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There is a delicious irony in what I have to say today.

As I logged into the Community for the first time in many years, I was presented with a list of stories from my last interaction – see above.

Top of that list was 2014 – The Year SAP Forgot About the Community. Clicking on the link, I saw that a comment I made at the time was marked ‘Former Member’ with replies from Matthias Steiner and John Appleby. I soon got that fixed by opening up my profile.

I say ‘irony’ because, at the time, I vigorously defended SAP for the event and the manner in which it showcased Mentors. I know that between then and now, there’s been considerable debate/angst/concern/effort/development that has always been a part of the Community but which in recent years has left many people wondering if SAP has lost its Community Way.

Stepwise forward

If TechEd Barcelona (I no longer travel to the U.S.) is a reflection of SAP Community in 2018 and its cloudy vision going forward then I’m going to call it as the year SAP got it’s cloudy sh*t together in homage to Bjoern Goerke’s exhortation that this is where the cool sh*t happens.

But there is so much more.

First up, if you’re reading this and you know me then you know I am one of the world’s lousiest coders, that I love PHP and CSS, have a passing and passable interest in JS and find ABAP to be one of the world’s great mysteries. You also know I’ve been in and around the SAP Community for many years but very much with a ‘what’s in it for me as a business person’ approach to all things SAP. At the same time, I have a very healthy respect for coders though I will on occasion fall short of rocking to the New Kingmakers meme.

With that backdrop, here’s what I thought going into TechEd, what I discovered and what I believe needs to happen next.

Open questions

My partner in crime Jon Reed  attended TechEd Las Vegas and going in had open questions:

  • Define the path to the so-called “intelligent enterprise” with more clarity.
  • Show how customers not yet on S/4HANA won’t be left out of this.
  • Excite the masses with quick ways for companies to launch next gen apps – without having to tackle a full-on enterprise modernization project from the get-go.

Last, but certainly not least:

  • Energize the community with shining examples of customers and coders kicking butt. In the process, revive a stale TechEd format and boost a community that has been dulled by too many overwrought web reorgs.

Coming out of Las Vegas, Reed added:

Today, I saw a more dynamic community section on the show floor than I have in years. Craig Cmehil is the newly-promoted Head of Communities & Influencers, SAP Developer & Community Relations at SAP (nice job title!). That’s one of the smartest moves SAP has made on the community side in a while. Cmehil brought community legend Marilyn Pratt back to SAP TechEd this year, and she brought her son. That stirs even the cynical hearts:

Craig Cmehil@ccmehil

Community Showcase first session of the event @SAPCommunity with the amazing @marilynpratt

Cmehil and I don’t agree on everything, but he gets that community is about forthright communication and new experiments, not BSing people about the good old days that aren’t returning. Cmehil’s team needs another year for a true assessment of their progress, but at least on day one, the funky community spirit I didn’t see on the keynote stage was out there on the floor.

Stage setting

By the time the show reached Barcelona I had more things on my mind. DSAG had almost mirrored Goerke’s position on all things developer in a move I saw as extraordinarily well aligned. That made me think more about the business position and how that might mesh with developer thinking.

SAP ABAP in the Cloud – I get it – but it also begs the question, what’s more for developers and where do they really go to from here? In my analysis of Goerke’s keynote and first day, I commented that:

Goerke and I have not always seen eye to eye but in both his keynote and subsequent discussion I can see important changes in the way SAP is positioning its discussions with developers as a way of recognizing the importance of the developer community standing alongside the business. I saw first-hand evidence of that in a specific and wide-ranging customer conversation.

The good news for SAP is that almost without exception, the SAP Mentors with whom I spoke are 100% behind Goerke’s vision. Clear evidence of that comes from the space devoted to developer education and demonstrations with over 50 screens running cloud tutorials in an area covering a good quarter of the show floor. That’s huge.

The keynote may not have generated the kind of excitement from developers that Goerke was hoping for but then that excitement was palpable on the show floor once they saw what is achievable.

Customer quotient

By the time the show finished for me, I realized I had not spent enough time on the show floor. That was compensated by two excellent customer meetings – one PostNL, the other Doehler.

The two could not be more different. PostNL is responding to market changes to becoming a network company that’s cloud first and API driven. The second is transitioning to cloud services as a way of helping innovate new products. Each customer is a long-term customer with SAP and is not going away anytime soon. Each story was compelling on its own terms.

Community alive

My discussions with DJ Adams and Craig Cmehil reflected a degree of enthusiasm seen by Reed in Las Vegas and which seemed to have amplified in the in-between period. Conversations I had with folks like Thomas Jung, Rich Heilman, Chris Paine, Gregor Wolf and many other mentors at the SAP Mentor evening confirmed a level of excitement around ABAP in the cloud and the potential for innovation that has been kind of missing for me in the past. My conversation with Dick Hirsch as we wrapped up the show was one of the most positive and future hopeful in quite a while.

But that’s still not enough.

I am convinced that the world of the developer has sharply shifted and SAP developers are tantalizingly close to being able to make the shift. Here’s an example.

I spoke with Matthias Steiner about the need for business conversations and explained to me how he is being drawn into more CIO type discussions. That means he’s having to learn a whole new language, a whole new way of communicating with the business which takes him out of his comfort zone but is exciting and challenging. It’s not something that comes easy to developers and especially those who routinely speak SAPenese. I admire his courage. But it will take a lot more.

