So we thought it was time to bring in the next round of HANA Distinguished Engineers. Time is always tight for HDEs so when I heard the council had asked Jody to be a HDE, I dropped him a short list of questions in an interview-style format. We’ve been watching Jody Hesch on the HANA forums and blogs for a while, and he’s an independent consultant working on big HANA projects.


So Jody, a warm welcome to the HDE program. You’ve coincided with Revision 71 of HANA, which is a little unfortunate. I hope you fare better!


Tell us a little around your background in the industry

Well I started my career in software development. One of my first “apps” was a nifty reporting tool that tried to predicted internal spending patterns at a national laboratory based on an algorithm used in technical stock analysis. It was a small-scale, custom system built on SQL Server, Matlab, and generated reports in Microsoft Word (yes, Word. Can you tell I’m not a front-end guy?). The irony is that at the time I had no clue what “Data Warehousing”, “OLAP” or “Predictive Analytics” even were.

The next technology firm I joined was a niche software development firm that competed with SAP in the MRO space (Maintenance Repair Organization). Most of my effort was put into back-end Java code powering a custom project management suite.

I later joined SAP as a Content Developer in Waldorf and then Consultant in the Business Analytics group, which brings me to the next question…

How did you get into the SAP HANA space?

In the Fall of 2010 I was living in Mannheim, taking some grad classes in Ludwigshafen am Rhein, wrapping up the study phase of a fellowship program sponsored by the US Congress and German Bundestag. I had to find a position in a German company, and I was hoping to get into the somewhat obscure field of Operations Research. However, I kept hearing about some software company called SAP with global headquarters nearby, and given my development background I decided to see what was available. I applied for a position supporting an “in-memory” prototype of a product called the Bank Analyzer, powered by “NewDB”. Despite stumbling through the interview in broken German, I was accepted for the position and ended up developing the core logic behind one of the first RDS packages, Financial Reporting with the Bank Analyzer on SAP HANA (which unfortunately I believe is now deprecated).

What advice would you give to people looking to transition from classic SAP to HANA?

From a professional perspective, I guess I’m one of the best or worst persons to answer the question. I have *zero* experience with classic SAP, BW, or any kind of traditional data warehousing (which surprises most people). Hopefully this serves as inspiration though for others that you don’t need a specific background to be successful in the HANA space. What you do need is passion, motivation, and a willingness to put your neck out there. For consultants and developers interested in getting in the HANA space, I’d suggest: 1) pick out the top 5-10 contributors on SCN, dig through their content, spend some time on the HANA Academy website, fire up a free 30-day HANA trial, read through the official documentation (development/reference sections), get your hands dirty, post incessantly on your corporate forum, and get your name out there. Demonstrate your passion, your ability to learn, and your willingness to mentor – and it’s a matter of time until people start pegging you for HANA work. 

From a technical perspective, the best thing you can do is become a SQL guru. You can certainly get started with HANA without being a SQL Expert, but the best practice for any endeavor in life, in my opinion, is to nail down the fundamentals. Whether it’s understanding cardinality, join types, aggregation, set operations, finding duplicates, designing ETL jobs, digging into system tables (metadata), or a multitude of other staple HANA activities – you’ll be in the best position with a strong SQL skill set. From there, complex calculation views, SQLScript, procedures, triggers, and advanced topics like predictive/text/geospatial analytics will come much more easily.

Can you tell us a little about the projects you are working on right now?

I’m currently supporting a boutique IT firm from a high-level HANA architecture perspective. They’re implementing HANA for a medical equipment manufacturer. They just wrapped up a BW-on-HANA migration and are starting to explore opportunities with Enterprise HANA which is where most of my time is spent. There are several challenges associated with lots of dependency on BW logic, so we’ll need to be a bit creative on how we handle requirements for Enterprise HANA reporting.

Also, today I started a full-time engagement with one of the Big 4 consulting firms. We’re starting with high-performance expense reporting, but I have yet to dig into the details. I’ll keep you posted as it sounds like some exciting things are coming down the pipe!

Tell us about one of your HANA war wounds!

About a year ago I was pegged for a HANA-based proof of concept for some obscure feature in CRM called “Rights Availability” within “Intellectual Property Management” (IPM) for a large entertainment company. The concept is relatively simple – Jim the Sales Rep for Entertainment Co. wants to identify opportunities to negotiate/sell a season of The Simpsons to a small cable company in Toronto. In reality, the Sales Rep wants to find availability for a large portfolio of IP, across hundreds of thousands of products, at multiple levels of three different hierarchies with multiple levels each – Media (TV, DVD, Cable…), Territory (Country, State, City…), and Language (not a hierarchy but still multiplies out the data). Combined with custom settings such as Exclusivity, the system ends up with a *massive* data set that it has to iterate over to find a window of availability which matches all the desired criteria. Some runs would take 11+ hours…!

