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Mastering SAP Technologies 2015 Melbourne

Day 1 – Sunday 24thMay

Figure 1 – Conference Dustbins

This year the Mastering SAP Technologies conference in Melbourne was co-located with both the Mastering HR conference and the Mastering Finance conference. This meant there were 700 people there, which is an enormous amount for Australia, though of course we cannot hold a torch to the SAPPHIRE event in the USA where there are 40,000 delegates or whatever the exact number is.

1PM – SAP Inside Track

This is a free event so a lot of people who were not going to the conference rocked up including a big bunch of university students brought by SAP Mentor Tony DT.

How this works is a bit like speed dating – you have to jump from table to table with people you have not sat with before and all say who you are and what your business challenges are for five minutes, then run to the next table. During this bit you can get to talk in a small group about such challenges and everyone gets a say.

Thereafter all the challenges are written on a blackboard and the most common ones chosen for one hour or twenty minute sessions. In those sessions the group splits into enormous groups where one person totally dominates the conversation and a few others interject the odd comment while most people sit around listening.

As might be imagined popular subjects of interest were user interfaces and S/4 HANA. The major point I heard I am going to go into detail about and this all revolves around one of the students asking the question “should I learn ABAP?”.

ABAP – Dead Again!

You may recall that in 2001 ShaiAgassi was more or less in charge of SAP and wanted to kill off the ABAP language and replace it with Java. I believed this at the time and as I had only been programming for a few years was not even that attached to ABAP. However as history tells us nothing ever came of that initiative.

As far as I can tell – and I may have totally misinterpreted this (I hope I have) here is the latest position from SAP.

·        They want all us customer companies to move onto S/4 HANA in the Cloud

I hope that bit is not too contentious, not too much of a shock. Here comes the problem – as noted there and then it seems that as much as 50% of the screens that end users currently see are in fact custom screens written in ABAP. That sounds right to me, at my company it’s more like 100%.

So, in the cloud you cannot change the code. Nobody is going to put up with standard SAP – as we have seen – even standard SAP with lovely new UI5 screens. Everyone is always going to want to put their own stuff in, as they have always done with user exits and custom reports and bespoke applications for things specific to their company and so on.

How does SAP intend to square this circle? As I understand it from the talk at the Inside Track, the idea is that S/4 HANA will have API’s which custom applications can hook into, thus achieving the same sort of thing we have today.

How do you build such custom application,such custom code? In the HANA Cloud Platform (HCP).

OK, what language do you program things in using the HCP? The answer is - any language you want, so long as it is not ABAP.

That doesn’t sound good does it? I just wrote a book about the future of ABAP, SAP has put an enormous amount of innovation into the ABAP language in recent years, and now it is dead again? That can’t be right, surely?

It sounded to me like SAP itself as an organisation was still going to use ABAP itself, S/4 HANA would still be in ABAP, new SAP delivered innovations would still be written in ABAP, but we customer types cannot change the core of S/4 HANA and cannot add new applications in ABAP.

In other words SAP can still use ABAP to develop but the customers cannot because it is too good for the likes of us. Instead we have the minor task of re-writing everything we have written during the last 20 years in JavaScript or some such. No problem really, should only take us ten minutes.

When I phrase it like this do you think many organisations will jump at this idea like it is the best thing since sliced bread?

Possibly not, so I must have got this wrong. It is the only possible explanation. I must have been hearing things; SAP cannot possibly be suggesting such an approach. The funny thing was at that point I had not even started drinking. Even stranger when I asked other people throughout the conference they seemed to have heard the same message as well.

6:30PM – Jumpstart / Demo Jam

The Demo Jam is a contest where people have a limited time to demonstrate something new and exciting they have created using SAP technology, usually mixed with other technology.

This year it was all about bicycle power which ties in nicely with SAP’s current focus on sports and applications to monitor sports performance.

7:30PM Network Drinks

Figure 2 – Conference Food

Then it was networking time. The idea here is to talk to as many people as you can and make connections. The drinking is an aside and by no means the main focus.

Figure 3 – Networking

Day 2 – Monday 25thMay

Figure 4 – Conference Dustbin

SAP User Interface Strategy

This was a presentation from SAP and no huge surprises here. The idea is that UI5 is the go-to technology; everything else is a sort of bridging technology. Screen Personas is a sort of stop-gap measure, and NWBC is a way to see all the disparate UI technologies at once e.g. SAP GUI, Web Dynpro and UI5.

No-one at SAP is ever going to say that Web Dynpro or the SAP Portal is dead, especially the latter as people may maintenance fees for that. However reading between the lines I get the feeling that both are in the “Dodo / Dinosaur” basket.

Figure 5 – Lunch on Day 2

Netweaver Business Client – John Moy

Now it was time for two fantastic presenters, one after the other, again both talking about UI technology which was a big focus for this conference.

