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Why TechCrunch is boring, SAP is not, and the world has gone mad (peopleprocesstech.com)
224 points by zalthor on Dec 6, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 139 comments



Do you think anyone has a copy of SAP at home that they hack on in their own time for their own pleasure? I suspect not...

Anyway, I have to repeat my favourite quote about SAP from a Slashdot discussion:

"SAP is how Lucifer interacts with our world."

http://yro.slashdot.org/story/09/05/28/2143219/Allegedly-Rig...

Which I think sums it up nicely.


I love the comments but this is exactly the stuff I was talking about in this article. I'd love to show the wider tech audience a bit more about SAP and how it works. Guess that can be my project for 2012.

1) Yes, you can download a trial version as Zalthor points out. I'm trying to work with SAP to make this more open and easy to do. It's important.

2) SAP customers vary from 1 employee (SAP BusinessOne) to 250,000+ employees (SAP ERP). But from a download perspective the interesting stuff is coming with Gateway and the Unwired Platform. With those tools - the server components of which will be available in the cloud - you can build Edge/Web Apps and Mobile apps using whatever tech you want. Ruby on Rails, iPhone, whatever. That's the sort of open integration which I hope will interest this audience, not downloading copies of SAP ERP for home.

3) Couldn't agree more, don't block social media at work. I wouldn't work for a company that did. By the way, SAP encourage social media and have 50k+ employees. But some organizations are stuck in the dark ages.

4) Streamworks integration is coming for the mainstream soon. It will be PaaS, integrated with the new Java environment and developer toolkit and supports open integration. It's had a bad press so far. Hopefully this will help.

Hope this helps.


I think you might be somewhat lonely in this good will campaign for SAP.

In my decade-long career as a lawyer for customers who buy enterprise IT, the only company that I consider more obnoxious across the table than SAP is Oracle. If you are doing business with these companies, you pretty much deserve what you get. I've seen a few CIOs lose their jobs when ERP falls apart (it almost always does, for a variety of reasons).

I'm not saying there isn't a bunch of useful technology, but these aren't technology companies – they're sales organizations, and that side of the business is not pretty. I can't understand why anyone does business with obnoxious sales organizations like these in 2011.


"it almost always does, for a variety of reasons"

No, it doesn't. I understand that's a meme because it does happen, but "almost always" isn't just something you add to the conversation to try to make your point stronger.

SAP ERP systems fill a purpose, and they do so quite well.

There are definitely instances where a change to your ERP system is so large that it's under budgeted, or the consultants hired aren't any good, but ERP is a value proposition provided you don't f it up.


It might be anecdotal, but it isn't just a talking point. I told you – I've done these deals for a living for more than 10 years. It's about the difference between what was promised by the sales team, and what was delivered, and who's left holding the bag.


I don't disagree that the sales team promises a lot more than is even possible very often.

But almost all ERP systems fail? I still cannot get behind this. You're saying in 10 years the vast majority of deals you've done with ERP have failed?

If that's really true, perhaps you should do something differently. I work with many successful ERP systems. I actually haven't worked with any failures, although of course I'm aware of them because of people like you who tell me.

I trust your experience, but at the same time, it's very different than my own.


Failure is a very broad spectrum. Failed to deliver as promised is more accurate. Sometimes with spectacular results.

There's very little I can do to help, since ERP vendors are very risk averse. I can assure you that by the time you own a license, they've booked the revenue and moved on to the next sale. If anyone gets stuck holding the bag other than the customer, it's the consultant doing the implementation. I usually advise clients not to buy from these (and other) vendors, unless they accept the risks. They're free to self-insure against it.

As a matter of course, the CIO gets someone's foot up his ass for a year or two and is lucky to keep his/her job. Budgets are blown. Change orders flood in. Unforeseen costs. Missed deadlines. Contract remedies are weak because no one had the stomach to fight for them when they were on the table. Finger pointing everywhere. And so the world turns...


I think what you are saying can be true, depending on the sales exec. What can also be true is they are looking to build a long term relationship. It varies from person to person unfortunately.

What you describe is a classic large Systems Implementor problem, and that can be very true. The A-team sold the project and the B-team deliver it. They screw up the requirements gathering and the implementation. I've seen it happen many times.

Sometimes the product is to blame because it doesn't work as promised. Most of the time the consulting organisation didn't know the product well enough and made a mess of it. Totally agree on your contract point. Agree contracts, terms and conditions up front. Pay attention and take time.


Indeed, as classic a pattern as you can find in contracts. Most of the time, when a big company dangles a big contract, the suppliers fall in line and agree to objective success criteria, a reasonable acceptance procedure, and reasonable operating parameters with meaningful remedies.

The problem with ERP is institutionalized – the licensors have set themselves up to absorb almost no risk of project failure. The big consultants are also masters of shifting risk back to the client. That leaves the client to deal with a middle tier of consultants that is a mixed bag of capabilities, capitalization, etc.


My experience too.

The sad thing is that SAP started with all the right intentions, one model fits all - but they messed up when they bowed to the demands of ignorant IT managers and opened the pandoras box of custom built software.

The real irony is that SAP started because custom built software was the problem, and SAP's founders knew - like anyone with a bit of intelligence - that almost all companies run the same business processes.


Yes I am very lonely here, but it's interesting. I'd love to bring the tech and enterprise it crowds together and learn that we're really not that different.

Oracle is much worse from a sales/license perspective and a lot of my SAP customers are frustrated with them. Most of my customers have excellent relationships with their SAP account team.

On the ERP falling apart point - sorry but that's just not born out by fact. Project failures and system failures happen and most of the time that's caused by either using the wrong product, or by bad consulting - or poor support. I've never encountered a SAP ERP that has fallen apart.

SAP is a company with two CEOs - one sales and one technical, and they are definitely half a technology company. I really recommend you take a look at the tech they are producing. Of course they have to sell and market it - they have to turn a profit from all the R&D. Shame you have had a bad experience with the sales community.


