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Agile & DevOps

Why you should embrace DevOps for SAP

I find myself spending more and more time with clients discussing how they manage IT change and what continuous delivery means to them. Most of my clients occupy a place in Forbes Global 2000 list so generally they are household brand names competing on a global scale.

I’m often struck by the frustrations they are experiencing around how they deliver IT solutions. Yes, they have some customer engagement apps that are continuously delivered but when it comes to their core SAP systems it’s like stepping into a bygone era characterised by a risk averse culture, processes that support silos between development, quality assurance and operations and poor or non existent automation tooling.

I find myself spending more and more time with clients discussing how they manage IT change and what continuous delivery means to them.

Most of my clients occupy a place in Forbes Global 2000 list so generally they are household brand names competing on a global scale.

I’m often struck by the frustrations they are experiencing around how they deliver IT solutions.

Yes, they have some customer engagement apps that are continuously delivered but when it comes to their core SAP systems it’s like stepping into a bygone era characterised by a risk averse culture, processes that support silos between development, quality assurance and operations and poor or non existent automation tooling.

Whilst iconic organizations struggle with change, new entrants have embraced continuous delivery as a normal way of life.

It’s my role to uncover the art of the possible, to share with my clients how the adoption of continuous delivery in the SAP world can and is being achieved through the adoption of DevOps as a natural progression from ALM.

So what is DevOps all about and what benefits does it bring?

It’s all about achieving speed to value and a faster time to market, so that software is delivered faster and with higher quality.

It provides an iterative and ongoing cycle of development and delivery where development, QA and operations collaborate and work together as one team.

According to Gartner in their “Predicts 2015: Application Development” paper, “By 2018, the transition to agile, DevOps and Web-scale IT practices will become as disruptive to IT as the adoption of lean was to manufacturing during the 1980s.”

DevOps helps to develop a faster and more responsive environment where innovation is encouraged, bringing the business huge advantages.

I’ve seen many definitions of DevOps but my own version is this…

DevOps is a methodology where development, QA and operations work together through the full development lifecycle to rapidly and continuously deliver high quality and stable solutions to respond to constantly changing business demands.

In summary, it achieves higher quality, faster and shorter delivery cycles, lower costs, lower risks and quick feedback allowing for continuous improvement.

How does this affect me?

Anyone who’s worked with SAP knows that the systems are constantly in need of change.

Whether it be for regular maintenance, upgrades, new business requirements or process changes, the ability to manage this well is fundamental to success.

More than 90% of the Fortune 500 and more than 80% of Global 2000 companies are already using configuration management tools to support their DevOps practices for non SAP systems.

But most of these organizations also run SAP and their challenge is to improve the performance of SAP change to fall into line with the demands of their business customers.

For example, how can you roll out or change a mobile application next week when the dependent SAP change will take 3-6 months to deliver? Or why does the business have to wait 12 months between major SAP functionality releases?

Either you wait and face the business consequences or you bring DevOps and continuous delivery practices to your SAP organization.

In “Puppet Labs 2015 State of DevOps report” they state

Whether it was a system of engagement or a system of record, packaged or custom, legacy or greenfield is not significant. Continuous delivery can be applied to any system, provided it is architected correctly.”

It’s imperative, therefore, to understand and manage changes to both SAP and non-SAP systems so the cross-system integrations and dependencies can be understood and release cycles synchronized.

And in the 21st Century there really is no need to keep the business waiting for such long periods before they receive the changes in their core systems they so desperately need.

SAP is not immune to the Continuous Delivery movement

If you operate in the world of SAP you might be thinking “this doesn’t affect me” but please read on. Over the years the key consideration for many SAP system operators has been stability and availability with a focus on protection rather than innovation.

In today’s competitive business world that’s no longer enough and the ability to deliver change faster is crucial to stay ahead of your competition.

DevOps helps to bring together both innovation and stability so it’s a big win for both sides.

It’s crucial to understand that when systems of engagement are changed based on customer, partner and employee demands, there can be an inextricable link to the backend systems of differentiation and record. That in many cases means SAP!

Pace Layering strategies to ensure continuous delivery culture

The key point this diagram demonstrates is that the rates of change across system types varies significantly. Traditionally each layer had its own release cycle that’s disconnected from the others.

In a DevOps world these cycles can synchronize more easily so that where there are cross-dependencies the speed of change is not slowed down.

In my experience there’s often a disconnect between the layers for SAP practitioners.

The truth is that SAP can and should be treated no differently when it comes to continuous delivery. In the diagram above one can begin to see the potential inter-dependencies between the layers. Why then do practitioners not embrace the same continuous delivery culture throughout?

Easier said than done of course.

One key reason is the artificial wall between development and production environments that makes it harder for IT departments to adapt applications to changing business conditions.

DevOps is successful because teams focus around products and projects rather than in silos and use automation for testing and deployments wherever possible.

Applying this agile approach to the SAP development lifecycle brings the development, testing, operations and business teams closer together.

The greater focus and collaboration that comes from this delivers faster and better quality solutions.

If that mobile app that’s really needed next week is being built together with the teams that understand the related SAP changes it stands to reason that it’s likely to be done faster, better and cheaper if they adopt a DevOps culture.

And this is what DevOps can bring to SAP where the links between the pace layers I talked about earlier are understood and managed holistically.

This is a great opportunity…

Despite all of this I still hear a lot of negativity when it comes to talking about SAP and DevOps in the same conversation. But this is brought about by fear, confusion and uncertainty.

Organizations are attached to heavily invested processes and tools but need to be open minded about doing things differently and doing the right things.

The benefits are clear and if your organization is not ready or willing to make the move you can be sure there are many more out there who will be and are already making the necessary changes.

The clients I mentioned earlier know they struggle to cope with SAP change but at least they’ve acknowledged it and are prepared to do something about it. Talking to consultants like me is just the start.

In my next post I’ll focus more on how DevOps and continuous delivery can be achieved in the world of SAP and what needs to be done culturally, organizationally and tools wise to get there.

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