SAP Watch

September 13, 2007  5:15 PM

Thought the H1B ruckus was over? Think again.

JackDanahy Jack Danahy Profile: JackDanahy

H1B visas, the golden ticket for foreign IT workers wishing to join the American workforce, has had a turbulent year. On one side, industry heavyweights like Bill Gates pushed hard to increase the number of H1B visas, while IT unions and local politicians pushed back to preserve jobs and decent salaries for U.S. citizens. We covered this quite a bit earlier this year, but as spring gave way to summer, it all seemed to fizzle out into the old status quo.

Well, not quite. You may have caught an eWeek article last week about how new legislation is set to bump up the cost of H1B visas significantly, from $3,500 to $5,000 per application, and a slew of new measures to protect American IT workers’ interests.

Today, InformationWeek reported that 13 state governors have banded together to lobby Congress and Senate for — you guessed it — increasing the number of H1B visas. This is a new level of escalation we have not seen before. Time will tell what impact, if any, this will have, but I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the last word on the issue has not been said yet. Whichever side you root for, stay tuned as we watch for the next move in this high-stakes chess game.

Matt Danielsson

September 10, 2007  11:19 PM

The keys to ABAP success

JackDanahy Jack Danahy Profile: JackDanahy

We recently ran an article where ABAP expert Rehan Zaidi shared some best practices for breaking into professional SAP application development. But more information is always better, so we checked in with Matthew Billingham, our resident ABAP guru on the Ask the Expert panel, to see if he had anything to add. Here’s what he had to say about ABAP job prospects, certification programs and getting your foot in the SAP door.

ABAP certification
ABAP certification only demonstrates that a certain level of knowledge has been achieved. It does not give any indication of how to apply that knowledge, and certainly does not demonstrate that the certificate holder has any ability at the generic art of programming. If I was recruiting a trainee developer, then certification would be a plus, because I’d have some assurance that they at least could talk using some of the same terms as me. But the value of real-life experience quickly overtakes any certification; if you can show two or more years of good results, whether you have certification or not is completely irrelevant.

Breaking into the field
That leads us to the next issue: Getting your foot in the door. As you probably know, this is and always has been the hardest part of the SAP world. The best bet as a newbie is to go through a consultancy. Or, if you’ve already got some commercial skill, finding a company that uses that skill but also uses SAP, and angle for some cross training. ABAP is different from many programming languages in that it doesn’t just sit in a vacuum, waiting for applications to be developed. The applications are already there – in the shape of the classic R/3 modules, BW, SEM etc. Our job is to make those applications do more than originally designed by SAP. That requires understanding of those applications; the data structures, the flows etc. And you only get that through hands-on experience.

Business vs. technical SAP
Historically in SAP, the technical side and business side have been seperate. This is unlike much of the rest of the IT industry, which spawned such roles as the “Analyst Programmer” to have people who could do the technical side, and yet still communicate with the business. A programmer who doesn’t appreciate commercial concerns won’t go far within SAP. An understanding of business processes – or at least, a willingness to understand them – is key to be able to provide the customer with what they need. For clients to productively use the newer tools, such as Visual Composer, they’ll need people with development skills (programming is programming regardless of whether you use a GUI or an editor to write the program) – but these people will have to have business knowledge. I think the paradigm of “Analyst Programmer” has finally made its way into SAP!

Two distinctive traits of good ABAP professionals
In the past five years, I regret to say that while the number of developers has increased in the SAP world, my experience is that the percentage of those that are “good programmers” has declined. And so have the expectations from the more business-oriented part of the industry. Generally, I think we developers don’t have a good reputation. The tendency is to write code that works on day one. Few care what happens on day two. If you want to make a career out of SAP development, rather than just using it as the entry to becoming a functional consultant or manager, then I think you’ll need some distinctive traits to put you ahead of the majority of your programming colleagues. The first of those traits is a deep understanding of business, commercial realities and processes. The second trait is knowing the art of careful program design, so that when your programs need to be changed, you can do so quickly and easily, without introducing more bugs. Keep your focus on these traits, get as much real-life experience as you can, and you’ll be on track for a bright ABAP future.

You can submit development-related questions to Matthew here, while SAP career-related questions should be addressed to Jon Reed.

