I recently received an invitation to prepare and run a presentation to the IT Brazilian community in Sydney, subject free and with the main purpose of sharing experiences which may help other consultants in their SAP career’s development.
With this opportunity I found the perfect excuse to discuss a relevant topic that affects the SAP community nowadays, new SAP techs and the impacts in the life of consultants.
SAP is constantly reinventing its solution portfolio but the changes in the last decade can be considered a new record. So many things have been changing and in such a speed that is pretty difficult to follow up the technological revolution, in the middle of this process there are a lot of consultants that still didn’t find their way to follow these changes and reinvent themselves as IT consultants.
After a long period without checking the latest trends it might be really difficult to understand what is going on.
Image 1: SAP consultant trying to understand what is going on.
In this short blog I discuss the biggest changes that happened in the SAP world in the last decade, review some of the current SAP solutions and explain the impacts in the life of:
- Functional consultants
- Basis consultants
- Technical consultants
Notice that I don’t use the term ABAP consultants because this role is not restricted to ABAP development anymore. Technical consultants is used instead in a way to encapsulate everything that is related with ABAP, SAPUI5, HANA, SAP Cloud Platform, Integration, Analytics, etc.
Also, you will notice more details in the technical section because this is my main area of focus. I hope I can bring some ideas to Functional and Basis consultants but the information presented here is all based on my personal opinion and experience, basically all the things I’ve been learning in the last years during my upskilling journey.
Feel free to contribute with your own ideas in the comments section below. 🙂
Biggest changes and advantages for SAP
If you’ve been checking the movements in the SAP market in the last years you probably notice one of the following items from the list below:
- The development and release of HANA database.
- The transition from SAP ECC to S/4HANA.
- The inclusion of SAP Gateway and OData Services in the integration portfolio.
- The adoption of SAP Fiori as the main user interface.
- The cloud revolution and move from on-premise to SAP Cloud Platform.
- The digital transformation with new information systems like SuccessFactors, Ariba and C/4HANA.
Notice that some of these products had one or more rebrandings in the past (e.g. HANA Cloud Platform, a.k.a. HCP) but I am using the current names to avoid any misconception for consultants that didn’t experience those updates in the past.
In my opinion, the release of SAP Cloud Platform is one of the most important items from the list above, since SAP decided to put focus on its cloud strategy we started to notice huge impacts in the industry, for example, the digital transformation powered by separate cloud solutions and several products being replaced or transferred to the cloud like SAP CPI (SAP Cloud Platform Integration) or SAC (SAP Analytics Cloud).
The cloud strategy brings a lot of advantages for SAP but in my opinion these are the most important items:
- Reduced overall cost with maintenance and support (can you imagine a world without SAP notes?)
- Increased revenue with license based on service consumption instead of the old user license approach.
- Better adaptation to standard processes and fast implementation.
- Easy to expand list of services offered and innovate in different areas.
Since SAP controls the data centers, infra-structure and the software releases it is actually easy to provide updates to the solution or even innovate releasing new services without generating issues to things already deployed. The updates are also quicker, usually released quarterly.
For customers there is another advantage that is the payment based on consumption, SAP also increases the revenue changing from the old model of user license to service consumption subscription.
The adoption of the standard process receives more focus due to the reduced extensibility scope but with the updates of SAP Cloud Platform Extension Factory (Kyma) I believe we will have more options to explore in a near future. If you want to get more information about this subject I advise the reading of The next evolution for extensions – the SAP Cloud Platform Extension Factory from Rui Nogueira.
We talked about the advantages for SAP but what about the advantage for consultants?
At the first sight it is pretty difficult to see the advantage since you basically need to get most part of your work experience, put on the side and restart all over again studying new technologies and trying to adapt to the new trends in the market.
In my opinion the biggest advantages for us is the fact that SAP is moving from its comfort zone and investing in brand new technology to follow the changes in the market and stay up-to-date, this is the best strategy to expand business and bring the best game against competitors, for consultants it is also excellent because we are not going to work with obsolete technology and stay behind compared to the rest of the IT market.
