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Author's profile photo Jon Reed

SAP Developer Engagement – A Pre-TechEd Report Card and Video Blog

SAP surprised many of us in 2012 by blasting through the IP (Intellectual Property) issues and making unprecedented strides on individual developer licenses. First mobile, then HANA. We know that “NetWeaver Cloud” (current moniker) is next. though SAP has not offered a specific date for the full AWS-based individual license yet. By the end of the TechEd season, I suspect there will be good news there too.

With TechEd upon us, it makes sense to take stock of where SAP stands with developer engagement. I see two problems at the moment: SAP has made much so much progress that it runs the risk of becoming complacent before the finish line is reached. If SAP is to reach the vision stated by Sanjay Poonen of “1 million SAP developers,” there is seriously tough work ahead, no way to sugar coat that. For those who want to see SAP get all the way there, we have work to do also. We blast SAP on Twitter or toss up a rant without offering a clear way forward that would make sense.

The stakes are high. My view is that in five years, the winners in enterprise software will be the vendors with the best “developer ecosystems”. That translates into thousands of useful apps for customers – heck, let’s call them “beautiful apps” as Vishal Sikka would –  many of them cloud or mobile enabled. If achieved, that would go a long way to freeing up customers from the fail-cycle of over-customized code bases that have made the management and upgrade of on-premise systems such an expensive headache.

To address the problem of chaotic feedback to SAP, I corresponded in detail with Graham Robinson and Ethan Jewett, two of the community members (and Mentors) who have been the most vocal on this issue. They don’t mind ruffling a few feathers if it means the end result is a better solution. We decided to boil down our evaluation of SAP developer engagement into three forward recommendations. We then taped a Google Plus Hangout where we went into detail on each of these:

The three action items we boiled it down to are:

1. Free downloadable software for the win (non-production systems)
2. Consistent IP ownership across the board (including back end/NetWeaver access)
3. Solve the Gateway and licensing issues for developers (and customers) by using simple license agreements based on actual user consumption, not on the type of technology used.

In the video we dig into the details for each. Nutshell:

  • Downloadable software: AWS instances are fine for some, but have limitations in terms of cost, flexibility, and testing. SAP’s “competition” offers free downloadable software and SAP should too. I will not mention a certain vendor with five letters and a red color scheme as it tends to send SAP into a frenzy, but if they can figure out free downloadable software, then surely SAP can too.
  • IP issues: Thanks in large part to the hard work of Anne Hardy’s team, SAP now has a process for securing legal agreements that are much more developer-friendly in terms of IP. (Executive support from the likes of Jim Snabe, Vishal Sikka, and Sanjay Poonen has been instrumental here as well because in order to facilitate these new rules, SAP had to literally alter its corporate risk profile). However, IP ownership obstacles remain, especially when it comes to back end NetWeaver access.
  • Gateway and licensing: It doesn’t matter whether the customer or developer uses Gateway or any other tech. What matters is how the content is consumed and who is consuming it. SAP can solve the problems it has created for itself in this area by making access to Gateway free and easy, but then legitimately charging for consumption. Casual consumption license models will also be needed on the customer side – something that we didn’t cover in the video but SAP is well aware of. In my view, solving the Gateway issue is urgent. If customer adoption of Gateway is widespread and developing with Gateway is easy and affordable, non-SAP developers will have a much easier time building for SAP environments – something that is essential to getting to that 1 million developer mark. Or if you put that number aside, it’s the mix of SAP and non-SAP developers that will create sparks that lead to great apps. If Gateway isn’t solved, these sparks aren’t likely to happen. Solve licensing and usage issues, make Gateway access free, and you’ve solved Gateway. During the video, Graham explains why he doesn’t currently build his company’s products with Gateway and what would have to change for him to do so. As he put it during the video, “Gateway should be there just like RFCs”.

The video begins with some humor at my expense: we decided to experiment with Google Plus’ new lower thirds app, but because the host’s app is backward on the screen, it looks ridiculous on the taping (during my intro). Then Graham’s garbage collector came long. Sigh. After that, we’re good. (By the way, the reason I tape my hangouts rather than let Google Plus tape them for me is a longer discussion, but one reason is the superior audio I am able to achieve taping them myself, exporting and optimizing the audio, and re-integrating it into the final recording. I remain convinced audio is a key for longer videos, and you can also check out the audio-only version of this and other recent Google Plus tapings I have done on my JonERP iTunes feed).

During the first ten minutes of the video, we offer some “shoutouts” to the many inside and outside of SAP who have been advocates for SAP developer engagement. There is no way we could have offered a complete list. but on the subject of Gateway, that product team has set a fantastic standard of engaging with the community, including but not limited to Mentors. More teams at SAP should follow their engagement model. In addition to those already noted outside of SAP there is Redmonk, which has been out in front of developer engagement issues for years, and also my partner in video crime at Dennis Howlett, who was probably the first to amplify the need for better developer engagement at SAP. I’ll won’t forget the night he pinged me on Skype at some unGodly hour and said, “We’re finally going to win this.” By “we” he meant anyone who believed in this even when it felt like howling in the wind.

Let’s face it – for a long time, this was more of an outlier’s pipe dream than a reality. That’s changed, and we’re starting to see the results of in many forms, including the HANA startups that Dennis Howlett and I are documenting in a new commissioned project for SAP. 

