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An SAP ABAP Innovation Revolution Beyond HANA

December 12th, 2011 by
ABAP Development Revolution

ABAP Development Revolution

Some time back I wrote about Opportunities for INNOVATION SAP, HELLO? At the time I wasn’t really expecting a lot and I’m guessing I didn’t have a lot of influence but I do find it coincidental that many of the suggestions I offered have been adopted. Some of them, like the switched framework to improve order management processing is included in ECC 6.0 EP4.

So, one thing that I have been chewing on for a long time is how to dramatically improve ABAP development and overall application enhancements.  My own requirements were to find a way to make ABAP coding simpler, improve code quality, provide better overall system performance, and make it easier to troubleshoot. Tall order I know. Impossible? No!

Welcome to the “Big Data Revolution”

This post is more about a technical issue which SAP can “easily” address that would completely revolutionize its own internal development as well as external customer development.

The New SAP Development Revolution

I’m not an SAP ABAP coder but over the years I’ve had enough exposure to it to see some great tools, resources and improvements. This development effort has been mostly on the usage side of the existing syntax.

  • What if there was a way to revolutionize the way ABAP is coded that is 100% compatible with current syntax ?
  • What if it dramatically improved coding quality and solution development?
  • What if it improved the performance and consistency of customized ABAP solutions?
  • What if it simplified the entire coding process AND made troubleshooting easier?
  • What if it opened up a whole new world for coders to develop dramatically improved solutions?

You say that sounds crazy? Not only is it possible it would propel SAP’s place in the entire business application space to new levels.

Where Did This Crazy Idea Come From? And WHAT IS IT?

After many years working in SD (along with other modules) I had a client who needed help creating a new “smart” trade promotion execution solution. The solution had to do a LOT of things no standard SAP process handles. It needed to dynamically determine complex offers, with discounts, free goods, limits, caps, quotas, perform dynamic best price processing, provide loyalty points, etc. –, all while dynamically evaluating the customer segment and strata for offer eligibility.   The solution had to be done across a large population of order items, with multiple promotions based on the mix of products and the number of discounts or promotions that had already been given to a customer over time. The mix of products or offers could bundle multiple free goods, multiple offer discounts, or other special items, in a many to many relationship, based on the customer purchase and purchase history.  And performance HAD to be good because of the huge order volume.

The client had been asking for someone to deliver this for some time. A previous system integrator who did their upgrade couldn’t do it. I ended up spending 6 months working on a new custom coded ABAP “mini-module” in SAP that allowed them to achieve their goals by using mostly master data.

That process taught me more about ABAP programming and SAP coding than I ever anticipated. As I went through this process I was amazed at one simple thing that was completely lacking from all of this coding effort –, the amount of “VIRTUAL” SQL syntax for internal data processing in the form of loop, sort, read table (with key), append, move, move corresponding, index, etc.

Why not develop the syntax to handle all of this in the background through “virtual” select statements?  Create a new “iSelect” syntax which performs all of these functions that can be exploded.

SAP already uses internal tables in memory for processing data during the transaction stream.  By creating a new “iSelect” syntax much of this coding, looping, moving, etc., could be masked by fairly common SQL type commands. Since this would be compiled syntax the performance would likely be better and the quality would be FAR better while needing fewer lines of code to accomplish the same thing. For simplicity I will call it “internal SQL” or, iSQL.

This would be the perfect complement to SAP’s HANA in memory processing, and would help with reporting extractor and programming development of all kinds.

This type of iSQL could be developed to allow inner or outer joins on internal tables, external tables, or any combination of them. The normal SQL statements like Select Sum, Select Distinct, etc., etc., etc., could be employed throughout the entire ABAP processing stream. With internal tables in memory as well as the tables read from the database.  Still more interesting would be the ability to “explode the code” underneath this new iSQL syntax. When finer detailed control, processing, or calculations are needed, within or across joins, the underlying loop, sort, append, etc., could be exploded out and adjusted to fit the specific need. This would speed up development efforts by being able to quickly rough-out a data processing framework and then explode the code to make more detailed adjustments.

By focusing on syntax that is like SQL for the internal loops, sorts, reads, sums, append to table, move, etc., the coding complexity is reduced WHILE also providing more flexibility and options. SAP would have greater control over the development of the internal / external table processing standards and programming knowledge around actual data processing would improve.  This would be the perfect complement to SAP’s HANA in memory processing.

It would allow for faster, more reliable coding efforts with a higher performance result. Small performance tweaks or changes to the underlying compiled iSQL statements, along with that ability to explode the underlying code would create a revolution in the ability to more quickly and consistently deliver SAP solutions.

