Cargo Cult Programming and Other Beasts

Clean Coders Hate What Happens to Your Code When You Use These Enterprise Programming Tricks

YouTube is the place you go for a quick tutorial but 2 hours later find yourself watching the latest K-pop sensation and wondering how you got there. But sometimes, you also stumble upon a video that is just <chef’s kiss>.

This 2017 NDC conference talk “Clean Coders Hate What Happens to Your Code When You Use These Enterprise Programming Tricks” is exactly that. If you have ever worked on any enterprise software, you will laugh, cry, and nod in agreement for the whole hour.

Here are just some highlights for SAP developers.

  • Reusability also creates dependencies: think unreleased function modules and using data types from random unrelated packages.
  • What should be in the comments? Many digital swords have been broken on this battlefield.
  • “All roads lead to Stack Overflow” but “not all roads are well-cleaned”. Yes! SAP Community is great but YMMV on following the advice of random strangers.
  • “Programming by coincidence” and “Programming by superstition”. “No, we always maintain Ship-to at the header level”, sounds familiar? Business users are such liars! And there is the whole set of “ABAP urban legends” that lots of code is based on.

Schedule a meeting with yourself and enjoy this fine presentation. Your programming (or development?) will never be the same. JP

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Game On!

Which video games do you play? Apparently, some companies started asking this question in the job interviews, so you better be ready with an answer that is most likely to land the job of your dreams. Accounting? Can’t go wrong with Monopoly. SAP Success Factors consultant? Human Resource Machine. Security and Compliance? Obviously, Prison Architect.

The developers are expected to like building and puzzle games. Personally, I’ve always been into world domination: Sid Meyers Civilization is my jam from the days when it was just a bunch of pixels. 

I’ve always been surprised why Civilization is not a required game for the managers. You need to balance many needs of your empire and to know when to use diplomacy or force with your digital opponents. And it teaches an important life lesson: happy citizens perform better than unhappy ones. Take it from someone who’s been a subject of many We Love The Queen day celebrations. JP

[Jelena, what is the job of my dreams if Horizon: Forbidden West is top of my list these days? It’s about fighting robot dinosaurs with bows and arrows! Should I start polishing the ol’ resume? PM]

This story is from Issue 16 of The Boring Enterprise Nerdletter.

Trailblazing Women

My first reaction after hearing about Salesforce’s Trailblazing Women Summit was “ugh, not another women in IT panel”. But as I tuned in, I was pleasantly surprised by the great group of hosts and guests. (Especially recommended: the story of Claudia L. Gordon who spoke about challenges faced by women with disabilities.) The conversations radiated warmth and compassion that was a stark contrast with the typical “panel” cringe. Kudos to the organizers.

One quote from the event press coverage caught my attention.

[…] the average woman in business spends about 200 more hours a year on non-promotable work – cleaning cups after a meeting, mentoring the new starter, organizing the office birthday party – than men.

Back in the days of work in an office, I was totally guilty of random cup washing. Not because of my gender but because there is something in the combination of running water with repetitive activity that helps clear my head of ABAP. But with other examples mentioned, I wonder why is this non-promotable activity in the first place? Is celebrating birthdays and office camaraderie not important for your organization? And mentoring is not promotable? How come?

It’s about time we start recognizing the value of community work that women clearly tend to do more of instead of asking them to be more like… well, men. JP

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The Intelligent Nerdletter Platform

Microsoft announced the Intelligent Data Platform at Build 2022 last week. Of note in the new announcements that fit in this bucket is Purview, providing data governance for enterprise data. From an enterprise perspective (and hey, that’s what this newsletter is all about), there is absolutely value in the data governance space. Satya Nadella called data “your most important architectural consideration”, and I agree. 

(We’ve done governance on a podcast I co-host, and I co-wrote a book about enterprise data – I really do think there is connected value in the two concepts.)

