ALM (Application Lifecycle management) has become a hot topic. It has become so popular that companies start to emerge who really aim to work around ALM. The goal of ALM is to reduce costs by implementing all that is necessary (tools, applications, services etc) to do proper application lifecycle management. There is separate section on ALM on SCN so I invite you to check out some of the content there.
Why is this important for me? Most of the tools, applications, services that are part of ALM are to be found on SAP Solution Manager. I have said this before and I will say it again, Solution Manager is one of the most important topics for a system administrator to have knowledge on. If you are an administrator and you are not busy with checking out Solution Manager then today is a good day to start.
The interest in Solution Manager has grown on business side as well. Business that is constantly looking for new ways to improve what is in place but what is sometimes either spread over multiple tools, applications and services or what is not automated or documented or being handled properly. When done correctly you can effectively reduce your costs. Of course this also brings a number of challenges along.
Business and IT have to work together
A few weeks ago I attended a presentation on ALM (Application Lifecycle Management). A one-liner very often used was “Business and IT have to work together”. It was repeated so often it still lingers in my head.
What you see today is that business starts using Solution Manager alongside of the largest group of users for Solution Manager which are system administrators. This transforms your Solution Manager into a business critical SAP system. By becoming a business critical system there are effects such as the need for minimized downtime when maintenance has to occur and possibly the need for a review of the release management as you will most likely patch Solution Manager more frequently than other SAP products.
Throughout this blog I will take a closer look on the points mentioned in picture 1.1. Each small chapter is accompanied by a picture which divides that chapter into smaller pieces.
There is a need to consolidate information that is kept in silos, loosely coupled but not integrated properly. If the information is not consolidated, the result is loss of time and effort. This is also a point where ALM can come into the picture. Instead of having team A who keeps tests cases in excel and team B who keeps test cases in a third party tool and so on you can have one solution in place where everyone has their test cases. Not only do you centralize your information this way, you can also use building blocks to avoid double work and work in a modular way.
The complexity of doing business is not only changing in terms of products and the fact that many information silos exist but there are also other aspects that can influence solutions like ALM in the long run.
There is a growing complexity on many different aspects of life, one could say we are going through an evolution. Research showed that the brain activity of the new generation (between fifteen and twenty-five years old give or take) show different patterns compared to the current generation. It is acclaimed this is to the fact that the new generation can quantum task where the current generation can at best multi-task.
Communication is changing
We are living in interesting times where the methods of communication are rapidly changing. Social media have become new ways of communication. Some companies like SAP already embraced social media but a lot are still discovering social media. Meanwhile, collaboration platforms are being build all around us. Movements are being created because a new generation is emerging who voice their opinion online and get support from many others who do the same.
If you take a look back at the ten past years and see how everything has evolved on a relatively short amount of time I’m looking forward to where we will stand in ten years from now.
Working together means you have to be able to properly communicate. Communication is important for ALM. Because of the multitude of products and people involved which are discussed later on in this blog you have to make sure you have proper communication between those parties. There are many tools available to achieve that and one of those tools is SAP Streamwork which is definitely worth giving a try. You can use it for free. In that case there are some restrictions but it is fine to start using SAP Streamwork and experience what it is all about. There are more extended SAP Streamwork versions available for purchase for good price/quality ratings.
Knowledge is not the key
I believe we are heading towards the information age where it will be more and more difficult to an expert on a specific topic. Things are moving so fast and new products are being created so fast you basically don’t have the time to become an expert. According to Wolfgang Grulke knowledge will become unimportant. One of the sentences of him that I like a lot is:
“Knowledge per se is worthless, you are not what you know, you are what you do” – Wolfgang Grulke
There is a lot of information available on ALM but to get the full picture it is advisable to start using the different applications and tools by the means of a small example. I was thinking about creating some e-learning videos (something I haven’t yet done so I’m eager to give it a try) on the topic. I’m convinced in the future there will be more and more content available on the different areas of ALM which will make it possible for anyone to give it a try and see what it is all about. There is already a lot of written documentation available on service marketplace. In the media library you can find a few videos that introduce ALM and when you click on SAP Solution Manager & Tools you can find information about the different available applications and tool that reside in Solution Manager.
