This blog contains experience gained over the years of implementing (and de-implementing) large scale IT applications/software.

What was at SAP Inside Track Maidenhead 15/03/19

On Friday 15th, I went to the SAP Inside Track event at SAP Objects House in Maidenhead.
The SAP Inside Track is a SAP community organised event showcasing some of the latest SAP thinking and technology, but more importantly, connecting the SAP community with each other.
It is not an official event, which means it is nice and social.

The agenda was shaped as a figure of eight, with the event starting together in one room, then splitting into two or three rooms catering for different topics.
It rejoined for lunch and then split out once more before rejoining for the final talks of the day.

The keynote was presented by Maggie Buggie – Global Head of SAP Innovation Services.
SAP Innovation Services is a fairly recent department that spearheads new technological propositions from industry and leads into full development and the usual SAP software life-cycle process.
Maggie presented a couple of her favourite SAP customer stories including Signify (the recent rebrand of Phillips Lighting).
The aim was to showcase the tight coupling of SAP Innovation Services with customer requirements, producing great things.

After the keynote I stayed for a talk by Marta Velasco discussing “Generations X, Y or Z”.
Marta discussed how different generations of people have different uses of and for technology in their lives and how the environment and technology available during the lives of those generations, shapes society.
We heard a number of interesting points regarding influencers in today’s social media (including the perceived definition of an influencer).
It was fair to say that the audience tended to be aged towards the older generations, which is itself an interesting topic that SAP should take away regarding the audience of these future Inside Track events.
Is SAP on-trend, or is it seen as “old-news”?  What is the likely uptake of SAP technology from new up & coming businesses run by younger generations?

After a quick caffeine intake (another opportunity to network), I sat in on the presentation by Bartosz Jarkowski on how Microsoft Azure is making running SAP even easier.
There were two main areas that he demonstrated.
Configuring Azure AD to provide single-sing-on for SAP Netweaver based systems that can consume SAML (i.e. web based systems).
This was a super simple setup and involved configuring the Azure AD service inside the Azure Portal, then creating the necessary config in the SAP system (in transaction SAML) to hook into the Azure AD web services during the logon process.
The second interesting topic was the use of Azure Logic Apps to provide integration services for SAP systems.
An example provided was connecting a Netweaver ABAP stack to Azure Logic Apps via HTTP.  The SAP system would produce an IDoc and send it (WE19 – test IDoc) to the Azure Logic App via SOAP which would process the IDoc information and send it back inbound to the SAP system for inbound processing.
The configuration and setup of the Azure Logic Apps was not part of the discussion, but it looked fairly graphical.
The future use cases of this are vast and in the majority of the cases, it will remove the need for middleware.  Instead, moving the integration into the Azure fabric itself.
Any future uptake of this service would need to be careful not to mix business logic with the integration layer.  Otherwise a fairly confused layer of technology will emerge whereby point-to-point integration will be normal practice.

I took part in the “birds-of-a-feather” round-table discussion on ES6 features for functional programming in JavaScript, hosted by DJ Adams.
I’ve done a little JavaScript in my career, but nothing that would declare me anywhere near expert level, which is clearly where the co-host DJ Adams was from.
I’d never heard the session title “birds-of-a-feather” used before, but apparently this is a way of describing a small two-way interaction of discussing a technical topic.
We discussed what ES stood for (ECMA Script) and the basic idea behind functional programming, which lead us on a windy road trip of discussion around programming without variables, composition and decomposition of functions, modularisation and de-modularisation of subroutines and programs.
I have to say it was pretty in-depth, which I really enjoyed.
Will I be using the knowledge, probably.  I’ve written a Google Chrome Extension in JavaScript and that was interesting.  It could make use of functional programming techniques.

During the lunch break-out session, I did a bit of networking and got talking to an SAP customer using native SAP HANA for near-realtime risk analysis of financial transactions.
They have written their application to run on the XSA of the HANA Enterprise Edition, and using HANA as the main processing engine (with a little bit of persistence).
It was their first Inside Track event and they were interested to see how the SAP community worked.

After the lunch break, the agenda split once again into 2 rooms.
I decided I needed something less technical (after the ES6 discussion) so opted for the “Mindful or mind-full” talk by Sarah Ross, on why employee health data is important.
Sarah explained some of the benefits that a knowledgeable HR system can provide for employees and help the business meet productivity objectives.
We talked about the importance of employee health, but we also discussed how some items of health may not be directly related to the work environment.
We also talked about the fine line between better data collection and GDPR.
As technology improves, I think we agreed that the future employees will be much better looked after, empowered and managed, but they may have to give up some of what they may today perceive as private information.
In a rather blunt (and pessimistic) way, I tried to make a point that every company would love to put a value on every employee.  This would make the workplace fairer because fairness is a hot topic (pay equality) and invokes stresses in teams that are hard to measure.
It’s possible that this could be done in a clever way in the future, but for now, it really is a grey line due to today’s Human Rights and restrictions on employer monitoring or employees.

Another round of coffee and one (or two) repeats of the nice chocolate brownies from lunch.
This time I got talking to an MBA graduate who was looking for his next role and was interested to see what SAP offers.
He was primarily looking at technology sales roles (maybe pre-sales).
It was interesting to hear his perception of SAP as being a big software company but rarely on the graduate’s hipster list of “I would” like to work for them.

and we were back into another session.
The talk was by Tom Wagstaff and Sukhil Patel of charity Datakind, on the power of data science in the charity sector.
They started by talking about the way in which DataKind runs 3 different levels of interaction with charity clients, one being the “DataDive” weekends which involves a “flash-mob” style approach to data science!
On a “DataDive” weekend a large number of data science volunteers get together to cunch the numbers and seek to provide useful output for the charity, from it’s pre-provided data.
They explained that the process usually begins with a large CSV data dump, about 6 weeks of data cleansing and then finally the “DataDive” weekend.
The talk introduced some of their many successes in helping charities to better use their data-sets collected during the usual course of the charity’s business.
An example was working with a Lancashire Woman’s charity to help the charity understand the impact it is making and how it can improve service provision, for better outcomes.
The output from the “DataDive” weekend was able to help provide deeper insights into the reliability of the treatments that the Woman’s charity provided.
One of the points highlighted by the DataKind team, was that data collection was always an issue.
As part of the consultation process, they always advise clients on how best to reliably collect data for efficient ingestion and use.
Tom stated that the “free text” feedback fields were almost always unuseable as they often contained data that would fall foul of GDPR rules during the annonymisation process.
This was an interesting revelation, and would probably be the case for almost every survey I have ever completed.
The problem is that it’s free text and so people can put telephone numbers, email addresses and other personal details, which are difficult to filter out.

The final talk of the data (for me – it was a long drive), was by Dr Darren Hague on the SAP Data Science and Machine Learning Platform.
This was the latest evolution of SAP’s pre-packaged ML engine married with a comprehensive set of analaytical reporting capabilities in much the same way that Data Hub works today.
This provided some great insight into the re-positioning that sometimes goes in within SAP product teams, in response to market demand.
Let’s hope we hear more soon.

I finished the day at this point, although there was one more “birds-of-a-feather” on the previous topic.
It was good to catch-up with ex-colleagues, meet new people and discuss things that I rarely discuss.
I remember as an IT apprentice that the ability to rotate around different IT teams gave the apprentice the ability to see interconnections that no other pigeon-holed employee would ever see.
If you’ve ever wondered what goes on at these events, just go along.  It’s FREE and you’ll be amazed at the vastness of expertise within the SAP software space.