What is most important of all is this could be rolled out piecemeal and stay 100% backward compatible with no negative downstream effects. As new iSQL syntax is developed the original coding standards could remain in place without change. It would just add an additional set of power processing options. Think about all of the areas this would radically affect, custom coding, data conversion, SOA development, report development, function module creation, you name it. This could create HUGE customer benefits for outstanding development.

I’m tired of crappy, poor performance, system choking code from poor development, aren’t you? Come on SAP, YOU CAN DO THIS!!!!




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The Real Reason Executive Participation Creates IT Project Success

October 10th, 2009 by

Executive Participation Creates IT Project SuccessSince I started in the SAP (ERP) arena in 1994 I’ve heard it often repeated, reiterated, studied, and pronounced that one of the key criteria for IT project success is executive participation.  That mandate applies to any large scale project, whether it is ERP, CRM, APO, SOA, BI, or other solutions.

Many implementation companies wrongly believe this is because the executive brings a measure of authority and visibility to the project and that is the key reason for executive participation.  The most often overlooked reason has more to do with the senior executive role than any of these other reasons.  And although the previously quoted reasons are valid it is because of executive insight into the company’s future that creates the possibility for strong client satisfaction and success.
 
Most mid to large scale IT projects, whether they are ERP, CRM, Business Intelligence, or other business transformation initiatives last at least 3 months, and most are 6 months to 2 years (or more) depending on the size, scale, and scope of the company and IT effort.  Combine this with the senior executive role of setting direction and strategy, as well as mid and long term goals of the organization, and that insight is critical to ensure success. 
 
If you’re a CIO, IT Director, or IT decision maker, extended executive involvement can make a real difference with C-level satisfaction with implementation or upgrade results–, without it you may be headed for rough roads and difficult budget discussions.

A Couple Illustrations of Executive Participation for Project Success

I’ve been on SAP projects where the executives asked some key questions about application readiness for future events.  They were not clearly noted as such, but were definitely voiced, and then pushed into the project. 
 
On one very large client, the Senior VP of Operations asked what the requirements were for adding new companies if at some point in the future they decided to acquire another business.  A couple weeks later, the client project manager insisted that the company needed full documentation to support the required configuration settings to set up a new company code for financial postings only, not operations.  About six months after the go-live event they purchased another company where they left the operations in tact, without altering their existing systems, but interfaced to SAP as the financial system of record. 
 
At another company the CEO frequently attended weekly project team lead meetings and in one of those discussions noted the company needed to be able to source products from a different distribution facility, by customer, on an ad hoc basis and for periods of time that would not be consistent or continuous.  This was required at times even if the primary warehouse had stocks to service the customer. 
 
Special development efforts were made to integrate a customized solution allowing for the default customer distribution warehouse to be overridden by customer or product, or a combination thereof for a particular date range.   On this particular project about three months after going live the reason was discovered. 

The business was consolidating and closing a couple of distribution facilities and this allowed for an orderly withdrawal of inventory and of business without significant transportation or carrying costs.  It was transparent to the customer as well.  The MRP portion of the system saw the reduced demand on the closing warehouses and therefore planned less replenishment stock until the distribution facilities were mothballed.  By the same token, the additional demand on the consolidated warehouses was also picked up and accounted for so that disruption was minimal.

Without this future preparation built into the system at go-live, it would have created significant hardships and difficulties in addressing these business needs.  The failure to plan for future business needs in the initial go-live event is also where SAP gets some of the bad press about being “inflexible.”  The reality is that if you plan, design, construct, test, and then go-live with it over the years I haven’t seen very many process gaps in the application.

Where Strong Executive Involvement Produced Amazing Results 

The previous illustrations are a couple of examples where the future state of the business was designed into SAP solutions.  The reason success was achieved was because of the longer term insight the executive participation brought to the project.  I’ve seen a few projects where the executive imprint soundly focused the project on the future strategic direction of the business by constantly challenging and refocusing the entire project team’s attention on strategic sales and marketing goals. 

At one company a scope change request or newly defined custom development would only be approved if it fit the strategic direction of automating or empowering the sales and marketing groups to profitably increase revenue.  This drove the requirement to add special CO management reporting functionality, specialized marketing spend tracking by material, customer, and region of the globe, and a whole host of other significantly customer focused initiatives.  Marketing spend and return was captured down to the individual line item on a customer order and then posted against the marketing budget to track the spend.
 
That company is thriving today, in a down economy, and in a particular market that was, and is still contracting (or growing smaller), even before the economic downturn. 

