… please come and say Hello. I might be deep in conversation, thoughts (making sense of it all) or have my nose in a Latte. In any case, please feel free to interrupt for a chat. You’ll usually recognize me by my SAP Mentor shirt with the “@Pixelbase” Twitter handle and the number “70” on the back.
If you don’t want to talk to me then you can still go and discuss all things SAP with any of the other mentors. Believe me, these guys and gals feel as passionate about SAP as you and we are always interested in your views.
… and you spot me either rushing from session to session or in deep conversation with someone, I urge you to interrupt me for a chat. You’ll recognise me by the “@PIXELBASE” Twitter handle on my SAP Mentor shirt.
Independent SAP Development Consultants like myself can be less influenced by the latest trend and fashion, because our work is very often based on current customer project requirements. I therefore tend to be more pro customer-side, trying to “keep it real” and end-user relevant. Having said that, it’s also important to get a glimpse of the future and accustom yourself with upcoming products. That’s one of the reasons why we’re all going to TechEd.
One more word with regards to SAP Mentors: We’re a groovy bunch, but just because we’re Mentors doesn’t mean we know everything. SAP Land is a vast space and not one single person can claim to have the complete knowledge. And to be honest, we don’t have to, because we are a passionate, open, collaborative and extremely communicative team. Believe you me, we can talk for hours about SAP stuff.
If you have a question about Mentors, our initiatives or you even want to chat about something that bugs you, then let us know. We can be quite critical about SAP and its products, too and we’d love to hear your constructive thoughts.
And most of all…. HAVE A GREAT CONFERENCE !
Some of you might have seen Hugh McLeod’s picture about producing something “amazing”.
As it happens, today I had a work discussion that touched on just that. We were faced with the choice between something that ticks the “timescale” and “achievement” boxes and something that ticks the “appealing” and “users will love it” boxes. Suffice to say what the obvious business decision was… once again, Quality was Job One.
I see this at a lot of SAP sites. The implementation team knows that users are not particularly happy with the system, but everyone seems to be getting their work done, so why do things different? The SAP team therefore focusses on the measurable part, the quality. They might even say: “Hey, SAP is standard software after all. If you want to have fun, install Garageband on your own machine at home!”. I used to say that, too. But not anymore. Because things have moved on.
So here are some key points to all of those who oversee developments and have the power to decide whether a development should do same-old-same-old or push some boundaries:
- trust your senior developers, let them “loose” every now and then
- use prototyping to explore new areas once in a while
- not everything has to be done in SAP GUI (or downloadable into Excel, for that matter)
- send your team to events such as TechEd
- have the guts to defend your team’s efforts and ideas in front of your superiors
This year’s SAP TechEd enabled developers for the first time to test-drive the toolset to create Business ByDesign (BYD) extensions. These so-called “add-ons” can enhance SAP’s mid market cloud ERP system. Day 1 of TechEd gave me the opportunity to talk to Rainer Zinow, SAP’s SVP for ByDesign during a Q&A session. Next day I got my hands dirty in the SDK hands-on session. Finally on Thursday I helped SAP with some Usability testing for the SDK. In other words there were lots of opportunities to gather first hands experience!
Focus on Partner Ecosystem
SAP is still in the process of establishing and educating its BYD partner network. As far as BYD add-ons are concerned, it can be expected that this selective group will be SAP’s prime focus for training with the Software Development Kit (SDK). A post-keynote press conference revealed that currently SAP is not planning to reach out to other external communities to increase uptake in developers. Whether this is a good move remains to be seen. More on this further below when I touch on the tooling and scripting languages.
No information was available with regards to partner add-on pricing. My own interpretation is that there are two options for SAP: either charge a high entrance fee to become a BYD add-on partner and thereby raising exclusivity and limiting development community exposure; or keeping the entrance barrier low and attracting a larger community to spur on innovation in this space. Should the Walldorf company opt for the high price route it’s likely that BYD add-on partners aim to recoup the high initial expense with higher prices for their developed extensions. This would obviously be counter productive, especially when keeping in mind that SAP is going to present an app store-like storefront for the BYD add-ons later this year. My take: Leaving out the community focus here can make or break the quality of the add-ons offered.
