SAUG Brisbane 2022
On the 12/05/2022 was the Australian SAP User Group conference in Brisbane – the first in-person event in what seems like a very long time…
Unusually for Brisbane the weather was not very good. I could tell because Noah was outside the conference centre building some sort of huge wooden boat whilst a very large variety of animals were lining up, two by two, ready to board. Apart from the Unicorns who were too busy creating start-up companies with a value of over $1 billion dollars (boo ha ha!)
It has rained non-stop for the last week and now I am at the airport writing this the sun has just come out for the first time.
NB I mention the names of the speakers, but it is important to note everything I say is just me raving on, not anything the speaker said unless I specifically say so. So if I suddenly write that everyone who works for SAP is stark raving mad or some such, or going off about saving the world, remember it was not the speaker who actually said that, it is just me rambling on.
- CEO of SAUG – Karen Zwissler
The most important thing about Karen is that she is a German who comes from Heidelberg. I lived in Heidelberg for about five years all up.
Anyway the news she had for us was in the form of a video from IKEA. As we all know IKEA is famous for the meatballs they serve in their restaurants. Well now they have meatballs for insects. You drop one in a flowerpot and lots of funny plants grow which endangered insects love to eat. A lot of people do not realise that if the insects die out (which is happening at an alarming rate) humanity is stuffed as well.
Karen ended with a message which I have always thought was true. Most of us “good” companies have got to the stage where we have the technology and skill set to use that technology. The problem is a lack of imagination/resourcefulness.
- SAP Cloud Success Services – Chris Peck
Sticking with the “it is all about me” theme the first person I talked to at the conference was Chris Peck. This is because back in 1999/2000 he was a consultant on the Australian SAP implementation I was working on. He used to compete in the “Iron Man” contest as I recall which, contrary to what you might expect, does not involve flying around in a metal suit firing laser bolts at people, but rather running, swimming, and riding a bicycle.
Anyway he is now high up the SAP tree and so did a keynote speech with all the SAP slides you might expect e.g. a picture of the SAP founders in April 1972.
What has changed in the SAP slides from a few year back is that the word “sustainability” is pretty much everywhere. As an example we no longer talk about the “intelligent enterprise” but rather the “intelligent sustainable enterprise”. In the same way Cristian Klein at SAPPHIRE said that business now had three annual results – the top line, the bottom line and the thin green line.
You are probably aware that SAP has “lighthouse” customers who get all the latest technology first and are sort of obligated to use it all as a sort of living advert for all things SAP. Famous examples are Heineken, LEGO and Under Armour. In Australia it is generally the NSW Fire Department that gets rolled out. It is a very good thing they have that level of technology considering the whole country burns down every few years. Fun fact – most of those fires are deliberately lit by arsonists.
- Powerlink Queensland – Mark Pozdena
Powerlink QLD is the state-owned electricity grid. They were talking about their move to S/4HANA using the Private Cloud option.
Just like many companies running SAP they had been adding Z code non-stop for 20 years until they ended up with a Spaghetti Monster. I know the feeling. I really ought to put some of them in my next book.
Doing a conversion to S/4HANA (its not an upgrade) is a fine time to get rid of the custom code that is never used, which is usually about 75%+. A lot of people inside SAP say you can get rid of it all, the standard vanilla system can do everything now, but that statement was utter nonsense 20 years ago and is utter nonsense now. Most SAP customers have a great deal of business-critical Z code to fill in the gaps in standard SAP. It is just the way of it that after a while for every line of Z code that is actually used you have 20 lines that are not.
The funny story he told was that their go-live was slightly derailed by a power cut, which is a bit embarrassing for an electricity company. It is like the head of BP or Shell running out of petrol. Apparently one of the key testers, pivotal to the go/no-go decision, got trapped in a lift when the power went out.
Mike presented some of his “lessons learned”. After listening to many such presentations the same themes keep cropping up. In this case it is vital that there is business involvement – this is not just an IT project where the business is not going to notice that anything has changed (which is often seen as a major sign of success in an upgrade – but this is not an upgrade).
Also he mentioned that his company went out of their way not to pressure people to say everything was going fine was it was not. This is what I have heard called a “watermelon project” where everything looks green on the outside as that is what is reported, but on the inside everything is red.
- Queensland University of Technology – Prof. Michael Rosemann
As might be imagined this was more of a theoretical discussion, albeit using real-life examples. He was discussing companies that solve problems (i.e. what is broken) as opposed to companies that embrace opportunities (i.e. what is possible).
