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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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Toward an SAP Center of Excellence or SAP Competency Center – PART 3

July 28th, 2010 by

SAP Production Support 3Part 3 of 3

Stages and Components of the SAP Center of Excellence

To wrap up this series we will take a brief look at the post go-live or the production support environment.  One academic study I reviewed on ERP project success factors defined the three production stages of Acceptance, Routinization, and Infusion (see The Top 5 ERP Success Factors by Project Stage from 22 Critical Success Factors).

These three terms fit the requirements for SAP production system stages as you move toward an SAP Center of Excellence so I’ll use them for reference rather than inventing new terms just to be different.  However, I have defined them in my own way below which may, or may not be 100% consistent with the academic literature.

The ultimate goal of an SAP Center of Excellence is Business Transformation.

SAP Center of Excellence Model for Business Transformation

I’m less concerned about terms and phrases here than I am about the focus and objectives of the effort.  So if you want to call your department an SAP Center of Excellence, or an SAP Business Transformation Center, or an SAP Business Support organization, or whatever please feel free. 

Your SAP staff must be proactively engaged with the business community.

Here is a high level SAP Center of Excellence Model for Business Transformation after you are live in your SAP environment:

Acceptance – go-live and productive business use of the system (heavy change management).

  • Training
  • Process Documentation
  • Help Desk
  • Internal Collaboration (structured Instant Messaging, Forums, and other structured as well as unstructured information capture)

Routinization – the overall acceptance and sustained productive use of the system (system stabilization).

  • Knowledge capture (Wiki and Forums)
  • Troubleshooting methods and Company Best practices
  • Process overviews, refinement, and business / system adjustment
  • External Collaboration (Forums, Customer Channel feedback, marketplace intelligence, vendor collaboration, collaborative product or service development, etc.)

Infusion – long term acceptance and use of the system as well as additional functionality additions (re-focusing on business and SAP to business alignment, i.e. strategic direction).

  • Rotating IT staff assignment into business organization (throughout the process chain)
  • At least once a month work in the department business process area of responsibility
  • FAQ Development (Wiki and Forums)
  • Enhanced or new system functionality
  • System and Process Change Risk Management

SAP Competency Center or SAP Center of Excellence Conclusion

Enterprise applications like SAP are more important than ever in today’s globally competitive and economically sensitive era.  It is simply not enough for IT departments to serve in a more passive support role.  In today’s global economy your SAP and IT support staff can not wait for the business requirements to come rolling in.  For the health and welfare of your business and your SAP or IT organization it is more important than ever to ensure that your SAP staff is proactively engaged with the business community.  That engagement must take the form of an active partnership in looking for new and better ways to use technology for competitive advantage and process improvements.

As for the future, this type of alignment between all of the IT functions, under the banner of the CIO is beginning to take place [FN1].  While SAP Competency Center management and development can focus on the operational excellence business proposition (better, faster, cheaper, more automation) the SAP Center of Excellence framework is more closely aligned to the innovation and customer focus value propositions.

———————————-

[FN1]  A four part series on the current and future technology leadership landscape, this includes the direction of technology and the pressures CIOs face now and in the future.

Part 1:  What is the Proper Relationship for the CIO, CEO, and CFO?

What the changing business and IT landscape means to the CIO, IT Director, IT Manager, or other key technology decision makers.

Part 2:  CIO, CFO, and CEO Alignment – Why ROI is Lacking from Today’s System Landscape

This post provides an overview of the current system landscape and the focus on business processes and contrasts that with the emerging trend of the customer focus value proposition.  This piece also looked at the future business landscape and how the technology focus and direction will be permanently changed no matter what happens with the economy and global competition.

Part 3:  Changing the Direction of SAP, ERP, and IT Applications to Focus on the Customer and Innovation

A brief review of the supply side and the demand side of business shows that unless you have lots of customers (demand) to fill a bigger and bigger pipeline (supply) then an operational excellence business model collapses.  While it is hidden during good economic climates, any disruption in those economic conditions which fails to fill the capacity pipeline points out the glaring insufficiency of the “operational focus” to technology.

Part 4:  Future Technology Landscape Alignment for the CIO, IT Director, or Key IT Decision Maker

The final part of the series looks at the emerging technology landscape and what the future holds.  It lays out an emerging technology landscape model which has some re-alignment and some components already in use by some of the world’s most successful companies.  A new alignment of technology with the customer facing processes, and the use of social or collaboration tools across the enterprise with a clear business objective is explored.  The driver for the future change will be because the business does not see the revenue generation prospects of technology–, they fail to see the possibilities of promoting customer retention, customer acquisition, innovation, and marketplace analytics.  The new technology model looks to change that dynamic.

———————————

Toward an SAP Center of Excellence or SAP Competency Center – PART 1

Explaining the differences between an SAP Competency Center or sometimes referred to as an SAP Center of Expertise and an SAP Center of Excellence.  As Peter Drucker wrote either Do Things Right or Do the Right Things.