Client copy and APIs
It was good to learn that SAP will enable the copying of data snapshots from productive clients to development, test or sandbox environments. These copies have to be requested by the customer (not the partner) and will be executed by SAP. It is envisaged that this could become an automated process in the future. There will also be 2 different APIs for BYD, one internal (so called A2A, enabling SAP pr partner BYD functionality to talk to each other) and A2X (= external), allowing other platforms to interact with BYD cloud apps.
New scripting languages, BODL and ABAPScript
SAP seems to have settled on “ByDesign Studio” as the final name for the add-on SDKs”. Hands-on sessions still showed a “Copernicus” icon on the desktop, which was its previous code name. BYD Studio is based on Microsoft’s Visual Studio, which was a conscious decision by the Walldorf software engineers as their analysis revealed that about 60% of mid market partners are already familiar with this development environment for .Net and C#.
On the language side, it was previously mentioned that C# would be the basis for BYD SDK, but SAP decided to choose a different route in this respect. Logic for BYD add-ons is written in two scripting languages called Business Object Description Language (BODL) and Advanced Business Script (I’ve also seen it called ABAPScript during the hands-on workshop). This obviously throws up a few questions.
Why two scripting languages and why not use C# ?
First of all, BODL is used to define any additional Business Objects for BYD add-ons. Obviously SAP made a conscious decision here to not integrate it into the BO layer in the BYD cloud backend, but instead define using BODL code in BYD Studio. According to SAP, C# would not have been flexible enough for BO definitions, thus the creation of BODL. See an example of some BODL script below:
On the business logic side for add-ons BYD Studio uses a reduced scripting set which is based on C#. These scripts are deployed onto the BYD SaaS system and then generated into ABAP statements. Yes, you have read correctly, ABAP code is created from the scripts you define in BYD Studio! When asking about the reasoning for this I basically received two answers.
Firstly, SAP expects more partners to be conversant with a C#-based scripting language, as this is what the current tooling for a lot of partners is. This was also the reason why it was chosen over ABAP, which could have been the obvious development weapon of choicechoice.
Secondly, the cloud-based nature of BYD forced SAP to build a protected and walled garden around any code changes that are made. A reduced instruction set which then generates ABAP code in the cloud was seen as the safest choice here.
Impact on skills
These surprise developments bring up a few questions around skills for me. What is the potential skills mix for a BYD add-on developer? My take is that experienced C# developers might shy away from a reduced version of the language. However they have the advantage of knowing the tooling from the bat and can tuck right in. ABAP developers might have a slim advantage in terms of creating performant code as they understand the generated code base better (even though they can never see it). In conclusion, I would say that none of the groups have a distinct advantage, which is slightly disappointing.
Overall impressions, stability and skins…
Generally my observations were that BYD Studio worked reasonably well. BYD Studio is part of feature pack (FP) 2.6. Since this release is still under development the hands-on students had to cope with a few hiccups such as login popups to renew sessions, but in conclusion the SDK worked well and seemed stable. At the end of the hands-on workshop questions were asked around numbering ranges and localizations and the answer was that features such as this are not available for add-ons yet, but are being looked at.
One disappointment was the skin that was used to display BYD screens during TechEd. SAP chose a tradeshow-like design in Silverlight that basically gave BYD a very SAP-like look and feel. In my view this is a wasted opportunity to create something new and fresh. I remember that during SAPPHIRE a different, fresher skin was used to show off the product. Why such a boring skin was chosen is hard to understand, especially if one keeps in mind that Silverlight is used as the UI weapon of choice here.
In summary my first impression of the SDK was slightly positive. The product seemed stable and ready. The choice of scripting languages (BODL and a reduced C# dialect) seems odd and might turn out to be a bad call in terms of community engagement – a key ingredient when trying to create an online app store like experience for BYD. Main reasoning here seems to be cloud app security and that’s fine. However, I’m convinced SAP will pull something smarter out of its hat in the future. Whether it will hem add-on developer uptake remains to be seen. I also heard that SAP in the future plans to offer trial-like versions of BYD SDK for non-partners, which would be an important and welcoming move. Let’s watch this space.
SAP has got to decide if and how to engage with a larger community. I hope it chooses a route where developers are involved and entry barriers are low, so the BYD app store can show a larger number of innovative add-ons at a reasonable price.
I’m looking forward to the presentation of a BYD app store later this year and can’t wait to see the first add-ons doing some BYD magic.
This year’s TechEd season is about to kick off and once again the EMEA venue is Berlin, one of my favourite places.