This project was different because senior executive participation was evident throughout the project: it included a monthly round table of every C-level executive; the Senior VP of Finance (who answered directly to the CFO) was one of the two client side project managers, and the twice monthly steering committee meetings were attended by several VPs and senior directors. 

This entire project had the future strategic direction embedded throughout the SAP implementation.  This project delivered more in terms of automation, efficiency, along with key lagging and leading indicator business goal reporting than I had ever seen on any other project.  This was also the most involved and most complex project I had ever seen–, nearly 150 legacy systems were mothballed and close to 200 interfaces were still needed. 
 
This multi-billion dollar, multi-national company, delivered a level of operational efficiency, customer focus, and product innovation that I had never seen before and haven’t seen since.  It was done on time, on budget, and with extensive scope.  And let me reiterate, it continues to grow in a market that was contracting even before the global economic troubles we see now.
 
Because of the level of executive participation and visibility the implementation vendor brought in only their “A list” consultants, and over a third of the vendor’s consultants on the project were senior level independent contractors.  On this project only the “best” would do and it was reflected throughout the project and after the production environment went live.  Full cost-based, cost reducing payback was achieved in less than two years, and as previously mentioned; revenue and profit were pushed to significant growth in an industry and economy where that should not be occurring.
 
The executive level of involvement and participation helped educate the senior leadership team to wider business issues and IT challenges.  This in turn led to more acceptance and adoption of IT solutions for other business challenges.  The company ultimately developed a significant IT – business competency center with numerous business representatives directly participating with IT counterparts and the business staff funded from the various business budgets. 

They got it, they understood the critical business nature of IT solutions and saw it as a strategic investment in their own areas of responsibility.  They also saw this as a prudent method to ensure their organizations and business units were adequately represented in future technology initiatives and future technology funding.  This became a huge win-win for everyone involved that has played out in a company that is doing reasonably well when by normal standards it should not be.

Lessons Learned from Executive Participation on IT Projects

Executive participation in an IT project creates visibility within the company that the IT initiative is important.  It also demonstrates a measure of authority to break through log jams and make some of the difficult decisions.  But the most important reason of all, the one that I have never heard mentioned by other commentators or implementation vendors is the strategic imprint that executive involvement creates. 

By the nature of the executive role and responsibility they set direction and strategy for the company.  They live and breathe direction and strategy.  Senior leadership frequently surveys the marketplace and adjusts course for future goals and plans.  Strategic, future-state input in an SAP project is inherent in the nature of the executive whether the IT project is ERP, CRM, SOA, BI, or process work. 

As I have seen from past experience this executive involvement causes implementation vendors to bring their best and brightest to these types of projects if they want to stay in business.  That is because the visibility to the executive staff of the skills and abilities of the consultants has a strong bearing on whether or not the implementation vendor continues on with the project, or whether there are any follow-on opportunities.

If you are a CIO, IT Director, or other IT decision maker, it’s time to make the case for stronger executive involvement.  The executive participation will help to ensure that their expectations are met and will enhance your career possibilities as well.

Properly engaged senior leadership and executive participation puts the business first and turns the technology into a change enabler or change lever.  And in the end the business is more likely to achieve the business benefit and results they had hoped for. 

Additional Resources for ROI, IT Project Success, Competitive Pressures and Value Propositions: 

Why SAP Projects Fail to Deliver ROI (and how to change it) 
R3Now.com                SAP SDN Blog  

Change How You Look at SAP to create ROI
R3Now.com 

ERP Failure: The Organization is More Than Partially To Blame 
R3Now.com

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CRM, ERP, BI, and IT Investment — Where Do You Find the Business Benefit?

September 19th, 2009 by

CRM, ERP, BI, and IT investment, where is the business benefit?

Retool, retool quickly!

Most companies want to use CRM applications as a way to “supercharge” their sales forces.  They want to gain some advantage with customer retention and acquisition, to manage the sales pipeline and to have better market insight.  But few companies realize these goals. 

After going through some of the academic studies and literature about CRM implementation there is evidence to suggest that some companies see some limited benefit from their CRM implementations, but overall they are not happy.  These anecdotal accounts show the primary reasons companies benefit from their CRM implementations at all is because the project itself causes the company to look more closely at their customers.  Even then, with few exceptions, the way the CRM software is often implemented does little to provide significant market-focused benefits.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and you as a customer can change it. It’s not the SAP CRM application that is the problem.  Between CRM, ERP, and BI, the tools are all there, but an instrument in the hands of a journeyman musician sounds far different than the same instrument handled by the journeyman’s apprentice, or a novice.

