An SAP IT Story – Saphila 2014 – Africa’s SAPPHIRE
Bi-yearly the SAP African User group (AFSUG) in collaboration with SAP gets together to host one of the biggest ICT conferences on the African continent called Saphila. The word (SAP-HILA) which means “We are alive and well” is translated from a number of African languages .SAPHILA is a conference held at the Sun City resort just outside Johannesburg, South Africa and is the perfect platform for SAP users to connect, create and collaborate through sharing knowledge about innovations, new products, implementations and service delivery much like the SAPHIRE events in Europe and America. SAP users use SAPHILA to grow their connections and enhance their offerings to their clients. The 2014 event had a total of 630 customers, 457 partners, 140 SAP representatives, 62 speakers and a grand total of 1515 delegates.
2014 was my 7th Saphila and what amazed me about this event, that was different to all the others, was the specific emphasis that was placed on the concept of using renewable and sustainable furniture, exhibition pods and information booths. Let me elaborate on this further; the Keynote seating was all made from recycled cardboard as well as certain RF tag booths that were made for the delegate database and tracking. A great concept indeed but what was more pleasing to find out was that all proceeds that were made for the sale of the furniture after the event was for charity. Ah yes, and if you were pondering about the construction of the cardboard keynote chairs, let me assure you that they could each hold a total weight of 200Kg , and yes SAP IT tested them. The exhibition area for me was one of the success stories of the entire event. Basically a “SAPHILA Town” was constructed out of overhauled shipping containers stacked on top of each other like giant LEGO blocks in the parking lot of the Gary Player golf course. The entire “Town” was a tailor made outdoor urban metropolis with interconnecting bridges and walkways. Each container was painted, branded, wired and used by partners as their own exhibition/demo pods. The concept and visual appeal was truly stunning as the town created maximum foot traffic for all exhibitioners as well as facilitating in social and business networking. Installing Wi-Fi in this area was also not as difficult as first thought due to the surprising penetration of the signal through the containers. So you might ask what will become of these containers after the event? After speaking to the AFSUG team they informed me that the containers could possibly be donated to underprivileged areas where they could be used as SPAZA shops, Internet cafés or even a small class room. This excellent idea enhances a few of the renewable, reusable concepts I mentioned before.
So what part did SAP IT African CTF team play in this their regular calendar event and what value do they bring to all large events of this nature to the African market unit. Due to the nature and geographical location of the event, the local IT team, based in Johannesburg have always been the CORE IT team looking after the support, hardware and infrastructure of the event as opposed to the Global Events services team who support large scale SAP EMEA events. Preparation for an event of this nature starts months before the announcement of the actual dates of the event due to the amount of planning and logistics involved in obtaining the equipment. Let’s not forget the additional challenges around networking “Saphila Town” ,a concept on paper, but making it work in reality was always going to be an IT challenge. Even the location of the “Town”, which was in a parking lot, required some Out the Box thinking when no redundant infrastructure was available (Satellite and point to point solutions were used). Obtaining good redundant bandwidth was the primary goal of the event and making sure it was safely distributed to all participants was SAP IT’s primary focus.
Right!!… Now let’s get a little technical; from a network and backend perspective we required; 2 x Cisco 2900 Routers , 9 x 48 port CISCO 3750x switches (this does not include distribution switches), 4 x HP Servers ( DHCP, Proxy, DNS, Aruba backend , File servers). Additionally as mentioned before the entire network required full redundancy due to a board request which pushed SAP IT to roll out 2 layers of redundancy. From a support perspective SAP IT provided a team of 10 IT employees who handled; Network monitoring and security, Event Project Management, Speaker ready room support, general delegate support in the exhibition area, executive forum support, VIP support and finally stream support. After a few stressful days and nights the event was over in a flash. All in all this year’s Saphila event ran without a hitch, highlighting the capabilities of the African SAP IT team who worked in collaboration with sponsors and vendors bringing together another successful large event of this nature in Africa.
I was honoured to play my part within this young and diverse team throughout the lifecycle of this event / project.
If you get a chance please take a look at this highlights video that was posted on YouTube. You can get a better understanding of the layout and design, the scale and nature of the event as well as the huge parties that followed the closing of conference each day. (unfortunately due to music rights this video is only available in South Africa) Saphila 2014 Sun City South Africa – YouTube
However!! For everyone outside of South Africa I did find another video on YouTube. This video is the opening party where all delegates were given LED Ponchos on arrival. It depicts the huge production that goes into an event of this size…enjoy.
Saphila was a truly an unforgettable experience and I highly recommend attending future events next time you are in Africa.