and I had, say, ten TechEd slots each year, I’d want two of those to go to rotating business users and managers. But that reflects my views that understanding SAP technology and experiencing TechEd is important across the board.

      Well, I’ll see you there. 🙂

      – Jon

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      1. Michelle Crapo
        It will be nice talking with you.   I’d love to hear about how it would help the business to go.   They have gone to the ASUG event, but our end drivers (users) have not gone to TechEd.

        I know we are – like others – trying to get to the point where the business drives the IT solutions.

        See you!

        Michelle

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  2. Gretchen Lindquist
    Jon,

    I’ll be the devil’s advocate here and say that in my estimation, yes, there is some great content for business users, but at the same time, I can see how business people can get the impression that TechEd is “too techy” for them.

    I don’t want to pick on any of the speakers by calling out specific sessions, but I just reviewed the list of presentations in the tracks you mentioned, BI and BPM, and I can see how a business person could conclude that TechEd is  for the deployment and support folks. Scanning the session lists, I saw an awful lot of:
    -How to deploy/ implement
    -How to improve performance
    -Technical deep dives and blueprints
    -Upgrade and testing methodologies
    -Creating UIs
    -System troubleshooting
    -Integration and optimization

    I’m sure that those are all very informative sessions for their technical audiences, but I can see how business users on tight training budgets could struggle to find the gems relevant to their day jobs in among all of the technical language.

    Even the session list for the Business Process job role looked pretty techy to me, with a lot of presentations about implementation methodologies, building UIs, integration, and system troubleshooting. Considering that business users have other options for attending training events, I can’t say that I blame them if their eyes glaze over at the thought of a week of creating and consuming web services, managing portal pages, CTS, SAML, CHaRM, BPM troubleshooting, and the rest of the jargon that is second nature to those of us in implementation and support.

    Thanks for opening up this discussion!

    Gretchen

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  3. Jon Reed Post author
    Gretchen and Michelle –

    good feedback. I’m only representing one view so definitely not going to try to argue against your points since you both make some valid ones. Michelle your point that there are many events to consider and prioritize is of course important. Gretchen I would only say that I have found that the informal events in the Clubhouse have been powerful sources of learning that span technical and functional issues.

    I’m going to stand by my viewpoint that for the functional person, diving deeper into technical content than they might be initially comfortable with is also in the long run extremely valuable. Thanks for the excellent comments.

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  4. Bala Prabahar
    Jon,

    Frankly speaking, I don’t understand the relevance of business users attending TechEd. I’ve been working in the software industry for 20+ years and only one primary reason why I would attend TechEd or any conference is the opportunity it creates for networking.
    A few of the points I discuss below is not directly related to your blog. I hope you don’t mind me discussing TechEd/SAP in general.
    The education sessions are normally at very high level and on the latest and greatest product. The probability of me working on that product is low. If I don’t practice what I learnt immediately after coming back from TechEd, I question the purpose of that learning. (in my opinion,business users would never practice that technology)
    SAP in my opinion is innovating faster;one side effect of that unfortunately is whatever I learn today is becoming obsolete tomorrow(literally) in SAP world. Compare this to Apple technology (someone mentioned Apple is consumer tool and SAP is corporate tool, if you concur with this, then my comparison wouldn’t make sense). All Apple elearning materials I reviewed is relevant and usable.
    Another challenge I have with SAP education (classroom or TechEd or elearning) is that they normally teach at a very high level. They would show how to do a certain thing not necessarily why nor explain the concept behind technology. Example: I started learning Visual Composer in 2007 or so. I reviewed several documents and elearning materials. No document/ematerial explained MVC concept or suggested I read a book on MVC. However when I started learning Apple programming, I was asked to learn MVC first. In 3-4 months, I learnt a lot with MacBook.
    Last but not the least, SAP is (one of) the greatest software product(s) I’ve ever worked with. Great technology, lovely framework, excellent standards etc. However their education program is not one of the best:(.

    Thanks,
    Bala

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    1. Jon Reed Post author
      Bala, thoughtful comments. You went a bit off the reservation of the focus of my post but not in a bad way, in a way that gave me some good things to think about.

      Some of the areas you touched on are relevant to the work I’ve been doing with theSAP Certification Survey. Specifically, the need for enhanced elearning is one of our main talking points, so you won’t find me disagreeing with you at all there.

      I can’t really tell from your comments if you’ve been to TechEd or not before, so that kind of prevents me from fully tackling your points. I find myself wondering if you have partaken of any user group education shows? For example at TechEd there are from what I understand more than 100 hours of educational sessions that are ASUG/customer driven. Some of that will be “latest technology” but certainly not all all.

      At any rate, I don’t want to give you the impression I am trying to change your mind as your mind seems pretty made up. I have a different view based on the many business/functional colleagues I know who have gotten a lot of unexpected value from TechEd.

      However, the bonus right now is this comment thread is framing a lot of good issues. Thanks.