Even if you express a different opinion from my statement above there is only fact that we can’t ignore that is the need to move out from our comfort zone and start to learn and discover all the new techs offered by SAP, so what’s next?
The Upskilling Journey
Impacts generated by SAP
There are some common issues faced by SAP consultants in the start of this journey and they are usually related with the following decisions, part of the company’s strategy:
- Accelerated evolution to reduce tech delay compared to competitors
- New company acquisitions
- Constant rebranding of products
- Potential duplicate solutions
SAP was always well known by its elaborated business processes and powerful data processing capabilities but there was a huge gap in other areas like user experience and cloud capabilities, to get back in shape and reduce the mentioned gaps compared to its competitors SAP started an accelerated evolution process pushing the boundaries and delivering new solutions in a short space of time.
Also, to support this evolution process SAP has been acquiring different IT companies and incorporating their solutions to the main portfolio (e.g. Hybris, SuccessFactors, Ariba, Callidus, CoreSystems, Qualtrics) with the acquisitions they also faced several rebrandings and sometimes the need to re-adapt the portfolio multiple times to avoid the offer of duplicate solutions.
Beside these facts, SAP consultants can also face issues related with access to study materials, certifications and project experience.
SAP Press vs. SAP Learning Hub vs. Open SAP
SAP consultants looking for training would usually use one of these three options.
SAP Press was one of my first options when I started to learn about SAP Gateway and SAP Fiori / SAPUI5 development in 2013. The books are usually very detailed, and you can buy a physical copy or just the access online, the prices are in average pretty fair.
SAP Learning Hub is the official platform for certification material and classroom training. I never had the opportunity to check a class due to the expensive prices, but the online platform works well. Nowadays my company provides access to this platform for internal training but you can also buy a single subscription if you want. As I mentioned, all the official training material for certification is available through the Learning Hub, you can find additional information in the other platforms but the best option is to rely on this content if your intention is to get certified by SAP.
Open SAP is the last offering and it brings an interesting concept, free training material providing insights about the latest techs released by SAP, the content is updated constantly and in the end of the course you even receive a certification of participation and conclusion. Some of the materials are pretty good (e.g. SAP Fiori courses with hands-on exercises) but most part of the courses bring just a superficial overview and they won’t be able to fulfil the gap requested in a real project.
The lack of project experience
Project experience is an essential part in the life of SAP consultants, without the hands-on experience is quite difficult to start the upskilling but this is not an excuse anymore. Some of the products are available in a trial mode for developers and you can start your training (with proper exercises) even without working in a project with the desired technology.
For example, people with interest about SAP Fiori and SAPUI5 can subscribe to a trial account via SAP Cloud Platform and access the Web IDE to do exercises. If you want to have a look in the HANA capabilities and maybe work with HANA XS you can also use the SCP trial or even install an image of HANA express in a local VM.
If you want to understand how to proceed with the subscriptions and installations I advise also to have a look in the SAP Tutorial website, there are a lot of exercises and installation guides showing all the mandatory steps before the start of the development (e.g. HANA express).
Since we covered most part of the general steps in the Upskilling Journey I think it is time to dig a little bit deeper and evaluate the details of each one of the main areas of consultancy in the SAP world to understand the impacts for each one of them.
S/4HANA and the Digital Transformation
The transition from ECC to S/4HANA is definitely the main subject discussed between functional consultants but the inclusion of other systems like SuccessFactors, Ariba and C/4HANA bring an additional complexity to the understanding of the all the products offered by SAP. In my opinion, these are the biggest impacts for functional consultants:
Modules simplifications and restructure
Finance is one of the modules most affected by this change, some usual tables are not used anymore and a lot of process received updates, this definitely brings a positive impact but functional consultants need to be on top of these changes.
New user interfaces
With the appearance of SAP Fiori and SAPUI5 we are not dependent on the SAP GUI anymore and several transactions were replaced by beautiful web applications. One of the main objectives of SAP Fiori is to reduce the macro-transactions and provide simple applications focusing in each one of the business roles in the company. With this change, the functional consultants need to understand the new touchpoints in the system to provide the best experience to their customers.
