Monthly Archives: September 2004

SAP TechEd here I come … with session slides!

SAP TechEd is looming large, and this year it’s in Munich. (If you’re not in Europe, then SAP are holding TechEd events in Bangalore, Tokyo, and San Diego too). I went last year (in Basel), and was both impressed – by the quality of the session and tutorial content – and disappointed – at the lack of wifi and ‘net access in general. One thing that was lacking overall last year was a sense of community;
everyone was there on their own, with the whole event feeling more like an exhibition or computer fair, rather than a conference. That, or everyone was avoiding me ;-)

This year, it’s going to be different. There’s a wiki, there will be Birds Of a Feather sessions, including a SapAndOpenSourceBof run by me and my good friend Piers. Wifi and ‘net access has even been promised too. (Although when I compare the bullet points on the Munich and San Diego pages, there’s a distinct difference – no wireless at Munich?)

But the biggest change this year for me is that I’ll be speaking. I’m giving a one hour session:

The Internet Communication Framework: Into Context and Into

Business Server Pages (BSP) technology is a great way to put together
ABAP powered web-based applications. But that’s not the only way; in
the grander scheme of things, BSP technology is ‘just’ a layer that
sits on top of the Internet Communication Framework (ICF), the Web
Application Server’s core foundation that provides a full set of
object-orientated APIs for handling HTTP requests and responses.
This talk will put the ICF not only into context – what it is, how
it works, why it’s important – but also into action, with a live
demonstration where we build, debug and run a simple web-based service.
If you’re interested in looking under the hood at the engine that
connects the Internet Communication Manager with the ABAP Personality
world, and learning how to use it yourself, then this talk is for you!

I’m really excited at the chance to ramble and rant about some great parts of the Web Application Server; in many ways, the ICF is a bridge between the traditional walled world of SAP and the world of open standards. And this particular bridge is constructed with blocks that have ‘HTTP’ stamped through them.

The integration irony of SAP’s technology directions

I’ve finally realised what it is that’s been bugging me about the new arena of SAP technology. I’ve felt slightly uneasy, or unbalanced, by something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

From integration to de-integration

But while attending a (rather poor, I have to say) training course at SAP UK last week, it finally struck me. SAP have been selling enterprise level software for a very long time. And one of the key selling points was that the data, and the business processes, were integrated. Indeed, for a good while, SAP’s slogan (at least here in the UK) was “Integrated Software. Worldwide”.

But funnily enough, that slogan disappeared, in favour of another, that didn’t focus on integration. I can’t remember what it was (it was certainly less memorable), and now it’s changed again (to “The best-run businesses run SAP”). Anyway, back to integration. The dream presented by SAP in the 80s and 90s showed companies that they could escape the headaches of separate systems and integrate their data and processes into one single system (R/2 and later R/3). This was indeed the reality too.

But what’s happening today? Every way you turn, there are SAP systems doing different things, managing different processes, and storing different data (sometimes sharing it with other SAP systems). Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems handling sales-related activities; Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) systems handling supplier activities; there’s the IPC system for pricing and configuration, and the APO system for planning and optimisation activities. And data is moved to a business warehouse for reporting purposes. And so it goes on.

Data and process de-integration, anyone?

I don’t know whether the term should be ‘deintegration’ or ‘disintegration'; all I know is that it seems a different road that SAP is travelling down than they did before. On the course I attended last week, the reality of managing data between different SAP systems in one installation was rather worrying. Just as it was 20 years ago. Or so it seems. And right now, at least with CRM and BI, there doesn’t seem to be a set of uniform data exchange tools for managing the exchange – for example, while Bdocs are used to manage master data between a CRM system and an R/3 (‘legacy’ :-) system, they’re not used for the same purpose between a CRM system and a BI system. Perhaps I haven’t drunk enough kool-aid yet.

A different rule for the client side

So what was the purpose of this post? It wasn’t directly to point out the about-turn SAP seem to be making in this area. It was actually to point out the juxtaposition that SAP’s new de-integrated direction has with … their vision for front-ends. While de-integration is where it’s at on the server side, we have total integration on the client side. Enterprise Portal (EP) 6.0, WebDynpro, PeopleCentric design (don’t get me started on that) – every function that a user might need is lumped together in one homogenised “web” client. Email, discussion groups, graphics, reports, transactions, IM, and so on. All on one page in your browser. What happened to ‘best of breed’ on the desktop? I’m a great believer in the right tools for each job. That’s why I run a proper email client (for email and threaded forum-style discussions), a separate IM client, a separate newsreader, and a browser. Each one excels in its own domain. Trying to achieve everything in a browser window is doomed.

So if best of breed, focused application platforms is what SAP is aiming for at the server end, why go in the other direction at the client end? A single screen looking extremely busy with lots of little application windows, flashing lights, tables, graphics, and so on, is great for screenshots and brochures. But what about the real end user? I’m an end user as well as a developer, and can imagine productivity taking a huge dive if we were forced to use this.

Of course, the browser-based applications served from the EP are a lot different from what I imagine browser based applications to be. You know, ones that allow you to use your browser as, well, a browser, with old fashioned things like bookmarking, navigation, proper page titles, and so on. And ones that work *in browsers*, not just in a specific combination of Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer – I’m having a nigh-on impossible time getting in to the SAP Developer Network site right now, because of recent changes that cause the site not to ‘work’ at my end with Firefox and / or Epiphany on Linux.

But that (‘browser abuse’, as also noted in more general terms by Joe Gregorio) is a story for another time ;-)

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

I bought three books at Manchester airport yesterday. One of them was The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon. I started reading it this afternoon, and have just stopped to slow down. It’s about a young boy with an “emotionally dissociated mind” (a phrase that Ian McEwan used, which I like), who is investigating the death of a dog. The book is written as if by the young boy. The writing is exquisite. I think that is the word that consistently comes to mind when I try to think of a way to describe it. So that’s the word I’ve used here.

The writing is simple. Straightforward. It reflects the exact, black and white reasoning of this autistic child. Sad and funny at the same time. And as I read each sentence, I feel that a lot of work has gone into every one of them. Exactly the right words, the right number, and the right punctuation. It’s almost as if the words on the page, at a level above the story, tell a story themselves. I think the choice of font, which annoyingly is not mentioned in the impressum at the front like fonts used to be (“Printed in some-such-font by some-company in Bungay, Suffolk”), but is a very clean and light sans-serif one, adds to the clarity and directness of thought.

When you eat a bar of chocolate, you eat it chunk by chunk and there’s not much to think about. When you eat a truffle, or some delicate hand-made chocolate assortment, you eat it slowly, bit by bit, enjoying the flavours and appreciating the work that’s gone into making it. But sometimes you just shove it in your gob and it’s gone. I’m trying desperately not to do the latter with this book. It’s too good for that.