SAUG Sydney 2023
On the 21st and 22nd of August 2023 there was the SAP Australian User Group (SAUSAGE) conference in Sydney, Australia. You will want to hear all about the dustbins and the food, and maybe about the content of some of presentations.
They were great. Every time someone from a vendor stall gave me a flyer of some sort, I instantly went to the nearest dustbin, and everything worked just fine.
This year the menu was designed by the late Michael Winner who directed the movie “Deathwish” amongst many virtually identical movies and wrote a column in a UK paper called “Winners Dinners”. As a result, there were many exotic foods to try such as “Bat Entrails in a Porcupine Blood Sauce” and “Fillet of Charles Bronson”.
I got a whole bunch of stuff. Charging cables are always good and my wife liked the sturdy coffee cup holder. I got lots of socks, this year from Opentext and Blackline. I did not win any prizes. There was a four-foot-tall Optimus Prime on offer, though I do not know what I would have done with it had I won.
As an aside, the two days were also filled with various people talking about SAP, including my good self. I thought I might as well go to as many talks as I could, turning up for my own one was important, but I could go to lots of others as well. After all it does not take that long to collect all the socks and other goodies from the exhibition hall.
Before I get going, I am going to do my usual disclaimer that I am going to be just regurgitating the notes I made against each presentation I attended. Being human, as opposed to an AI, my memory is imperfect and what I wrote down my not reflect what the speakers said. So, any good things come from the speakers, any mistakes are mine and any comments I make which could be construed as negative are intended as a joke. I also have a memory like a fish, so I have already forgotten everything, all I have left are my notes.
At the start of day one there were a big bunch of keynote speeches, and they all had a common thread running through them. What was that common thread? You may not believe this, but it was AI! Who would have thought!
Angela Massey (SAP) – RISE with SAP
Gartner have predicted that by 2026 we will have 75% of businesses running their ERP systems in the cloud. That might be because companies like SAP give them no choice.
I had noted, looking at the slides, that to all intents and purposes I could be sitting in a talk from the year 2000 trying to get me to buy SAP 4.6C. The messages were exactly the same – too many manual processes, sliced departments not talking to each other and so on. The only difference was that the words “AI” and “Sustainability” were now liberally sprinkled all over the place.
So instead of “The Best Run Companies Run SAP” which you had in 1997 now we have “The Best Run Sustainable Enterprises powered by AI Run SAP”. It is like during the dot com boom when the slogan changed to “The Best Run E-Businesses Run SAP”
There was a picture of an iceberg. As we know 95% of an iceberg is hidden from view beneath the sea. The analogy was that traditionally an SAP customer did 95% of the work manually and only 5% was automated. And now SAP can do a lot more.
There was a running joke in the conference that SAP slides have a lot of words on them. That is a bad thing generally as the audience tends to start reading them and thus not listen to the presenter. If you have ever seen one of those roadmap slides where we have things delivered last quarter, things that are going to be delivered next quarter and future direction, you will know what I mean. Those sort of slides are not really intended for showing at public events as there is so much text it takes ten minutes to read them, and they are only up for 30 seconds.
Some customers claim that now they have signed up to RISE WITH SAP they talk to SAP every day about their problems and get some sort of coherent response in return. That will be wonderful if it is true and I am going to be finding out first hand as my organisation has signed on the dotted line for RISE WITH SAP.
Excursus – in the 1980’s song “Snooker Loopy” the lyrics went “Poor Willy Thorn, his hair is all gone, and his mates all take the RISE”
There was a quote, and I have heard this many times, ever since 1997 in fact when I started messing about with SAP and the quote is “No SAP customer wants to keep their customizations”. In the context of the quote “customization” does not mean IMG settings, but rather Z code and user exits and so forth. Every customer does have tons of this sort of thing, I cannot argue with that one, but does everybody want to get rid of all of it? That I greatly doubt. The logic from SAP, in 1997 and right now, is that having no Z code makes upgrades easier. That is true, no one could argue with that logic, the trouble is a lot of customers never even use the new functionality that comes with an upgrade but do use the Z stuff heavily. That might be a silly way to behave, but it is reality, and SAP should try and deal with reality rather than a rose-tinted view of the world.