To be clear, I don't consider it a "bad experience". It's my job to deal with the guys across the table. Let me play out for you every ERP negotiation ever:

Me: If the system fails to perform to spec within the anticipated implementation timeframe, we get our money back, or at least get to hold back part of the fee until you get it right.

ERP Licensor Finance Guy: We can't do that, for revenue recognition reasons.

Me: Why should my client care about your accounting? My client has a business to run. What happens when you're paid, and we have a box of nuts and bolts to show for millions of sunk dollars?

ERP Implementor Operations Guy: We've never had a problem in the entire history of our company. We're good guys. Trust us.

ERP Licensor Finance Guy: If you don't sign within a week, our discount comes off the table.

Me: Here we go again.


Don't you think that as a lawyer you are more likely to be involved in cases where ERP project don't go well? ERP projects are difficult so it's hardly surprising that some go off the rails.

There are many, probably thousands, of companies out there who are using large ERP systems pretty effectively - of course, you generally don't hear much about those.


No, I only negotiate the deal. Follow up is generally limited to answering questions, sending notice letters, change orders, etc.

You don't hear anything about them (except maybe a press release that no one reads) because they're always highly confidential. If my client has a claim, they use Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.


What are the other options exactly?


For what? Glueing crummy old legacy systems together? Managing a workforce? GL? Performance metrics?

Part of the problem is monolithic, kitchen-sink software. Most people are basically using SAP/Peoplesoft as a development framework anyway – playing into more vendor lock-in. It's like the Lotus Notes of the aughts.

There are tons of targeted solutions that can play nice with intelligent use of modern, open data interchange protocols.


I'm currently taking a class in managing SAP ERP systems, and noticed how really bad it is. The user interface for end users is absolutely abysmal. Like some other people here have pointed out it doesn't scale very well.

There are a couple open source ERP products, Compiere which is technically open source but uses a service model. However, the most interesting open source ERP is by far Openbravo. If you're question about other options was serious, you should look into using Openbravo: http://www.openbravo.com/about-us/


It's true that SAP ERP could really do with a better interface (and it does, for the consumer end of the market by the way). But SAP ERP is bought by people who enjoy the business benefit (increased revenue, decreased cost) rather than by the users - that's life.

To say that SAP ERP doesn't scale on the other hand is a bit nuts. It scales easily to the biggest companies in the world. Apple iTunes Store sales billing runs on SAP.

I've not spent a lot of time looking at open source ERP in the context of large enterprise. I'd be interested in a serious comparison of the contenders and their UX, ability to scale to many countries/currencies/languages and their ROI and supportability and extensibility.


OpenBravo's demo video is a lesson in what not to do.

When I open a software demo video, I want over-the-shoulder or screencast-style video of the software in action. I do not want the Comic Book Guy narrating Wikipedia's definition of 'agility'.


Open ERP is quite interesting. (http://www.openerp.com/)


Very well written article. My problem with SAP is simple. I have no idea what they actually do. None. They do a terrible job marketing their products to people who would actually use them (as opposed to the people responsible for choose which products in this category get purchased). The only product of SAP's that I know anything about is Crystal Reports, and only because it ships with Visual Studio.

For example, here's the one-liner about BusinessOne that you pointed out:

A SINGLE INTEGRATED BUSINESS MANAGEMENT APPLICATION FOR SMALL BUSINESSES

^^ I get nothing from that. The details section on their website don't do much better. I fear this is not accidental; the pitch is just enough to get you on the phone with one of their sales people.


"I have no idea what they actually do"

For ERP applications (which SAP is arguably most famous for) you are basically getting all of the "standard" features that you require to run a business in one highly integrated (and usually highly modular) package. This will include, at a very basic level:

- Accounting (general ledger, fixed assets, accounts receivable, accounts payable, budgeting, consolidation, maybe treasury)

- HR

- Payroll

- Supply chain/warehouse

- Manufacturing (processes, bill of materials etc.)

- CRM

- Interfaces (including web portals, EDI, perhaps direct links to manufacturing systems)

- Many many others...

What arguably makes this all rather complex is providing all of this functionality in a way that can work across a large multi-national organisation - for example, the accounting and tax rules in different countries can be very different. Even the basic technical challenges of getting a Tier-1 ERP working in a global company are non-trivial.

Factor that these things are highly customisable and you can perhaps see why they have to be so complex.


Yep,

For example. I read the article and think ok, this SAP HANA in-memory technology sounds interesting. I google it, go to their website and see a two minute video that supposedly explains it.

I think cool I'll watch that to get an overview of what it's all about. I watch the first twenty seconds after which I'm still actually eager to learn more. But then the video stops and they put an overlay telling me I need to register to continue watching the video. WTF!

So I still have not much idea of what it is and frankly no further inclination to find out.


I hear you. SAP suck at that stuff. The problem with SAP is it's so complicated, you can do anything you like. And so, it becomes hard to explain. Not sure what the solution to that is.

SAP has a new CMO, Jonathan Becher, who I hope will bring some improvements to this stuff. Marketing is supposed to be about making stuff easier to buy - and as you rightly point out, SAP aren't always that good at that, especially to a casual observer.


My father has been a SAP consultant for about 20 years. I remember when I was a kid, he told me about this guy at his work who took SAP home and hacked on it at home in all his free-time (he was single). Unlike most SAP consultants who are only qualified for one or two SAP modules, this guy got to wizard-status in all of them. My father always said this guy got so good he had a demi-god like status at the company and was making big bucks.

So, SAP is certainly not sexy, but if you can take the pain and get good at it, you'll make big bucks.


I think this is definitely traditionally true, and there are people making big bucks in the SAP space - contract rates can be high for geniuses.

What's changing is that open standards mean that the wider tech community can integrate into SAP. This both commoditises the business, drives rates down and makes it more accessible. I suspect that in 10 years time we will see a very different Enterprise IT market.


>> a copy of SAP at home

This is a good example of one thing SAP are doing poorly.

An equivalent of this is "A copy of Microsoft at home". I hear even SAP consultants speaking like this, which shows their communication is not getting across properly.

