SAP Mentor Spotlight Interview: Graham Robinson
|The SAP Mentor Spotlight Interview Series highlights key strategic topics, such as emerging technologies, learning, and other topics, and provides insights from Mentors and SAP leaders on turning ideas into innovative approaches that impact people, process, and technology.|
Like an Antarctic explorer, it takes a lot of preparation, adaptability, resourcefulness, and accountability for IT and business professionals to achieve success.
As an avid Antarctica enthusiast, Graham Robinson, an independent developer, Principal Consultant at Yelcho Systems Consulting, creator of 2-Cliks and SAP Mentor, has a passion for adventure and learning about legendary explorers such as Sir Douglas Mawson and Sir Ernest Shackleton. Each in their own way provides many lessons that we can all learn from.
Recently, I caught up with Graham to ask a few questions about his career journey and how he started with a background in IT infrastructure that evolved into becoming a solution architect with a broad range of skills including working with UI’s (user interfaces), mobile solutions, web services, email gateways, SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP), SAP Workflow Management, and SAP ABAP.
Allie Trzaska (AT): Over the past few decades, you have delivered innovative solutions to help achieve maximum returns on IT investments. What sparked your desire to become a leading software architect and developer and start your own company, Yelcho Systems Consulting?
Graham Robinson (GR): I had been working in infrastructure roles for a long time including as an IT Manager at SAP Australia. SAP wanted me to move into a consulting role, and I decided that if I was going to do that, I would rather try it on my own. This decision was partly because I wanted to try being my own boss. I felt small teams were a better alternative, and I foresaw a time when my experience would no longer be viewed as an asset by prospective employers.
My first major project was to design and build a sales force application for use on mobile phones that integrated with a backend SAP system. Who remembers WML (Wireless Markup Language)? SAP Mobile Engine? The ABAPer assigned to help me for this project found other priorities – as ABAPers do 😉 – so I was forced to dive in and do it myself. I managed to pull it off and in doing so learned a lot about customers, what they want, and that I could be successful working for myself.
I also discovered that SAP customers really wanted browser-based frontends to their SAP backends. So, whilst I have delivered lots of cool solutions over the years, they have all fundamentally been about leveraging internet technologies in SAP landscapes.
GR: Wow – what a question. Firstly, let me encourage anyone reading this to visit Antarctica. There are amazing wild places all over the world, but Antarctica is next level unique. It is logistically a hard place to get to, and it will cost a lot more than your usual annual holiday, but, trust me, it will be more than worth it. It will change you – not many places you can say that about.
Now onto those Antarctic explorers. There are so many personalities and stories that you can study them for decades – but the Shackleton example from his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917 is the one most people come back to. Shackleton was a deeply flawed person in many ways, but his overwhelming sense of responsibility for the men under his command and his absolute focus on setting and achieving his goals (even when circumstance and disaster moved them) have made him a compulsory study in leadership at leading public and military institutions around the world.
As for parallels between him and me – I try to avoid them wherever possible. I want nice smooth projects that run to plan and budget – Shackleton didn’t seem to have those sorts of projects. He did “own the problem” and I like to think there is some commonality there.
AT: How did you become an SAP Mentor? What does it mean to you to be in this program?
GR: I am forever grateful to Thomas Jung who nominated me to become an SAP Mentor after I helped him run an all-day workshop at a Mastering SAP Technologies conference way back in 2007 – or was it 2008?
It was nice to receive the recognition, but I quickly discovered that the real value of the Mentor program was the people I got to meet and spend time with. Some were other Mentors, some were SAP employees, some were industry experts and analysts. These incredible people were smart, engaging, articulate, diplomatic, nice, and just fun to be around. Being around them helped me self-evaluate and grow both professionally and personally. They are my mentors and my friends.
The other thing that the SAP Mentor program has provided is opportunity. I have been able to form strong personal and professional relationships with people who are now scattered all over the IT industry and all over the world. I have also been able to, in my own small ways, influence SAP in both strategic and tactical ways. It still amazes me that an ageing independent developer from Australia can have those opportunities.
AT: As a business owner, you know that applications need to show near and long-term value to the customer. Based on your experiences with the SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) ABAP environment’s ABAP RESTful Application Programming Model (RAP), what are 1 or 2 compelling examples where application programming models need to provide customers new qualities such as integration and extensions into existing landscapes as well as flexible cloud deployment options?
GR: I think we all know where we need to be – and that is a world of democratized APIs where anyone can access complete application functionality in any way they choose to. (A good event mesh would be useful, too.) In this world, languages are immaterial as we would all speak “API.” But languages – and tools – are important when it comes to implementing the application functionality and publishing it.
I look forward to the day I get to see my ultimate SAPPHIRE demo. In this demo, the customer has an SAP S/4HANA system and initiates some sort of process to source raw materials. Then the customer decides to subscribe to SAP Strategic Sourcing (i.e., Ariba). Now, when the customer initiates the sourcing process, they can take advantage of the additionally available features around negotiation and supplier selection, for example. They don’t need to create a new vendor master record or implicitly replicate data. Nor do they need much in the way of training. It just works with seamless integration between the components of their now hybrid sourcing solution.
AT: Your work at Yelcho shows a lot of focus around SAP Workflow Management allowing users to digitize workflows, manage decisions, and gain end-to-end process visibility. From a thought leadership perspective and at a high level, how does Yelcho’s 2-Cliks technology extend decision support to improve process efficiency?
GR: Thanks for asking about 2-Cliks. Over a decade ago, I had a public sector customer who wanted to enable purchasing approval workflows, but none of the decision makers were SAP users. 2-Cliks uses the standard Workflow APIs (WAPIs) to build an email that it sends to the decision maker. They then select a decision which addresses a reply email. 2-Cliks validates the reply and then carries out the chosen decision whilst enforcing the relevant SAP authorizations.
The benefits are many and varied. The email contents are fully customizable and designed to contain all the information the decision maker needs. No need to jump into ME23N (Display Purchase Order) and figure out what this purchase order is all about. Managers can evaluate and process a purchasing decision in seconds. When mobile access to corporate email was implemented, they could just continue using 2-Cliks and email works offline too. For me an important move was to deliver 2-Cliks using a SaaS model.
AT: What advice would you give to students and recent graduates who are looking to pursue a lifelong career as a developer and/or enterprise architect? How can they stay up to date in this fast-paced environment?
GR: I feel a bit unqualified to answer this as my developer career sort of found me rather than the other way around – but I think there are a couple of things I would say to anyone who has any goals they want to pursue.
Firstly, you need to be curious – and act on it. Be curious about everything that interests you – not just career related stuff. Form a habit of being curious and without even thinking about it you will also form a habit of life-long learning. Maybe you want to find out what was so interesting about that Shackleton guy? See what I did there?
Secondly, you need to be a true professional. That means properly learning and constantly improving your skills. It also means acting professionally and with integrity. If you want someone to pay you for your expertise, you should always try to exceed their expectations. More importantly you should exceed your own expectations. You will sleep better, boost your self-confidence and the right people will notice.