Shop Talk: How Lucky We Are…
… to be involved with SAP!
And, how lucky I am to work for SAP! I hope you get past the title and subtitle which may appear as blatant SAP propaganda and read on, because it is really how I feel. A close colleague and friend questioned whether I really wrote my last blog Shop Talk – Long live SAP HCM Core On-premise, implying maybe there was a ghost writer involved. I suppose the question came about because I said some things that may seem to conflict with issues I raised in the past. Some people may wonder the same about this blog because I often come across as somewhat skeptical. Some even threatened to nickname me after the character Eeyore (the donkey) in Winnie the Pooh. However, a couple things happened today that reminded me of how fortunate I am to work for SAP. And I would argue that you are too as SAP implementers and customers.
So, what inspired me today? First, I got an email from Jarret Pazahanick, pointing me to this blog, Is SAP NW EhP3 really Non-Disruptive?, written by Tobias Trapp. Then, I got into a discussion with my 13 year-old son about what he wants out of life, and how school and career choices may impact him.
Jarret and I have this sort of running debate about what is “innovation without disruption”, a tagline that SAP coined a few years ago mainly in the context of Enhancement Packages. I guess I would say that Jarret and I might have some similarities here in that we appear to be critical on the surface. But I like to think it is because we care about making things better for our customers. I am okay with this because I think it makes us try harder. I admit that I likely provoked this debate when I proclaimed that, with the more recent Enhancement Packs, our solution had matured to the point where more customers were finding the Enhancement Pack application much less of a challenge than in the past. Therefore, customers would find it easier to upgrade to EhP6, the prerequisite for HR Renewal (see, New SAP HCM Functionality – HR Renewal 1.0), which has been a main focus of my work life the past two years. In my defense, it was actual customer statements that prompted my proclamation.
Still, Jarret and I apparently missed out participating in debate club in college, because we like to go back and forth on this topic. In my reply to him, where he pointed out the above mentioned blog by Tobias, I supplied some background, or “color” to him privately. After that, my earlier mentioned conversation with my son and his career ambitions got me thinking even deeper about my own career experience. While analyzing my experience, it made me realize how proud I am to work for SAP. One reason is how I have seen SAP react to customer concerns such as the upgrade issues. I realize that all this praise for SAP may be too much for many of you to bear. I know! I listen to others do something similar all the time and it seems just too mushy, too over the top, to be true BUT, when I really thought about it, I realized: I am a believer!
Here’s why – if you didn’t go back and read Tobias’ blog, the basic premise, as I interpreted it, was that the basis part of EhP3 was more disruptive, at least in the case described, than one might have expected, given SAP’s tagline “innovation without disruption”. While I don’t have the basis expertise to really say one way or the other, I can bring the perspective of 15 years of SAP HR Developer experience. There was a real definitive time where we (SAP) got the message that customers were finding upgrades and patches more difficult than they ought to be. In response, SAP put significant focus on improving the upgrade experience for customers. I feel that this is what prompted SAP to come up with things like the Enhancement Package and HR Country Legal Change Packages.
Here is where everyone jumps on me and says how many issues they still experience. Okay, I’ll take that! However, I really believe it is “better”, and I can relate a little bit about what SAP did to make it better. Realize also, we don’t always see everything instantaneously! I know that things we did years ago are just now really paying off with the greater customer base. I’ll say that you should still raise those issues! I believe that SAP will respond because SAP is all the more keen to realizing that it is mutually beneficial to our customers and SAP to do so.
Anyway, I think Jarret and I agreed that “innovation without disruption” is relative, and that EhP implementations can still have bumps, and that it still takes competent, dedicated people to pull them off relatively smoothly. Jarret appreciated the color I supplied on the subject so I thought you might too. I am not trying to infringe on anyone’s territory when I say “I love my/our SAP customers”, yet those close to me know it is true. In the context of Tobias’ blog, and even though SAP Basis is not my area of expertise or direct responsibility, I hate to see any customer experience with our software that is less than beautiful! If something was deleted, I really doubt that my colleagues deleted anything willy-nilly. I can tell you that quite a while ago, Development was informed, several times actually, about what the customer has to go through to do an install and what the landscape looks like after installing several of our solutions. I don’t say this to discredit SAP – quite the opposite. I say it because I am proud we get out and meet customers, feel their pain, and come back and commit to do better. We take very seriously that our customer’s success has a very strong connection to our own success.
Regarding Tobias’ basis experience, he talks mainly about changes in TADIR entries, not real problems he suffered as a result although I am sure there were some. But let me tell you a little bit about what I experienced as an HR Developer. I don’t remember problems, at least not painful enough to trigger a memory, that were the result of SAP Basis deleting something we relied on. I know there were some remarks about the size of the code and unused objects, and so maybe the issues mentioned were part of a systematic “clean-up” effort. Assuming the issues mentioned don’t have some other explanation, SAP Basis must play by different rules than HR because we are/were not allowed to delete objects (or only under an extremely rare exception).
All I can say is what I said in the past: I know that the HR Line of Business put a lot of demands and restrictions on us to ensure smooth(er) Support Package applications and upgrades. Not being able to delete objects was just one restriction. Off the top of my head, limiting back-ports, user-interface changes without a switch, strictly limiting database updates were others. It was not just left to the honor system either. Controls were introduced to enforce many of the new rules. They enforced a 4-eye principle to release notes. Then we had a series of quality reports that scanned the code and DDICT for issues, and we could not release unless we met the KPI’s. Those are just a few measures we put in place to improve quality and the upgrade experience.
There was also a requirement that customers be able to deploy all of our solutions together on a much simpler landscape. Sometimes, we wondered if people knew they were asking the impossible, and I think it led to some compromises too. For example, we were allowed to use only certain UI technologies in order to reduce the number employed, and thus complexities experienced on the customer side. However, I am sure you realize these examples can cut both ways – a simpler install may also show up as a less-than-the-best possible result for the end-user because of technology restrictions. I haven’t always liked all the decisions because I wanted to use the best possible tool for the best possible result. But I realize, more now than ever, that those decisions were made in the spirit of trying to make the best overall result for the customer. Was it always the “right” decision? I would say it depends on your perspective.
So now, here is the point where my colleagues are sure a ghost writer is involved or aliens took over my body, because they remember me complaining up and down at the time. Developers don’t want restrictions, others checking on them, or having to fix a bunch of “nitpicky” items. Developers want to use the tools that allow them to build the best end-user experience and don’t think about the installation complexities. We (speaking as a former developer) HATED hearing and feeling that we didn’t have the best user-experience, and it was especially painful to hear some of our own people question whether we knew how to create a beautiful user-experience.
Oh! It still hurts me to recount those experiences. But I am also stubborn and, don’t give up easily. So, FINALLY, we got to work on the user-experience with our HR Renewal program. Now, I realize this may not be perfect either, but many of you that have seen it have expressed quite a bit of excitement, and some have said they haven’t seen any better elsewhere. On another front, as I understand it, SAP HANA now has the potential to dramatically simplify customer landscapes and make our software fast as heck.
Still not buying it? – okay! Let us put you on our cloud and we will take care of patches and upgrades for you! So now, we say it is all about choice. How lucky we are!