Matt Danielsson

September 6, 2007  9:07 PM

The keys to SAP workflow success

JackDanahy Jack Danahy Profile: JackDanahy

We recently ran a news article called “ABAP development done right” that focused on how aspiring ABAP developers should take those first, crucial steps towards a fulfilling career. Well, there’s also a number of people looking to break in as a workflow consultant. Indeed, skilled workflow experts have excellent prospects and may be less in the crosshairs for being outsourced in the years ahead, making this an attractive career option.

We checked in with veteran workflow expert Alon Raskin for some quick tips using the same approach: What does a beginner need to know in order to get started on the right foot as a workflow consultant?

First off, you need to really master the SAP workflow engine. There are many different ways to implement the same thing in SAP, and each approach comes with distinct implications. An ‘under the hood’ understanding of the way the SAP workflow engine does things can be very valuable when deciding how to model a particular business process.

Secondly, a strong technical workflow consultant should also have a strong functional understanding. It may sound strange, but as a workflow consultant, you spend a lot of time modeling business processes so an understanding of those processes is key.

Finally, don’t sweat the certification programs. It’s simply not worth the money and effort. Real-world experience is what counts out there.

Bottom line: Hit the books, make a conscious effort to straddle the technical and functional sides, and above all — do whatever it takes to get your hands dirty as soon as possible.

Matt Danielsson

September 4, 2007  6:14 PM

RFID rising — and drawing fire

JackDanahy Jack Danahy Profile: JackDanahy

RFID, radio frequency identification, is one of those topics that come and go in the news. Unless you’re working with supply chains on a daily basis, RFID may not be at the top of your IT watch list. Well, there are some forces in motion right now that may have an impact on just how pervasive RFID technology will be in the years ahead.

IndustryWeek just reported that China alone is plunking down nearly $2 billion on RFID technology in 2007 — out of a global $5 billion spent on RFID. This is significant in that economy of scale kicks in, where more business equals lower prices as the technology becomes commoditized. The big barrier for widespread RFID usage up until this point has been cost (and reliability, to some degree — another issue that tends to be worked out as business picks up). China’s RFID ambitions may not drive the price of passive chips all the way down to the magic 5-cent barrier, but it’ll certainly help.

Indeed, as a technology in itself, RFID has performed well and has definite business value. Unfortunately, it also comes with a certain stigma, especially when the discussion moves from tagging shipping containers and onto tagging people. You’ve probably heard the benefits of human tagging — hospitals can get immediate medical information from an unconscious patient etc. — but several customer advocates and interest groups have taken offense at the invasion of privacy and potential for abuse.

There is currently a bill underway making California the third state to ban involuntary RFID tagging of humans. The word “involuntary” sounds pretty reassuring, right? However, as digital media law expert Jonathan Handel noted:

The bill only applies to employers and employees. That leaves open a host of other scenarios. One day soon, no doubt, prisoners will be required to be chipped as a condition of parole, probation or house arrest […] registered sex offenders, [then] illegal aliens, welfare recipients, parents concerned with their kids’ safety…

Granted, it’s quite a leap from China’s Olympic Games preparation to parents implanting their kids with RFID tags, but let’s face it: The rise of RFID in commercial settings will inevitably lead to increased options for usage in non-commercial settings. And the baggage that comes with that side of RFID, inevitably impacts the other side as politics, fear and confusion around a new technology tends to muddle the water for all players involved. Let’s hope the market is wise enough to play it safe, ethically and otherwise, in the years ahead.

Matt Danielsson

August 28, 2007  5:34 PM

New ASUG president

JackDanahy Jack Danahy Profile: JackDanahy

America’s SAP User Group, ASUG, has announced its new president: Steven Strout, former CIO of Morris Communications. In addition to president, Strout will also take on the title of CEO to become the first full-time employee of the organization.

Rod Masney, who used to run the ASUG ship, worked with on numerous occasions, leaving a rich legacy behind. He will stay on the ASUG board and continue his efforts in keeping SAP and ASUG close.

We had the good fortune of sitting down with Strout at Sapphire 2007, and we’re looking forward to continuing our ASUG relationship in years ahead. Tune in later this week for news editor Jon Franke’s interview with Strout on what’s next for him, ASUG and SAP.

