When SAP announced SAP Smart Financials I was very excited because of the following reasons:
- SAP uses HANA to add non-functional values to a part of ERP: a single source of truth, speed, new user experience and predictive features. The complete data model was simplified by removing aggregates and redundant data structures. As well the data footprint was minimized.
- I consider the solution as non-disruptive. And if you reading my blog series on SCN you know that this is one of my topics that I feel very strongly about.
- Hasso Plattner explained in detail in his blog why he thinks of this new solution as simplification.
This is really exciting and if you are not familiar with this new solution I recommend you to read the following blogs:
- SAP Smart Financials – The Beginning of the Business Suite Reinvention by Leonardo De Araujo and
- SAP HANA Explained – Again by Graham Robinson.
In SAPPHIRE NOW keynote Hasso Plattner sketched the vision of simplified enterprise business systems working this way: sales, logistics and so on. And again he emphasized that this transition will be non-disruptive.
Hasso emphasized that the new UI of the solution was added “in an incremental and parallel manner” to the old functionality according to the paradigm of sustainable innovation: nothing is replaced and so the users can decide when they use the new UI.
All above mentioned blogs and keynotes are fantastic since they answer many questions and clarify everything. But I got curious and looked into the new solution and new questions came to mind. I try to answer some of them and try to make suggestions for SAP.
How Can the Data Model be changed without Creating Disruption?
So how did SAP manage to change the data model and avoid disruption? The problem becomes even more severe since FI/CO is part of an integrated business solution and there are data flows from ERP applications like MM, SD, PP to FI/CO so incompatible changes will be harmful to ERP itself – and of course to add-on developed by customers and partners. But SAP found a smart solution which was described in many talks about Smart Financials – so look at you Youtube and search for “Smart Financials”.
Since a short time the documentation and OSS notes are online and there are of course many OSS notes like 1976487 – Smart Financials Package 1.0: Information on the adjustment of customer-specific programs in line with simplified data model of Smart Financials and 2017431 – sFIN: How to manually correct CDS Views. What can we learn from it?
- SAP provided a new software component that requires New GL as prerequisite. In this software component transparent tables have been replaced by views. This means that all ABAP programs can still access the data but not update them by SQL.
- Those views are mapped to HANA views and access a completely different data model. Of course we need a migration from the data in the old tables to the new data model which is described in above mentioned documentation, too.
So I checked above mentioned notes against out system and I was surprised – I couldn’t find any source of disruption. So, at least for me, SAP did a good job.
Evolution of SAP Business Suite as Answer to the Inventor’s Dilemma
For me SAP TechEd && d-code will be the most important event since I want to learn about the product strategy of SAP Business Suite and details about the simplification process SAP started with the Smart Financials 1.0 solution which is, if I understand Hasso right, the road SAP will take. In fact in the same key note Bernd Leukert announced the new products that will be provided in the cloud.
I see two challenges, which I’ll explain. The key aspect of Hasso’s keynote was the inventor’s dilemma. If I understand Hasso right he chooses two strategies to avoid this:
- He adds functionality to business systems but keeps the existing interfaces – think of UI.
- This is also true for more drastic changes like changes of the data model which are done mostly non-disruptive which at first sounds like a paradox – but SAP found a solution for it.
Let’s see these aspects from the point of view of software evolution. Of course this is only an analogy but I think it is helpful. From Richard Dawkins books I learned that evolution is a slow process consisting of small steps and a revolutionary jump from one generation to another will most likely kill an individual. And this is also true for evolution of software system since the disruption will separate SAP from the ecosystem.
By the way, the strategy of evolution is nothing new and the analogy to evolution came to my mind when I worked with SAP in Trailblazer CEI together with Thorsten Franz and I blogged about it nearly two years ago. So SAP’s strategy is still consistent: SAP developed new solution, tested them in Customer Engagement Initiatives with people from the ecosystem and then rolled them out. And this is what SAP should do in the future, too, in my opinion.
Bringing Simplification to the Ecosystem
SAP is well aware of the danger of technical disruption and proved that the data model can be changed in a non-disruptive way. These are good news but I think it will become more difficult especially for customers and partners who have built add-ons to SAP Business Suite.
The question is interesting because SAP created development platforms and a huge ecosystem of customers, partners, integrators, consultancies and more. So they will ask how they can bring their solutions to the next level since their extension of the data model could be regarded in the simplification process as well.
At SAP TechEd&& d-code I will try to get as many information about the simplification SAP implemented. And I will listen to announcements of new simplified applications which I expect to come. So my questions are:
- Is there a roadmap for those new products?
- It is a wise decision to provide them in the cloud since SAP can deploy innovations much faster and with higher quality in this environment. But will they also be available onPremise and when?
- Are there guidelines how to simplify add-on to SAP solutions?
It seems to me that this is not a technical problem. As well am well aware that SAP appreciates co-innovation with customers. So at least for me the next logical step in the evolution of business suite will be to start Customer Engagement Initiatives to test programming models for customers to simplify their add-ons to SAP Business Suite, too.
And finally those guidelines should be part of Best Built Apps guidelines that are a little bit outdated. In my opinion it is the time to update them since they a very important for software architects and corporate technology strategists.