A fine example of that is the public cloud version of S/4HANA, or Success Factors, or similar products. The idea was that customers would love them because you got a free upgrade every three months whether you liked it or not. It turned out no, people did not like that all, because they had to spend 100% of the year testing. Which is why the S/4HANA upgrade cycle has slowed to every six months and some customers say even that is too often. I presume people had gotten used to upgrades every five years or so and could deal with that.
Thought Leader – Professor Michael Roseman
He is at every SAUSAGE event and that is a Good Thing as he is a wonderful speaker.
- One quote was that he cannot imagine a business that runs using paper. Sadly, I can. I have seen it far too often even in this day and age. And, as horrible as it sounds, you need to plan a paper based back up system in case you get a cyber attack which wipes out 100% of your IT systems.
- You may have heard of the “square root” curve. That is, as the number on the bottom axis increases the value increases but less and less until the curve becomes virtually flat. Michael said that is what traditional SAP transactions are like. We keep making them slightly better but there is only so much you can do. I suppose that is like ICE cars. After 100 years they still get better every year but not dramatically.
- So, what if you could turn that around and have a transaction get geometrically better every year instead of getting marginally better (but slightly less better) every year? I presume that is where AI comes into the equation.
- One quote I 100% agree with is that “IT is the not the bottleneck”. Of course, I am biased, but I have been saying for years now that the only barriers we have now are not technical ones but rather time/money and imagination, the latter being the most important. That is why SAP have always said (correctly) that the important thing about the HANA database was not that it was faster, but that it enabled you to do things that were not possible before. The only problem being, you have to identify those things and many people cannot think beyond the status quo.
- Hence some organisations have invented a new top-level management position called “Chief Opportunity Officer”. Opportunity knocks, Hughey Green. I mean that most sincerely.
SNP – Tarik Husain (from the UK) – AI and Data
SNP is a software company. My organisation uses one of their recently acquired products “Glue” and I am not going to say what I think of it, but it is not to be sniffed at.
Here are the points I noted down
- AI is still at the level of automation and “bots” (as in RPA) rather than what was predicted in the 1950’s
- He made a joke (and I am not sure it really is a joke) that all official SAP slides have 500 words
- He apologised that his talk was a sales pitch
SAP – Peter Moore – BTP
Once again, here are the points I noted down.
- Count the words on the slides! I can only presume there were a lot.
- Count the number of times “sustainable” and “intelligent” are mentioned! Same deal, I suppose.
- The case study was a huge Australian mining company which did not wish to be named. The running joke was that the name of this company had three letters, which is a bit of a giveaway as there is only one huge Australian mining company with a three-letter name. I’ve even got shares in them, so it is in my interests if their use of SAP technology is a Good Thing.
- This next one is crazy, and yet I keep hearing it again and again. Lots of people, not only SAP have started to try and make a huge distinction between the “front office” and the “back office” in IT systems and somehow only the “back office” is the ERP system. I find that a very strange position. When I started on SAP projects back in 1997, I was told the whole point was that SAP ERP was an integrated system and all the various bits talked to each other so when (for example) someone at the front end did a goods receipt the back end financials were automatically updated. It seems as soon as the two formerly disparate things were seamlessly integrated the idea has been to rip them apart again. I just cannot get my head around why, unless it is to increase the number of licences companies need.
- Datasphere (the artist formerly known as Data Hub) – this is in some ways the opposite of BW. With BW you extract the data from various systems and merge it into one place. With Datasphere the data stays exactly where it is, is not replicated, and the query takes the data from where it lives in various places and presumably does all the merging and what-not at runtime.
- Count the number of times the term “AI” is mentioned! There was no mention of the announcement at the most recent SAP earnings call that all the AI stuff is only going to be provided to cloud customers on RISE or GROW. On a separate licence I think, though I could be wrong about the latter.