When I searched out “Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform” and got directed to this page, I was left wondering “…so it’s just a name slapped on a bucket of stuff they already make?” I am always one step behind smarter interpreters of such things, because as I kept searching around I got to Mary Jo Foley’s piece at ZDNet. She helped with some more clarity: Intelligent Data Platform is marketing-speak analogous to the way Microsoft talks about “the Microsoft Cloud” as the combo of Azure, 365, and Dynamics 365. Everything data – DBs, analytics, and governance – counts as “Intelligent Data Platform”. I guess that still means it’s more of a bucket name than an actual thing, but it shines some light on the strategy. PM

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Are Continuous Upgrades Actually “Up”?

In ERP land, the Cloud’s promise of instant and seamless upgrades is impossible to resist. No one likes to run 6-month project to upgrade to a year-old version of software. But Josh Greenbaum’s article “Quality Hell in SaaS-Land: Is the SaaS Business Model Based on a False Need for Continuous Upgrades?” raises some interesting questions.

Everyone has their “upgrade fail” stories, from the UI redesign from hell through multi-day outages. How many times have you updated a phone app and thought “ugh, I liked it better before”? Imagine this on the enterprise scale. Josh writes:     

Too many SaaS vendors have decided to err on the side of embracing an upgrade/update cadence that favors newness over quality, and frequency of updates over actual need. Or usability, desirability, and bug-free performance.

There must be a happy middle ground between “never install a new version until SP1 comes out” and “innovation for the sake of innovation”. How to get there? The “feedback loop in enterprise software”, as Josh highlights, is the crucial element. It seems like a no-brainer but how many SaaS companies actually listen to the customers and do it well? JP

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CaaS – Complaining as a Service

Mr. Walken's reps were unavailable for comment
Mr. Walken’s reps were unavailable for comment

complained about SOAR with Accenture in the last issue, so it’s only fair if I spread the love for more RISE with SAP companions from large SIs that ambiguously define their value. So here are a few things of note for Infosys’ ERP-as-a-Service (which I’m abbreviating ERPaaS).

  • Similar to myConcerto from Accenture, Infosys has a couple of branded cloud-accelerator template tools: Infosys Catalyst, part of Infosys Cobalt
  • It’s less overtly obvious that ERPaaS is a thing. Apart from a podcast with the always excellent Bob Evans, it’s hard to find mention of ERPaaS in the wild. 
  • Positively, one of those mentions is a customer story! Which – as I said before – has a clarity-achievement effect that otherwise is nigh impossible. 
  • Also positively (for SAP) is that Fiori and Fiori Launchpad continue to garner mention for improving the ERP user experience. Haters, form an orderly queue to the left, because even if it’s not your thing as a techie, Fiori is a real thing of value. 
  • Industry cloud and/or industry templates are a thing here, too. Between the big SIs and the hyperscalers, it’s clear that product-makers believe industry cloud is really a thing. 

I find I have slightly fewer things to groan about with ERPaaS than SOAR – maybe that’s because its claims seem less grandiose? I’m actually kind of enjoying my brief, high-level evaluations of these RISE with SAP complements. I may just do BREAKTHROUGH with IBM next (yes, that’s a real thing). Actually, it appears to be officially called “BREAKTHROUGH with IBM for RISE with SAP” – somehow, that’s funnier to me. PM

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Wherein Paul Gives Unsolicited Advice

One day we'll save everyone a bunch of time and just call this "The Memeletter"
One day we’ll save everyone a bunch of time and just call this “The Memeletter”

I came across this blog in the SAP community titled “Building your career as an SAP Cloud Developer”, and I was fixin’ for a fight. Eager to demolish what Markus Haug laid out as a foolhardy developer career path. Then I realized his perspective was not “you should construct your developer career around SAP BTP” but “as a developer, here is how to add BTP to your toolkit”…and my ire subsided. It’s actually a handy little guide to learning BTP stuff. 

Don’t get me wrong – BTP itself does get some of my ire. I think SAP should have better information available with respect to things like Tobias Hofmann’s excellent critique of BTP messaging. And for the life of me I can’t figure out the actual value of ABAP as a runtime in the cloud.