Triggering changes is important to move forward and progress. How many days do you have the feeling you worked very hard but at the end of the day nothing seemed to have changed. I can tell you I have felt like that too many times so I decided to turn things upside down and think about it. Instead of accepting nothing changes at one point I decided to really lean into things to make them change and I have to say it is definitely worth it. I could recommend it to anyone to give it a try.
You might end up doing tasks or jobs that are not really yours to do but that’s fine. What is rewarding at the end of the day is the fact that you see things changing around you. I started reading Seth Godin books and it has really inspired me to go out and do something. A good start can be writing a blog on a topic which you find interesting.
An implementation of ALM triggers change which is a good thing. I do believe you can lower your total cost of ownership and have proper return on investment. Before you jump into the story and start ordering the full range of products you might want to continue reading to end up in the conclusion chapter so you have a view on what I have seen so far and what I consider worth changing or not.
Multitude of products
An implementation of ALM can be very complex as you can have multiple platforms and products such as SAP Solution Manager, HP Quality Center, SAP TAO and SAP TDMS combined with one or more Solution Manager scenario’s such as Root Cause Analysis.
One thing I’m going to look into are the different options that are available. I have seen slides on which it is stated you can use only Solution Manager instead of using a combination of Solution Manager and HP products. So far all the presentations I have seen or webinars I was able to attend the customers seem to use a combination of HP products and Solution Manager.
To me the first option (only Solution Manager) sounds more interesting because then you have a similar look and feel through the different ALM phases. Using the mix of HP products together with SAP Solution Manager makes going through the different ALM phases very complex and it look somewhat messy because you jump from one product that has look and feel X to another product that has look and feel Y into yet another product that has look and feel Z.
Multitude of users
If the previous doesn’t sound complex enough then add in all the different people that will be part of the implementation. You have the end-users that will eventually use the products but you have many different end-users since you also have different products that are defined within different business areas. You also have very technical products that will be used and maintained by system administrators.
Again: communication and the one-line “Business and IT have to work together” are key here. Fail at those and fail at your implementation and further use of the solution.
One of the key ingredients to make ALM a success is collaboration of the parties involved. Who are the parties involved then? It is not only the people mentioned previously but also the implementation partner whether it is SAP or a consulting company. I really like the new vision that is communicated by SAP towards customers. A vision about open communication, instant feedback and a vision on picking up comments, feedback and issues and making a change. I know it is not always be possible on a very short amount of time to make a change. One the greatest tools available today for any company that provides a service or a product is direct input from your customer, the message is manage it well.
It is advised to give constructive feedback and address points that are seen as pain points. In the end the customer was to have an enhanced product and SAP wants to improve their product. Don’t be afraid to speak up and provide feedback. One of the pain points that became visible during the ALM presentation was the fact that you could not model business processes with decision points in Solution Manager. Instead a top-down structure was all there was. This of course raised questions and comments towards SAP. I’m happy to see those points are being handled as SAP is in fact creating the enhanced business blueprint for Solution Manager 7.1 which enables the customer to model business processes using decision points within Solution Manager.
Collaboration is necessary in all phases of the project. Before the implementation takes place there is the need to discuss, sit together and get feedback from the customer. What is decided before the actual implementation takes place affects the further process of the implementation. What I personally find important here is think about what is right for the customer. Too often products or services are sold that do not provide adequate added value. Creating work that doesn’t give your customer added value is a bad thing.
An important message, do not forget any of the involved parties in the process. During a presentation on ALM which I attended at one of our customers there was a slide on the number of work days necessary to implement the proposed scenario. The ration behind how many days are needed to implement ALM for a certain size of business process seemed ok. But where the real issue lied is that a lot of assumptions were made. From my point of view they forgot about system administrators who need to prepare, clean up and change the solution manager to match the prerequisites.
Solution Manager has great potential but from where I see it the product isn’t mature just yet. There is still a lot and I really mean a lot of room for improvements. I know SAP values Solution Manager and keeps pushing and creating new functionality and content for Solution Manager but it might also be a good idea to take a look at some of the existing functionality that is present and make some major changes there. Let me justify this with one example.
Cleaning up a Solution Manager 7.0 EHP1 which has a large number of managed SAP systems integrated of which some have become obsolete is a painful task. There are no proper tools in place to clean up the data in a simple way. Data is woven into different areas, scenarios and related data is not necessarily linked so deleting X doesn’t delete Y while Y is only used by X. Not only the system landscape in Solution Manager (transaction SMSY) should get a revision but also the System Landscape Directory could use some revision.