- I have written the phrase “The user should not know what module they are in”. This is something I agree with, I have no idea if this concept was being refuted. Users do not think in “modules” and IT departments should not either – that is an IT department should be called “Order to Cash” to reflect the business process as opposed to “SD” to reflect the underlying SAP software. That way you could – in theory – swop out the software. I would have to say that in traditional SAP the FI/SD/MM transactions were written by different teams and all looked utterly different in terms of the SAP GUI, whereas in (say) J.D.Edwards all the “modules” looked exactly the same. Thus, the Fiori idea was that everything should now look the same.
WINC – Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
WINC is the name of a company, and they were talking about their use of SAP BTP in general, and Robotic Process Automation in particular.
Is SAP BTP a goer? Does it GO? Know what I mean, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, SAY NO MORE!
WINC showed a slide using all the different technologies they used in the daily running of the business, and there were a lot, which is the normal situation I would say, something SAP readily acknowledges. The days when ERP suppliers were claiming you could run your business on their software alone are long gone.
WINC have decided that all net-new custom development is going to be done in the BTP environment as opposed to inside the ECC system. SAP has assigned them a “customer success partner” and they feel this is going well.
Is your company interested in Robotic Process Automation? Interested in RPA, he asked knowingly. WHOOOAH! EH? WHOOOAH! EH? Are you implying something? Oh no, no, no, no, no, no, YES! Well, what is it?
In this case the WINC organisation had chosen UIPATH as the RPA provider. Many companies do, including my own. It works well.
The claim that WINC were making was that when the licence with UIPATH ran out they migrated all the “bots” to the SAP BTP platform and a result got the same result with a 70% annual licence cost reduction.
SAP Business Network – Matt
This is not just about Ariba, though that was the example given. That is the most obvious example since Ariba is all about connecting buyers and suppliers, with a pair of pliers.
Here are the other parts of the business network (all separately licenced)
- Asset Management
Aristotle – Dave Hartwich – AGL
First up, Dave probably wins the contest of best speaker of the conference.
AGL stands for “Australian Gas and Light” and is one of Australia’s biggest electricity and gas providers. I use them at home for both commodities and have shares in the company. Some of my former work colleagues have gone to work in various SAP roles within that company. AGL has also been described (by their biggest shareholder, Mike Cannon-and-Ball, the co-founder of Atlassian (as in Jira)) as one of the most toxic polluters in the world but let’s not go there.
This was not about AGL anyway, or even IT specifically, but rather the importance of communication in the workplace.
“Project Aristotle” was conducted by Google as an attempt to improve teamwork.
The idea is that communication is like an iceberg – 5% is said and 95% is not said, lurking under the water.
The example given was the Challenger Space Shuttle – a warning was given that it would most likely blow up as soon as it launched, but that warning was ignored due to the enormous amount of pressure to make sure it launched on time.
So, his core message in two words was “speak up”
As an aside, right near the end of his talk there was a technical fault and music started to play and the conference technical people could not stop it. This did not faze him at all, he just kept right on going. This is as it should be.
Matt Harding – SAP Mentor – Overview Pages
Some people think Australia is a “third world island country in the middle of nowhere where they live in caves and use shells for money” to quote a USA manager in my company in the year 2000. That was the justification he used as to why all meetings for a joint AUS/USA SAP project should be held in the USA.
I am not 100% sure that attitude has gone away between then and now, but the truth is that in Australia SAP has a huge market share, for big companies and the government that share is knocking on 100%. Hopefully we can agree that SAP represents “advanced technology”.
In real life, Australia punches above its weight in many technology areas (Australia invented Wi-Fi for example) and has a fair few SAP Mentors. Matt Harding is such an SAP Mentor.
With my Toastmasters hat on I can say that the Big Tick I give to Matt is that he presented his message using stories. Human beings do not remember facts. They do remember stories. So – if you are telling your audience a big bunch of facts you are wasting your breath.
- There were “precog” timesheets as in the film “Minority Report” which told you what people were going to do in the future
- Managers do not like lots of figures, they just want one number
- KPI’s are a moving target
Then came the free beers and wines and exotic cocktails. Australian country singer Slim Dusty once said, “We drink in moderation, we never, ever, ever, get rolling drunk” and naturally that is true for a conference full of SAP professionals.