But what I really want to put out into the world – and what Markus helped me get to in a roundabout way – is an exhortation to my fellow developers. Don’t let yourself get trapped in the role of “I’m an X Developer” where X is some value like ABAP, Java, SAPUI5, and so on. Create a role for yourself that shouts to the world “I’m a developer who happens to be skilled in X, and I’ll add Y and Z along the way as I need them to get things done”. And to my fellow devs who do SAP: spend time learning technologies outside of SAP. If you want to make yourself a better SAP developer, then for every SAP-centric skill you add to your bag, add a non-SAP skill. The best, most awesomest, nerds-I-most-admire-who-happen-to-do-SAP all have incredible non-SAP skill sets. PM

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Desperately Seeking APIs

SAP Developers searching for APIs
SAP developers searching for APIs

What are APIs? APIs operate similarly to pizzerias. You don’t need to know how to make a pizza or where to procure the ingredients. You walk in (or use an app), select the toppings from the list, and then magically get a pizza based on your selection. If the toppings you want are not on the list, you need to go to another pizzeria.

In SAP, historically the BAPIs (special kind of a function module) served as APIs. Some global classes and web services can also be considered APIs. The APIs in SAP have been notoriously poorly documented or even behaving in the way they’re not supposed to.

In most SAP projects, the main challenge is how do you make SAP to execute business transactions and do stuff in general. And for that you need the APIs. The developers have been asking “where are the APIs?” way before this and this 2014 blog post. And we are still asking in 2022. Even though API Hub has been a significant improvement over nothing, there are still challenges, such as:

  • Web APIs are not always helpful, e.g. you wouldn’t call them from an ABAP program. There is no API Hub equivalent for non-web APIs.
  • There is SAP functionality that does not have API coverage.
  • The feedback opportunities are limited to the SAP Influence website that tends to operate like a black hole.

Without the APIs, any platform would be like a Netflix app without the movies. This is kind of a big deal. And it’s time for the software buyers to start asking about the APIs too. JP

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FIDO2: Our Passwordless Future?

When it comes to authentication, people mostly just want it to be simple. And IT wants it to be safe and secure. How can we have both? There is an app, I mean, an alliance for that!

FIDO (Fast IDentity Online) alliance is on track to passwordless future with recent commitment from Apple, MS, and Google. FIDO2 standard (already recommended by the US federal government) supports passwordless authentication with public key credentials. Instead of the passwords, users authenticate via physical devices, very much like you’d unlock a phone using a fingerprint, for example.

As an SAP consultant, I deal with dozens of passwords daily. And what sucks even more than the passwords are all those “security” policies. Asking users to change passwords frequently, requiring special characters and a blood of virgin in the password – all of this has been proven ineffective. Even two-factor authentication (2FA) is not as solid: just type in 2FA in Google and you’ll get prompts like “2FA bypass tool”. Ouch.

Enterprise apps are typically late to such parties (e.g. not long ago SAP still had the weirdest requirement for exactly 8-character passwords in some of their services) but I hope that CIOs bet on FIDO2 rather than yet another password manager app. Off with the passwords, I say. JP

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Partnership Watch XXIII: Google’s Revenge

Imagine all these people leading their cool, awesome lives = now with S/4HANA data!

If you’ve read the Nerdletter in the past, you’ll see that I’m pretty openly a Google Cloud fanboy. (If this is your first one, welcome! I’m Paul, a Google Cloud fanboy.) I think GCP has understood platforms for a while now, and as a developer I’ve always loved the Google tools. 

Recently SAP and Google announced a key partnership in making S/4HANA data available to Google Workspace (think Google Docs and Google Sheets). While somewhat light on details, news releases keyed on the collaborative features of Docs and Sheets. Think of your favorite old-timey WinShuttle data in Excel – now imagine that same functionality but in your browser-based spreadsheet and/or on your mobile device. I’m sure there are other features, but that’s where my mind goes first. 

It’s also where I was thinking a few years ago. My old company, Mindset Consulting, released a Sheets add-on that let users take SAP Gateway OData services and bring that data into the spreadsheet for two-way viewing and editing of SAP data. The add-on is gone from the Sheets store, but you can still see the source code at the open-source repository.

There was a major stumbling block back in 2014-2015 to selling that tool: almost no companies who used large SAP installations also used Google as their productivity suite. Does this new announcement mean that situation has changed? Does Google anticipate a larger set of enterprises making the choice to run Workspace? That would completely change the equation for lots of Microsoft Excel-based SAP data solutions. PM

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