One example he gave was General Motors. Many years ago the bottleneck to car production was painting the car – that took 37 days. The CEO went to the engineers and say this is not good enough and so the engineers’ made plans and cam back happily saying they could improve that to 30 days. That was not good enough either and so the cycle went around and around until in the end the painting time was one hour.
I like a quote by Henry Ford to the effect that if he had asked people what they wanted they would have said “faster horses”. I think Steve Jobs said something similar about Apple products.
Prof. Rosemann says what a company should strive for is “extreme trust” – that is where the customer feels that the company can make better decision than the customer themselves (and by better we mean better for the customer not the company). I think that is a difficult state to achieve. I would not trust most companies as far as I could throw them, especially not Australia Post because they keep losing all my mail.
One last point he came out with was about an “upgradeable degree”. The reasoning being that getting a degree is like buying a brand-new car. As soon as you leave the building it starts depreciating. So there is the idea of paying an annual fee and going back to the university every year for a bit to stay up to date. I actually think in some industries you already have to do that e.g. insurance and accounting.
- What is Possible – Panel
Then there was a panel discussion. You see this a lot at IT events. The head of my department once said, “When the chairs come onto the stage I walk out the door” and I see his point. I find the whole thing acutely embarrassing for the host, the panellists, and the audience. There is no flow or structure is a just a series of random people saying random things for no apparent reason.
One of the women talked about the ever popular “fail fast” theory and said that one definition of success could be lurching from one failure to another.
I also discovered that Brisbane will be hosting the Olympics in 2032.
- Advert Break
After the keynotes were over I did the usual conference behaviour of going round all the stalls and seeing what goodies were on offer. Usually I just walk away with about 20 pens though over the years I have won an Apple watch and an IPAD and one of those “Go-Pro” things for all the rock climbing and extreme sports I do.
The problem is picking up the pen or whatever without getting caught by the salesperson. The art is to wait until they are already talking to someone else but every so often you get trapped, nonetheless.
So I picked up some pens and a writing pad from “BASIS Technologies” and got trapped. I had planned to just listen politely for as long as it took and then make my escape. But then a miracle happened.
The salesman actually described a really interesting product. So interesting I actually emailed my boss a bit later and he was interested as well. That has pretty much never happened in over 20 years of going to such conferences.
In this case the product was called “Testimony” and it was all to do with automated testing. Not like unit tests but end to end tests. I explained where I worked we already had HPQC( or whatever it is called now) whereby we run 24 hours’ worth of automated scripts in pre-production on a Friday to see if anything has broken due to the transport which are in pre-production but not production yet. ECATT does that sort of thing as well; it is just much more painful to use.
Anyway this Testimony thing is something you run in production for a few hours, and it records everything that happens e.g. all the sales orders that are created, journal entries, material movements and so on and so forth. Then when the transports are in pre-production you “play back” the recording from production into the pre-production environment and all the sales orders, journals, material movements are either created successfully or not, and in the latter case you know the latest round of changes has broken something.
The logic being that in this case there is no need to have one or more people full time creating and maintaining automated test scripts, you are just recording what the actual end users did yesterday, which by its very nature is up to date and covers everything needed but only what is needed, not a business process that stopped happening six years ago but gets tested every week afterwards forever.
I cannot say we will actually buy this, but it seems well worth a look to me.
- Sunwater – Vicki Hlinovsky
In the same way we heard about the state-owned power company moving onto S/4HANA now we heard about the state-owned water company moving onto S/4HANA.
When Vicki did a poll of the audience about half the people in the room were on S/4HANA, half on ECC 6.0, and one guy still on R/3.
With Sunwater, their starting position was ECC 6.0 EHP0 and they went live on S/4HANA in September 2020.
This meant of course the entire project was done under a drastic COVID lockdown.
Just like the electricity company Sunwater managed to get rid of a whole heap of Z things, and again this was more of a “Business Process Re-Engineering” project than an upgrade. Back in 1997 when I started in SAP world virtually all SAP implementations were thus branded i.e. the project was all about improving the business processes and the technology used was incidental and just purely by co-incidence was always SAP.
One great comment was that if you want standard SAP then you have to change your business processes to match the way SAP is written. Someone from inside SAP would doubtless describe this as “embracing best practice” and everyone outside of SAP would prefer that they told the computer what to do rather than the other way around.