SAP is the company. They have many products. Each one can be installed separately. Some are available as demos or learning products.


The equivalent is actually "A copy of Oracle at home." SAP started with just the ERP product.


You can get a trial version of SAP here > http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/sdn/go/portal/prtroot/docs/webcon...

But the problem is that its not meant to be run at home. I'm guessing most contracts for SAP run into the 10s of millions and I don't think they intend to give that up quite easily. Though there are a few companies (for example: Secude) that pretty much sit around and build hacks on SAP applications, but that too involves a lot of paperwork with SAP and almost always ends up with SAP buying out those companies.


I tried to download this trial - it 404s


Also, FB would get a lot more users/visits if lots of major enterprises wouldn't block access to it so that their employees could spend more time in SAP and not on FB (it happened at my wife's job, a medium to large European oil company).


"""Do you think anyone has a copy of SAP at home that they hack on in their own time for their own pleasure? I suspect not..."""

And what does this has to do with anything? Do you have a copy of the Google search engine to run at home? (the real one, not a plain text indexer like Google desktop).


Hack on Solr. Dabble with the NLTK. Implement a couple of the algorithms in the Collective Intelligence O'Reilly book. There're plenty of interesting opportunities for the hobbyist in the world of information retrieval.

Neither Facebook nor SAP are solving particularly interesting problems. Is it useful to facilitate meaningful human interactions? Yes. Is it valuable to glean insights about the operational structure of a business? Certainly.

Both of these companies do something like this, but emphasizing the wrong aspects of scalability. TechCrunch is still boring, but SAP isn't interesting.


"Neither Facebook nor SAP are solving particularly interesting problems."

Then you have no perspective of the problems SAP is solving.

SAP is solving tons of big data problems with a variety of interesting data modeling and analysis.

These are wildly interesting problems. They are as interesting in a small startup environment as they are in a large company.

There seems to be this real us versus them attitude with people who identify with startups.

People that work in SAP are no different than startups. Many people that work at SAP come from startups.


I've no doubt the engineers at Facebook and SAP find plenty of interesting problems to fill their day. The macroscopic problems that both companies are solving in their respective niches are... What?

It's not a startup versus enterprise thing. It's (partially) a question of whether the interesting propellerhead problems are in aid of an interesting larger goal.


The macroscopic problem that SAP works on is collaboration within large organizations. How to make processes more efficient while reducing bureaucracy. I'm not saying they're doing a good job of it, but that's the task. It's a big, very interesting task.


Does anyone have a copy of Google at home that they hack on in their spare time? Or Apple? Or Facebook?


I can access Google from home. And Facebook.

Which SAP instance are you suggesting to connect to, would I be so inclined? How would you start creating things for SAP vs. for example Facebook (or G+ now, or the Mac Store)?

There's a set of companies on the one side with broad public appeal and lots of ways to hack and tinker. On the other side you have a behemoth with an army of suits, costing you a couple of limbs for every move - and it's completely useless for the layman.

Note the last statement. If you don't run a business and are in a couple of related positions you just don't care about that stuff. If you are you're probably using and either loathing or loving it. But even if they had SAP in 99% of all companies, they'd still only reach a limited subset of people.


My point was that in no case (Google/Facebook/Apple) does anyone have "a copy" of the core product that they can extend. The developer platforms of each are in a sense extensions to the core products and most "hacking" around Google/Facebook/Apple is related in some fashion to B2C products. SAP also has an army of suits creating B2B products, which makes sense since it is their core market (e.g. B2B offerings instead of B2C).

That said, I completely agree that there are (apparently) higher barriers to entry to SAP and it mystifies me why this would be in their best interests -- I assume in some sense it is the security of the "gated community," where one knows that if one engages a SAP consultant he/she has already been vetted in some fashion.

This sort of approach (which I find typical of Germany) leads to a high average but a real handicap when it comes to innovation. But then again if you are doing something very well it is easy to make money hand over fist and then use that money to buy the latest greatest new sauce once it is ready (which is what SAP has done here with this acquisition).


I need to defend SAP on this subject. While I agree that they are pretty poor about reaching out beyond their own ecosystem they acknowledge this is a weakness of theirs and they are trying to fix it. They've done a lot over the last year or two to try to make it easier to dabble and they are continuing to push for a more open environment for 3rd party developers.


I think arethuza meant something like the facebook developer platform, xcode (iOS/Mac OS X hacking, read: apps) and the Google API's.


I think I probably meant the emphasis to be on the "own time for their own pleasure" rather than the "at home" part of my comment.

Maybe there should be another version of that silly Gartner diagram where the axes are "importance" and "interestingness" - SAP would be high importance and low interestingness .


Agree with the rephrased emphasis and likely placement on mentioned silly diagram. SAP Streamworks was pretty interesting IMO, but I don't think there was any opportunity to engage independent developers. Hard to expect anything like that out of the depths of the enterprise and (IMO) that is a good reason to produce consumer (e.g. B2C) rather than enterprise (B2B) driven apps.


SAP was built in the seventies on seventies technology, which it still uses today (ABAP). None of it's front end reporting tools (even Business Objects) are anything like "modern", and every patch they release is more and more unstable.

TechCrunch people know this, I'm sure there are plenty of ex-SAP consultants who got pretty tired of badly run projects by badly educated middle managers who have no business being put in charge of enormous and complex SAP implementations.

I have worked for some of the biggest companies in the world fixing some of the rubbish out there, and you know why SAP has so much money? Because the business just order another instance to migrate to each time they mess it up.

And so it goes on...


I have worked for some of the biggest companies in the world fixing some of the rubbish out there, and you know why SAP has so much money? Because the business just order another instance to migrate to each time they mess it up.

SAP seems to run a powerful Reality Distortion Field. I live in a municipality (Johannesburg) that is experiencing a huge multi-year billing crisis, following a flawed SAP implementation. Despite being a disaster, SAP gave it an award: http://www.itweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view...