Three steps to heaven

Here’s where I think this goes and yes, I am liberally stealing from others but hopefully in a manner that is useful:

  1. Today, developers are still developers and will remain that way. Code doesn’t (yet) write itself and customers will still want their wee customizations for those things that differentiate them as business entities.
  2. The next step though is very much where Matthias is today. These are folk who are on a mission of discovery to determine the needs, wants and desired outcomes of the business that they can play back to the business in terms they can understand.
  3. Once that state is reached, the next logical step is to become real kingmakers – those who actively seek business problems or can see opportunities the business may not yet see but for which the developer knows there are possible portfolio solutions and scenarios. That requires a ‘walking in my shoes’ approach to the business. Equally, it requires the business has at least a passing understanding of technology shifts AND is capable of responding.

These are exciting times and there is much to learn. A good starting point might be trying out the Gartner ETA. Yes, I just said the G word. And check this – it’s free.

I got my team to do so this week and we learned a great deal. None of our team is especially technical but we got insights that absolutely help us going forward. Here are the results:

 

 

Another starting point is to think about a problem, imagine the solution and then write the press release you’d put out once the project is done. That’s how Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon gets his teams aligned and it works.

Final words

Whether you’re an ABAP jock, JS maven, whatever-the-latest-fad-in-programming-languages person, there’s a massively important and valuable role for you in the SAP of today and tomorrow.

This is a community with the potential to make seriously big waves as it tackles the Big Hairy problems that consume the attention of the C-Suite and for which SAP has a deservedly solid reputation.

Now is the time to take those years of accumulated knowledge and expertise and discover what the business is thinking and how you can help them make the world a better place.

As Goerke said – and I paraphrase – it’s up to you.

Endnote: For next year, I like the idea of shifting the conversation from ‘The Journey to the Intelligent Enterprise’ to ‘To Infinity and Beyond.’ What do you think?

 

 

 

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9 Comments

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  1. Bjoern Goerke

    Well observed and thanks for sharing all your considerations, Den!

    tbese are exciting times — lots of opportunities that can be seized, but for sure a lot of hard work required on all sides to make it a reality.

    It all starts with having a dream and then remaining curious to make it real!

    Best,

    Björn

     

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  2. Marilyn Pratt

    Thanks for the mention Dennis Howlett . I was generously given latitude by Craig Cmehil  to speak to the attendees about bridging communication (not just between technical and non-technical community folks although that was the topic). The life of the developer community is dependent on the degree of real listening that happens. Starting at the top. Bjoern Goerke and Thomas Grassl demonstrate that community is a strategic imperative. It’s refreshing to see responsiveness here. The real proof will be in how folks perceive they are being heard.

    I was impressed by the interest in providing services “for good”. I came away hopeful that extending curiosity not only to the infinite possibilities but to those on earth, is alive and well.

     

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    1. Dennis Howlett Post author

      I am jealous as heck that I didn’t know you were there and that I didn’t get to see you!! You’ve always been a fabulous community mentor and the words ‘What would Marilyn do?’ live long in the memory.

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  3. Nabheet Madan

    Great thoughts Dennis Howlett sir. If we look at the overall approach of SAP as compared to what it was 5-10 years back is altogether different. I feel it is being more open and receptive to constructive criticism. Being an ABAP developer myself, even a HTML/CSS/JS was not known to me few years back, as we SAP guys tend to remain focussed inwards(SAP world only) at least me.

    But last few years have been i will say one of the best as we are embracing and accepting that there are many cool technologies which exist outside SAP. In fact SAP is now contributing big time to those technologies for Cloud Foundry, K8S etc.  At one time we knew Java will not be used anymore for example in webdynpro, but now we are open to anything for example cloud native applications running in Java, Python etc.

    I think this embracing the world which exist outside SAP has brought in a tremendous change.  Definitely interesting time ahead for all the developer community, too much to learn and explore.

    Thanks once again for your blog.

    Nabheet

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  4. Matthias Steiner

    Great to see you back and engaging with the community -many of us have fond memories of passionate and opinionated blog posts! Here’s to hoping that this is turning into a trend to revive former members and re-establish a constructive dialogue.

    As you have called me out (in a good way, the community-way!), let me chime in and add my view to yours.

    Yes, I agree that the sweet spot is at the intersection of business and technology (it has always been), but with the accelerating speed of innovations it seems to get more and more challenging to explain the “art of the possible” to people who are less technically versed. It’s a rare talent as it requires a lot of experience…

    I can only speak for myself, but for me, I feel that my 10+ years as a software architect within SAP Custom Development laid the groundworks for me in this role. I spent a decade designing and developing first-of-a-kind custom solutions based on SAP and non-SAP technologies for various industries.That is very similar to the work enterprise and solution architects do outside of SAP.

    In such roles, you learn to quickly ramp up into new business contexts and then map requirements to technologies etc. I leveraged this expertise in my early days of being a cloud platform evangelist by being able to talk eye-to-eye with my technical counterparts on the customer/partner side. But those early conversations were more about awareness and explaining the benefits of cloud.

    The conversation moved on, and nowadays it’s more needed to convince the business that we have the right technologies to fulfil their need. That has nothing to do with courage, but rather boils down to #doingtheneedful (to reference another famous SAP Mentors #hashtag).

    And yes, it’s challenging, as you (your product) are being challenged by business leaders (C-level.) But it’s also very rewarding at the same time. And a matter of continuous learning… (but that is true for all of us these days!)

    As I replied on Twitter, our team has started to collect and document common use-cases that can be addressed with SAP Cloud Platform as a proven, repeatable way to get get started successfully – see here: https://cloudplatform.sap.com/scenarios/usecases.html . So, we are transitioning from step (2) to (3) … it’s a journey, of course, yet we believe we are moving into the right direction!

    Feedback welcome!

    Cheers,

    matthias

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    1. Dennis Howlett Post author

      I’ve seen some of the surrounding content talking ‘repeatable’ but I’d be surprised if it works out that way in practice. Interested to watch progress.

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