Configuration and extensibility via SAP cloud apps
On-premise installations are still a huge portion of the SAP market but since SAP is moving the main solutions to the cloud it might be more and more difficult to find on-premise installations in the future.
With cloud solutions the overall maintainability is reduced but the extensibility is also affected. SPRO is not an option anymore, now you provide the extensions and configuration through specific Fiori Tiles available in the cloud, this means that your options are limited and performed through a total different process.
This item brings also an impact for technical consultants but with SAP Cloud Platform Extension Factory I believe we will have more features to explore in the extensibility topic in the future.
Since SAP is offering all the new solutions in the cloud, I believe in the future it might be difficult to find spots for Basis consultants since the infra-structure is mainly attached to SAP data centers and coordinated by their own employees, but regarding on-premise installations there are still a huge portion of the market to explore.
Installation of specific SAP components
With the installation of new products like HANA database and S4/HANA there are some specific components that are requested and may be quite difficult to implement without understanding the new architecture. Some examples are:
- HANA AFL (Application Function Libraries) used for Predictive Analytics like APL and PAL.
- S4CRM add-on in S4/HANA instances.
- Enterprise-search in S4/HANA (without TREX).
Specialization in other cloud providers (AWS, GCP, Azure)
In my last projects I could notice the increasing demand of Basis and Cloud Architects with knowledge in AWS or Azure helping to coordinate the installation of SAP instances in the mentioned cloud providers.
Also, SAP has been focusing on partnerships with Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure and this seems the best time to upskill in a topic non-related with SAP technologies.
I’ve been working and experiencing most part of these solutions in the last five years and I believe you need to understand at least a little bit of each one of them to become a proficient technical consultant, other people may disagree from my recommendations but I believe these items can provide you the best vision to provide outstanding technical solutions to your customers.
SAP Fiori and SAPUI5 (UI & UX strategy)
The new User Experience designed for SAP software and applications, huge change in the front-end development but with incredible benefits for customers.
SAP Fiori is based on five principles: role-based, adaptive, simple, coherent and delightful. The main objective is to reduce the macro-transactions and provide simple UI for each one of the different employees in the company.
- SAP Fiori
- Custom apps
- Mixed apps (smart controls)
- Fiori Elements
- ABAP WebDynpro
- Screen Personas
ABAP development is still present but with a reduced scope since most part of the user interfaces have been migrated to applications powered by SAP Fiori and the data processing has also moved to the database level with the new strategy of code push-down.
ABAP still supports really important components like SAP Gateway, BOPF and even the development of Core Data Services via ABAP CDS.
- ABAP Development
- ABAP OO (still relevant)
- New ABAP 7.5+
- Goodbye SAP GUI!
- SAP Gateway and OData
- ABAP CDS
ABAP is also moving to SAP Cloud Platform and now you have the option to deploy ABAP codes there, if you want to have a wider idea about the future of ABAP development I recommend the reading of Evolution of the ABAP Programming Model from Carine Tchoutouo Djomo.
HANA database combines the power of transactional and analytical features in a single DB. The in-memory database created by SAP provides an unique experience to the customers providing the ability to run several queries in real time and with an incredible response rate.
With the appearance of HANA we noticed a big reduction in the ABAP development scope and the raise of code push-down, that is basically the transfer of data modelling and processing to the DB level.
HANA also provides an instance called HANA XS (extended application services) for scenarios of 2-tiers only (Database and UI).