Sadly, about ten beers in, a group of ABAP developers got into an argument about whether the “pretty print” settings should be “Keyword Uppercase” or not, and that turned into a fistfight, and shortly thereafter the whole exhibition area erupted into a riot and the end result was that the whole conference centre was burned to the ground.
Luckily due to the intelligent AI powered sustainable intelligent enterprise, full of PARADIGM SHIFTS, a new conference centre was 3D printed overnight, and when everyone staggered back in the next day with massive hangovers, they could not tell the difference.
SAUSAGE – DAY TWO
Customer Keynote – Mark – CITIC
What is a big thing in Australia? Giant Kangaroos? No, rather, mining. Very few people outside of Australia can get their heads around how gigantic the country is, and as a result just how many minerals lie beneath the surface. Leaving aside environmental concerns, world ending by 2040 (which I think it probably will) and so forth, that is just the way it is. The good news is all the mining companies use SAP even the open-cast strip mining companies! Hooray! As a disclosure I have shares in SAP plus all the big Australian mining companies. Which all use SAP. I also have shares in BP and Shell as well. Which both use SAP. Oh dear! I am not winning any points on my green credentials here am I?
This presentation was all about the use of AI in mining, specifically in the Pilbara area of Australia which is on the west coast.
Toastmasters hat on again – this presentation ran off stories, which is really good, just the way it should be. Here are the bullet points I noted.
- ChatGPT currently running at 1.8 Billion visits a month
- In the 1980s there was a huge government investment in AI (presumably the Australian government, though I would have said that all “first world” governments would have been pumping money into this ever since Alan Turing came up with the idea during WW2)
- ChatGPT is not “smart” at all in any sense whatsoever (I have noticed this)
- A lot of the information ChatGPT pumps out as gospel 100% true facts comes from the scripts of films (movies to you Americans)
- Nonetheless to a capital-intensive mining company the use of such AI to monitor machine health is an enormous money saver.
- The original goal of AI was to have some sort of “general intelligence” in the same way humans think – that is if something totally out of the blue comes along a human can at least understand it, if not deal with it. However, at this point AI is only useful for niche solutions, that is new things knock it for six.
- The next one is mine – AI is like electric cars. When things are new people talk about it all the time, with electric cars since about 100 years ago, with AI since WW2. But what if they become part of everyday life? Then you cannot say “continuing dolphin absence” or “oh look, people have mobile phones” as front page headlines every single day. I suppose what might have been said is that AI will have succeeded as a technology the day no-one mentions it anymore.
- AI in and of itself is not scary. Humans using AI for all sorts of odd/evil things is scary. So, no change there for any sort of new invention starting with fire and the wheel.
SAP Keynote – Dr. Uwe Grigoleit
Huge plus sign – he started with a story. As I said just now, that is the way to get the message from the presenter’s brain into the audiences’ brains.
- The traditional “burger” slide from SAP (ERP as the patty and lots of other SAP solutions as toppings) now has AI as the outermost layer, the “bun” as it were.
- The slides had so many words. As many words as there are stars in the sky. Toastmasters would say it is pointless even showing such slides. Instead give a very brief summary and tell the audience they can download the very wordy information after the event.
- Now we come to Signavio. The idea is evergreen – that is to have a two-way flow between the IT system and the business processes, see where the business process are falling down and adjust the IT system accordingly. Hasso Plattner was always pushing ARIS as an enabler of having the business proves diagram and SAP interlinked. As an aside in the main street of Heidelberg there is a café with a giant white bear in the window. I asked them what the bears name was, and they said it did not have a name so I said call it Hasso. But they did not.
- Anyway, the idea is fine, trouble is SAP keep pushing multiple solutions for the same thing (no change there) as Signavio e.g. CELONIS, and just a few days ago SAP bought yet another company that does that exact same thing. I understand the concept of knocking out the competition but then you have to pick one and say to all your customers – this is the one. And then not penalise them for changing, given they are being forced to change.
- It seems to be confusing the hell out of SAP customers that they have two competing offers (from SAP) when it comes to the “S/4HANA Evolution Kit”
At long last I now know what RISE stands for (as in RISE with SAP)
Answers in the comments as to what GROW might stand for.
