About Howard Hecht

Howard Hecht is a Principal with IndustryLabs in Toronto and co-host of The Coil on the Unschooled Radio Network. He’s previously been a senior executive at GlobeSpanVirata, Paradyne, and Newbridge as held analyst positions at Gartner, Decisys, and Fearless Group.

The Reality of Collaboration in the SAP Ecosystem

So much is being written and discussed about collaboration today that it would be easy for the more cynically minded among us to dismiss the topic as yet another selection of the business “Fad-of-the-month” club. Not surprisingly, it is similarly convenient for proponents of the collaborative way of doing things to dismiss SAP as a vestigial dinosaur of business models of the distant past. When it comes to realm of all things collaborative, there are two different perspectives to consider. The first is collaborative social-the active collaborating to create an idea for product or service utilizing social technology. The second involves creating a company or business model that exists within the collaborative economy, addressing the creation of value through the shared use of products and services for mutual benefit and greater economic efficiency. The two flavors of things broadly labeled “collaborative” vying for the attention of SAP community, Collaborative Social and Collaborative Economics, both require your attention. You have the responsibility to place the appropriate emphasis on the path that intrinsically enhances your role in the organization and the roles of those who you lead and/or support directly. Although they may be wholly independent in your current operating environment, the chances of convergence within 5 years are pretty close to 100%. The economies of scale derived from even the most elemental levels of interdependence are simply to compelling to ignore. The simple truth is that collaborative is real. It has a measurable and growing impact on social and economic trends reflected in hardcore regional and sector GDP growth. Collaborative is also one of the primary internal investment and development focuses for SAP and they fully intend to be a major player going forward.

Social Collaboration was definitely an acquired product skill set at SAP. This is most emphatically evidenced by the fact that all of the SAP Social Collaboration tools came to the company via acquisition most notably, Streamwork and Success Factors. SAP may not have been built on a foundation of collaborative cinder blocks, but they certainly were among the earliest and most dedicated large-scale enterprise providers to adopt it as a core strategy. The functionality of the now discontinued Streamwork has been rebuilt under Success Factors umbrella and is now being offered as SAP Jam. Although the initial marketing focus with Jam has been as competition to salesforce.com, the bigger picture is hard to ignore. Jam may be integrated into any ABAP-based application and will facilitate collaborative features for business processes as well as more traditional social collaboration functionalities. SAP will certainly have competition in this space, but their leadership role on the business process side and direct access to critical data provides them a potentially formidable advantage.

When citing the vanguards of Collaborative Economics, SAP doesn’t come to mind anywhere near the top of the list. Of course the list tends to be heavily weighted towards disruptive startups such as Airbnb, Uber, LiquidSpace, Odesk, and LendingClub rather than the typical SAP user. But SAP has a reasonably solid record in the realm of fostering supply chain collaboration, which has been galvanized by their acquisition of Ariba. Although Ariba itself is an amalgam of many acquisitions, they have forged a fairly unique space by placing themselves close to the money in almost every conceivable type of enterprise financial transaction. This provides the linchpin of SAP’s strategy. SAP will be an enabler for large companies with legacy business models to adopt collaborative practices on a measured basis with the requisite real-time view of financial impact that such organizations expect. This in turn unlocks perhaps the greatest, under-explored aspect of the collaborative economy – the ability to collaborate on SAP development across organizational boundaries. While sharing and expert modeling are robust in the current SAP developer environment they do not genuinely fulfill the promise of true co-development and co-work constructs. Remember, the Collaborative Economy is predicated on both economic necessity and empowerment of the crowd. Enterprises seeking measurable cost savings who have squeezed just about all they can out of the “do more with less” school of austerity management will be adopting elements of co-work and co-development to spread cost and risk more evenly and predictably throughout the life-cycle of a given product or service.

Collaboration has been a bit of hard sell in most enterprise environments primarily due to the lackluster performance of poorly conceived pilot projects with a the lack of buy-in from the perspective user base. Those who suffered through poorly designed initiatives that were meta-tagged with ‘collaboration’ may sputter and cough at the very mention of the term, but in the end the realization of an economic climate that requires core level disruptions to ensure survival will rule the day. So, if you’re a member of the global SAP community, you need to pay attention to what’s happening in the world of collaboration because it is bound to affect you sooner rather than later.

photo credit: wildxplorer via photopin cc

Four Myths About HANA — and One Great Truth

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Truth be told, I have not always been a fan of “list” blog posts. As an Analyst, I found them reductive. As a Consultant, I had trouble considering them focused enough to be billable. As a Senior Executive, however, I came to believe that well-constructed examples could be valuable tools in guiding decision matrices. So, with my CIO/CXO hat firmly tied on, I have decided to set the record straight for SAP’s in-memory initiative, HANA.