- HANA XS
- Advanced (cloud-foundry)
- CDS (Core Data Services)
- Code-push down strategy
- Virtual Data Model
- ABAP CDS / HANA CDS (Core Data Services)
- AMDP (ABAP database managed procedures)
- SQL Script and Open-SQL (Consumption in ABAP)
- HANA AFL (Application Function Libraries)
- e.g. PAL and APL for Predictive Analytics
SAP Cloud Platform
SAP Cloud Platform was known in the past as HANA Cloud Platform (a.k.a. HCP) but the concept behind the solution is still the same. The main advantage of SCP is the fact that SAP controls their own data centers and are responsible for infra-structure, security and software updates. The list of services is extensive and it covers different areas like DevOps, Machine Learning, Analytics, Data Management, Mobile, User Experience, etc.
In the last years, SAP decided to follow the Cloud Foundry initiative to improve the quality and response time in the development of new cloud applications and with this change they started new agreements with other cloud providers to reuse their infra-structure.
Nowadays, we have the option to subscribe to a Neo instance (deployed via SAP data center) or a Cloud Foundry instance (deployed via other cloud providers). The list of services between the two models is slightly different but you can have a look in the current capabilities through the following link.
Note: The list below doesn’t contain all the SCP offers but just my personal list of important services to explore and learn.
- Web IDE
- SAP HANA Service
- CPI (Cloud Platform Integration)
- OData provisioning
- API Management
- Open Connectors
- Extension Factory
- Blockchain & Internet of Things (IOT)
- Mobile Services
- ABAP environment (on-cloud)
Integration and APIs
SAP PI consultants are also facing the re-adaption, PI / PO is still recommended for on-premise scenarios but SAP Cloud Platform is providing the new set of integration tools with Cloud Platform Integration, API Management and Open Connectors.
SAP Gateway is also an important piece of the integration portfolio but the focus is totally different, while SAP PI/PO works as a SOA middleware connecting and orchestrating interfaces between multiple systems, SAP Gateway provides an easy way to access data and it is usually destined to user applications.
- SAP Gateway and OData
- SAP PI/PO
- SAP Cloud Platform
- CPI (Cloud Platform Integration)
- OData provisioning
- API Management
- Open Connectors
The previous role of the SAP BW / BO specialist is also facing some big changes. Since HANA provides the support to analytical modelling in the same DB there are a lot of new technologies and real time reports that doesn’t request the same experience in SAP BW.
The use of Core Data Services and the Embedded BW in S/4HANA is definitely something to explore. The new BW/4HANA also shows a lot of differences compared to its precursor (e.g. ADSO).
Of course, it is still preferable to understand the concepts about BI and Data Warehouse to provide the best solution to your customers, but the most important thing is to understand the new options available in the back-end and how to provide the best user experience in the front-end using the current solutions offered by SAP Analytics Cloud, SAP BusinessObjects and the new applications from SAP Fiori and SAP Smart Business Services.
- HANA CDS / ABAP CDS
- S/4HANA Embedded BW
- SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC)
- SAP BO (Business Objects)
- Lumira Designer
- Web Intelligence (WebI)
- Analysis for Office (AFO)
- SAP Smart Business Service (on-premise and cloud)
- KPI Design
- Analysis Path Framework (APF)
- Query Browser
- Fiori Elements
- Overview Page
- Analytical List Page
- Analytical UI5 Components (e.g. Charts)
SAP Leonardo aggregates all the innovation areas explored by SAP, you can notice some products released by SAP in this space like the SAP Leonardo ML Foundation, Blockchain and Internet of Things (IOT).
In parallel, SAP has been discussing partnerships with other cloud providers to use their infrastructures and offer their services in a way to fulfil the gaps related with the main topics from the SAP Leonardo initiative. I still didn’t have the opportunity to explore this subject deeper but I believe it is quite important to understand at least the basics involved in this segment.
- Digital Transformation
- IOT & Blockchain
- Big Data
- Predictive Analytics
- Machine Learning
And finally, we reached the end!
This article started with a simple idea and a few loose paragraphs but in the end it turned into a big sharing of ideas and professional experiences that (I hope) it should bring more information to consultants working in the area and people that would like to start in the SAP world.
I wish to extend a huge thank you to the team of the IT.BR Australia for the opportunity to present this content and explore such an interesting subject.
As always, I hope you enjoyed the content and see you next time. 🙂