The Evolution of a Community: 10 Years of SAP Tech Research Down Under
Where were you in 2005…?
I was in the UK just graduating from University and excited to start my life in the world of work. Over on the other side of the world, in Sydney Australia, my colleagues Steven Morris, Graham Robinson, Danielle Lorusso and Doug Hay were undertaking the research for The Eventful Group’s first Mastering SAP Technology event.
Those of you that know Eventful, will know that we do some pretty rigorous research – travelling around Australia and New Zealand running round table discussions with up to 100 SAP strategists and techies each year. Attendees range from IT Managers to System Administrators – with a whole heap of Developers, Solutions Architects and SAP Managers in between. We love doing it – we get to catch up with old friends and make lots of new ones. But it also gives us an incredible insight into the issues, struggles, hopes and fears of the SAP community. From this research, we formulate an annual ‘Hotlist of Issues’ which forms the basis of our agendas.
In May this year we celebrate the 10 year anniversary of this event. This is the perfect opportunity to reflect on what’s challenged and excited the community in the past decade. It’s an opportunity I just couldn’t help but share with you. To invite you to reflect on the past decade and what’s changed. And also to appeal to you for your own experiences and opinions on why these changes have taken place. Here’s a quick summary of what we found:
In the remainder of this blog post I’ll describe some of the big themes and how they’ve changed, as documented in the ten ‘Hotlists of Issues’ from 2005 to today.
So here goes…
Development, UI & UX
For the whole decade that we’ve studied, SAP UI and development has consistently rated in the top three issues for the community. Within this time we’ve seen a lot of tools being offered by SAP themselves and their partners to develop applications and improve user interfaces. The focus has always been on comparing tools, working out which one to use when, finding out what’s worked for other companies and what’s coming next.
A decade ago, companies were looking at the new Web Application Server (NetWeaver) and considering the relative benefits of ABAP versus Java. Portals were also really big ten years ago (and interestingly, haven’t featured on the list at all since 2012). In 2006 we were looking at a heap of other new tools you could use to improve UI – Adobe Forms, Duet, Visual Composer and Project Muse (which I believe eventually became NetWeaver Business Client or NWBC). A year later we could add GuiXT to the list… and we were still comparing ABAP vs. Java vs. .Net!
In 2008 it seems like we started to become a bit more sophisticated. We were talking about ‘creating a seamless UI strategy’. We also wondered whether we’d all be adopting the BusinessObjects UI following SAP’s acquisition of the French firm the year before (we did the same thing after the recent SuccessFactors acquisition). In 2009 we added even more possibilities into the mix, including FloorPlan Manager That year we also asked ourselves, ‘Is GUI dead?’
There was an interesting shift in this topic in 2011 and 12. It took on much more of a design and user experience focus and we started talking about HTML5. Could this be explained by the greater interest in mobility solutions we experienced at the same time (see mobility topic below)? In 2013 we first heard of many of the tools that are today’s hottest topics – Fiori, Personas and UI5. Presentations on these tools are the most highly requested presentations at this year’s event. I think that might have something to do with the fact that SAP announced last year that these tools would be available to customers for free (i.e. as part of your existing license)!
To summarise UI over the past decade, it seems that it has been an incredibly hot issue for both SAP internally and for their customers. SAP released a new tool to improve user interfaces almost every year, leading to plenty of confusion about which tool we should actually be using. With SAP having recently stated that Fiori will be the UI going forward with S/4HANA, I wonder if UI will continue to be such a big issue in the next 10 years. Or whether we’ll all be so happy with Fiori that we don’t need to discuss this anymore? What’s your prediction?
Mobility was first mentioned in the Hotlist in 2006 and in the following year it warranted a whole topic of its own – even if it was right down the bottom of the list! At this stage we were asking what SAP had to offer in the space. Four years after that (2010), mobility as a topic jumped all the way to number four on the list and gets some real interest in it thanks to SAP’s acquisition of Sybase. Of course, we all wanted to know what this acquisition would mean for SAP customers.
In 2011 we started to get into the detail – what should we put on a tablet or phone and what should be kept on desktop? How do we manage devices and keep the data secure? The next year, mobility was the single biggest issue in the SAP community – it was hot stuff – and it was firmly on most company’s strategies. There were still big questions though – should we build or buy? Web vs. native?
Fast forward two years to today and mobility is ubiquitous. It is still on the high priority list for Australia’s SAP customers and is a reality in most organisations in such shape or form. This year we are looking at getting ROI for our projects, considering different UIs and wondering what happened to SAP’s Mobile Platform. We are into Fiori in a massive way – all SAP customers want to find out how they can leverage these ‘free’ apps from SAP. But of course we still have our questions – which apps only work on HANA? Where should we start?