At the end the host made the comment that “Only SAP could make AI Boring!”
Parkinson’s Disease and AI – Dr.Yun Hwang (Brain Specialist) / China Ooi (SAP)
I cannot be frivolous about this one, it is such a serious subject.
With my toastmaster’s hat on again there were slides with few words which let the presenters get their message across (the amount of words is inversely proportional to the success of the presentation)
The treatment for Parkinson’s disease has been the same since 1960.
The message is there is still no miracle cure but at long last things are moving forward. If all the new AI things can actually help here then they are not just the useless nonsense they appear to be.
Datasphere – Pierre Van Rooyen
Once again, this talk gets a big green plus tick because it starts with a story (about paragliding). As mentioned earlier stories are vital when it comes to public speaking.
Here are some buzzwords I noted down
- Enterprise Data Fabric
- It’s a Knowledge Graph
- Your Datalakehouse Platform
Those were great. They were a PARADIGM SHIFT in the world of buzzwords. All the people on the left – PARADIGM SHIFT! All the people on the right – be GAME CHANGERS!
This talk pretty much consisted of adverts for other companies e.g., Google, Databricks, but mainly Google.
This is a really good idea. A lot of big conferences like SAP TECHED go out with a whimper rather than a bang, so it is good to have a proper closing to an event. The SAP Ariba event in Sydney a few years back had the right idea, by having the drinking event on the last day rather than the first day, thus ensuring everyone stayed for the whole event.
This company had both S/4HANA and SAP Concur. They had assumed because SAP Concur had SAP in the name, that there would be some sort of seamless integration with S/4HANA. Oh Dear. Never mind, at least it is not raining.
In regard to public cloud upgrades SAP used to jump up and down and scream like a baboon about how wonderful it was that everything changed every three months. This company – and probably many other companies – had a ticker tape parade when SAP relented and changed the cycle to every six months. The company at hand still finds it really painful as they estimate that 40% of things change each time. Serves them right for using standard SAP! If they used all Z stuff like my company (and most SAP customers) the problem would not arise.
They think the “new” GL is good. I agree with that, the new GL is good because it is like every single legacy system I have converted to SAP. That is a unified accounting system with a single view of the truth, Why SAP ever thought breaking that up into FI / CO / PCA and so on, systems which did not agree with each other and had to be manually reconciled, was a good idea I will never know.
Vikki from Sunwater
She gives a speech at pretty much every SAUSAGE event (as do I) and often my wife and I have a beer with here in the evening.
I only had two bullets points I noted down
- Still not very many companies, very low percentage, are yet live on S/4HANA despite that product being released in 2015. To put that into context, within five years of SAP 4.6C being released pretty much every single customer had upgraded to that release.
- There was some sort of problem with the search criteria in Fiori applications. I cannot remember what that problem was. Or maybe they are more visible in Fiori than in the SAP GUI – you can see them in an ALV report but often it needs a programming “kick” to enable a button that lets the user see what selections they had chosen, whereas in Fiori they are always visible at the top of the screen.
Nick – PWC – Generative AI
What would life be without loads of talks about AI? I had two bullet points for this talk also.
- ChatGPT gets basic mathematics wrong. I had already noted that fact. That is not very good for a machine, you sort of rely on machines to get basic things like one plus one equals two correct. It cannot even do that reliably and yet people trust it with vitally important decisions.
- The prediction is that OpenAI – the company behind ChatGPT – will go bankrupt by 2024 because they are burning 700K dollars a day. I presume when they go under they will get bought by someone like Microsoft or Google
At that point Fred and Velma grabbed hold of the conference organiser and said “Let’s see who you really are” and ripped off the rubber mask. It turned out to be old man Peabody from the gas station. “Yikes!” said Shaggy. It turned out he had struck gold underneath the conference centre and had arranged an SAP conference to scare everyone away so he could dig out the gold undisturbed. And he would have gotten away with it, if not for you pesky kids!
See you in New Orleans for AUS TECHCONNECT with the Vampire Lestat!