I recall once in Israel one of the consultants saying all seriousness that why don’t we change from being a concrete company to making light bulbs instead, as that industry was a much better fit for standard SAP.
Going forward Sunwater have committed to a regular cycle of upgrades (i.e. support stacks) and patching because they discovered that once you fall far enough behind (ECC 6.0 EHP0 is quite old by now) then you are stuffed.
Vicki mentioned one nasty surprise you can get when doing any sort of upgrade (with S/4HANA of course things are far more drastic as it a re-implementation) namely that many people presume the way a standard transaction works in their system is SAP standard when underneath the surface it is crawling with user exits. So when you run the same transaction in ECC 6.0 and S/4HANA it will behave utterly differently, and people get really puzzled as this is not a “Z” transaction.
The talk ended with some screen shots of Fiori applications. Clearly Sunwater were happy with this but some of the examples of why this was good puzzled me.
The idea of clicking on something and “drilling down” to a functional location or something was presented as a new thing, whereas I first saw it in the ALV circa 2000. The same with selection screen variants and report layout variants. Maye they are new concepts in Fiori world, or maybe some sort of salesman was pretending these were brand new, never seen before, features.
- Transport for Main Roads Queensland – Andrew Dyer
At this point I actually had to do something as I was facilitating this session. In case you do not know what the means it involves introducing the speaker by reading out a short biography that every single person in the room has already read, probably five minutes previously.
Then near the end of the session you are supposed to get the speaker to “wind up” by signalling them and then standing up near them to remind them to stop. Then I was supposed to ask for questions, asking one myself in no-one in the audience had any, then tank the speaker and remind the audience to visit all the stalls and go to the free beer event that evening. Then there would be a ten-minute gap so the next speaker could get set up.
It all started off OK. I met the speaker and on time bounded up on stage. I had my SAP Mentor shirt on and introduced myself as an “SAP Superstar” which made the audience laugh for some reason, and then I introduced the speaker.
All well and good. However the speech had to end by 2:20 and despite making wind-up signals and standing by him I could not get him to stop. I didn’t know what to do. I am not big and strong enough to crash tackle him and drag him off the stage and that would probably not be the correct way to proceed in any event.
In the 1985 pop concert “Live Aid” the stage was a huge circle split equally into three with a wall between each segment. That way a band could set up in one segment and when they were due to perform the stage rotated so that their segment was facing the audience. In theory if a band over-ran their allotted time they could be rotated away backstage.
Sadly in this case the stage was not set up that way. In the end the only way the talk ended was when the next speaker wanted to get on stage because his talk was due to begin. So I did not get to talk about questions or plug the vendor stalls or the beer event and thus was a 100% failure as a facilitator!
Now would probably be a good idea to talk about the actual content of the talk instead of maintaining a narcissistic focus on myself.
This was actually two full presentations in one (which is why it over-ran). Both were to do with displaying HR data using Fiori and both were about creating the reports yourself rather than using some sort of “out the box” solution.
The first presentation was all about HR Org Charts. The company had some sort of legacy non-SAP solution but it used adobe flash and so died a death and there were no available “out of the box” solutions to be found to replace it, so the idea was to replicate the functionality in ABAP and display the data using Fiori.
With Gateway services you code CRUD operations, but for anything fancy you need to code what is called a “Function Import”. In this case you want to start off from any point in the HR Org Tree and display the lower branches.
Also the user can type “FR” for example and gets a result list of all names starting with “FR”.
The second presentation was all about FTE reporting, but I did not make any notes about that or pay much attention to the content as I spent the whole time trying to work out how to bring the presentation to a close in a timely manner without upsetting anyone
- Lunch Break
It is unlikely this news made it outside of Australia, but many years back former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd got very ill eating a so called “Dagwood Dog”. What is one of those you may ask?
The Dagwood Dog is named after a character in the American comic strip “Blondie”, created by Chic Young in 1930. Dagwood, Blondie’s comical husband, does in fact have a dog, Daisy, that features in some of the domestic debacles of the Bumstead household.
The Dagwood Dog is a savoury pudding containing bits of a Kangaroo’s heart, bits of the liver of an Emu and bits of the lungs of a Koala, minced with onion, crocodile teeth, witchetty grubs, ostrich droppings, Platypus Beaks, and Funnel Web Spider Legs, mixed with snake skin, and cooked while encased in the stomach of a Drop Bear.
The end result is cut into sausage shaped lumps, put on a stick that is dipped in batter, then deep-fried in hot oil. Before serving, the tip of Dagwood Dog is typically dipped in tomato sauce, making it even tastier. Next week there is a federal election, and this delicacy will be on sale at all the polling stations.