This is a simple management sanity checklist to separate fact from hype and distinguish mere ignorance from outright lies. Could someone produce a comprehensive 25,000-word treatise on the state of HANA? Sure, but I don’t have the time to write it, and you certainly don’t have the time to read it! Besides, isn’t that the work for which we typically overpay consultants?

Let’s start with the Myths:

1. There’s nothing really new about HANA
Critics like to point out that in-memory computing is not new, and they’re right. Then again, very few things are ever completely new. We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Marketing folks have struggled mightily with the knowledge that tech is essentially an iterative business. In a profound triumph of hope over reality, they seem to manage to label every product introduced both unique and innovative. The fact is HANA isn’t even SAP’s first in-memory product. Business Warehouse Accelerator was released back in 2008. If the underlying tech in HANA isn’t new, then what is? The answer lies in the architecture and the architectural shifts enabled by HANA. These are honest-to-goodness game-changers.

To date, every other enterprise class architecture has required significant compromises relative to decision support systems. The HANA framework allocates equal attention to depth, breadth, velocity, simplicity, and temporality. As anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of forcibly-compromised users’ whippings can testify, this truly is new. Ultimately, it comes down to the issue of decision velocity. The ability to affect the vector and rate of speed in decision processes, to add dynamic BI where it was previously impractical/impossible, is the greatest payback an investment in HANA architecture can offer.

2. HANA provides immediate benefits to all SAP installations
For every HANA naysayer, there are an equal number of cheerleaders (quick, somebody codify that as Hecht’s Law of Hype). There are blog posts out there that paint such a positive portrait of HANA’s power, that your garden-variety perennial optimists have to blush. SAP’s determination to drag decades of old infrastructure into a brave new world notwithstanding, lots of legacy architectures can only derive negligible benefits from a conversion to HANA.

Which brings us to the fine art of managing enterprise IT investments. You know the saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. This laudable, time-honored strategy of preserving the status quo at all cost (or better still — at very little cost) is really a game of IT chicken. Business parks around the globe are littered with the carcasses of companies that held onto to obsolete architectures “just a little bit longer”, until they ended up with a truly untenable environment. It is actually not an issue with HANA, but some IT departments expect miracles delivered at regular intervals. HANA is a flexible framework that excels across different disciplines. It is still up to you to paint the big picture.

3. HANA uses proprietary hardware
This one is a straight-up lie. Among the best aspects of HANA is its ability to facilitate the implementation of myriad products and services, from SAP or others, using basic, standard, off-the-shelf, hardware. The core components for HANA are Intel CPU-based servers combined with certified SSD storage and RAM. SAP has partnered with most of the leading server manufacturers to deliver certified systems that operate within warranty. Initial instantiation can be delivered pre-configured on an appliance directly from a hardware vendor, with the licenses included. Such systems run the gamut from 2 CPU, 2U rack servers up to the latest, biggest, baddest mainframes. And, yes, Virginia, people still buy mainframes (they just don’t talk about it).

4. HANA has no impact on the Big Data space
“Big Data” has been hyped to a point of just this side of uselessness, making arbitrary definitions imposed in the early days seem quaint. This is a great example of power jockeys who demand the ability to master exabytes of data in a single stack, when in truth, the aggregate records of their entire enterprise haven’t quite crossed the petabyte threshold. Such folks may be tempted to reject the HANA solution, claiming it addresses only the “lower end of Big Data”, but this isn’t an especially pragmatic approach. With a comfortable 10X compression ratio and the ability to handle 160TB of data in-memory effectively, HANA is actually more than sufficient for the majority of current “Big Data” initiatives, whether you’re in an enterprise or government environment. The greatest hurdle every “Big Data” project has to clear before the process can begin in earnest is defining appropriate data sets. Of course, it’s also critically important to ask the proper questions upfront. Once your project is well-defined, HANA-enabled apps are a smart place to start.

Last but not least, here’s one great TRUTH about HANA: It plays well with others!

