The Next Big Wave: Impressions from TechEd && d-code
With so many fine blog posts having been written about this year’s TechEd Las Vegas conference already, one could argue that there’s not much more that can be said about it. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to write about an awakening I felt while attending the conference on a personal level – one that I think others may have experienced also.
A Stream of Consciousness Moment
Maybe I’m off base on this, but there was an energy to the conference (and the SAP ecosystem as a whole) that I haven’t felt in a while. Indeed, as I was thinking back on it, the last time I felt something like this in the SAP community was in 2003 as SAP NetWeaver was getting off the ground. At that time, I was a reformed Java developer working in a confined ABAP space which was severely lacking when compared to leading enterprise development technologies of the day: .NET, Java EE, etc. For me, NetWeaver changed everything. Laugh if you will, but simple things like BSPs look mighty appealing when your only option for developing Web-based applications is ITS. While some of the tools are now starting to show their age a bit (I’m looking at you Web Dynpro), their importance in raising the bar for what SAP developers could achieve cannot be diminished. If you’ve ever had to look a customer in the eye and tell them “Yes, I know this other application can do that, but it doesn’t work that way in SAP…” several million times, then you can probably relate to what I’m talking about here.
Fast-forward to the present and it feels like the next wave of development tools have arrived: HANA (XS), HCP, SAPUI5/Fiori, River, Gateway, SMP, and many others. Of course, we’ve known about most of these tools for a while, but it seems like all of a sudden the community is starting to figure out how all the pieces can fit together in real and tangible ways. Clearly, surveys like the one conducted by ASUG would suggest that customers aren’t necessarily buying up HANA licenses left and right, so maybe we’re still a ways off from seeing SAP’s vision come together, but it feels close to me somehow.
Maybe this is just the misguided musings of a techie who really wants to play with some new toys, but I think customers are starting to come to a realization of what’s achievable with these next generation tools. I think those of us that have worked in the enterprise development space for a number of years suffer from varying degrees of Stockholm syndrome. It’s as if someone came and unlocked the doors to our prison cells, but we’re struggling to imagine a world outside of those bars. We’ve become so accustomed to writing a certain style of apps that we can hardly conceive of applications that harness the power of mobile technology, big data, IoT, and so on. This is why I think it was great to see so many start-ups at TechEd. I sort of took this as a challenge to think outside the box and dream bigger. If you haven’t had an opportunity to watch the two keynotes, I would encourage you to look them up because they demonstrated some compelling real-world examples that certainly got me to thinking.
Imagining the Possibilities
I think it was last year that Vishal Sikka threw out a statistic which indicated that 90ish percent of all the world’s transactions are ultimately funneled through SAP in some form or fashion. I knew the number was high, but I was personally surprised at just how high it actually was. That’s a ton of data, and it’s all basically locked up in stovepipe systems nestled safely behind corporate firewalls. For me, this begs a fundamental question: what if we could unlock this data somehow? What if, using tools like the SAP HCP, we could bring that data securely to the cloud and apply it towards the creation of customer or partner-facing apps (mobile or otherwise)? Or, going the other direction, what if we could use the proliferation of mobile and IoT-type devices to bring data into SAP systems that we’ve heretofore been unable to get our hands on?
This all sounds dreamy and I can see some of my peers rolling their eyes right about now, but even they can’t deny the possibilities are real at this point. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, nor does it mean that there aren’t a whole lot of political hurdles that IT organizations are going to have to clear in order to make it happen. Call it the friction of innovation. That’s the reality that most of us live in and it’s the reason that developers like myself aren’t allowed anywhere close to the capital expense budget.
Still, in spite of everything, I can’t help but feel a sense of excitement about where SAP’s headed in the months and years ahead. While it may sound like hyperbole to some, as a developer I truly feel empowered these days. I don’t have to hang my head when talking to other IT nerds who work outside of SAP because, for perhaps the first time, there’s a little bit of jealousy on their part about all the cool tools we have to work with. This is, of course, silly IT hubris that’s only appreciated by us “dorks” as my wife calls us, but that in and of itself tells me that this is real.
We’ll see what happens I guess. If nothing else, the next 12 months ought to be interesting.