Awards and spotlights at conferences are how companies like SAP (Oracle has done this too, I assume many "industry success stories" are nothing but this) award managers who generate big profits and who will probably generate even more cleaning up the mess they got into. By branding their failure as a success story, they reduce the likelihood of a change in direction to less flawed approaches and maximize their chances of tying the customer forever.

After being awarded "CTO of the year", the incompetent one will probably move on, away from the problem he/she created, and will possibly inflict the same damage to the next company that hires him/her, generating even more profit.


SAP was built in the seventies on seventies technology, which it still uses today (ABAP).

The Internet was built in the seventies on seventies tech, which it still uses today (IPv4).

I'm not disagreeing with the rest of your post, but this is a dumb yardstick to use.


You make my point perfectly.

The internet is a perfect example of technology that is constantly evolving inspite of it's roots.


cf. IPv6


The internet hasnt changed much since the 1970s, IPv4 and TCP/UDP are still the same standard. Only some physical layers have seen innovation.


Business Objects is very modern!

Every patch they release is not more unstable! They have so many software products, you can't say "Every" about any of their software.


SAP passes an image of a predictable company where innovation doesn't really happen (whether that's true or not is irrelevant - perception is what counts).

Money and size is irrelevant. Concrete supports all of our homes, but calling is cool compared to e.g. "ultralight metallic microlattice" [1] is ridiculous by most people's definition of cool.

[1]: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2011/11/lightest-...


"SAP passes an image of a predictable company where innovation doesn't really happen (whether that's true or not is irrelevant - perception is what counts)."

Whose perception? That's not my perception. SAP has innovation in a number of areas, including in memory databases.


SAP did not create Hana in-memory database. They wrote a check to buy it. I don't think that qualifies as innovative.


They did create it. Who do you think they bought it from?

It came out of the TREX project, that is an SAP project.


Wrong.

Hana came from a company founded in 2000 by Sang Cha, a Stanford University professor, that spent 5 years developing this and was acquired by SAP in November 2005. This acquisition then formed the basis of SAP R&D Korea.


I stand corrected. Thank you!


"""whether that's true or not is irrelevant - perception is what counts"""

Actually, no. Reality is what counts. I don't bet my money based on perception, and neither I trade with perception in mind. Except if I'm looking to take advantage of some bubble.


I don't bet my money based on perception

Of course you do. Reality is unattainable, perception is all we have. What you're saying is that your perception is different from the average, and that's fine, but it doesn't change my point.

Besides, do you really perceive SAP as a cool company? I certainly don't. Whether it's a good investment or not is a different issue.


"""Of course you do. Reality is unattainable, perception is all we have. What you're saying is that your perception is different from the average, and that's fine, but it doesn't change my point."""

While I understand the pedantic argument, (hey, I've read my Hume), I mean that I don't rely on my "perception" as is, but try to form it based on evidence, facts, numbers and other stuff from the "unattainable reality".

Reality might be ultimately unattainable, but a, say, DNA test for example can show with 100% certainty who the raper is or isn't. And a educated rundown on the numbers, performances, etc, beats perception, especially such as cultivated by PR and the media, anytime.

"""Besides, do you really perceive SAP as a cool company? """

No, but I also don't like "cool" companies. I could care less about the flavor du jour and "ramen to riches" stories. SAP is interesting in it's own way, and invaluable for tons of businesses using their system.


No, but I also don't like "cool" companies. I could care less about the flavor du jour and "ramen to riches" stories. SAP is interesting in it's own way, and invaluable for tons of businesses using their system

But that's the whole point. SAP is boring, and although that's actually good for them - it means they're reliable and dependable -, the TC guy is also right.


>and neither I trade with perception in mind

Then I'd be surprised if you do well in trading. For monetary value; perceived value is value. We have no other means of valuing things monetarily.


Yes, because we all know what a reliable guide to value trading has been over the past three decades.

To some extent entrepreneurship found in technology has been the counter-culture to the con game that the financial markets have become accustomed to.


Again wrong. How do you think entrepreneurs are pricing their wares if not by perceived value? Did you think they were doing something like "labor cost + 20%" or something?

The cost of making something is only used to determine price floor (i.e. if perceived value is lower than the price floor it makes no sense to create this product).


This was originally about trading. Entrepreneurs are not traders, and while in a perfect world they would have a similar set of concerns, but generally not in today's world. (see HFT)

What your model of perceived value isn't accounting for are speculators who are in a market with no real vested interest in the product. The correct amount of speculation within a market can round out extremes but there is a balance. Free markets generally find the best prices for most things and works well in the majority of situations.


"""Then I'd be surprised if you do well in trading. For monetary value; perceived value is value. We have no other means of valuing things monetarily."""

Then I'd be surprised if you do well in long term trading / investing.

Perceived value can change from one day to the next. You don't want to get caught in a bubble.

You better sharpen the "perceived value" everybody, er, perceives, with your OWN value judgement that takes facts, numbers, long term factors etc into account. Else, you're trading blindly based on what everybody else perceives, which is really fickle.


I found a better analogy.

"perceived value is value" but you don't want to invest based on perceived value.

You want to invest based on (your understanding of) the factors that SHAPE the perceived value.

Else, you're behind the curve.


So I'm just going to throw it out there that I'm a young SAP Developer. I've been known as an "up and comer" in the community (yes, we have a community) until I decided I was no longer sure I wanted SAP to be my long term career choice. I've done SAP hacking on the side on multiple occasions and I've even made money from a little side project that won a SAP innocentive challenge.

For all of you SAP naysayers (I oftentimes find myself among you) the best explanation I've ever heard for why to work in the SAP ecosystem is "If you want to change the world, you should work with the biggest lever you can find".

Feel free to ask questions.


Nice to hear. I have a couple of questions: 1. Is the community open to all or do you need to be working for a SAP customer? 2. What's the simplest way to get set up to start tinkering with some SAP stuff? 3. Can you mention some interesting projects that you've done or was done by others?