As should be clear, this isn’t a problem that can be solved efficiently with any combination of analytic views, CalcView UCVs, or any other “vanilla” solutions. We begrudgingly started the project with no faith in a good solution (resorting to lots of clumsy iteration just like the ABAP code), bad performance, and general frustration trying to code complex business logic in SQLScript. For several weeks we had to painfully report slow development and poor performance.

However, by the end of the project we were able to build an efficient solution that leveraged HANA’s core strengths, removed every line of iteration code, and ending up improving performance by a factor of 10x – 200x depending on input parameters. Moreover, we accomplished this on a single-node 1-TB 80 core HANA system, which blew the planned 16-server framework (16 cores and 256 Gb of RAM each) out of the water.

Stay tuned as I’ll be posting a simplified version of the core solution logic in an upcoming blog in a series I’m going to title “Thinking in HANA”. ϑ

What do you see in the future of HANA?

I’m tempted to try and give some intelligent answer about the next generation of predictive/geospatial/sentiment analysis, but I’ve never been one for insightful market predictions. Instead, I think a lot of folks forget to consider an important aspect of scalability. Just as new technology should hopefully scale up and out (from a technical as well as organizational perspective), there also opportunities to “scale down”. Folks need to remember that more than 50% of the US GDP results from the activities of small business (according to a quick google search). While the SAP HANA Startup Community has lots of visibility, I think we’ll start seeing lots of “established” SME firms adopting HANA as their platform of choice as well.

For those looking for entrepreneurial opportunities with HANA, consider following in SAP’s footsteps with a non-disruptive sidecar approach to transform ease and speed of corporate reporting, but on a smaller scale (i.e. HANA on Amazon Web Services). I’ve come across such an opportunity (and don’t think they’re hard to find) and hope to report back to the HANA community with some successful results in a few months’ time!

If there was one change you could make to HANA, what would it be?

HANA has come a very long way since my pre-SP1 days. A lot of the hang-ups I had have been resolved and improved upon in ways I wouldn’t have expected, which is great. That being said, a few things come to mind. They’re short, so I’ll mention two instead of one.

As a former developer, I’d love to see some more object-oriented architecture in HANA artifacts. I wish I could define a “superclass” Analytic View with, say, 3 Attribute Views and 4 restricted measures. If I could set this in stone, and then inherit from it in child Analytic Views, adding additional views/measures/restrictions, etc.  This is more of a wish-list item though, as you can of course often still meet many reporting needs with one big “fat” model without sacrificing performance (due to join pruning, field pruning, etc).


[Comment from John, this sounds a lot like a calculation scenario!]


My second change would be in an SLT-based landscape. I’ve spent lots of time with bright developers working on complicated workarounds for fundamental requirements like slowly-changing dimensions (SCDs). It would be great if SAP would invest more in the “middle ground” between Operational Reporting and Enterprise Data Warehousing and enable such functionality out-of-the-box. There’s no need to re-engineer BW (or any other DW), but a few basic out-of-the-box features like history-tracking (SCDs), hierarchy flattening, and some basic data cleansing would be fantastic.

Oh, and – I have to add a third – I’d set “Left Outer Join” as the default rather than “Referential Join” in all of the graphical models. 🙂

Why did you decide to leave SAP and become independent? Is it because of the HANA market?


The market is certainly part of the equation. I spent a lot of time talking with folks who spent time in the independent world, I received lots of encouragement, and I found that the risk/reward profile behind the decision matched my life circumstances and career ambitions.

In addition to market dynamics though, I found myself thinking more and more along entrepreneurial lines, and like any firm I’ve ever worked for, I had to sign NDA/IP agreements at SAP that severely restricted my legal rights when it came to exploring products and services outside of SAP. The point though is that this is the case with 95% if not 99% of companies – so it has nothing to do with SAP itself. I had a great time at SAP. I learned a lot, met great folks, got to travel to four countries, and had an excellent work-life balance.

Tell us a bit about Jody outside of HANA and work

One of the challenges of the consulting world is that so much time is spent on the road which makes it difficult to maintain certain routines and habits. I used to be an avid runner and have ran a couple marathons, but the last one was three months before joining SAP. My current project will have me working from home for the next 6 months or so, and I look forward to hitting the trails more often.

