At SAP TechEd in Las Vegas last week Bjoern Goerke announced that SAP would be making the ABAP runtime available on the SAP Cloud Platform. This announcement was greeted with plenty of applause from those in the audience drawing Captain Kirk to comment “Finally – you will say”.
Bjoern explained and positioned ABAP in SAP Cloud Platform in this way.
…a successful platform needs developers, customers and partners…it takes You, the developers, to create such solutions.
…if we talk about developers we need to consider our community. This includes our community of several million ABAP developers around the globe that has been continuously growing over the past 20 years.
…ABAP in SAP Cloud Platform … enables the ABAP developer community to step into the cloud with us. Customers and Partners can build extensions for SAP products like S/4HANA cloud as well as new cloud applications. ABAP in SAP Cloud Platform is also an option to transform existing ABAP-based custom code or extensions to the cloud. And finally, it provides access to all the SAP Cloud Platform capabilities. Whether it’s the core services like integration and security or the new Leonardo innovation services like machine learning, IoT or blockchain.
Following the keynote everyone wanted to understand what exactly this meant. There is plenty of conjecture about the relevance and importance of this announcement.
From my perspective I think this is a predictable and sensible move from SAP – but I think my view is a bit more nuanced than some others.
I perfectly understand the logic of providing a cloud option for the “several million” ABAP developers.
After all, as Bjoern acknowledged, it is adoption that will make the SAP Cloud Platform successful – end of story.
SAP might build the greatest cloud platform ever but without widespread adoption it will die on the vine. If they can get a significant percentage of the existing ABAP developers to build on the SAP Cloud Platform they directly address the adoption issue.
Another issue that was expressed to me at TechEd was that SAP customers and partners are saying to SAP …
“What about my SAP developers? These are good people who have provided great service to me and my customers over many years yet they seem to have a diminishing role in your roadmaps”.
SAP felt they needed to address this.
However my thoughts return to the intrinsic value of an ABAP developer? There are plenty who misunderstand that ABAP developers are different to most other developers. Many criticise them and their craft. I often criticise ABAP developers for failing to maintain their development skills in these changing times. But I would never criticise the unique value that comes with the ABAP developer.
You see, unlike other programming languages, ABAP is not so much about syntax. ABAP is about much more than that. An ABAPer knows the SAP data model intimately. They know when to use SAP-provided API’s and when to build their own. They know about building enterprise-ready applications. They know about business process. They know about supporting multiple languages, currencies, date and time formats, etc. They know the importance of 24×7 operations, rock-solid reliability, integration, etc. They know about software logistics. And they also know about the specific characteristics of the industry or industries they work in.
I usually refer to this non-syntax skillset as SAP-specific domain knowledge. It separates ABAP developers from the rest. In my opinion it is why non-ABAP developers struggle to interact with SAP systems. After all there is no technical difficulty connecting a Java, C#, Swift, PHP, etc. application to a SAP backend. And we can assume that these developers know their chosen programming language well. So why do they tend to struggle so much with SAP projects? Why, when asked, do they invariable respond that SAP integration is “difficult”? Why are there so many stories of late, costly and failed projects? Why do we hear so often about “communication issues” between the SAP and non-SAP teams? And why do ABAP developers who use other languages find it so much easier to interact with SAP systems?
It is because when you are a good ABAP developer you have absorbed so much more than just the ABAP language syntax.
So when SAP provide a path to the cloud for the ABAP developer they also provide a long term path for the ABAP developers’ intellectual property. All that SAP-specific domain knowledge can now stay within the SAP ecosystem rather than wander off to find somewhere else to play. This stuff is valuable – dare I say essential – if people are to build S/4HANA extensions, Business Suite extensions and new applications for the SAP ecosystem.
You can’t just let that all that deep enterprise understanding and experience disappear when it will be so important for building successful SAP Cloud Platform applications.