      – Jon

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      1. Bala Prabahar
        Jon,

        Thanks for your comments.
        I will give more input on Certification Five soon.
        I have attended a few TechEd conferences in Las Vegas. And I have also purchased TechEd sessions(Recorded) which included ASUG sessions. Yes, I agree some of those sessions are relevant and learnt from those sessions. In my opinion, recorded sessions provide more value than attending the sessions in person. Why?
        1) I have access to SAP system while reviewing the session.
        2) No loss of income (most important I guess:))
        3) No need to move from one class to another when not satisfied with current class.
        In future, I am planning to attend TechEd to primarily contribute/volunteer.

        Bala

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        1. Michelle Crapo
          Oh no you didn’t….  Just say that my favorite place to go wasn’t worth it.  Those are fighting words.  (Ha, Ha)

          There are a ton of blogs out there about why to go to teched.  (I think I’ve even written some.)  Virtual education is excellent.  I like that too.!!!

          There is no one place where you can get such a wide range of technology.   You can learn something new in every corner.   If there isn’t something that directly relates to you, you can catch a different type of session.  Then you’ll understand the how everything comes together.   You can sell yourself based upon the fact that you know a lot of different things.

          But.
          1.   You have access to a current SAP system during hands-on.
          2.   You could lose income if you don’t know the more recent technology.  (For example Web Dynpro – not new, but new to my company)
          3.   Move from class to class – that’s the nice thing about Teched.   If the class isn’t what you expect then move.  There are many other sessions.

          Not all the sessions are taped.   Not all the sessions are on the latest technology.  

          The biggest benefit is networking.   Getting out there and meeting new people.   I’m crummy at it.  But if someone talks to me – I’m happy to talk with them.   And there are outgoing people at Teched.

          It’s fun.  It’s a place where you can talk “ABAP”, “PP”, “PI”, “MII” and people actually understand what you are talking about.

          Sorry Jon I had to jump in.  Not go due to lack of detailed content!   Those are fighting words.

          Michelle

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          1. Bala Prabahar
            Michelle,

            “Where you get such a wide range of technology” – Is this good or bad? May be I am slow and can’t learn a wide range of technology in 4 days. May be I am looking for “depth” not “wide”. May be I am not good at selling myself unless I really know “depth”. May be I don’t believe in learning for the sake of learning buzz words. (Please note these are all just one person’s opinions, not facts).

            Yes, 1) I can attend two hands-on sessions. Decision-making on which two was not easy one for me. I had to consider several factors(I know this is a personal issue) and choose the right one promptly. Some sessions wouldn’t be available if I waited too long.
            Yes, 2) I could lose income if I don’t know the more recent technology. In order to gain deep knowledge on more recent technology, I follow a number of techniques with no/little $$$ investment and I have been successful so far. For example, when I elearn(sdn.sap.com is one of many places I visit), I don’t do just demos explained in elearning. If I can break-up one task into many, I will do that(example: if elearning asked me to use an enterprise service, I wouldn’t use that service. I would learn how to create that service, create the service and then use it).
            Yes, 3) moving from class to class is the nice thing about TechEd for some or probably for everyone except me(:. (Another decision making process while moving from one class to another:( ).
            I am certainly glad you like TechEd. People are different and if you think you are learning a lot in TechEd, that is awesome:).

            Thanks,
            Bala

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              1. Bala Prabahar
                Michelle,

                I am glad to see your response:) Wish you all the best at TechEd ’10. I don’t plan on attending TechEd this year;however should plans change and attend TechEd(this is a great place to meet great people like Jon, you, others who sacrifice their time to make SAP and SDN more popular), I would plan to meet you:).

                Bala

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                1. Jon Reed Post author
                  Bala, despite your criticisms of TechEd I would really like to see you there this year! 🙂 If you end up going please ping and and we’ll talk about how to really make it as excellent as possible for you.  Would be great to have you at once of my expert networking lounge sessions. Michelle I definitely look forward to seeing you there!

                  – Jon

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  5. Tammy Powlas
    The first session I attended at Annual Conference/SAPPHIRE was a BPM session by the great Ann Rosenberg on the role of the Enterprise Architect and that got me thinking – the business needs to drive enterprise architecture, not IT.  Too many times (in my previous past lives) when IT tries to develop an enterprise architecture without the business it fails – IT management always leads with technology, and not the business.

    Given that many sessions revolve around enterprise architecture, the business needs to be involved and take the lead here for enterprise architecture to work.

    In the BI track, there are sessions on selecting the right tool (a business related session) and several BusinessObjects hands-on sessions (for the business user).  Additionally there are sessions on XI 4.0.

    In my previous life, we’ve had super users attend TechED and they got a great deal out of the hands-on sessions and roadmap sessions.

    Tammy

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  6. Greg Chase
    I agree with Bala’s remarks that some of the TechEd presentations can be very high level.  But for some attendees, this is an appropriate level if they are looking for an introduction to a new topic.

    For business users, and specifically those tasked with bridging the IT-business gap, the survey of technical information and business context they can glean from TechEd is immensely valuable.  Whether you are a business liaison to IT, or an IT liaison to business, if you have to manage business investment cases, project reporting to management, or requirements gathering, then the information and access to practitioners and experts you gain by attending TechEd will make you much more successful at your job.

    And, as a contributor to both Sapphire and Teched, I can tell you that I can get a lot more detailed in a TechEd presentation than I can a Sapphire presentation.  The same is true for ASUG, but so far ASUG isn’t taping most of its sessions.

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