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Working in the New SAP World

Introduction

So I’m working late, baby sitting an #Identity_management cutover and I thought I would try my hand at a more broad blog, rather than the specifics I’ve tried before. I’ve been working with SAP Identity Management for 5 years or so now, right from SAP’s acquisition of the product from MaxWare in 2007, and working with this new SAP product has taught me a few things which I think will translate to the challenges facing others as they try and pick up other new SAP products such as HANA and SUP, which are the big ones of the moment.

SAP Versions and Products Maturity.

The first trigger for this was listening to one of many excellent podcasts from Jon Reed (@jonerp) on #HANA where it was discussed about #HANA being a 1.0 product and how customers understood what this meant. This made me think of SAP IdM where the latest version is 7.2, the 3rd release of a product SAP acquired and where there might be considered to be a mismatch between the version number and the product maturity. Similarly for SAP Solution Manager, we went from 4.0 to 7.0 without changing the product at all, simply the name was changed.

10 years experience takes 10 years to get.

Second is going through this cutover process on SAP IdM 7.1, and the number of questions that pop into my head, which I just wouldn’t have on an ABAP Stack Upgrade or Support Package implementation. Working with IdM, at times think I really get what’s going on, and at others, it’s a complete mystery. I wonder where I can see this, or I wonder what it’s doing now, or why doesn’t it go faster! . Also, the more I working with other experts in SAP IdM like Matt Pollicove, Kai Ullrich, Christoph Reckers, Tero Virta and Michael Medenblick to name but a few, the more I realize how much there is still to learn, which is one of the benefits of community, allowing you to work and learn from others. This makes for a wonderful adventure, which is often lacking in the ABAP BASIS world, but does however add a little spice to big weekends such as this.

Product’s Old and New

This section will contrast where we are and what we and our customers expect in the new and old SAP worlds, and how that introduces new challenges for everyone working in this space.

“Grandfather” ABAP Stack vs “New SAP” Toys

All of this got me thinking back to the maturity of the SAP Product Suite and Netweaver/ABAP in particular, and the skill sets around it and how we take that for granted. We can expect a BASIS “expert” to give you the effort to implement or upgrade from BW 3.5 to BW 7.3 and get the answer pretty close first time, and not only that, but to be able to draft out an outline of the steps involved along the way, and to be confident in the solution that is proposed, even though BW 7.3 is a relatively new product.

Now, more than ever with the pace of technology change, this is no longer the case for a large number of SAP technology products. There aren’t people with 7 years and 5 full project lifecycles in HANA, SUP or in my specialist area of SAP Identity Management. This sort of experience would normally be the sort of minimum pedigree you would expect an “expert” to have. This means we are going to have to get used to working with less certainty and more flexibility.

HANA and SUP

In the case of HANA it is being being driven very hard by the sales and marketing machine at SAP and in the case of SUP by customer and in particular customer execs – who hasn’t heard “How do I get that on my iPad?” recently?  For both of these products, the community is rallying round, SAP are investing in developers with HANA sandboxes available via scn and for SUP, something similar appears to be being discussed, though the answer is less clear. This will start to address the skills gaps, but for other products, where the hype is not so strong, getting the community behind them will be challenging.

How to do New SAP well

In this section I want to outline some of my thoughts on the ways to address the challenges of the way SAP technology is moving and of course would be interested to hear alternatives from anyone.

Skills Development

Again, on a recent Jon Reed podcast, John Appleby (@applebyj) was suggesting the SAP should “Rip out the friction” from the process of getting developers access to software, which is something I whole heartedly agree with. As a niche partner in the SAP technology world, Lemongrass are always struggling to get hold of software to test out, train and develop our people on and generally play with. At the risk of praising the enemy, all Oracle software is available to any developer for free use in non-production, and I can’t see why that should not be the case for SAP.

Project Approaches

In a world where you don’t know the answer when you start, you need a new model for defining the journey. As an analogy, if you jumped in a taxi and asked how much before you told them where you wanted to go, you would get a strange and fairly meaningless answer. If you tried again, and still didn’t know where you wanted to go, but said I’ve got £10 for the cab fair, £20 for dinner and I’m hungry, and I like Italian food, can you take me somewhere that’s popular to eat, you would get a more sensible answer, and hopefully a good dinner. I don’t yet have a good answer to this challenge, but for the new products in SAP, I think a different approach to project delivery is needed, and I think it is going to look a lot more like something from the bespoke custom development world, than that in the package software world where waterfall development is the norm.

In the new world, it will be more important than ever to gather a requirement from the customer and then work with the customer to bring the requirement and the technology together at the sweet spot where the value is best delivered. In IdM particularly, the 80-20 rule applies and more often the not, the last 20% of requirements mean bending the solution and technology way more than is sensible for the requirements behind the use-cases you are trying to accommodate, and these should be excluded or managed to allow the technology to be deployed optimally.

Customer Collaboration

Customers have for years been used to getting clear up front indications of cost, efforts and timescale before embarking on SAP projects and in order to do this, consultants need to understand scope, challenges and risks. In the new SAP world, this is more difficult because:

  1. The understanding of the challenges and risk is lower, and it might be argued, due to the 1.0 nature of the products the risks are actually higher
  2. The consultant may not actually know how to meet the requirements at the outset, even if they are sure it can be done as these new SAP products are often platforms rather than applications/solutions themselves.
  3. The product itself often will not have all the features customers take for granted (CTS for example) and so these won’t even be on requirements as they are assumed to be there.

This is where working in a collaborative way with a customer, where you all agree getting to a good outcome for the least cost is in everyone’s interest and neither party try to get more from the relationship. In this model you can still work within a budget, but be flexible on scope, or stick with the scope and be flexible on budget. Either outcome should lead to a great outcome for consultant and customer, which is at the end of the day what everyone wants.

Summary

Working with New SAP technology such as HANA, SUP and Identity Management requires more than just new technical skills. It needs a new way to get these skill, a better method to deploying solutions using the skills once they are obtained, and a more flexible approach from customers about the best way to get value from the technologies, given that they are new and still maturing.

What this translates to for everyone is a more enjoyable work place, with some late nights and some exciting times! That nicely brings me to the end of my cutover where IdM has provisioned approximately 80,000 role assignments across 20,000 users, and with a bit of luck means I’ll get a quiet day tomorrow.

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