Do you think we’ll ever solve the issue of mobile SAP? Perhaps in another decade, we’ll undertake all transactions on mobile devices and desktops will be dead! Your thoughts please…
Until 2010 there was no mention of ‘cloud’ in the Hotlist. However, there was mention of high availability (2005) and virtualisation solutions offered by third parties (2008) – I believe both of these issues are related to cloud and perhaps embryonic versions of what we today coin ‘cloud’. By 2010, virtualisation was so important it deserved a topic of its own and the word ‘cloud’ is first mentioned. The next year we had lots of questions about cloud – what is it? What are the benefits and the challenges?
With the acquisition of SuccessFactors and Ariba, cloud became a very real issue for many SAP customers. So in 2012, we had more detailed questions – what about security and reliability? How do we staff cloud platforms? How will this affect the SAP roadmap? Customers knew there was a big shift from SAP coming with this acquisition activity. They were both excited and hesitant about this move.
In 2013, cloud became the third hottest topic in the research! Companies were still trying to define the business case, find out how it affects licensing and how to integrate it with on-premise SAP. We also first mentioned HCP (HANA Cloud Platform) that year, which continues to be a hot issue this year, along with HEC (HANA Enterprise Cloud). This year we are also looking at integration very seriously, as it seems most SAP organisations are looking at cloud solutions of some kind to replace or complement their on-premise solutions.
And speaking of integration…
When we started out our research in 2005, integration was already a hot topic. Back then we were talking about SAP XI – why should we adopt it? How do we set it up? What are others’ experiences? By 2007, we were looking for some clarification from SAP on what the roadmap for integration was. Interest in integration seemed to wane after 2009, although there was some talk of PI upgrades, SOA in 2010 and once again questioning where SAP were heading in 2011.
In 2012, interest in integration picked up again. Different tools and approaches were being discussed and evaluated – REST style APIs, Crossgate and AIF. And in 2013, interest was even higher when we started to talk about how to integrate cloud solutions with your on-premise SAP system – an issue that continues to be explored today. This year, integration has taken a back seat again in our priorities.
Why do you think integration has peaks and troughs of interest? And why isn’t it a specific hot area for the community currently?
Since I’ve been involved in the SAP community, it’s always seemed that upgrades are perceived by SAP users as a necessary evil – a step only taken to get one new bit of functionality. Or a prerequisite for a new piece of software. Back in 2007 upgrading the system was the single biggest issue the community faced – and it hasn’t left the list of hot topics since. In fact, there has been a resurgence of interest in upgrading this year when the issue fought its way back up to the top 5. So what exactly is our big issue with upgrading? Why is it such a thorn in our side?
It seems that at first we needed to tackle the process of upgrading. In 2006 we wanted to know how to make a business case for upgrading and how to plan and execute the upgrade effectively. In 2008 the whole concept of the Enhancement Packs confused us profusely! Was it an upgrade? Was it a support pack? These questions kept us busy for a good couple of years. Finally, in 2010 we decided that Enhancement Packs were really just another term for an upgrade.
But through all of this we were (and still are) struggling to make the most out of the new functionality available in each upgrade or Enhancement Pack. I am yet to find a customer that knows exactly what functionality is in their latest Enhancement Pack, what will make a difference to their business and what to implement (on a side note, if this is you please get in touch and you can present on it at this year’s event!) I know that SAP has tools that you can use to analyse how you use your current system and match that with the functionality in the Enhancement Packs, but customers still don’t seem to be using it, or getting much value from it….
An issue relating to upgrades that has continually reared its head since 2012 is testing. Once we turn on a new functionality, can we turn it back off? If not, it’s no wonder we’re scared to try out new functionality! Customers feel they’re spending so much time testing and keeping the lights on that they don’t actually get the time to innovate. And that’s a big issue in a digital economy.
Will we ever master the Enhancement Packs? I guess time will tell….
People & Culture
Now to my personal favourite – the people side of technology. This human side didn’t make it onto the Hotlist until two years into the event. I wonder why? Ever since then it has featured on the Hotlist in some way or another, but the focus has been different each year – how to get the most out of people (2008), how to communicate the benefits of SAP and create business cases (2009), how to encourage self-education and sharing (2010), how to focus on innovation (2011) and what functions to outsource (2012 & 2013).
The major themes throughout the entire decade are a) getting the most out of our team and b) building better relationships with the business. Technologists really seem to struggle in these areas and the topic has become increasingly important in recent years. In fact this year, it is the second most requested topic after user experience. It’s propelled by a certain amount of anxiety around the move to cloud and SaaS solutions. Is there still a need for traditional ABAP developers and basis admins? Having chatted with numerous people regarding this, I believe the answer is yes, but there may be new skills to learn along the way.
