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.

Berlin – what a difference 2 years can make

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!

day 3 at SAPPHIRE

The third and last day of Sapphire Now in Frankfurt started for me with a round table with SAP CTO, Vishal Sikka, during which he emphasised several times that Netweaver was still SAP’s supported platform and that it’s staying. It was good to have this confirmation, as Jim Hagemann Snabe’s keynote on Tuesday didn’t mention the work “Netweaver” once. Moreover, Snabe talked about a “future stack” and SAP having talks with “software vendors about it”, which initially brought a little confusion to the community.

Then there were of course the much anticipated keynotes from Sikka and Hasso Plattner. A lot of what Vishal was talking about had already been touched upon at the round table earlier in the day.

On In-Memory, I think the community was suprised and even delighted to hear that support for the product goes all the way back to SAP 4.6c. Vishal also talked about “Project Gateway”, which seems to be a key to SAP’s On-Demand ambitions for the “normal” ERP world. The next weeks and months will hopefully provide further clarification on Gateway. Sikka also mentined an internal SAP challenge back in March 2010 to produce 500 mobile apps. Up to Sapphire, more than 600 have now been developed (not all of these published though). It would have been nice to see and hear more about this, but I’m expecting more on this soon.

Plattner’s keynote was more of a dive into In-Memory Database, rounded off with a demo of In-Memory Analytics within a little real world scenario. Plattner delivered it in his usual off-the-cuff style which can be very entertaining. It certainly demonstrated the power this sort of technology has, especially its non-disruptive nature.

Biggest take away for me on day 3 was Business By Design (BBD) though. At a round table with SAP Go-To Market SVP Markus Schwarz and Eric Luengen we were given a demo of BBD version 2.5, the latest version of the on-demand SME solution. It was the first time I had seen BBD in the flesh and I have to admit that I liked UI look and feel (I know that the UI is not everyone’s cup of tea).

Customers should basically be able to re-configure simple things in their system themselves, whilst more complex changes or additions/extensions would be developed by an SDK to be released later this year. The SDK will be based (as mentioned before by Anne Petteroe) on the Microsft Visual Studio and C#. Dennis Howlett mentions some concerns around the possibility of SAP outsourcing the BBD infrastructure to third parties. Once SAP’s BBD team has found a good way how enhancements and plugins developed with this SDK can be marketed, there could be a big potential for a new or enlarged partner ecosystem. Let’s also hope SAP’s marketing efforts are strong enough to get all of this off the ground, as Dennis points out (he knows more about SME SaaS than me).

On the whole, it was a good and down-to-earth SAPPHIRE for me. I was expecting more fluffy, hot air type of stuff, but actually walked away with more hands-on info than I thought. This is also down to the great work of Mark Finnern, Craig Cmehil, Oliver Kohl and also the SAP Global Communications team. Altogether they provided very informative 3 days for me in Frankfurt. Thank You to you all!

day 2 at SAPPHIRE

Day 2 at Sapphire was very much a continuation on SAP’s message regarding innovation and rejuvenation. Apart form the keynotes by the co-CEOs, SAP Mentors and Bloggers had the opportunity to participate in a round table with Jonathan Becher, Executive Vice President of Global Field Marketing. Jonathan explained more about SAP’s aim to use Sapphire to demonstrate to customers the change that is happening within SAP. One major attempt in this area is the re-branding of Sapphire into “SAPPHIRE NOW”. My take on the conference so far is that SAP has managed to show itself in a much more grounded and listening kind of way. A refreshing change from a rather chilled atmosphere not too long ago, triggered by topics such as support costs, for example.

For most of the audience the two keynotes by co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe were the first time they had seen or heard what these two business leaders had to say. Where Bill McDermott showed vision and direction, Snabe filled the strategy and product gap. With Vishal Sikka there is now talk about a “virtual 3rd CEO”, responsible for the technical and architectural part. Judging by the Twtterstream during the keynotes and conversations after the speeches, my impression was that SAP has bounced back and has so far executed well.

However the software giant has quite a task on its hands as far as change internally is concerned. New paradigms such as the hybrid model for On Demand and talks about the “future stack” (for applications) have already caused quite a lot of discussions amongst employees, partners and consultants. Now everyone is looking towards this afternoon’s keynote by Vishal Sikka and the enigmatic Hasso Plattner for some clarity. To be continued.