- 5G + TINYML
This was probably my favourite of all the talks, as it was all about the future using high technology. The room was pretty much empty though.
As you know we are just at the start of phone systems moving onto 5G which is supposed to be 20 times faster than 4G. I do not know if it is just me but my mobile phone is OK for looking up things on the internet but no good at phoning someone up and being able to hear whoever is on the other end, or them me. Maybe 5G will fix this, and things can be like they were in 2000 when I first had a mobile phone which was good for phoning people up, the battery lasted a week, and it did not break when you dropped it. And when I sent a text message whilst disconnected that message was automatically sent as soon as I was connected. But all that is probably too much to wish for.
In any event the prediction is that in 8 to 10 years 5G will have replace all its predecessors. Of course by that point there will be 6G or 7G or some such.
The irony in Australia is that the advent of the first commercial use of 5G coincided with the completion of the “National Broadband Network” which took many years to roll out and cost ten billion zillion dollars. So now some wonder if the whole NBN thing was worth it, and is it now obsolete the very instant it is finished?
Going back to the talk the example was a factory where welding is going on. A human could spot that something was amiss just by listening to the sound of the welding. The idea is that an AI could in theory be just as smart and learn to detect the incorrect noise.
So now we know what 5G is, what is TINYML?
It is a package of food you get at MacDonald’s, with a free to added. Oh hang on, that is a HAPPY MEAL.
OK it is in fact a shopping centre that is only one micron cubed in area. Oh hang on, that is a TINY MALL.
OK it is in fact a way of embedding machine learning on a small device like a sensor, part of the so-called internet of things. All the AI type calculations are done on the device itself before the data is sent out to the central system.
Such a program can only be about 128K of code so I like to think of this as the “ZX81 for the modern world”.
Oddly enough this all ties in with another news story I read the other day whereby scientists are experimenting with powering IOT sensors using algae. They have had some such sensors going for six months non stop so far just using photosynthesis. Amazingly there is still a current at night as the algae keeps on doing what it does 24 hours a day. I suppose that makes sense otherwise it would die the instant the sun went down, and so there would not be a lot of algae in the world today.
So the combination of all this is that you can have tiny AI enabled sensors with everlasting power that connect as and when they can to the central system and send in “smart” data.
Lastly I note we have a new acronym – FOMO – which stands for “Faster Objects, More Objects”. That sounds a bit like SCOMO which is a way of referring to the current Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
This ties in very neatly to the next talk.
- Mitsui Coal – Craig Howard
One day SCOMO walked into the Australian Parliament carrying a lump of coal and shouted out to all the MPs “How good is coal!”. As it turns out some people do not think coal is good at all, usually when their island goes underwater, or there is so much pollution in the air they can no longer breathe.
Every single big oil and gas company in the world runs SAP, and so do a load of huge coal miners, and so does my own company Heidelberg Cement. The cement industry is one of the most carbon intensive industries on the planet because you need a huge temperature to run the furnace at a cement plant.
So on one hand the world is demanding all these industries shut down overnight, and on the other hand (most) of the people saying this still want to be able to drive their petrol car the next day and have electricity in their house (which is made of concrete). In Australia they also probably would not want to lose the tax money that shutting down the coal industry overnight would incur (though on a slightly different note some people say that the oil industry gets so many subsidies they end up paying no tax at all, and spend the surplus on running adverts complaining that electric cars get subsidies)
Is there a way to square this circle? I truly believe there is. Certainly where I work we take this very seriously indeed e.g. solar panels on concrete plants, carbon capture at cement plants, looking at battery powered prime movers and so on. Amazingly generally most such measures actually decrease costs in the medium to long term.
This is why SAP is so interested in the “intelligent sustainable enterprise” given that so many of its existing client base are traditionally “bad” companies. SAP does not want them to go out of business and lose the revenue and so want to sell them more things to turn them into “good” companies.
How can IT actually help here? Where I work every single employee (70,000 people) was tasked with coming up with an idea and here is mine.
Let us says there are two possible routes from our plant to the customer. One is 10KM with twenty sets of traffic lights. One is a tunnel (with a toll) which is 15KM but naturally no traffic lights. If the automated system to determine the fastest route chooses the shortest distance route with the traffic lights that is not only slower and more annoying for the driver but the constants stopping and starting uses more fuel and causes more wear and tear on the engine. So even considering the extra cost of the toll it is probably cheaper to use the tunnel and greener at the same time. As I just said these things often go hand in hand and we are told it is just a question of hundreds of 1% improvements which all mount up.
