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The Jail-Breaking of Best-Built Applications

One of the more … interesting … events in the life of a product is when it starts being used for purposes beyond what its creators intended. Eric von Hippel of MIT has written extensively about such “user innovation”. For example, his book Democratizing Innovation opens with the story of Sonali Shah modifying a windsurfing board to enable controlled flight – which eventually evolved into the sport of kiteboarding.


Sometimes vendors hate user innovation. If it interferes with a business relationship, they may even try to prevent it – think about people “jail-breaking” a mobile phone subsidized by one carrier because they want to use it with another carrier. Vendors can actively oppose jail-breaking.


Even if there isn’t a business reason to resist user innovation, sometimes it just rubs a vendor the wrong way. Microsoft’s initial response to people hacking the Kinect motion controller was “Microsoft does not condone the modification of its products [and will] work closely with law enforcement and product safety groups to keep Kinect tamper-resistant.” But within days their message had changed to say they were “excited to see that people are so inspired”, and last month Microsoft announced plans for a Windows SDK for Kinect.


Enabling user innovation is good for users and for vendors. Bill Joy’s Law is “Most smart people don’t work here, for any definition of the word ‘here’.” User innovation accelerates the creation of value from a product by getting more smart people to think about how to use and evolve a product.


We have recently discovered that SAP Guidelines for Best-Built Applications is being used for purposes beyond what was originally intended. That’s right, Best-Built Apps has been jail-broken. To be clear, SAP welcomesthis development.


When we started work on Best-Built Apps in early 2009, we were certain that our audience would be ISVs making long-term investment decisions about their applications that integrate with SAP Business Suite. One of the hurdles in the creation of Best-Built Apps was driving consensus across many SAP groups on exactly what SAP technologies to recommend. Defining our intended audience clearly made it easier to reach these decisions.


However, many of our customers have fairly large departments of SAP developers, and they also think carefully about the long-term investments they are making in (custom) applications that integrate with SAP Business Suite. For customers with SAP developers, it turns out that Best-Built Apps answers the questions they need answered. When customers discover Best-Built Apps, they let us know they’ve been looking for something like this for a long time.


We started to hear this feedback from customers last year, in a variety of industries – consumer products, high tech, automotive, oil & gas – and from US and European customers.


Microsoft is both a valued partner of SAP and also a very large SAP customer, and has given us a wonderful endorsement of the value of Best-Built Apps to a customer. Here, speaking from the customer point of view, is Peter Loop, Senior Principal Architect for Enterprise Application Services in the Microsoft Information Technology department:



    “As an architect, I am trying to map strategies, polices, goals and practices for the organization into an information technology asset that provide business value.  From the multitude of possibilities, I need to provide prescriptive guidance for process, information, applications and technologies, so there is clear direction on policy and practice.


    “SAP Guidelines for Best-Built Applications (BBA) are aimed at partners & ISVs, but contain pertinent information for any customer doing SAP development. It provides clear guidance on what you should and what you should not be looking at – very important for creating roadmaps (direction on how an organization should be doing things going forward). I find the BBA document to be a very important & comprehensive tool; it has a broad coverage of important topics, from Lifecycle Management to User Experience, Information Management to Security, etc. This is the foundation of good practices in any organization; there are many nuggets of wisdom and much common sense in its pages.


    “If I have one criticism of the book, it is that it is not forward looking; there is no chapter on Duet Enterprise for example (yet), nothing on REST and Project Gateway (as of the date I write this).  Another example is that BBA specifically recommends not to use the .Net connector, even as a new .Net connector is in ramp-up.  BBA’s sweet spot is current best practices. [But] BBA is a living document, and as these technologies emerge, they will quickly get incorporated into the content. With the several updates that have been published, I find the content quite current, and with SDN there is a good forum to talk about emerging technologies and missing practices.


    “My internal version of “How Applications Should Be Built” varies from the BBA, in some case only slightly, in others significantly. Every company has its own landscape, standards and practices that must be adhered to – we want to surface the UI in a different portal; we have additional steps in our lifecycle management; etc. This doesn’t make the book any less valuable. It provides a broad foundation to build upon, and is comprehensive in topics that need to be covered. So when we do deviate from BBA, we do so concisely and we can document and articulate why this practice is better for us. 


    “I’m very excited about the publication of BBA. It’s often been said that there are three ways to do anything in SAP; this book goes a long way to help you navigate to the right choice. Even if you disagree with some of the recommendations, it is a comprehensive list of what to think about in application development. If the content is missing or obsolete, there is a forum to get that corrected in the next update, or even sooner online. I consider this a “must read“ for any organization doing application development in and around SAP.”


Thanks, Peter!


In response to our customers deciding to leverage Best-Built Apps, SAP is taking several steps.


First, we are revising the entire book to turn it into a set of recommendations for both customers and partners (still primarily ISVs). There will still be some guidance that only makes sense for ISVs, and there might now be some that only makes sense for customers, but we expect that most recommendations will apply equally well to ISVs and to customers with SAP developers.


What this doesn’t mean: This does not imply wholesale revisions of the recommendations, of course, merely the editorial work to clarify which recommendations make sense for ISVs, which for customers, and which for all.


Second, we are working with ASUG to create an ASUG Influence Council for SAP Guidelines for Best-Built Applications, to reach out to both customers and partners for their advice on how to evolve Best-Built Apps. This new Influence Council will launch at SAPPHIRE in May; watch for the announcement. We are also working with DSAG, and look forward to building a global community around Best-Built Apps. As we expand the book to provide guidance on new SAP capabilities (e.g. Sybase Unwired Platform, Duet Enterprise, Project Gateway, etc.), we want to ensure that the guidance meets the needs of our readers.


What this doesn’t mean: This does not indicate that the recommendations in future versions of Best-Built Apps will somehow be crowd-sourced from the community. 


The true value of Best-Built Apps is that it is the consensus statement from SAP of which SAP technologies should be used for new development. So, it wouldn’t be appropriate to adopt a user-innovation strategy to develop the recommendations themselves. However, we do want to understand where Best-Built Apps needs improving and what questions people need answered, and we do hope that the community developing around Best-Built Apps will provide complementary articles and blogs.


Third, again in response to customer requests, we are exploring the idea of offering a consulting service to help customers (and perhaps also partners) decide how to apply the Best-Built Apps guidelines to their unique environments. This is still an early investigation – I’m not pre-announcing anything here – but we would like to hear from customers and partners if they might be interested in such an application architecture consulting service.


So 2011 looks to be another busy year for the Best-Built Apps team: an expanding audience, new topics to cover, and getting ready internally to provide guidance on even newer SAP technologies not yet released but sure to rock the world – for example, imagine the Best-Built Apps chapter on in-memory computing applications!


Jail-breaking is just the beginning.

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