1) The community is open to the public: http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/index -> Not a member? -> Public User 2) The main platform can be downloaded here: http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/nw-downloads -> Choose a developer edition Application Server. You can also find and download a trial of gateway, (mobile platform) business objects, (analytic) etc if you look around. I'm actually not so familiar with whats actively available these days. 3) johnappleby is probably better qualified to answer this question at this point but I will tell you to look into SAPlink since its considered the "open source enabler" of SAP http://code.google.com/p/saplink/ you can also check out the enterprise geeks, good light-hearted site for SAP content http://enterprisegeeks.com/blog/projects/

I built a framework for integrating data between SAP's cloud offering and their on premise solutions but after unsuccessfully trying to opensource it in collaboration with SAP (a frustrating experience) I pretty much stopped my community activities. That experience sucked a lot of the SAP enthusiasm out of me but I have watched the company get much better over the last 2 years and I am in talks about getting involved in an another open source project sometime in the next few months.


Yes, give me tips on _how_ I can get into getting involved with SAP development.

I have done plenty of integration with SAP in terms of processing IDOCs and I understand some of the business processes in SAP on the manufacturing side - but how can I go beyond that and understand SAP even more.

http://www.sapremotelyaccess.com/ - this site provides SAP on a hard drive, do you think it's legal? I'm guessing not!


Trying to understand SAP processes is an incredibly difficult task to take on, especially as an outsider, and I'm not sure whats available in the form of relevant business modules for a developer edition license which would make it even tougher. My recommendation is to try to get a better understanding of whatever tables are involved in the area you're dabbling in and then create ways to integrate with them.

As far as integration goes, IDOCs are definitely a good start. You can also look into exposing things from Netweaver by creating web services using the ICF node http://help.sap.com/saphelp_nw70ehp1/Helpdata/EN/55/33a83e37... Theres also gateway and PI for integrating into SAP.


I'd like to learn SAP. Where should I begin? what streams are available for me (a beginner with zero knowledge)?

SAP ERP? CRM? NetWeaver?


Much of it depends on what you'd like to do. SAP's bread and butter is the NetWeaver Application Server (the ABAP based platform that holds together most of the core modules SAP provides). Its by far my main area of focus and its the technology I'd recommend any developer focus on if they're interested in SAP.

Things have shuffled around so much I couldn't even tell you exactly where to look anymore if you wanted to get more into the 3rd party partnership area. I'd say start with the SAP EcoHub since that is what all the "app store" type SAP stuff is falling under now (or last I checked). There is a lot of traction here as SAP continues to try to ramp up cloud based offering and it could turn out to be a really interesting space if you can find a way to get into it.

Theres also the whole data analytics area which involves Business Objects.

And for those familiar with Java and not really interested in picking up ABAP, there is the composite environment which is supported by a variety of tools integrated into eclipse.

As far as tutorials go, I'm not entirely sure whats out there now but SCN/SDN (the SAP community) has a lot of content in it. If you're looking to learn ABAP you can also check out the tutorials from Thomas Jung: http://enterprisegeeks.com/blog/2010/07/30/abap-freak-show-a...


Any books to recommend? I might need a few of them. Probably will need one that explains their products so I can get familiar with the field first.

How about best practices and agility? Testing, automation, build/deploy strategy, etc...

Btw, thank you for the explanation. Greatly appreciated.


ftfy: "If you want to change the world, you should sell out to Lucifer".


Yes, Foucault would say that you can't change the system from within the system.


What’s wrong with the world is that they are so focussed [sic] on Apple, Google and Facebook – with their over inflated [sic] IPOs and everything that comes with that. The world was not built on technology bubbles – it was built on hard work and honest money.

Even if I agree with the author's sentiment, that last line made me laugh.

Also: Apple, with their over inflated IPO? (their IPO having been long ago) destroys SAP's revenue and profit.

Edit: The world was built on hard work, but I'm not sure how SAP is necessarily the embodiment of that.


I think the same can be said for 'boring' non-tech industries, like energy, transport, finance, food retail etc. These are essential industries that make the world turn, but because they lack the 'cool' factor they also get the blame for many of the ills in the world. This is while the entertainment industry (film, games, art, music) can shrink by 90% without causing much damage, are often considered less evil or even more important than those who provide the essentials.

I don't think the world has gone mad, I just think it's how the world is perceived from by different age groups. When you are a teenager you think you'll never stop listening to the cool new music when you are older, but when you are older you realise the latest craze is cute but not that relevant.

On a different tangent, every year or two I have a look at what is happening in the open source world in the space that SAP operates in. A few promising things pop up from time to time but never gets much traction, but it does seem to progress a bit over time, slowly. I think the only thing that will move it forward is if universities put some projects behind it in their business and technology courses.


Wait, what? According to his figures, SAP makes $1.18bn profit from $12.46bn revenue (about 10% profit margin); Facebook brings in $1bn profit from $4bn revenue (about 25% profit margin), yet SAP is somehow claimed /more/ interesting? By what metrics? Is SAP somehow gonna grow quicker than Facebook and overtake it?

However you slice it, both SAP and Facebook have major share of their respective markets. Facebook seems to monetize the market better. Next story please.


> Wait, what? According to his figures [...], yet SAP is somehow claimed /more/ interesting?

I also like that by his own metrics Facebook has ~800m users, SAP has ~500m users, therefore Facebook is insignificant?

But of course, TFA is (apparently) a SAP consultant and his tagline is "Tangential Musings about Enterprise IT". It's not like he's going to say otherwise.


Come now, I didn't say that FB is insignificant. That would be ignoring the biggest social trend in the 21st century! What I'm saying is that the consumer press community spends 99% of its time talking about FB et al., who are interesting, cool but haven't got a proven commercial model, and 1% of the time talking about (and denigrating) SAP et al., who run the real software that makes businesses run.

And in the meantime, the global economy is going down the drain and Bubble 2.0 means that investors are throwing more of our savings down the drain. Some of the latest startup IPO valuations have been ridiculous.

Yes, my primary income is SAP consulting, but that doesn't mean I am not interested in wider IT issues. Facebook is a very relevant trend, but social media is a fickle partner, and the crown has changed hands several times already. Valuing it at 19x earnings is nuts.