Any comments given on current scenarios in Solution Manager 7.0 EHP1 are countered by the most simple answer: It is all much better in Solution Manager 7.1. It sounds like a dream. I believe in dreams and I try to make my dreams come true.
Message to myself:
Making dreams come true is great but having them is a must
Message to SAP:
Make the dream come true
I have some involvement in sight for ALM so I’m very eager to be part of such an implementation. It is logical that IT needs to work together closely with the Business when it is mentioned that the key to success is “Business and IT have to work together”. In general it is important that both parties have an understanding where added value is generated.
To set up certain functionality such as business process monitoring and end-user experience monitoring you have to sit together as Business has to give input on certain points and IT has to take into account the input in order to be able to perform the technical configuration.
I also attended a webinar hosted by SAP with a customer case from TeliaSonera. While the SAP representative started out with sales talk and talking about implementing a full ALM solution (eleven pointers make up the total package) the webinar was about Test Management. Of course going through each pointer would take too much time but when I asked the question which other pointers were in place the answer was basically none. The question how many customers have ALM in place was answered by a dozen which was transformed into one hundred or something in a split second. I bet the number would be very low if the question would have been rephrased to how many customers have the eleven pointers in place? It didn’t pop up at the moment of the webinar so the question was not raised.
TeliaSonera did make a good case that test management reduces TCO and that you have ROI by implementing Test Management which is a pointer that is part of ALM. I got confirmation about the fact that it is critical for Business and IT to work together on this to make it work. One of the most interesting slides of the presentation was the workload that Test Management brings. The workload was described as follows: two persons two days a week working on maintenance, update, execution and creation of new scenarios. It sounds like it’s still a lot of work to maintain it but compared to the effort needed to bring in test teams and do a very wide range of tests manually you can be sure that TCO is reduced. TeliaSonera has a big number of business processes (thirty-five) incorporated into Test Management. This of course explains the workload that is mentioned.
As a SAP system administrator I see some points here that are important after such a solution has been put in place. Something I already mentioned earlier on in this blog is the fact that you transform your Solution Manager into a business critical SAP system. This calls for minimized downtime patching which is fine and doesn’t have to be a problem. Where you could encounter issues is the frequent changes that take place on Solution Manager and affect the functionality of the different scenarios. When you only use test management and choose the option to use HP products in combination with SAP TAO you actually avoid using Solution Manager a lot.
I raised the question what other pointers are in place at TeliaSonera and it seems none are since they haven’t yet began to integrate those pointers as they would take much more effort. The answer was we are looking into it and it would be a good idea but it didn’t sound concrete. It makes me wonder if there is any customer at all that has those eleven pointers for ALM in place.
If you decide to implement a lot of pointers of ALM you also have a lot of tools, applications and services available. One of my colleagues raised the question if there are roles defined which tool, application or service belongs to which whom but there is no fixed definition of who does what available. This seems a bit strange because in other scenario’s there tend to be roles, even in the form of authorizations that define who does what and takes on which role. What is there already? For Solution Manager you have roles based on the different work centers which can assign authorization depending on the respective roles your end-users have.
You can expect to have a wide variety of persons involved if you decide to implement a lot of ALM pointers. You have parts that are functional such as documenting the business processes, performing change analysis runs and so on. There are parts that are technical such as configuration of scenarios, keeping Solution Manager managed system data up to date, configuration business process monitoring and so on. There are parts that are very product specific like the use of SAP TAO. There are parts where you need to have a mix of persons involved such as setting up business process monitoring and using end-user-experience monitoring. There are other parts that are gray zone parts like running a change impact analysis.
What became clear after attending the webinar is that at TeliaSonera there is a SAP TAO specialist who comes in and sits together with a business process specialist to create test scenarios and depending on the size of the test scenario it can take up to one work day to build that test scenario.
Knock knock who is there? It’s the SAP system administrator who has to be included into the implementation of ALM. If you want to implement ALM make sure you talk to your system administrators to see to what extent the prerequisites to implement ALM are met and how much effort is needed in order to match those prerequisites. You might be up for some surprises and you might find that the implementation will need more work days to ensure it is properly defined on a technical level.
System landscape data
One of the important prerequisites is that system landscape data is actual and correct. It is not easy to achieve this. Even though there are tools available to aid in the cause like system landscape verification it is a real hassle. Which brings me to the next point.
