UI strategies and SAP HANA at TechEd 2013

This year I was elected to go to the TechEd in Amsterdam for 3 days.

My agenda was fully packed with lessons about UI strategies, SAP HANA Hands On sessions and expert talks. Besides the official program I had some very interesting talks with colleagues and SAP employees. So there was no time (and no need) to take advantage of the retro-games corner or to play a match of tabletop soccer in the recreation area.    The first takeaway for me is a new understanding of the SAP Technology strategy. This understanding was not only established by the roadmap lessons, but from the complete event.

There are two (big) new players in the SAP Landscape. On the frontend side we got the UI Development Toolkit for HTML5 (aka SAP UI5). On the other end, at the database layer we got SAP HANA.

Both tools provide many new possibilities enabling us to build applications, which were simply impossible in the SAP world only some years ago. SAP UI5 grants a new freedom in building modern user interfaces using custom controls and implementing new interaction patterns. SAP HANA is able to process big amounts of data in only fractions of a second and deliver the results to the user.

But the more interesting thing is how this new technology influences the daily business of an ABAP Developer. With SAP GUI and a classical MAX DB the complete coding of a business application can be done in a single report or dynpro program. You have to mix up presentation, business and data access logic. With Web Dynpro ABAP and the introduction of the MVC pattern this old habit was loosened. You have a framework which at least supports you in building reusable and better maintainable code. But this code can also run on the same server, and it is still possible to mix up database accesses with view coding.

With SAP UI5 the logic processing moved completely away from the ABAP side to a normal http server (which could also be integrated in the same server). The execution of the code now happens on the client side, without any server roundtrips, and completely separated from the server.

This has some positive effects. The user interface is more responsive and feels much smoother. With the decoupling of UI and application logic it is also possible to have a much faster release cycles for the frontend. There is no need to update the complete ERP Suite. You just need to install a new JavaScript library.

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In the past many of the data manipulation operations happened in the ABAP coding. It was usual to retrieve all necessary data at the initialization of the application and to combine it in loops and assigns. With SAP HANA this logic should be executed on the database layer. HANA is much faster in handling data operations than the NetWeaver AS. Surplus you can develop database views and stored procedures directly on the HANA database. These artefacts can then be accessed via the ABAP coding. That means, that the database related developments will move to the database layer in the future.

That does not mean that all the ABAP Developers will become unemployed next year. But the ABAP coding can focus more on the pure business functionality. It must only provide interfaces for the frontend layer.

This is where SAP NetWeaver Gateway enters the scene. Gateway is already available for quite a while. But the strategic meaning service provider got much clearer now. It is not only integrated in the ABAP Environment but also directly on HANA or on the new SAP Mobile platform (SMP 3 – http://www.sapmobile-platform.com/).

There is one big problem. Currently you only need a SAP GUI to develop ERP Applications. With SAP UI5 and HANA we get a decoupled technology mix with different programming languages. So do we need a bunch of new development tools?  But wait, SAP UI5 can be developed in Eclipse. The SAP HANA Studio is basically an Eclipse with some plugins. For SAP Gateway we have the productivity Accelerator, which runs in Eclipse.

So only the ABAP developer needs another tool? No, in the last years SAP also invested lots of money to get ABAP in Eclipse running. Now the ABAP in Eclipse tools are stable and usable. So we have a new integrative development environment: Eclipse.

This makes perfectly sense, if we are looking at the long term UI Strategy. SAP recommends to develop new ERP Applications in Web Dynpro ABAP (FPM) or in SAP UI5. The SAP GUI becomes more and more obsolete – in fact I saw not a single SAP GUI in a SAP Presentation or Demo. Everything was presented either in the NetWeaver Business client, in a browser or in Eclipse. My second very interesting observation was the new viewing angle to UI by SAP and more and more other companies using SAP Products. Many user interfaces were developed considering only the value for the business or the technical feasibility. This lead to User Interfaces which were more functional than usable.Schön TechEd 4

This changed in the last years. The human value of an application got more and more important. New interfaces should respect the value for the business, the technological limitations (and possibilities) and the human value.

This is by the way not necessarily coupled with using fancy new technologies like SAP UI5. This is just a new way of looking at user interaction with a system – called User eXperience (or UX). Focusing and interacting more on the real users of an application, we can build applications which are much easier to use and to understand than before. This on the other hand can lead to a much more productive use of the software we build.

For me the SAP TechEd gave me a much clearer picture of the path SAP is taking:

– written by Daniel Schön, SAP Senior Consultant, itelligence AG –

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