Presenting Solution Modeling Environment at Configuration Workgroup, Berlin 2016
I joined SAP close to one and half years back and started my journey with Solution Sales Configuration (SSC) product. It’s an advanced configuration product available in market today. My focus has been primarily on Solution Modelling Environment (SME). It’s the modelling environment for developing complex solution models. SME is developed as Eclipse plugin and offers a very nice user interface based on eclipse’s Rich Client Platform (RCP). It offers different features for a modeler, but the one feature that I like most is that it can be used in offline mode, i.e. unlike all other modelling tools, you don’t have to be connected to network to use SME.
Planning for Configuration Workgroup (CWG) event
We learnt that CWG event is scheduled for last week of April’2016 in Berlin. As suggested by Vivek, my Project Manager, I submitted an abstract for presentation on SME (Topic: Leveraging solution modelling environment for product and solution configuration). This got selected for presentation and I was assigned 45 mins slot to present the topic. On the one hand I was happy to know that abstract was selected, however, on the other hand I was little nervous that I have to present in front of elite gathering who are working in configuration domain for many years. Vivek and I started our journey together on 22nd April. It was a long journey but was rewarding also as it offered an opportunity to see Berlin, the historical city. The sight-seeing also helped me settle down and get over the nervousness I was feeling earlier.
On 24th April, we were invited for a welcome reception. We were little unsure about the dress code. As this seemed to a formal event, we decided to wear formal suites. However, after joining the event, we realized that we were the only two people in suites 🙂 . During this reception, we met different people. First one was Christophe, from fysbee who works with Schneider. We had very constructive discussion for about 20-25 mins. During discussion he explained what kind of challenges he is facing with SSC and why. For example issue which he and his team is facing with KB cache. During the discussion, I also explained some of the newly added features of SME like restore, performer and so on. They also have something like restore for their purpose. I believe we can use one of the concept to enhance restore feature supported by SSC. I met others like Peter Doris, Peter Illing and we exchanged our experiences. It was great to finally meet all of them after interacting with them for a long time over phone or email.
First day @ CWG
First day started with president’s message where he informed that this year the CWG event got over booked and there are more than 160 participants from different companies /different locations. This was followed by the presentations. The first presentation that I still remember was by Marin Ukalovic. He explained the evolution of configuration in SAP from VC to IPC to SSC in just 15 mins, without using any slides. After that, there were series of presentations, primarily on core concepts of VC modelling like Restricting Characteristic Domains, Updates on VC in s/4 HANA. The best presentation was from EMC, which explained their journey with SSC and why they used SSC. It also explained the initial challenges with SSC like performance issues, configuration failure rate etc. This helped me gain a much better perspective into how customers perceive our products. During EMC’s presentation Henk talked about KBO concepts, external variant table concept which was primarily developed for EMC. Additionally, he also talked about how they have used framework code in SME for faster development and standardization.
My presentation @ CWG
As I had my presentation next day, Vivek and I worked till mid night to modify the presentation. After finalizing the PPT, we planned to concentrate more on demo than presentation to seek better focus from audience. So I executed all the scenarios, at least twice, that I was planning to demo. I preferred a live demo over a recorded one for better impact, though it was little risky. On 2nd day there were several presentations on Hybris, clearly suggesting that Hybris is gaining prominence in configuration. Apart from Hybris related presentation, there was one very interesting presentation by Steve Lenz on SSC explaining core concepts of SSC i.e. Knowledge base orchestration and how this concept is being used for solutions by having KBO between a solution KB (Advanced KB) and multiple product (advanced or classical kb). Right after Steve’s presentation, it was my turn to present SME. I started my presentation explaining basic features on offer to modelers, like content-assist, templates, error handling, graphical support and Import/Export of KB etc. Latter, I also talked about external table concept that concept briefly and how to define that in SME models. Henk re-explained concept of external table that he explained first day during EMC demo. Then I explained a few recently added features (or planned for future) by us in recent months. First one was import classical models. This feature allows classical models to be exported to SME database so that they can further be tested in SME test UI. Honestly speaking when we added this feature to SME, we didn’t realize that it would be of so much interest to customers. Next I explained recently added import/export configuration feature, which allows modelers to restore configuration done by business users in SME to see issues/challenges faced by business in their live environment. While I was presenting this feature, Peter Doris (one of the board member of CWG), that he had successfully used this feature to resolve couple of major issues at customer site. While demo, configuration of SME_OFFCIE KB stopped working and it started giving conflicts. This was really unexpected as I had tried this scenario at 10 times today with the same model. It made me nervous for a while but then I successfully explained the same scenario with a different KB. Last feature that I talked about was Performer script and how they can be used for testing models. It was also highlighted during the presentation that these performer scripts can also be for classical models which are not authored in SME.
It was a great learning experience to be part of such an elite gathering and gave me different perspective to look at the product. Here are few from this:
- In my 1.5 years of working with SSC, I always thought that SSC is a great product (which is true) whereas VC is something which has already faded. This conference helped me correct my understanding that there are many customers who are using VC and there are a lot of new improvement happening there as well. VC still remains core of SAP configuration. Next time whenever, there is an enchantment in SSC, I will keep a note how it will handle classical model.
- I somehow realized that we as a support team are little far from our customer’s needs. This forum provided an opportunity for me to understand their work (at high-level) and their perspective.
- Hybris is next big thing in configuration world. A lot of customers were interested in knowing how Hybris can be used with SSC/IPC.
- Apart from building personal connect with different people, I was able to attend some great presentations at CWG like the one from EMC or the one from Steve Lenz. These presentations help the learning as well as broaden one’s perspective.
- Last but not least, if you wish to demo, it’s always better to have a video for it. So that we can avoid any tricky situations during presentation (like the one I had 🙂 ).