Solution Manager 7.1
If you have the chance to start clean with Solution Manager 7.1 do so. Cleaning up your Solution Manager 7.0 EHP1 is a lot of hassle. Basically not all tools are available to properly get the Solution Manager cleaned up nicely. I did hear at the moment it is not possible to properly upgrade from Solution Manager 7.0 EHP1 to Solution Manager 7.1 if you have change request management (CHARM) in place so I hope SAP can find a proper solution for this.
SAP promises a lot of new features and improvements with Solution Manager 7.1. I have yet to see many of those improvements but some look promising at least. I do expect that the initial versions won’t have all the promised features on board so you will probably see a lot of them appearing after a number of support package stacks have been released.
Root Cause Analysis
I have been working with the scenario Root Cause Analysis for some time now on Solution Manager and I can say the way the different parts are integrated is not ideal which is an understatement really. There are too many loose components that in the end have to make a whole which makes it easy for things to go wrong.
I have the feeling that you can get answers to issues on Root Cause Analysis faster on SCN than through opening a customer message. I did have some good interaction with SAP support to solve some issues but in general I see too many issues popping up. I do really believe that the scenario has great potential but the issues popping up after performing support package stacks or minor changes are painful.
Again, SAP promises a lot of change in Root Cause Analysis in Solution Manager 7.1 so I’m curious to see to what extent the issues are being handled or solved. In general at this moment there is still a lack of information on the technical implementation of Root Cause Analysis. There is a lot of documentation available but some is outdated and other documentation still misses important points.
Reduce TCO and get ROI
Can an implementation of ALM reduce TCO and get ROI? Yes it can but at this moment in time you have to be careful what you implement in order to achieve the wanted effect.
I definitely see ALM growing and becoming widely used as Business is looking for ways to consolidate data that is contained in silos and it does make sense to do so. The idea of having all of those pointers in place is great and it can be a very powerful solution. Although I believe ALM still has a lot of room for improvement I would advice to look into it.
What to implement
What should you implement then as a customer? One pointer of ALM which seems to work well is Test Management so that is definitely something to look into. Something that is worth mentioning is that defining your business processes in Solution Manager is a very important first step. You can start by choosing a predefined business process from the business process repository that is available in Solution Manager and which is updated periodically by SAP in the form of a new version of component ST-ICO.
Once you have chosen the business process you can run Solution Manager documentation assistant which can help you to get a view on which steps of that business process are in use. What Solution Documentation Assistant (SoDoCa) cannot do is discover Z-programs or other objects or transactions that should be part of the business process but which you forgot.
To be able to use this to its full extent you do need to buy SoDoCa2 (Solution Documentation Assistant two) which is an additional service SAP provides. SoDoCa2 can provide an excel sheet output which has information on all of the objects that are used and using that you can find out what is missing. SoDoCa2 looked like something very new.
To display nice looking graphics to the business SAP used Xcelcius dashboards. Of course initially it was not mentioned it was not part of Solution Manager and some persons in the audience might have thought it was part of the package which is not true of course. Additional costs are to be taken into account if you want to have Xcelcius dashboards to display some nifty looking graphics on the discovered results.
What to look out for
I don’t yet have a good view on all the available pointers in terms of possible pain points so I cannot address all of the pointers.
I don’t see much problems with pointers like Solution Documentation, Incident Management and Template Management. Where you should be careful is where the most new and advanced features reside as they are also the least mature pointers.
I definitely see pain points in the Root Cause Analysis scenario but when it properly does work it is very useful. However getting to that point and ensuring it keeps working can be a hassle. Change Management is definitely an interesting area. If you want to properly use it Root Cause Analysis is a prerequisite (for Change Impact Analysis for example).
Change Impact Analysis can provide you with a view on what will be impacted when you perform an enhancement package installation for your ERP system for example. It can literally show which business processes are going to be affected and as an effect of that which Tests have to run. Avoiding the need to run all test.
If you are making up your mind to go for an ALM implementation one advice that I’m absolutely sure about is go for Solution Manager 7.1 and don’t do it completely on your own. Let SAP or an implementation partner help you with the implementation to ensure everything works in the end. It is a good idea to attend a webinar on pointers you wish to implement, connect with community members on SCN and get to know their opinion on these pointers and check with other customers how they feel about pointers that they have in place.