Toward an SAP Center of Excellence or SAP Competency Center – PART 2

A more complete and thorough explanation of the differences between the SAP Competency Center (or Expertise Center) and the SAP Center of Excellence (or the Business Transformation Center).  An understanding the operating differences and how the Competency Center is focused on reactive processing of things like help desk tickets, problem resolution, data correction, and knowledge transfer.

Toward an SAP Center of Excellence or SAP Competency Center – PART 3

Business model application of steps, techniques, and methods to produce an SAP Center of Expertise or an SAP Business Transformation Center.  The major business transformation steps on moving from an SAP Competency Center to an SAP Center of Excellence.




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Process Execution of Business and IT Innovation

May 3rd, 2010 by

Innovation

The idea of innovation in business or IT is generally an aspiration to most.  Leaders and managers occasionally mention the need to innovate but when they stop to consider what that means many of them abandon it as an impossible dream.  They wait for some strange spark, some odd occurrence to somehow spark the flame of new beginnings.

Execution of the Innovation Process

Inspiration for innovation or creativity can come from anywhere.  Frequently the innovation problem isn’t a lack of good ideas, or even innovative solutions–, too often it is a lack of execution.  Even though I’ve laid out a proposed business model for an innovation process in the post From Collaboration to Innovation to Market – Toward a Working Model too often the champions, or the owners for the process are missing from the major stages of execution.  There must be an “owner” or a “champion” at each stage, they might be the same person, or it might be a different person, but each stage needs someone to champion the new innovation to maturity and then to completion or it will die in the process.

The three stages I have defined are concieve, develop, and market.  For example, the conceive stage might have a marketing or sales person “own” that process to its development handoff.  That does not mean that engineering or some other key person from the development area should not be active in the early conception stages, only that the stakeholder(s) with the most influence at that stage should own that portion of the process.  At the develop stage it might be key product or service leaders who then move the idea from infancy and from concept to tangible product or service offering.  And then finally the market stage must have a champion from sales or marketing (or both) to ensure that it is properly positioned and prepared for market trials and finally the sales launch.

Without that critical leader at each stage of the process there is little chance of many successful innovations in products or services.  Your innovation engine will quickly run out of gas and go nowhere.  If you pursue any kind of innovation initiative without these key champions any “innovation” that survives will likely be more like minor tweaks or changes, more like continuous improvement than real innovation.  Those small incremental changes are the only things that might survive the process without strong leaders moving them forward.

Business Product, Service, and IT Innovation Series

A structured approach to innovation, to creating new products or services is possible, but it takes a deliberate, concerted and focused effort.  I’ve laid out the various posts on this site that explore how to create a business-centered innovation process:

 

From Collaboration to Innovation to Market – Toward a Working Model
http://www.r3now.com/from-collaboration-to-innovation-to-market-toward-a-working-model

A process oriented approach toward a process model for moving from collaboration to innovation to market. A first pass at integrating collaboration with a structured creative process and moving from idea (conceive) to design (develop) to market (sell).

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Business Strategy and IT Strategy to Reproduce Apple Innovation
http://www.r3now.com/business-strategy-and-it-strategy-to-reproduce-apple-innovation

Overview of Apple Innovation and the focus on Jobs as the head of Apple. The apple innovation secret (if it can be called that at all) is about relentlessly pursuing the customer experience at the point of customer frustration. Where there is customer frustration or customer dissatisfaction there is opportunity for gaining market share for the company who is able to address that point of frustration.

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Striving for a Customer Focused Approach to Innovation 1 of 3
http://www.r3now.com/striving-for-a-customer-focused-approach-to-innovation-1-of-3

Categorizing and Defining the 3 primary types of corporate innovation. I’ve dubbed these as “Stoic” (minimalist or continuous improvement); the “Stretch” (striving for a known future state); and the “Maelstrom” (directionless chaotic storm of ideas). The names you use really don’t matter, but these are the 3 types of what companies call “innovation” that I have seen.

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Striving for a Customer Focused Approach to Innovation 2 of 3
http://www.r3now.com/striving-for-a-customer-focused-approach-to-innovation-2-of-3

Explaining the use of an “innovation narrative” in the “Stretch” type of innovation. This method produces a future state narrative which may not be achievable but provides a customer and market focused direction to aspire to for new products or services. That narrative acts as a future state blueprint for product or service development to move toward.

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Striving for a Customer Focused Approach to Innovation 3 of 3
http://www.r3now.com/striving-for-a-customer-focused-approach-to-innovation-3-of-3

Practical ideas and practical application of some methods of moving toward an innovation culture. Some specific examples around how SAP (the big ERP vendor) has been very successful at integrating their customers, vendors, and their internal organization into an extended development dialog are explored. Includes an overview of how this all ties into the collaboration model I started in a post entitled “From Collaboration to Innovation to Market – Toward a Working Model”.

Good luck on your innovation journey!

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