SAP TechEd ’06 TakeAways (II)

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Although the next event in Bangalore is almost taking off already, I still have to fulfil my promise to provide you with some additional takeaways of the recent SAP TechEd conference in Amsterdam. I’m terribly sorry it took me so long. What can I say? Browsing through all of the sessions handouts took me two […]

Although the next event in Bangalore is almost taking off already, I still have to fulfil my promise to provide you with some additional takeaways of the recent SAP TechEd conference in Amsterdam. I’m terribly sorry it took me so long. What can I say? Browsing through all of the sessions handouts took me two weeks straight in a row and then – of course – there was no time for blogging left. One thing is for sure: the audience of the TechEd conference is changing even faster than SAP’s software stack. And interestingly enough, the average age of the attendees seems to increase, together with the introduction of new, yet unknown communities into the SAP universe, such as Business Process eXperts, Enterprise Architects and, yes, even some Java programmers.

Without NetWeaver, a SAP technology conference nowadays wouldn’t look the same. Actually, there were very little opportunities to find out about that good old, familiar stuff of ERP, SCM, PLM, CRM and other 3-letter product domains of the not-so-distant past. According to the session website, the most popular topics this year were indeed ‘Analytics’, ‘Composite applications’, ‘Business Process eXpert community’ and ‘Enterprise Architecture’.
The emphasis on Analytics is certainly not surprising. Cresting real-time business intelligence on top of stable, core services addresses the requirements of market-facing departments without disturbing the well, dynamics of central IT (which may be ‘you can touch our core systems once in every 5 year and preferably only on Saturday morning between 7 and 8 am’, remember?). Building analytics applications is really a matter of mashing up the right services and other building blocks through the Visual Composer tool. It just might do a nice job in bringing together business and IT, especially if pre-packaged analytics application components are available that only need to be slightly adjusted and then glued together to create the final result. We don’t want our business users to become seasoned data warehouse experts, now do we, so this should be about all the impact in terms of technology. In this way, we may find the right steps to enable individuals to be innovative and opportunistic and still have the proper corporate governance underneath. Guess my fellow blogger Carl Bate will fully agree.
Actually, this analytics toolset is really a special case of Composite Applications: user-centric applications that typically span beyond functional, system and organizational boundaries. These are the applications that provide useful support to business departments without – again – interfering with these deeply internal, core systems that we don’t really want to touch in the first place. Building composite applications means a) orchestrating process flows with a graphical modelling tool, using pre-defined and re-usable process building blocks and then automatically executing them as guided procedures b) designing the user interface, preferably with the Visual Composer tool that we just discussed and c) modelling services and objects that are needed from across all core systems and then composing the application logic. Perfect for building applications that support compliance to rules and legislation – they span multiple systems, processes and business units – but even so for many other applications that demand more flexibility and have a different life cycle than these traditional, silo systems under the hood.
Come to think of it, building composite applications in this style is actually a good case of model-driven, service-oriented development (compare to the much discussed MDA approach, which is arguably more of a subset than a superset) and what is particularly striking is the absolute lack of programming skills that are needed. Almost all of the XML and Java code is generated or already contained in the tools framework. It puts the current emphasis on Java, the so-called new programming language for SAP, in a whole different perspective. Model-driven development helps you to avoid coding in the first place and if you really have to produce some additional code, there is surprisingly little difference between the capabilities of Java and that good old ABAP. As a SAP veteran, you may want to skip reading that Java for Dummies book after all.
This all probably explains why SAP is growing it’s newly announced community of Business Process eXperts, which consists of functional consultants that are able to bridge the gap between deep business process insight and model-driven, service-oriented IT solutions. Quite a different breed of professional and it is nothing more than fair that they were awarded their own, sort of separate place on the SAP Developer Network. It seems only a matter of time before the TechEd conference is renamed to something like BizzEd.
Or would it be ArchEd? Another community that SAP is certainly starting to foster is that of the Enterprise Architects, a group of professionals that might prove to be instrumental in creating the fundaments for business-driven, service-oriented solutions. That is, if enough architects get the point of what actually happens in the package-based world (most of them don’t have a clue) and vice versa, if the package-based world really starts to appreciate that enterprise architecture is the missing link in all of this eh, service-oriented stuff and things.
I would expect an additional place for enterprise architects on the SAP Developer Network soon and also, I predict package-based infusions to existing methodologies for enterprise architecture, most notably to the TOGAF open standard.
If you sum it all up, there’s no doubt that next year’s SAP TechEd – or whatever it will be called by then – will again appear radically different from its predecessors. Also, I would argue that many of the important innovations in the Business/IT profession are currently catalysed by what is happening around standard packages. We’ll definitely keep you posted through this blog (although it may take a week or so after we find something out).
– thanks to my colleague Mendel Koerts for sharing some of his own, excellent impressions of SAP TechEd 2006 –

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