Where Things Get Off Track on CRM projects – Why CRM Projects Go Bad

Most SAP CRM implementations relied on retooled, post-Y2K HTML and Java consultants who flocked to the CRM space. Because the SAP “New Dimension” products were new the screening was not sophisticated and the experience requirements were low.

These web techies had little or no business experience and certainly little (if any) understanding of competitive pressures, value propositions, business strategies to retain or acquire customers, or a whole host of key issues that a good CRM consultant must know.  They were (and still are) completely clueless about marketing, customer / sales conversions, product development cycles, solution databases, improving service cycle times, etc.  They might know how to set some switches, or make some coding changes, but they have little ability to help transform your business or in how to move you forward in the marketplace.  Basically they had little, if any business experience.  

These consultants learn to talk the application talk, and they can spout some of the tools available, but when you drill down deep into their experience you find they are an empty shell.  They are like apprentice “musicians” who can read a few notes on a page of sheet music but they lack the years of practice and do not have the musician’s “soul” to understand and appreciate business.  These application technicians lack the critical transformational understanding your business needs.  True CRM success stories require consultants who have some measure of business or marketing background, not just an IT background. 

If you’re running a Formula 1 race team you don’t go to your nearest garage with a great tune-up special and hire them to do your tune-up before a race.  They MIGHT be able to keep the car running but you have no chance of winning the race with their expertise.  Their garage serves an important purpose, and it fills a particular niche, but if you are looking for race winning results they are not the right folks for the job.

Do CRM Consultants or CRM Vendors Know What You Need? 

What are your goals, your reasons, or your business triggers for doing CRM, ERP, or BI applications?  Did your implementation vendor assessment or consultant review include a detailed exploration of exactly how they would help you achieve those goals? 

Does the vendor or their consultants have any real business change management experience to help focus the company on a commitment to the customer experience?  Do they have the critical communication skills to support a communication program to the larger organization about the crucial role the new CRM application will fill?  Can they help guide the business in understanding how each person’s job or responsibility affects the marketplace, how the ERP system extends into the supply chain, or how the BI system supports the key data for reporting on various goals and performance metrics?  Do they even have strong enough communication or language skills to have actually done the things they claim to have done before?

At the start of the CRM project, did they explore where you might gain value in customer retention?  Do they even understand general sales, marketing, business, or operations concepts around customer retention?  Did they ask the critical questions showing they know how to define what you need to improve the quality of your customer touch points? Does your CRM implementation vendor or their consultants have a clue? 

I find it funny that to this day I frequently receive calls from recruiters and companies who are interested in me helping them do a CRM project.  This is even though I make it clear that I have no SAP CRM experience and my resume does not list any SAP CRM experience.  However many customers are beginning to realize that the SAP Sales and Distribution background (SD), with its sales and marketing implementation focus helps to ensure good integration between the CRM application and the ERP product, as well as the business experience that a good SAP SD consultant has.  On top of that, many highly experienced SD consultants have developed customer focused reports and tools to address some of the customer issues.  As a result a solid SD consultant has a fair understanding of the types of data points and BI reports that are necessary to report on.  An SAP SD consultant who is skilled and diligent has also encountered many of the issues related to customer retention and customer acquisition.

First Things First – Basic Business Strategy 

The difference between an application technician and a business consultant who knows the application is in knowing what questions to ask to determine what the true underlying business need is.  Even when technicians learn the business need they often have no idea how to convert that into a solution outside of their very narrow focus.  For example, if you have service or repair requests that seem high, do you focus on solving a quality problem, or on shipping processes, or packaging, or other reasons? And to resolve these issues, do you have or need a solution database?  Do you need some form of Engineering Change Management process integrated within the Customer Service processes?  Do you need Quality Management (QM)?  Is full blown SAP style QM overkill?  Is there a way to promote customer self-service with solving some of their own problems, both to empower them and to reduce your own internal costs?  Did the ERP or CRM consultant have basic business and troubleshooting skills to ask such questions? If you want ROI for IT expenditures, if you want SAP ERP, CRM, BI, or SOA to deliver business related results, start asking business questions about why you are looking at any technology spend to begin with: 

  • How do you determine customer needs and wants?
  • How do you track changing dynamics in customer needs and wants?
  • How do you convince your customer base to execute a purchase based on their needs or wants? 
  • How do you anticipate new products or services your customers may need or want next? 
  • How do you track market spend to new customer or enhanced existing customer product spend? 
  • Do you measure, or need to measure cost per lead and then lead conversion rates? 
  • How do you compare to your competitors? 
  • Is, or should, opportunity tracking be embedded into the customer service process? 
  • Do you know what opportunities can be converted into new customers or into new (or enhanced) products or services? 
  • How do you track opportunity costs? 
  • Do you link complaints / repairs / service / opportunity reporting back to customer attrition? 