Anyway, now perhaps I had better stop the environmental rant and get back to what the talk was about which was – you guessed it – moving to S/4HANA Cloud.
There were three presenters – Craig was from the mining company plus one chap from SAP plus one chap from PWC consulting.
This is a coal mining company which produces 40 million tonnes of coal a year and that is worth 6.5 billion AUS dollars. This is just one coal mining company and so you start to see why the Australian government is not so hot on losing all that tax revenue.
First off I want to talk about the PWC data.
As we all know, adoption of new versions of SAP (or indeed anything) is usually in the form of a bell curve. That is initially only a few “early adopters” and then after a while there is a huge surge and then that leaves a few “hold outs”. As an example a show of hands in the room showed about half on S/4HANA, half on ECC 6.0 and one guy still on R/3. In this case S/4HANA came out in February 2015.
Research by PWC of Australian companies (I am sure things vary a lot from country to country) based on S/4HANA go-lives to date plus surveys of current plans showed that in the 2015-2020 period adoption of S/4HANA was virtually next to nothing. Most likely because it did not have functional parity with ECC 6.0 until 2020. Then in 2020 it started to take off and 33% of companies say they will be live within 12 months and 68% say they will be live within 24 months.
I turned this data into a pretty chart
As I said Australia may not be a good example as a whole, as so many SAP customers are government departments or state owned utility companies or the Police/ Fire Department / Army etc. and the government is very keen on S/4HANA.
But this would seem to indicate if your organisation does not start thinking very seriously about moving to S/4HANA soon you will be “behind the 8 ball” as they say, in short order.
Mitsui coal actually went really early to S/4HANA – on-premise – in 2016 but only recently joined the RISE with SAP program to move to the cloud.
So – what did Mitsui Coal get out of moving to S/4HANA?
The tangible benefits claimed were the month end reporting going down from 2 days to 30 minutes. That sounds a bit too good to be true but if we are talking about batch jobs processing huge amounts of data I suppose it is possible.
They also say after the move 80% of finance work is not transactional i.e. the finance team do not just sit there all day entering journals or what not but do value adding work. This comes back to the running theme that a move to a new ERP system (which is what you are doing really when you go from ECC 6.0 to S/4HANA) is not much good without the project being a “Business Process Re-Engineering” type project which naturally needs tons of input from the business.
PWC have come up with a new buzzword for really successful companies that use IT to jump massively ahead of the competition – PWC says such companies are TRANSCENDERS. The speaker did say it is vitally important that he pronounces that buzzword 100% correctly otherwise the audience hears it as “Transgender” and gets really confused.
- SAP – SPA – Robotic Process Automation
It is now Low-Code/No-Code time! SAP Process Automaton (SPA) is an anagram of SAP. I have seen several presentations on the subject and each time it seems to mean a slightly different thing but here we are talking about Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as in SAP => SPA = >RPA.
The focus here seemed to be generally on finance – as with the coal mining company the end goal was moving from a purely transaction finance team to a team that did
- 45% forward looking analysis
- 45% backward looking analysis
- 10% transactional processing
The first example of RPA given was uploading sales orders from Excel. I have been doing that in ABAP for a fair old while, trying to make the process as generic as possible.
The next example was reading invoice details out of an email, which is something I first encountered with an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) system in 2006.
I was happy to see that the second half of the presentation was a live demo, which is always good, and quite a brave thing to do. You may recall some years back someone demonstrating how robust their mobile device was by throwing it on the floor and jumping up and down on it, which of course broke it.
I had previously seen the UIPATH RPA system, and this time it was the SAP equivalent. In both cases the graphical designer looked a lot like the SAP Business Workflow system to me i.e. you are sort of building a VISIO type flowchart and you configure each square to do what you want for that part of the process, and then add some code at the end if you want.
Then one of those boxes (squares) was drilled into and (just like Business Workflow) there were a lot more boxes in the sub-process enabling the “square” in the main process.
The presenter seemed a little embarrassed at how many boxes were in the sub-process and said, “this looks a lot more complicated than it is”. No doubt that is true and probably 90%+ of those boxes are generated automatically and you only have to configure some of them.
Nonetheless just as a first glance I cannot help but think that there are as many boxes as there would be lines of code in an ABAP program.