Please do take a look at the innovations that SAP are doing. I look at wider market trends and I think what SAP is achieving in innovation is well beyond what Oracle/IBM/Microsoft/Google are doing right now. You may be surprised.


Profit margin as the metric for measuring "interesting"? There are lots of reasons fb could be considered interesting, and profit margin is only one and waaay down on the list. How about the fact that fb revolutionized the way people communicate and connect?

On the flip side, SAP revolutionized business software and as a consequence, business organization. That's pretty interesting too. I know which side I would come down on, but simplifying the debate to profit margin misses the point by a wide margin.


I don't think you've read the comment you replied to.


Facebook's market just happens to be the "wasting time" market and SAP's market is the "running the world" market.


From the article:

"Well for my money SAP is possibly the most interesting technology firm in the world right now."

To be sure, what trips one's trigger may not do so for another, so to each his own. That said, this is just a synopsis of one guy's very tiny view on the world.

To the original author: the value of an acquisition doesn't set the pace for what's interesting. If that were the case, Exxon would be the single most interesting thing on the planet.

Rather than bitching about someone else not writing about something that interests you, why not start the Enterprise IT version of TechCrunch?


If any SAP consultants are out there reading this, can you give me some insights on how to get up to speed with the SAP products and ecosystem? I'm a developer/consultant (primarily Salesforce) but am interested in exploring SAP product offerings. Infos in profile.

I think there are probably many of us that are interested in this side of the "enterprise" but SAP is sort of its own universe and difficult to understand/penetrate from the outside.


The problem is that most of the legal documentation available are really boring power point presentations that provide as little technical information as possible.

Most of their detailed documentation is only available for people who take up their courses (yes, they are that evil) and certification exams.

I do remember quite a bit of it was available on rapidshare though unless you were already working on something specific you wouldn't know what exactly to search for.

To start with, I would suggesting getting a book on SAP R/3. More specifically the SAP R/3 handbook by Jose Antonio Hernandez. I don't know of any thing available for free (legally) that is as good a place to start.

As for the product offerings from SAP, they more or less seem to be components that sit on the same application stack. So getting into one of these applications could provide insight into what everything else does.

Disclaimer: I work as an SAP Basis consultant (that's sort of an application admin + OS admin + DBA)


Thanks, added to my Amazon wishlist! I'm planning to pull aside some SAP consultants at some point soon and get them to show me the inner workings of the SAP stack. It is amazing to me that they only provide documentation to people who take their courses.


help.sap.com

Or take a really expensive class from SAP (usually paid for by your employer).

The truth is that (it seems as though) SAP doesn't want people to be familiar with the system. Their distribution channel is consultants, and consultants make more money if the system is opaque and hard to get up to speed on.

This will be the downfall of SAP as we know it IMO (and Oracle, and every other enterprise application that relies on a technical consultant's input), the deliberate opacity of the system for the sake of the distribution channel.


^^ This. ^^

Proprietary lock-in (or dial up the "exclusivity" meter on knowledge and any budding subject matter experts). Enroll some of the customer personnel in expensive training only available from SAP (or SAP "approved" vendors).

Contrast to open source models where anybody can become fluent with the code or platform and can be hired or contracted to work at a fraction of the rate a SAP (or to be fair, any proprietary, lock-in "turnkey" "solution").

While I departed the corporate IT world a few years, I have seen the same shenanigans with the likes of Oracle, SAP and others too remote to be recognized by many here. In fact, I owned a company that profited as a "service partner" for a data communications legacy "commerce" software suite maker.


SAP is one of my focus areas at work. My answer would be to install the trial version (which I think is no longer called miniSAP, but used to be), try to get the general hang of how it's supposed to work, and then dig deeper in the areas that interest you, maybe Java or ABAP development if you want to do development. Last time I've used it, the trial version had a 90 days license, but you could renew it easily and legally.

You won't get a SAP job that way, but it might give you enough of an edge to take on SAP-related projects (think "sure, I've done webservice calls into Salesforce and I know how that works with SAP XI, happy to work on your integration project").


I think interesting documentation in this regard would be nice. I believe there's a lot of space for developers to support small companies that aren't big enough to buy into SAP yet, but would benefit from other products and tools that can give them the same functionally. More importantly, have the benefit of their business processes being SAP friendly, but also allow other products to offer some of the same functionality for cheaper. My hope is that some of these products could grow to become a competitor to SAP.


The article establishes and uses a brand new metric:

SAP's technology must be interesting for develpers because it costs exorbitant amount of money to hire anybody to work on it. SAP is interesting for investors because it pulls in massive 10% profit margin. SAP's services are interesting for customers because it has high barriers to deploy, maintain and replace. SAP is interesting

By comparison, Facebook-like projects must be boring for developers because they flock to work on them, even if for free or `ramen-profitable' for year or two. Facebook is boring for investors because it manages mere 25% profit margin. Facebook is boring for users because barriers to entry and exit are essentially non-existent.

What kind of metrics is that?


I'm saddened by the fact that this is #2 on HN.

The entire thing is one big fat straw-man argument. The author (the bored one) didn't even mention FB in the article in question. The author (the attacking one) pulled that out of thin air based on little more than:

>From what I get of her article, if it’s not Apple or a startup, she’s not interested

Then he proceeds to refute the argument that he just set up by enlisting stats...not even convincing ones at that.

And finally whether something is boring or not is entirely subjective. This angle is as pointless as proving to stamp collectors that collecting stamps is boring.

I agree with his point in that the glamorous companies get attention at the cost of others & that this is a problem. The manner in which it was done however is a fine example of:

>a crap piece of journalism


Can't argue - it was a reactionary response, such is the way of social media, right?

I think that the underlying discussion is an interesting one. HN readers perhaps might get some benefit from understanding SAP technologies and how they integrate into the stuff they want to hack with. I've employed some real hackers into the SAP market and it is a deeply interesting and open technology stack.


>I think that the underlying discussion is an interesting one.

That it is. Clearly SAP is doing something right.

