Three code monkeys ask three wise men to help the SAP developer community

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett September 23, 2020
Three SAP Mentor Alumni talk about how SAP's leadership can make significant strides with the developer community. Starting with developer licenses.

In this story, I take the Japanese pictorial maxim of the three wise monkeys, use the alternative version which says:

The opposite version of the three wise monkeys can also be found. In this case, one monkey holds its hands to its eyes to focus vision, the second monkey cups its hands around its ears to improve hearing, and the third monkey holds its hands to its mouth like a bullhorn. Another modern interpretation is "Hear, see, and speak out loud for what you stand for".

...and then turn that through 90 degrees to refer to the coding background of the three protagonists in the conversation I recorded late last week and which is shown above. The three wise men are, of course, Christian Klein, CEO, Thomas Saueresigg, executive board member and head of SAP Product Engineering, and Juergen Mueller executive board member and CTO, all of SAP. 

Regular readers will know that the background to this story is the long running debate about developer licensing for SAP technology. After close on a decade of discussion, problems remain which I outlined in a recent story titled Why SAP developers can't have nice things and which drew the attention of more than 25,000 people that I know about.

In addition, there were lively discussions on both LinkedIn and Twitter that culminated in my recording a session with Matthias Steiner, chief product officer Neptune Software (diginomica partner) and Jelena Perfiljeva, the self proclaimed Anti-Queen of SAP who recently moved from IBM to Mindset and who penned a story about her own journey as a consultant, customer and back as consultant.

For anyone unfamiliar with Matthias and Jelena, both are steeped in the SAP developer community with many years experience and, like myself, are SAP Mentor Alumni, Matthias was, at one time, an internal SAP Cloud Platform evangelist. For her part, Jelena is a hard core SAP developer/consultant with a sharp eye for what works and what doesn't. She is regarded as one of a very few who can make complicated topics sound easy and who has an entertaining turn of phrase that almost always brings a smile. 

The reason we ran this call is because while I maintain that many of the problems SAP faces in this regard come down to legal constraints of one kind or another, there are other facets to this discussion which are equally important. What's more, the back channel feedback we jointly received over the last two weeks suggested here is much more to be discussed. At first sight, it seems equivalent to a Gordian Knot but as we got into the discussion, the end to end nature comes into view. 

The early part of the conversation focuses on the history of what's happened with developer licenses since around 2010. If you're familiar with that then you can skip to around 15 minutes at which point Matt talks about the context of developer learning around S/4 conversion and the cloud as the designated future for SAP products, integrated as a whole suite.

If integration is the battlefield and SAP want everybody to move to S/4 and the SAP Cloud Platform offers the integration technology of choice and the extension platform of choice it makes no sense to not make every effort to maximise the skillset on those technologies...or the broader SAP ecosystem because the time is ticking. I mean 2027 is out there, everything is delayed already because of COVID-19 when do you want to start moving the masses to S/4 and who's supposed to do it?

Picking up on what he sees as the urgency involved in getting this done, he adds:

The SI's, the vendors, everybody needs the skillset and if I introduce a paywall or a hurdle or whatever to the one technology that's supposed to drive all this and help to drive all this it's just .... it's really crunch time now.

Throughout the conversation, we kept returning to the problem of timing and how, on the one hand, SAP says it is listening and yet on the other hand, things move at a glacial pace or not at all. As Jelena put it:

I guess SAP would have to pardon us for having sort of PSTD syndrome from dealing withthem for such a long time and not really getting what's expected because we've heard before "we are listening to you" but every time I just want to go like that meme "Do you though?"...Maybe you're listening to us are you always hearing us? And are you taking actions? Because "we are working on it" might mean "instead of 90 day trial you get 365 days- yay mission accomplished" and that was not even the subject of the conversation.

The difficulty as this group sees it is not simply restricted to the developer license issue. We see further problems around the inability to to get arms around the whole portfolio and so start discovering the art of the possible. It may sound like boiling the ocean to some extent but as Matt says:

It's all connected. The store. The partners. The developers. In order to make this broader platform play at SAP successful you need to focus and think it through end to end.

And this is where we welcome the triumvirate at the SAP board level as having a critical role, playing together as one. Based on our combined knowledge and (incomplete) understanding, while we see hurdles as would be true for any large organization, there is a tremendous amount of ecosystem goodwill, waiting to be tapped into. But it won't remain that way forever. In the last few years, SAP has seen the challenges of promoting talented developers who know SAP systems inside and out into roles that encourage those who don't know what can be achieved. What's more worrying is that competitors are setting the developer community relations pace. As such competitors are more attractive. 

The difficulty for those who raise these points is that there is a risk of sounding like a bunch of old farts whining while those charged with solving these (and many other) problems on the ground are working hard to make resources available. That's not the case but there are questions over focus. To that end, Jelena gets the last word:

SAP ... please take this seriously. It's not just some random ranting from a couple of veterans. There are a lot of passionate people and it's really sad to me to see that they're not being heard. Thank you.

And thanks to all those who encouraged us to get this done. You know who you are. 

Endnote - I missed this during the conversation but as pointed out by another colleague, another way to look at this is to return to how Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady described the position of developers as the New Kingmakers and from there to consider how best to enable that talent. 

Bonus points: here's the podcast version.