Depending on the architecture you choose, integration may be little more than a toothless marketing term. With HANA however, it is elevated past an aspiration, to something achievable. Re-uniting data stored on tape drives with the 21st century becomes possible. Integrating systems without rekeying is no longer outside the realm of reality.

The great-unanswered question becomes: how painful will it be to get all of this stuff to work and play together? Despite the temptation to integrate in haste and repent for eternity (remember, we’re still talking about IT), those responsible for results need to pay attention to code and data quality. Garbage in, garbage out. HANA is NOT a garbage disposal. So whether you’re migrating to ABAP for HANA, or the integrating an obscure custom app from the late ’70s, you’ll need to get rid of any trashy data and code, and develop a governance policy to keep them gone. Start with a simple to use, pre-defined model for both code and data governance. Not only will doing so preserve the value of your existing investments, it will ensure a smoother, lower cost migration to the ultimate goodness that HANA offers.

Finally, keep in mind that it’s still early days for HANA. It is already a highly functional, viable architecture. As with any leap forward though, there are sure to be some growing pains ahead. The biggest challenge facing SAP is the same one confronting your organization: remaining focused on what it can become, rather than getting mired in making minor improvements. There’s no denying that HANA delivers the raw speed, power, and flexibility to make things better in most shops right this minute, but realizing its full potential over the long term will ultimately depend on the availability of effective code and data cleansing tools and methodologies you can use prior to migration. In other words, get ready: the best is yet to come.

Fighting the Global War on Corruption: SAP and You

Among the greatest challenges we confront as members of the global SAP community are blank stares whenever we attempt to explain what it is we do for a living. Wouldn’t you like to be able to move beyond the 5-minute monologues that leave all but the most polite eyeballs glazed over, and respond with a far more compelling description of yourself as a Global Anti-Corruption Warrior at the next barbecue? As it turns out, you’re probably doing your share already, and with a few tweaks sure to elevate your organizational stature, you can do even more.

Corruption is something everyone agrees should be tackled in a big way, right? But the enormity of the problem causes us to insulate ourselves from it. We compartmentalize corruption, along with the belief that it doesn’t impact our daily lives. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. The cost of corruption is currently estimated at over US$2.6 trillion annually, or a full 5% of the global GDP. The pernicious, illegitimate siphoning of funds from everyone’s hard work contributes to the rising prices we all end up having to pay for goods and services. Perhaps even more disturbing, it is often corruption which prevents food and clean water from reaching poor children in developing countries whose images haunt us, even when we’re pretending not to pay attention.

SAP has undertaken the eradication of corruption as one of its primary corporate citizenship goals. As part of a far-reaching partnership with Transparency International (TI), a global nonprofit organization dedicated to combating corruption, SAP is making a difference. Already, SAP’s efforts have affected a wide spectrum of organizational types and sizes. Much of the ammunition used in this ongoing battle is derived from work done by SAP community members. Contributions made by those charged with compliance with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the UK Bribery Act, and the OECD Good Practices doctrine have been particularly important. SAP and TI have done much to take this knowledge and disseminate it. Together with a viable framework and action plan, this knowledge means anti-corruption methodologies can be introduced cost-effectively into small and medium-sized organizations worldwide.

So what can you do about corruption? Since you are on the front line, you are in position to stop corruption at its source. In fact, you’ve been helping every time you have shared good practices within the community. Taking it to the next level now calls for instituting continuous code quality governance on an enterprise-wide basis.

We’re all familiar with the term “garbage in, garbage out” (GIGO), but the proliferation of technologically astute criminals has caused us to become even more concerned about “garbage in, money out” (GIMO). Corruption no longer entails cases full of cash being exchanged for preferential treatment or access. The growing sophistication of today’s criminal has led to increasingly systematized forms of corruption. Corrupt practices are artfully constructed to co-reside with legitimate business processes. Mandating continuous code scanning and monitoring with an appropriate escalation procedure is the best way to ensure that nothing untoward is concealed behind a legitimate business process. This front line approach can serve as a powerful deterrent to attempts to co-opt supply chains for illicit purposes. It may not stop every wrongdoer, but it’s a great place to start.

So, at the next social function when the inevitable question about your job comes up, don’t feel as though you have to offer to refill drinks or head off in search of low-sodium snacks. Instead, explain your role as a corruption crime fighter. Really. As an SAP code warrior you are now entitled to claim superhero status. Please note: The cape and tights are completely optional.

Has your team ever identified suspect code delivered from a 3rd party vendor? Do you have established protocols for identification, isolation, and remediation?