Somewhat off topic, I'm surprised you say "open technology stack". I'm not particularly familiar with SAP tech, but I always thought they were as closed as it gets (& successfully so). Have I missed something?


I'm interested in hearing what the author has to say about this topic, I'm really not interested in this new FOX/CNN trend of quoting random people on Twitter, even if they're semi-famous.

This is somewhat OT, but can we stop with this? Quoting the immature salvos fired between random people on Twitter doesn't give your blog post any more credibility, and probably less. It's like news networks nowadays - they're more interested in what people on Twitter and YouTube think of some topic rather than seasoned analysts and correspondents.

The whole blog post would've been just as informative and way less irritating if I didn't have to wade through all the Twitspeak.


Okay, let me help the author here.

Having success and market penetration doesn't make things cool. It's great for the company, great for the ecosystem (and - that's a topic for another time in this particular case..) built around it. But not cool. Not sexy.

It could be. Success, piles of money and 'cool' aren't incompatible per se. They are just unrelated in my book.He has to accept that for a large audience out there, _in the real world_, there's nothing more boring than looking at SAP (and - wait. and wait. and wait).

"My advice: stop being bored by the stuff which makes the world turn."

My advice: Don't blow this out of proportion. If SAP dies tomorrow, the world is not going to end.


I'm not sure what you mean by 'SAP dies tomorrow', but - to put it bluntly - YES, the world will most likely stop functioning normally.


Fair enough. I'm the first to admit that I'm actively avoiding contact w/ that kind of technology (I did develop small things around SAP QA systems in a distant past, but except for that my exposure is limited to watching users around me).

To explain: I meant if they go out of business (and I didn't imply that this was even remotely likely). If the software had a kind of stroke and wouldn't work anymore, starting tomorrow, I'd agree with you.

I just hate the metrics used and the 'makes the world go 'round' tone in that article. What percentage of shirts, shoes and gadgets are produced in China? Would it be 'cool' (nothing against China..) to be live there, based on the 'We provide x% of the world's shoes' metric?


> If the software had a kind of stroke and wouldn't work anymore, starting tomorrow, I'd agree with you

Well that's interesting, because if the SuccessFactors acquisition is indicative of SAP's intent to become more "cloud based", and those critical infrastructure systems which run on SAP move to the cloud, then if the company went out of business their software would just 'have a stroke'...


If SAP dies tomorrow, the world is not going to end. Neither if Facebook dies. IMO, the point the author is trying to make is TC calling SAP's acquisitions boring.


(I didn't start the 'world ending' stuff, I merely commented on the - inflated, imo - line in the article that said that SAP et al make the world go round)

'Boring' is a subjective term. Hell, I don't read TC unless it is linked here and couldn't care less about them, but I assume that 'boring' is what came to their mind and (talking out of line here maybe?) connects with the majority of the readers. It sure as hell connects with me. SAP is boring. For me anyway.

Do people in the SAP eco-system think that their work is boring? I sure hope not.

Thing is: If someone says 'This is boring' then he's correct. That's an opinion, a feeling towards a subject. No need to argue about it. You can discuss _why_ that comes up or if TC should be opinionated like that in the first place, but the blog post fails to address that in any meaningful way.

That post seems to be a rant about 'Why aren't we considered interesting and "cool" although our software runs in a majority of the world's breweries' and the whole argumentation is flawed. As I wrote elsewhere: Market penetration doesn't make you interesting to people per se. Being the leader in 'world's transactions' (?) doesn't by default make you a sexy subject for the technology folks.

On a less serious side note:

I found it hilarious that someone defending SAP as being cool resorted to a comparison table. With bullet points, outlining the market size and comparing company values. It's like being the nerd in high school and sending a letter to your beloved which rationalizes your desirability by comparing your grades with ~that dude's~.


SAP deployments must work in some cases, surely.

I read somewhere that a large part of Apple's supply chain management is built on SAP, as well as being the system of record for iTunes/App Store transactions.

I can't find a reliable citation, since this will probably not be something they broadcast, due to their secrecy.

But then, they have the capital to massively spend on heavyweight internal systems.


Yes, Apple's iTunes store system of record runs on a custom SAP ABAP based system. It used to run SAP ERP but that could not take the load of transactions.

As I understand it, this is the reason why you get a weekly bill from Apple: the iTunes ABAP system makes financial postings to ERP, to reduce the overall number of transactions - and presumably also their credit card overhead.


Not sure if their SCM is SAP SCM, but the back-end of Apple is largely run by SAP software.


Also I think the main reason why no one talks about SAP is because SAP == Work whereas sitting at home and hacking together your own open source project outside of work hours? A welcome break.

To me: -

* Java EE == my day job == Work

* SAP == Work

* Working on own app at home written in Haskell == Fun hobby project that I do outside of work hours and doesn't feel like work


Disruption and innovation is cool, not big companies relying on a cash cow business model created decades ago.


I work in finance and I use SAP. Or more accurately, I try my best to delegate any SAP tasks to my co-workers because I swear I lose IQ points whenever I interact with SAP.

Is it dull? It depends. For the TC crowd, yes, but that's because they're consumer oriented and not very technical.

It should be interesting to the HN crowd because it's a huge opportunity for disruptive innovation.


Author's primary income comes via SAP products


For sure, and I'm open and honest about that :)

I would like to say a few things though, especially to those people who think that it's an us and them scenario.

First, I have personally spent a lot of time on open source software, and you will for example find some of my code in the Linux Kernel, if someone hasn't removed it by now.

Second, I think that closed communities are a bad thing, and it's something I strongly believe that SAP needs to get better at. Yes, SAP has the largest community network in the world with 3 million members. But it's not good enough at opening that up to the wider tech community, which is a loss.

Third, I think that integration to the wider tech community like HN, would be a huge benefit to Enterprise IT. We can be silo'd and the expertise of this group in writing nice-to-use apps is something we really need.


The thing is, if SAP did not exist there would still be some piece of crappy software running all those transactions. Maybe it'd be custom, maybe Accenture, whatever. In fact, many (most?) SAP installations are barely recognizable after the customization. And who can even guess what SuccessFactors does besides not make much money.