Does your BI consultant know what to ask or do they just ask you what reports you need?  In other words, what are you paying them for?  To make a few system settings or for some business benefit?  How often does a completely accurate order get to the customer on time?  How quickly are orders processed through to delivery, and then how long does delivery take?  Are order to receipt to cash cycle-times in line with your competitors, and can you beat your competitors without additional costs?

In other words, if you want ROI it is going to take a genuine focus on the business drivers for why you are even considering some IT application to begin with.  And if you want the greatest return, and the best competitive posture in the market it will take some effort in finding consultants who not only know the application but who understand business as well.  Without them all you get is another IT application when what you need is business transformation.

Even if your consultant or vendor did some homework and started asking you some of these questions, do they have the depth of experience or business insight to help you understand how to convert your answers into real solutions? Do they know how to help you bridge the entire supply chain process all the way to the customer whether it is in the “back office” ERP application and its direct or indirect connections to the CRM system?

Until you as a customer begin to demand that consultants and implementation vendors come to the table with real business experience nothing will change.  It’s time that IT decision makers started demanding that their short list vendors demonstrate an ability to SOLVE real market based problems that you are facing as a company.  SAP’s ERP products are mature, the consultants to implement and support them have been around for some time, start insisting that vendors present “A” list players to even be considered for a short list. 

Start asking the tough questions from a business perspective and be more proactive in managing the vendor resources you select.  You might finally see the results you’ve been looking for.  And in case you think you can ignore this, not only are you facing economic and global competition pressures, there are new pressures emerging as well with technology itself.

A Technology Change that will Force You to Work More Closely with Customers 

Recently Google announced the availability of “SideWiki,” it is a web browser add-on to Internet Explorer or FireFox that allows users to comment on any page, of any site, anywhere. It also allows others to see the comments that are left.  So if you think you can hide from the Internet or from your end customers any longer, perish the thought. 

If you don’t already have some type of online “customer community” you had better develop one right now.  You can no longer control the message and your PR or marketing departments can no longer cover for inadequate customer focus.

At least gain some ability to understand and address your customers before there is more widespread adoption of these kinds of customer feedback tools over which you have no control.  Do you need an online “customer community” to be able to more directly and more carefully address customer concerns before they get reported to some of the rating and complaint services?  Or, outside of the CPG (Consumer Package Goods) space do you need to move further into the value stream to find a way to get close to the end customer of your product or service?  Should this online community also support gathering marketing intelligence, new product or service ideas, and generally engaging customers?

Are there areas of your customer experience where you must rely on third parties who are not as focused on customer experience as you are?  How do you measure and track that interaction and then how do you change it?

Even if these consultants manage to ask the right questions, do they know how to convert the answers to those questions into real solutions that meet business needs?  After all, there is lots of great source material right here in this article, and much more on my web site.  But asking the right questions and converting the answers to those questions into business solutions, generating solution scope, determining the right technologies and then understanding what is needed to bring the organization along behind this type of strategic initiative is an entirely different matter.

In other words we’re back to the same issue as I’ve written about in doing ERP implementations, what is the business reason for the IT investment?  Why are you putting CRM in?  Do you need CRM at all?  Do you need a different solution?  Are you better off investing in BI or would you be better at working through process issues and using SOA to embed yourself further into the extended value chain? 

This and many other articles point out the importance of having a focus on business needs, market forces, and competitive pressures for finally realizing business benefit and ROI from your implementation.  This type of focus can’t be achieved by technicians, even skilled technicians who might be talented at setting up a particular application.  A system alone only processes information and no system will change your position in the market.  However, done properly, and with the right strategy focused direction, a well-deployed ERP, CRM, and / or BI system can empower your company to more aggressively and more effectively compete in the marketplace.

Additional Resources on ROI, TCO, Business Benefit, Revenue and Profitability with ERP Projects:

Tactics, Strategy, ROI, TCO and Realizing Business Benefit from SAP

http://www.r3now.com/tactics-strategy-roi-tco-and-realizing-business-benefit-from-sap

Using SAP to improve Revenue and Profitability

http://www.r3now.com/using-sap-to-improve-revenue-and-profitability

 

Technology Evaluation Centers Listing:

http://whitepapers.technologyevaluation.com/view_document/20088/CRM-ERP-BI-and-IT-Investment-Where-Do-You-Find-the-Business-Benefit.html

 

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