People, culture and communication are such complex and perennial issues that this year in the event we are tackling them head on. There is a whole track (shared with our HR and Financials events) dedicated to getting the most out of your own skills, those you lead and your wider community. I can’t wait to see how it is received!
Now for our most talked about and dividing topic of them all, SAP’s in-memory solution HANA. Of course, before HANA was unveiled by SAP in 2011, HANA was not mentioned at all in our research with customers. However, a decade ago we were challenged with issues like managing large databases, which is somewhat related.
Murmurings and questions about ‘in-memory computing’ arose in the round table discussions in 2011 racing in at number three on the list! With the solution in its infancy, we wanted to know what exactly it is, what it does and whether it was ready to be implemented in organisations. A year later it was still at number three. A small number of companies were experimenting with BW on HANA and of course we were keen to hear about their experiences. Most organisations stated it was on their 1-2 year roadmaps. Out of interest, I wonder if 2 years later these companies have yet implemented HANA?!
By 2013 we were getting a little weary of drinking the HANA kool-aid. At that time, customers wanted to cut through the hype and were only interested to hear about HANA if it was a real story from a customer, warts ‘n’ all. Price of HANA was considered prohibitive to many companies. What if you were a smaller customer? I guess now we have HEC and ‘Cloud for Customer’ type solutions, that somewhat solve this issue.
This year the topic of HANA dropped to number eight on the hotlist. I think we could put this down to a few things. Firstly, HANA is pretty divisive – you’re either fully on-board, or it’s not on the immediate roadmap at all. Secondly, there is so much information out there on HANA – from SAP, at conferences, in the press – perhaps we don’t need to learn anything else? Finally, I don’t think HANA isn’t one solution anymore – it might be ERP on HANA, BW on HANA, HEC, HCP, module specific solutions. Perhaps HANA is just a part of all SAP’s new solutions going forward and it doesn’t warrant a topic all of its own?
The research for this year took place before the announcement of S/4HANA. Do you think this announcement would have brought with it a resurgence in interest in HANA? What do you think are the big questions around S/4HANA?
I can’t believe I almost forgot SolMan – it’s been such a perennial issue for the past decade. An issue that has caused sweat, tears (and perhaps some blood) amongst almost all SAP customers in Australia! I believe SAP released SolMan around the same time we started the research for the first Mastering SAP Technologies event. At that time, customers were telling us they felt like SolMan had been forced upon them and that it provided little or no value. We wanted to ask the big questions – what, why and how. Interestingly, in 2006 it dropped to number 6 on the list. We were feeling less anxiety around Solution Manager and were looking for concrete information on where SAP was heading with the tool and what functionality was available.
This is where it gets really interesting for me – between 2007 and 2012 it was just like Groundhog Day for Solution Manager. That’s a whole five years with seemingly little progress in the SAP user community here in Oz! SolMan was consistently either number 1 or 2 on the Hotlist. There was significant doubt about how to get ROI from SolMan, how to get the business’ support for it and how to actually resource it. In 2008, customers started to dip their toes into using Solution Manager, but there didn’t seem to be much more progress for the next 4 years.
In 2012, SolMan was a slightly less pressing issue in the grand scheme of things and dropped to number 4 on the list. Most organisations were using SolMan in some form or another, usually for testing or monitoring (probably aided by Tony De Thomasis’ numerous sessions on this at the conference!). But we still needed to know how to retain the momentum of a SolMan project and to look at features such as Change Management and BPM.
For this year and last year SolMan has taken a bit of a back seat to other issues – coming in at numbers 6 and 7. Although there are still mutterings of cost, value and ROI, most SAP customers seem to be leveraging SolMan in some way and getting value from it. Today’s talk centres around the broad use of the tool and examples where organisations are leveraging SolMan to its full capacity.
I’m not convinced that SAP customers will ever jump for joy for SolMan – although I know a few that do. One thing I have learned is that SolMan takes a whole lot of investment in resources, but when you put the effort in, you tend to get the results
Tying it all together
There you have it – some of the main themes that the Australasian Tech community has faced over the past decade and how those issues have evolved. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, so if you have any other issues that you’d like me to look into, just let me know.
To put things into context, I’ve included below an image on the top three issues for each year in the past decade.
But now t’s over to you! Is there anything we’ve missed down under? Is this the same trend that you’ve seen around the world? What can you add? And if I were to write this blog again in another 10 years’ time, what would I be writing about? Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
A big thank you to everyone that has been involved in this research over the past decade – I hope I have accurately reflected your opinions here
The 10th Anniversary Mastering SAP Technologies event is taking place in Melbourne, Australia, 24-27 May 2015. To find out more, please visit www.masteringsap.com/techau or email me at email@example.com