There's one thing he forgot to compare: number of employees.

According to Wikipedia, Facebook has 3000+ employees, and SAP AG has 53513. So, profit per employee is ~300k for FB and 22k for SAP.


Interesting comparison and let's be fair: Facebook's EBIT (which is the real financial comparison) is pretty decent. SAP's EBIT was pretty low in 2010 - expect it to increase in 2011 based on preliminary results.

Main point is FB's financial model isn't proven medium-term. Also SAP have a lot of low-cost employees in India/China. Hard to compare with FB really.


And this metric matters over profits because?

If I have a 1,000,000 person company that has 1 bln in profits, and you have a 100 person company that makes 10 million in profits, you make 100 mores per employee.

But I get to bank a cool billion...


Sure, but mine is probably a more interesting company for TechCrunch to write stories about. It's more likely to be innovating in ways that readers will care about.


I'm curious. Are any of you working on commercial ERP products or services? It seems to me that there is lots of opportunity there for well executed vertical applications.


I do. Not SAP. but Microsoft. Yes, Microsoft has an ERP product. (a 'suite' even: Dynamics) I've also worked with another ERP product. And you are right, there are a lot of opportunities, but it is also hard to get a foothold.


Some of our applications here push a bunch of data to SAP via their API

To be honest I have no idea what SAP does nor do I really care, we just push a load of data over a network on a regular basis and the team who deal with SAP probably do something.

They all have to wear suits though while us Java programmers get to kick back in normal, comfortable clothing.


It is so refreshing to see a post about this issue. In a nutshell: profits are cool.


It is astonishing that so many people don't think so.

Techcruch think Facebook making an acquisition hire for a couple of guys is more interesting that a founder selling out a company for $3 and a bit billion.

You would weep with laughter if it wasn't so tragic.


I don't see any necessary relationship between profits and coolness. Lots of boring things are profitable. In fact many boring things are profitable precisely because their boringness means substantial payment is required to convince anyone to do them.


True Hackers are interested in changing and influencing the world and the way it thinks, profits come secondary.


Agreed but profits allow you to change the world. Bankruptcy does not.


It's a humorous article. TC knows their crowd, and they are poking fun at everyone - themselves for not caring about a huge deal, their audience for also not caring, enterprise software for being boring.


The article is poorly written, and SAP is indefensible as a company.

That said, welcome to my world. It's been an interesting experience working in an industry (ecommerce) that is regarded as a huge yawnfest by most of the startup community. The reality is that there really are very interesting problems to solve. Algorithms to predict demand curves, optimize warehouse pullbox location, and identify product flow constraints are all arguably more interesting problems to solve than sharing photos.

Nonetheless, nobody cares. And that's fine, mostly.


"SAP is indefensible as a company."

What does that even mean?


As others have remarked in this thread, their products are maintenance and UX nightmares, and their sales and legal departments operate on the basis of "do lots of evil".

I suppose it was an exaggerated choice of term, but I was trying to set aside the specific issue of SAP to talk about the somewhat broader issue of how the tech community often finds technology boring if it doesn't appear in the form of a consumer app.


It is difficult arguing with results. I can't personally judge SAP particularly well, but its interesting to me that they are so successful in the long run despite "UX nightmares" & evil sales dept. That to me suggests that they are doing something else right which is worth paying attention to.


It's because of their "Hotel California" strategy: you can check in but you can't check out.

Seriously, once your company is using SAP, it's rarely going to be worth rejecting them. It will be more cost effective to just pull SAP data out of SAP and use it in whatever way you need to than it is to try to customize SAP or get a new system that better fits your needs.

A big reason they stick around is because decision-makers are so fearful of changing very basic systems (i.e. payroll, accounting, etc).


Maybe they re better at capturing value than at creating it?


The answer is pretty simple: companies that implement ERPs save money and are more successful. It's the business change aspect that matters, and SAP enables that business change.

Totally agree with you on the UX nightmares, and this needs to be fixed. But if you look at SAP's new products, they are pretty interesting from a UX perspective. Design thinking is at the core of it. I really encourage you to take a look at for example http://www.experiencesaphana.com

SAP legal (like most large IT companies) has work to be done, and they know that. I hope they do something.

On the sales side your comments surprise me. I work with those guys on a regular basis and the vast majority are customer focussed: they have to be, or customers won't continue to buy. But this has changed a lot in the last 10 years.

SAP is rarely ripped out because it's rarely worth replacing systems of record. They are a long term investment, and most financial people are fine with SAP: it affords them control.


some companies are successful because of (rather than despite) "evil sales dept"


Not in the long run. Unless they have some other leverage like a monopoly or something.


Do you think Oracle is a great company from which innovation springs forth?


Who said anything about innovation? For all I care a company can be making grey widgets...if they do that better than anybody else then it is of interest (for me).


On the one hand the author is right about how SAP is a behemoth and shouldn't be written off. On the other hand, this is TechCrunch we're talking about. Do we really expect them to cover SAP? TC has its niche and I'm not surprised at all. I think however the mistake on the part of TC wasn't not covering SAP but covering it in the way they did. If you're going to write an article about how the company is boring and dedicate the majority of the content to why you don't want to cover it then just don't cover it at all. It would look better for them had they just said nothing at all.

That said, the author of this post has an opinion. Cool. We all have opinions. But he was off the mark in implying that there's something wrong with techcrunch. There isn't. They're all about the cool factor and dare I say shallow startup porn.

The post was almost a great point but the implication that something is wrong with TechCrunch killed it. I'm not a fan of techcrunch. I think it's shallow garbage and reads like a thinly veiled commercial a lot of times. But I won't be writing any blog posts complaining about that any time soon. That's what we've come to expect from them and their audience loves it.


let's put it this way:

on any large german airport you currently get met with large billboards by IBM, advertising their urgent need for SAP consultants.

SAP is the backbone of the large tech consulting industry.

and no, you cannot compare it to facebook. like comparing a tv station to a manufacturing company.




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