There are plenty of others who have been extremely vocal on SAP developer engagement so if you didn’t get a mention it is my failing not yours, off the top of my head Craig Cmehil, Daniel Graversen, John Moy, Gregor Wolf and Chief Mentor Herder Mark Finnern are coming to mind, but there are countless others. I do want to single out Tobias Hofmann though because Tobias has been outspoken on many occasions and I’m not sure he has been properly acknowledged. Tobias’ line about the need for downloadable software, “Do corporate firewalls mean anything to you?” has become a bit of a rallying cry.

I should also quickly mention that SAP is aware of these three points. I know Poonen and his team are looking hard at addressing the licensing and Gateway issues, and Anne Hardy personally told me that her team is working on the downloadable software aspect. SAP deserves some kudos for this year’s developer milestones, but I am wary of SAP misreading the altitude level when in fact there is still a big mountain to climb. If the three issues outlined in this video can be conquered, it will be a good day.

By the way, JD-OD will have a lot going on at TechEd, so you may want to follow us on Twitter to get a heads up on some of our TechEd live streams that Dennis has announced here.

For those who want to jump to the portion of the video that most concerns them, here are a few time stamps:

0:00 – 14:20 Introduction section

– Why are we doing this?

– A few shoutous

– Why developer engagement matters

– What’s new – Sybase IQ “unlimited trial”

14:27 – 28:00 Why we need downloadable software (Ethan leads off)

28:05 – 34:00 Remaining IP issues to solve (Ethan leads off)

34:00 – 54:00 Solving licensing (and Gateway) issues (Graham leads off)

54:21 – 58:00 TechEd previews and expectations for developers

I look forward to continuing the conversation at the TechEds this fall. Let’s hear what you have to say.

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      Author's profile photo J. Pazahanick
      J. Pazahanick

      Great job with this on a very important topic. I like the line that SAP cannot let up before the finish line especially since it is pretty obvious as a HUGE headstart in building a developer ecosystem and engagement.

      Author's profile photo Jon Reed
      Jon Reed
      Blog Post Author

      Jarret thanks. I agree as far as Salesforce in particular being far ahead of SAP on this point. The "finish line" analogy is one I was thinking about in this context. I think it's less important for SAP to compare itself to the competition but that said a big point raised in the video is that IBM, Oracle and to a large degree Microsoft are way ahead of SAP when it comes to offering free downloadable software. The hope is that kind of point becomes a good motivator for SAP, though my view is SAP can use some of its cultural lessons around "jamming" (Innojam, Codejam, etc) to create a developer community with unique properties as well - maybe the convergence of enterprise and "cool" - the cool part being rethinking user experience via mobile, HANA, and cloud. I will add that into the post as I was in a bit of a push today and it got dropped from a draft. Thanks for raising it.

      Author's profile photo Ethan Jewett
      Ethan Jewett


      Thanks for putting this together. I feel these three points are key (I would, I guess - I helped decide on them 🙂 ), and I think that many of the people within SAP recognize this as well. And not only people on the Developer Engagement team! For example, I listened to a talk by Jens Koerner a few days ago about mobile he seems to understand this stuff intuitively. I'm optimistic about what we'll hear at TechEd and even moreso about the rest of the year.

      That said, I think your initial point is exactly right: so much progress has been made and we can't stop now.



      Author's profile photo Jon Reed
      Jon Reed
      Blog Post Author

      Ethan I'm glad we were able to bring this to fruition after laboring over some email threads this summer. Backchannel stuff can be useful but it's so much better when it can come out into the public domain like this, I really appreciate your efforts. My hope with this post was that it would clarify some key talking points but also give us something to look back on later to see the progress. In my final draft of the piece I had both a "finish line" analogy and also a high altitude climbing analogy. I put that back into this final version tonight, where I now say, "I am wary of SAP misreading the altitude level when there is still a big mountain to climb." So, you can choose your favorite analogy. 🙂

      Incidentally I had a part in that analogy about still being in base camp, but I took it out as I didn't want to be misunderstood because in high altitude climbing, base camp itself is actually no small accomplishment, as it's really the staging area where you get acclimated to the altitude and get your strategy together before the gutsy final push. Anyhow it will be good to see where this all leads.

      Author's profile photo Matthias Steiner
      Matthias Steiner

      Happy to see you addressing this!

      I've been pitching along the same lines on behalf of SAP NetWeaver Cloud (aka NEO) for a while now, as I feel that expanding the developer ecosystem is where NEO can have a big impact due to its open nature (built on Open Source and open standards.)

      You may find this blog particularly interesting:

      And as you rightly said, we may hear some news on this very topic during the upcoming SAP TechEd season, or as Vishal always says: "Interesting times to live in for developers!" WORD! 😉

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      if cloud is next, let's keep Finance On Demand (#ByD) in mind as i don't know how else we can give Workday and NetSuite their due.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Thank you for keeping me and my team on our toes! Let's hope it keeps us younger too...

      Author's profile photo Jon Reed
      Jon Reed
      Blog Post Author

      Hmm Anne I don't know about getting younger, not sure I can help you there. 🙂 Though I do think there is a connection between youthful spirit and re-invention. Thanks for all your team has done to this point, and here's to re-invention on all sides.