Matt Danielsson

August 27, 2007  7:07 PM

NetSuite CEO on SAP’s A1S

JackDanahy Jack Danahy Profile: JackDanahy

Truth is, we don’t know all that much about A1S yet. But that will all change on Sept. 19, when SAP has a big A1S bash planned. Another event approaching fast is the much-ballyhooed IPO of NetSuite, Oracle chief Larry Ellison’s baby. Some may debate the wisdom of an IPO in this market, but NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson isn’t one of them; he’s in a quiet period and can’t comment about it all. He can, however, take jabs at SAP A1S. Here’s what he had to say during a recent interview with Mary Hayes Weier:

SAP is saying A1S […] will be less customizable than SAP’s traditional software. That strategy amazes me. Midsize businesses need customization, just as every other company needs customization. Vendors like SAP will say SaaS is less customizable, but that’s just not true from a technology standpoint.

Interestingly, Nelson doesn’t see much competition with Oracle itself, adding that the Redwood City giant is busy “hammering SAP in the enterprise market.”

I’ll leave that without comment, but Nelson’s words on SAP’s lack of customization do raise some concerns. Indeed, as others have noted, SAP is a bit late to the party, and it better have some substantial bells and whistles to jazz things up. Stay tuned as news editor Jon Franke treks to New York City for the Sept. 19 event.

Matt Danielsson

August 23, 2007  6:45 PM

SAP CRM second to Oracle?

JackDanahy Jack Danahy Profile: JackDanahy

Research firm Datamonitor’s recent report on the CRM market pegs Oracle as number one, followed by SAP. Microsoft? Not so much. From Stuart Lauchlan’s analysis:

Datamonitor concludes that Oracle is a clear market leader with an impressively versatile and highly competitive CRM portfolio while SAP is also recommended as an automatic shortlist choice due to the excellence of its CRM modules and dominant impact on the market […] There are possible alternatives in the form of Chordiant, Infor and, but these have to remain competitive if they are to continue to be considered as market leadership challengers. Other possible contenders include Consona, Microsoft and RightNow Technologies if they enhance their profile among end-users or deliver on the considerable promise of their forthcoming releases.

It is true that Oracle has made substantial acquisitions over the past couple years. Indeed, the time for decrying the Siebel- and PeopleSoft-mess as more bluster than actual business benefits has come and gone. But does that translate to automatic CRM dominance, especially in light of SAP’s admittedly excellent offerings? What about the pesky little deal that SAP is actually leading in market share? We asked Lauren Hoyt, site editor of our sister site, for her take on the issue:

It’s hard to deny that Oracle has a clear lead in CRM deployments, thanks in large part to their acquisition of Siebel Systems. Siebel has 4.6 million users, and Oracle and Siebel combined can claim 5.6 million. Meanwhile, SAP leads in market share. Still, don’t count out or Microsoft. Analysts predict significant spending on CRM in the next few years, which should be telling from a market share perspective. My sense is that the vendors that can do a few things — design a friendly user interface (UI), help customers design a real strategy for managing customer relationships, capitalize on the now ever-prevalent on-demand market and finally, blend its product with social media opportunities — will be the winner in the long run.

Will that winner be Oracle, SAP, Microsoft or any of the other CRM players? Submit your comments for a chance to win a free copy of “mySAP CRM Interaction Center” by Thorsten Wewers & Tim Bolte, courtesy of SAP Press.

Matt Danielsson

August 14, 2007  8:19 PM

TechEd ‘07: SOA is King

JackDanahy Jack Danahy Profile: JackDanahy

SAP has officially opened registration for TechEd ’07, inviting SAP professionals to attend one of their four locations through fall. Las Vegas is first (10/1-5), followed by Munich (10/17-19), Shanghai (11/6-7) and Bangalore (11/28-30).

These events tend to be more technical in nature than Sapphire, offering some 1,000+ hours of SAP education for beginners and experts alike. As usual, ASUG, SDN, BPX and other SAP groups will take an active role with sessions and forums to round out the regular SAP fare.

The stated theme of this year’s event is “Enterprise SOA: Put the Power to Work,” focusing on the practical benefits that can be gained from jumping on the Enterprise SOA bandwagon. This is probably a wise move. Many SAP users I’ve spoken to complain that SAP’s push to get users to upgrade has been more stick than carrot; highlighting the positives may help sinking millions into upgrades seem less of a burden and more like a wise investment. If SAP can convince Joe Customer, that is.