One of the advantages of being on the road, though, is getting to constantly meet new and interesting people. Since going independent, I’ve spent most of my time on the road staying with folks through AirBnB or Couchsurfing rather than in hotels. I spent a few months staying with a wonderful couple in Denver during a project with a major defense contractor. We became great friends and they coincidentally ended up moving to my city (Albuquerque, NM)! While I certainly understand people’s hesitation behind the concept of these sites, I’d encourage them to explore the safety features behind the websites, use common sense, and spend some time seeing whether it’s right for them. I can tell you from personal experience that enjoying homemade Gazpacho on the rooftop of a Barcelona penthouse listening to authentic Spanish guitar with wonderful, hospitable locals is a thousand times better than any hotel, no matter how luxurious!

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22 Comments

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      1. Jody Hesch

        Thanks John for the post and updating me on the role nomination! I very much look forward to working with the other HDEs to further advance HANA adoption. 

        I do have to ask, regarding your interjection above – are you saying a calculation scenario sounds like the object-oriented architecture I described? Or the one big “fat” model to serve multiple reporting needs?

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          1. John Appleby Post author

            Hey Henrique,

            I have to slap you here. One of the things we wanted in the HDE program is to have a balance in community. There are 65,000 SAP employees and millions of people working in the SAP market.

            As such, we want SAP to be part of the HDE program, but we don’t want SAP employees to be a majority.

            So, yes we will absolutely have more SAP employees, but because there is more competition, the bar is higher.

            And as we grow the membership, we will grow the number of SAP representatives. Unfortunately a bunch of HDEs joined SAP which has made that harder.

            John

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            1. Henrique Pinto

              lol, I can’t say I din’t see that coming.

              I know you were in the program council but that it was really being managed by someone else, so anything I say about the program’s past is not really something about you or the council. I have great hopes for the future of the program and I’m sure you’ll drive it forward to a good state of relevancy (which I believe it hasn’t reached yet).

              I’ll send some personal notes in private.

              Best,

              Henrique.

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              1. John Appleby Post author

                All feedback is gladly appreciated. The HDE program is and has always been community-run, it is not SAP owned or owned by one individual.

                I happen to agree on your point of relevance. The HDEs are all HANA masters, with our without the HDE title. We have work to do here.

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  1. Krishna Tangudu

    Congrats Jody !! Its nice to know more about you and keep continuing the great work you have been already doing..

    Wish you good luck in your new role as HDE 🙂

    Cheers,

    Krishna Tangudu

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  2. Michael Bennett

    Thanks for the blog. I was particularly interested in the Q&A on the HANA war wounds as I work for a Media company that runs IPM and while we don’t use Rights Availability Analysis directly in CRM, rather a kind of bespoke solution in BW it was interesting to see this had been an area of investigation. As IPM customers are fairly limited I suspect I know which customer this was. If it is or does become a standard solution then it would be a good reason to move to CRM on HANA.

    Regards,

    Michael

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    1. Jody Hesch

      Hey Michael,

      Unfortunately despite the successful PoC, the customer hemmed n’ hawed for a year now and I still haven’t heard back about whether or not they decided to move forward with it as a production solution. Nonetheless it has lots of potential and there was some talk within SAP about “productionizing” it. What I’m not sure about is the market demand – as you rightly noted, CRM IPM “Avails” isn’t exactly the highest demand solution SAP offers.

      If you’d like to discuss further don’t hesitate to reach out directly. I’d be interested to hear what you guys are doing on BW. I’d contact you but didn’t see any contact details on your Bio. 🙂

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  3. Jon-Paul Boyd

    As someone with not an ounce of BW experience this has inspired me over the last few weeks whilst studying for Hana certification, it’s all possible.  As a developer I fight to resist coding and rather look hard for preferred ways with information models, so look forward to your second installment of aptly named “Thinking in Hana”, as the first was excellent. Congrats!

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    1. Justin Molenaur

      BW guys only will have a leg up in HANA as long as they have a background in other DW products in some way. The big deficiency I see with the sole BW background is these folks typically have minimal SQL skills since they are always dealing with BW centric objects and processes.

      In a good way, HANA is a step towards more “mainstream” DW products in it’s native analytic capabilities.

      Regards,

      Justin

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    2. Jody Hesch

      Thanks, Jon Paul Boyd ! And glad you found some inspiration. I’ve found that folks with programming backgrounds often have an advantage as they understand 1) there are almost always more than one way to solve a problem and 2) they have a good intuition as to how to evaluate trade-offs between there alternatives.

      And Justin Molenaur, I’d definitely agree. BW-minded folks always have more functional knowledge than myself – but in HANA some solid SQL skills will really get folks quite far.

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