2015 Trends for ABAPers – a brief overview

It has become a common theme during and after every TechEd && d-code conference series to take a look at developer skillset requirements. Ultimately, it always begs the same questions: “where do we stand with ABAP?” or “what are new trends that ABAP developers should take into account?“. Or can ABAPers actually afford to do nothing and rest on their laurels?

Me during an Expert Networking Session at TechEd

Me during an Expert Networking Session about Freelancing at TechEd 2014, Las Vegas

Below is a run down of options (including the option to “do nothing”) and trends for ABAPers. I’ve included a short POV (Point Of View) paragraph to give you my impression on relevance.

After a surge in early 2000s (WDJ, CE), We now appear to be witnessing a renaissance of Java at SAP. But of course it’s never been gone completely. However Java has been rebooted by HANA Cloud Platform (HCP), one of the main platform topics this year. As far as Business Suite applications are concerned, some will be rewritten as new cloud applications for HCP and in a hybrid environment; others might interface via OData/Gateway. Custom apps and innovations will be an interesting prospect of this increasingly important platform.

my POV: If your company or business decides to innovate its own cloud-based applications on HCP then Java should be something for you to pay attention to – if not done so already. Read on if your company is more likely to focus on Fiori, UI5 and Gateway in the medium term.

JavaScript, UI5
Since the announcement of UI5 3 years ago, JavaScript has been the new kid on the coding block and is enjoying good uptake in the SAP developer community – TechEd 2014 has shown the evidence. The recent addition of OpenUI5 extended the use case to open-source, community-based extensions of UI5 libraries. In both scenarios, Gateway and Odata are providing the supported link to the backend system.

my POV: Most SAP customers are now looking at better User Experience (UX) and implementation of products such as Personas or UI5, which are now included in licence costs and can be downloaded by customers for free. Therefore, ABAPers are well advised to look into JavaScript, jQuery (UI5 is based on it) and Gateway in order to stay current and deliver the better UX using Fiori-like UI5 apps. Because of the more imminent customer focus on this topic, I see this area as the option with the biggest “skills bang for buck” for developers. Change management and lifecycling using Git might challenge Abapers initially, but is likely to become 2nd nature fast.

Hana XS
Launched 2 years ago as part of HANA SP5, XS (Extended Application Services), it includes a full AS, web server and application services in a single place.
Even die-hard abapers rejoice once they discover the opportunities of XS. If you already know OData and JavaScript – or are thinking of getting into it – it’s a great opportunity.

my POV: If your company or business is considering application development for non-cloud, in-memory then this should be something for developers to focus on. If you know you’re way around JavaScript and Gateway/OData Services already, even better. If there is no uptake in your company for HANA XS, then this option still represents a great addition to the UI5 option described above, as it taps into a very similar skillset.

Do nothing
This is the least favourable option. Here, ABAPers just keep on doing what they’re doing, maybe keeping up-to-date with latest ABAP AS features at a minimum. Bluntly, it means you are not moving on or aiming to stay current.

my POV: Despite the doom and gloom, I’d wager very much that “there will always be a backend”, meaning that, despite all new these new layers and platforms I’ve described above, the need for an optimised and up-to-date ABAP backend will remain. As a result, this will leave ABAPers with plenty of work for the next years, maybe decades. At the same time, cost pressures and increased levels of commoditisation in the ABAP area will mean that a smaller number of developers might be required. In a nutshell, you will be very much competing on price and location.

TechEd Keynotes – they’ve grown up!

Bjoern Goerke on stage during the TechEd keynote

Bjoern Goerke on stage during the TechEd keynote

Having attended both opening presentations of SAP TechEd && dcode 2014 in La Vegas, it is safe to say that SAP keynotes have grown up. By providing a more engaging style of delivery, Steve Lucas and Bjoern Goerke have managed to capture the audience’s imagination. This is a change that was long overdue. While Lucas’ style was more off-the-cuff, it was Goerke who offered the necessary “Ueberbau”, the almost academic foundation which is an important aspect and will go down well with long-time SAP customers.

The Monday night opening was also a big advert for SAP’s product and community advocates, SAP Mentors. Altogether 4 of the group’s existing and alumni members came onstage to showcase solutions. This in itself is a case in point that Mentors are more than an illustrious group of experts who provide a sounding board for the german software business, they’re agents of innovation.

Bjoern Goerke’s demo on Tuesday morning, driven by an as-always bubbly and entertaining Ian Kimball, was another highlight and example for the change of keynote delivery style we’re witnessing. In a suit/geek style, the duo built a mobile application in 3 simple steps. An exec building an app on stage surely has to be a first within the Enterprise software arena.

All-in-all, this change in delivery style is promising and provides a hopeful lookout. For me at least.


Disclosure: as a member of the Mentor program, my conference attendance ticket is paid for by SAP.

If you spot me at SAP TechEd Las Vegas…

SAP CTO Vishal Sikka meeting Mentors at Tech Madrid 2011 (photo M. Gillet)

… 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.

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So if you’re at SAPPHIRE NOW / TechEd Madrid…

smiling coffee cup

… 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 !

SAP Development: having the guts to be great

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
If you have been affected by the points raised above then please feel free to come and chat to me about it at SAP TechEd Madrid next week.

Business ByDesign update and SDK

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.

All in all I have to admit that the concept of a generated ABAP code base is understandable due to stability considerations. However, I think that SAP misses a trick here by offering 2 new scripting languages that do not really fit into any camp. Maybe a Javascript-based framework would have been better, as it is wider adopted and known. I am convinced though that we have not seen the end of the line here yet. SAP is slowly feeling its way into the unknown caverns of SaaS and cloud land. I am sure we will see smarter solutions here in the future.

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.