One way to make the case for upgrading are the new Enterprise SOA Showcase Contests, where regular SAP shops can provide SOA success stories for a chance to win cash prizes. The contest opened just last week and remains open to submissions until 9/19, after which there’s a public voting opportunity to establish a list of finalists. The grand prize winner, who takes home $10,000 cash, gets crowned at TechEd in Las Vegas.

Chalk that up as wise move number two on SAP’s part. Call me cynical, but after seven years on the SAP beat I’ve learned this: One page of customer case study is worth infinitely more than ten pages of marketing speak. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume I’m not the only one who’s a lot more interested to hear a customer talk about how things worked out in real life than read about world-class solutions set to revolutionize the core value chain through innovation leadership. (Ok, in fairness, this applies to ALL enterprise tech press releases, but you know what I mean…)

Anyway, we were there in 2006, and we’ll be there again this year. Stay tuned as we approach this exciting event!

Matt Danielsson

August 13, 2007  4:02 PM

Now taking BI/BW questions

JackDanahy Jack Danahy Profile: JackDanahy

You’ve probably seen the new guest expert feature called On The Spot we launched last week. First out was SAP jobs expert Jon Reed with his words of wisdom on topics like the next big thing in ABAP careers, how to become a techno-functional consultant, and how a U.S. developer can ask for a raise without getting the pink slip.

We’re now taking questions for next month’s installment, this time featuring BI/BW expert Gary Nolan. Gary just released his latest SAP Press book: Efficient SAP NetWeaver BI Implementation & Project Management, and he is a frequent conference speaker with many years practical experience. Read his bio, then submit your toughest SAP BI/BW questions.

Matt Danielsson

August 10, 2007  2:22 PM

SAP A1S: What’s in a name?

JackDanahy Jack Danahy Profile: JackDanahy

With product code names, companies tend to lean more towards whimsical and creative. Take Microsoft. The company has used locations, like “Whistler” for Windows XP (Microsoft held design retreats in Whistler, British Columbia) or “Longhorn” for Vista (the Longhorn is apparently a bar in Whistler).

And then there’s SAP, which for its brand new, on-demand, game changing midmarket offering, went with… A1S.

In an interview with about the new All-in-One improvements, Tom Kindermans, senior vice president for SAP’s SMB in EMEA, speculated that the A1S code name might be behind some of the confusion surrounding SAP’s midmarket offerings. And it makes sense. Says Kindermans:

Some of the confusion comes from the codename we are using — A1S — for the new suite we announced. This created some confusion because some people believe A1S will be the successor of All-in-One, which is not the case. The real commercial name will be announced in September. And we have a very clear positioning for each of the three [midmarket products].

SAP doesn’t think the error is fatal, though, it will just require that much more investment in marketing to differentiate the products. Still, we might expect a more innovative nickname for SAP’s next new product. Perhaps “Sylt” after the German resort town famous for its clothing-optional beaches?

Kindermans went on to echo what other SAP executives have said: That even with the release of A1S and resulting confusion, he doesn’t expect All-in-One’s growth to slow at all, because the products address different markets.

It’s out of the question that A1S can replace All-in-One for several reasons. One of the reasons is that we’re addressing another type of customer, what we call an unserved market. It’s a hosted solution which we don’t have in the portfolio for the moment. So we are absolutely convinced that the business A1S will generate will not cannibalize All-in-One business.

SAP will, obviously, be relying on the midmarket, and its 3 products, to generate significant customer growth on its way to the company’s goal of 100,000 customers by 2010. So, while some analysts and industry watchers have questioned whether that goal is realistic, Kindermans thinks it is within reach, with the SMB products being relied on heavily.

[The 100,000 customer goal] is definitely within reach. We haven’t changed our goals and there is no reason to change the goal. Our Business One product will contribute heavily to the 100,000 customers. But not only Business One, A1S will contribute. All-in-One has over 10,000 customers but we continue to invest in the product as before and we believe we will have the same growth in the next few years… so this 100,000 customers is within reach and we are very firm to confirm this number.

Jon Franke
News Editor

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