John Moy was talking about his experience implementing NWBC in real life. Some people at my organisation are mad keen to try this, and John made it look very impressive indeed. The killer is that really you have to be on a higher level than EHP5 to get the most of this, and that is what my company is on. We upgraded in December 2011 and that does not seem like too long ago to me but we are already miles behind and really cannot go through the effort of a major upgrade (which is what putting in an Enhancement pack is) again so soon.

By getting the most out of this technology I mean things like having side panels (so called CHIPS) appearing by standard SAP GUI transactions without having to modify such transactions.

In addition, Julie Plummer posted a blog on SCN the other day about the future of UI in SAP and (as always) the next version of NWBC coming out in 2016 looks like the important one, as it will have the Fiori Launchpad as the “start” menu.

UI5 – Graham Robinson

There is very little I can say here I have not said before – Graham’s presentations are very “hands on” with lots of live feeds from his system as opposed to static PowerPoint slides.

He noted all the “good parts” of UI5 like it’s usage of the MVC pattern and how it responded to running on different devices automatically.

The “worst part” was the he shock of SAP development organisations being dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world full of horrible things like agile development with rapid releases and having to deal with quirky new things like deploying software onto mobile devices.

Networking Time Once More

Figure 6 Networking

Day 3 – Tuesday 26thMay

Figure 7 – Conference Robotic Dustbin

UI5 at Australia Post

Australia Post keep losing things posted to me and it seems to take forever to post anything from one side of Sydney to the other, but that’s just my experience and I don’t think I can actually blame the IT department for that.

Anyway the IT department is clearly ahead of the curve ball when it comes to adopting new technology and this presentation was all about how they had adopted UI5 to replace some applications and as a basis for creating new ones.

They covered the technical basics, which are all over the SCN so I won’t re-iterate them here but the important things is how easy they found it to make the change once they had conquered the fear of doing something totally new. They certainly do not regret it.

They also stressed how fast new developments were on this platform.

Figure 8 – Conference Lunch Day 2

Latest Development Techniques #1

Alisdair Templeton gave a presentation which was a “grab bag” of things developers should be thinking about when writing programs.

This was really good, he had nowhere near enough time to cover everything he wanted but managed to pack a load of stuff in. I like it when people challenge such basic assumptions and one was “the fallacy of re-use”. All the IT articles keep on and on about re-use being the be-all and end-all of development but AT questioned whether this did not cause more problems than it solved by introducing dependencies all over the place,

Latest Development Techniques #2

Ben Patterson then gave a talk on the Business Objects Processing Framework (BOPF). I have experimented a lot with this recently, as it was part of my book, and I am glad this is getting some attention at conferences, as I believe this framework has a lot of potential.

Latest Development Techniques #3

John Patterson (no relation to Ben) then gave a talk about using “Grunt” to automate various development tasks whilst developing UI5 applications. This was also accompanied by a big screencamof the tool in action to make this a bit more real.

Why this is useful is a very difficult concept to grasp from an ABAP developer as lot of things needed in other programming languages are done “behind the scenes” in the ABAP environment. This is all lovely until you want to put applications on smart phones and things and then people really get outside of their comfort zone.

John Patterson may not be Stevie Winwood, but we did used to work together back in the year 2000 and this was the first time I have talked to him since.

Screen Personas

The saddest thing about the conference was the fact that Steve Rumsby from the University of Warwick could not make it over to talk about his experiences with Screen Personas. I was looking forward to talking and listening to him, my understanding is that he has made Screen Personas sing and dance and do a lot of things it is not supposed to be capable of.

Still, a chap from SAP gave this talk instead though hearing SAP say something about one of their products is never going to be as good as hearing a “customer” doing a “warts and all” story.

The main take-away is that really you need to wait till Screen Personas 3.0 is in general availability. I had heard it was often in the “too hard” basket to get Screen Personas 2.0 to combine multiple tabs and screens into one (a common requirement, one that the premium version of GUixt could do 16 years ago). In addition version 2.0 runs on “Silverlight’ which is a dying technology.

Elephant Whispering

The best presentation of the conference was the last one; Greg Taylor gave a talk about change management and a brilliant one at that.

Every so often he would distract the audience by showing them a funny video and by the time the video was over (only about two minutes) he was back on stage in a different costume, talking in a totally different accent. Or it could have been a succession of people who looked just like him.


Then after a bit more networking it was time to go home.

Figure 9 – Networking

However sad that the end of one conference makes one they are just like buses – if you wait a while another one comes along. In the case of Australia the next one is the Australian SAP User Group (SAUG) conference in August. I am talking at that one about the latest developments in ABAP.

I wanted to talk about that very subject at this conference but as I mentioned earlier in this blog it appears ABAP is on its way out once again as a programmer language for us customer types.

Naturally if someone from SAP wants to tell me I have got totally the wrong end of the stick then I am all ears – in fact it will help me sleep better at night.

Cheersy Cheers