Back in 2008 when I attended TechEd Berlin I saw Thomas Jung talking about Flash Islands, ESME becoming a hot topic and Rich Internet applications were new and all the rage. SDN Networking Day was a great success and I enjoyed mixing with some of my favourite bloggers and experts .
Little did I know that 2 years later I would return to the same place as a fully-fledged SAP Mentor, talking about the Certification 5, keen to learn more about BusinessByDesign SDK, In-Memory Databases, Cloud, SaaS, On Device and ABAP on Eclipse.
SAP’s last SAPPHIRE NOW has certainly cranked the tone and expectation up a few notches and I’m hopeful to see more evidence on the path of change that the software giant from Walldorf is undertaking.
One new concept certainly is the Innovation Weekend which is taking place right at this moment in time. It is yet another proof – if there needed to be any – that SAP is not shying away from trying out new approaches to community interaction and attempts to showcase innovation.
I’m very much looking forward to the Certification 5 networking lounge session this Wednesday from 13:30 – 14:00, during which we want to take the opportunity to show what dedication and passion can achieve. Martin Gillet and I will give a brief run down of our story so far, talk about the interim results of our ongoing survey and also update the community on our ongoing fruitful dialogue with SAP. Fellow C5-er Jon Reed has posted a magnificent summary post about all things C5 at Teched.
Another focus of mine will be the much awaited Business ByDesign Partner SDK. SAP is entering new territory here and community interaction is key (see also my previous post with regards to this). I can’t wait to be one of the first to run the SDK through its paces during the hands-on workshop.
There’s nothing more to say really than… see you all in Berlin tomorrow!
Let me start off with a little made-up story :
Imagine for a moment you are a car mechanic. You know your stuff and so do your colleagues at the garage where you work. Said garage specializes in selling, repairing, checking and tuning cars manufactured by company XXL. All the staff at the garage love XXL cars and you all strive to pass that passion on to your customers.
Now XXL is very keen to keep all garage mechanics up to speed with their latest cars, products and developments. It therefore holds a big training session every year for them. Part of this training session is an open competition in which teams can show how far they can take XXL’s cars in terms of design, performance and appeal.
You and your colleagues really want to show what you’re made of and together you submit what you think is a great idea for the competition. However it doesn’t convince the preliminary jury and a few weeks after submission you’re being told that you have not been picked for the final at XXL’s next annual training session.
“Never mind.”, everyone at the garage says. Everyone suspects the other entries to be strong with brilliant ideas from other teams. After all, XXL products are great and spur the imagination! So why shouldn’t other teams come up with even better entries for the competition?
Shortly before the annual training session XXL announces the teams that have been picked for the competition final. It turns out that the majority of finalists actually consist of XXL staff !
You and your colleagues are a little disgruntled about this as XXL staff has not only much better access to original XXL spare parts, but can also speak exclusively to XXL’s engineers and therefore can quickly tap into a resource pool that is at the core of each of XXL’s products! Completely unmatched to what you and your colleagues have at your disposal.
In case you’ve seen the line-up of the next SAP TechEd 2009 Demo Jam competition the above may sound familiar to you. In Phoenix this year, SAP’s Demo Jam hosts 4 out of 7 entries from SAP themselves !
Furthermore your trained eye might also have observed that another Demo Jam entry is from Sybase, presenting an entry called “Mobilizing SAP CRM and Workflow on iPhone”, which sounds very much like what said company advertises under the name “iAnywhere”. Whilst this surely is a great product: sales pitches are not allowed during Demo Jam and therefore this is an obvious violation against Demo Jam rules.
Hang on! Now, isn’t Demo Jam not just a little bit of beer-inspired Tuesday night clapping fun? Does this all REALLY matter? Am I blowing this out of proportion? Unfortunately not! Demo Jam can mean big business to some. A past winner even mentioned a pickup in business of 500% after Demo Jam victory.
There have always been home-grown SAP contributions to Demo Jam in the past, but this year’s SAP landslide is a bit much. There should be no deterrent for SAP’s own staff to take center stage, but 4 out of 7 entries appears too much to me.
Doesn’t Demo Jam not just become yet another “pat on the shoulder” exercise if there’s more or less only SAP or partners presenting their own products? And above this, wouldn’t it be much cooler for SAP to see how their customers and partners want to take the products further or use them?
Maybe the latter would even reveal where SAP’s products should really go.