Category Archives: Education

The SAP HANA Career Guide – Part 5, SAP HANA BW Consultant

Hopefully you have enjoyed the SAP HANA Career Guide so far. This piece focusses in on the SAP HANA BW Consultant. These guys are responsible for upgrading, migrating and HANA-enabling existing information on the SAP BW Enterprise Data Warehouse, as well as the creation of new Data Warehouse solutions.

Where do SAP HANA BW Consultants come from?

Well this one is easy! Any existing SAP BW Consultants – especially those who are more business focussed and don’t have the heavy hitting SQL skills that would make them great SAP HANA Performance Consultants – can make excellent SAP HANA BW Consultants.
This is largely because running SAP BW on HANA is broadly similar to running SAP BW on any other database. The modelling principles, business object principles and key considerations for things like stock or currency conversions remain exactly the same. So if you’re an existing SAP BW consultant then look no further.

What does HANA Thinking mean with BW on HANA?

There are a few important changes worth thinking about. The first are architectural. BW on HANA requires fewer objects – you lose Indexes, Aggregates and some of InfoCubes as well as being able to lose certain types of DSO and Master Data objects.

This means simplification of both the number of objects and with that, data loads and query management. And that brings with it a simplification of project design, methodology, reduction in load times and testing times. It completely changes the way that BW projects are run – reducing project timelines and increasing time-to-value.

How do I cross-train to SAP BW on HANA?

The SAP Customer Solutions Adoption team have produced an excellent course for experienced BW people called “LSA++ – THE LAYERED SCALABLE ARCHITECTURE FOR BW ON HANA“. As is the CSA style, this is designed for those who already have great BW skills and need the HANA specific stuff.

Here, they explain the difference in thinking between HANA and any other RDBMS, and what that means to architecture, design and the practicalities of Enterprise Data Warehouses.

What Classroom Education is available for SAP BW on HANA?

The classroom training is really limited in this example. SAP Education have a course called TZBWHA: SAP BW on SAP HANA – but it is twice the price and contains half the content of the SAP course. I understand that a new course is being written as we speak – hopefully it will contain the right content. In the meantime, I don’t recommend this course.

Where can I go to ask questions?

As before, here are two great places for this. First there are the SCN SAP HANA and in-Memory forums, where you can ask technical questions about all things SAP HANA. Response times are excellent.

Second, you can go to the Experience SAP HANA Discussion area, where there is a similar focus on assistance.

The SAP HANA Career Guide – Part 4, SAP HANA Operations Consultant

Hopefully you have enjoyed the SAP HANA Career Guide so far. This piece focusses in on the SAP HANA Operations Consultant – which would have been called SAP Basis for regular SAP systems. I’ve always hated this term, and thought it was time for a new one, and Operations is all about getting things running and keeping them running – efficiently.

Where do SAP HANA Operations Consultants come from?

I think the reality is that may of them will come from SAP Basis but there are some important things to note. First, is that SAP HANA only runs on SuSe Linux, so knowledge of other platforms (Windows, UNIX) is only tangentially relevant.

What is relevant is design of technical architecture – although SAP HANA solutions are created from building-block principles and so there are a limited number of possible configurations. Knowledge of High Availability and Disaster Recovery principles are a must, as most SAP HANA implementations require this.

To add to this, a working knowledge of Linux administration, script writing (bash, awk, Python), X-Windows, ELILO as well as networks: all High Availability SAP HANA appliances must have 10 Gigabit Ethernet, for example. Plus, if you have IBM hardware, a knowledge of the GPFS clustered filesystem is a must.

What does day-to-day administration of SAP HANA look like?

Once SAP HANA is set up, it requires remarkably little attention. New nodes are installed with a single command. If you add or remove hardware, one thing you do need to do is redistribute tables between nodes, but this is also quite straightforward.

No optimisation, re-indexing, indexes, aggregates or other elements are required in regular operations so the DBA overhead is much lower than other databases.

How do I find out more about SAP HANA Operations?

To be honest, the SAP HANA Master Guide provides all you need to know and there is a Technical Operations Manual available. If you are already a DBA or SAP Basis consultant with the skills listed above, I recommend you dive right in.

One challenge is getting the SAP HANA software for testing purposes and I hope to have some good news on that this year! If you are a SAP Services Partner then you are able to get the software at a good price as a Test & Demo license.

What Classroom Education is available for SAP HANA Operations?

There is a specific SAP HANA Operations course called TZH200, which may be worth taking if you enjoy learning in a classroom environment. This leads to a certification qualification possible called SAP HANA Certified Technology Associate.

What about running SAP on HANA?

If you run SAP on HANA then you will also need to know SAP Basis – the fundamentals of which are well documented.

In this case, you are probably interested in migrating SAP systems from some other database like Oracle onto HANA, and in this case you do need some special experience. SAP mandate (and I also recommend wholeheartedly) becoming a SAP Migration Certified Consultant, which is a significant investment. If you do not have this certificate then the systems you migrate will not be fully supported by SAP.

If you are migration certified and you have learnt the above material and familiarised yourself with SAP HANA, table partitioning, row- and columnar-stores, the way that HANA manages deltas etc. then you are ready to do SAP HANA Migrations and could call yourself a SAP HANA Migration Consultant. I haven’t created a separate page for that because I believe it is the same core type of person.

Where can I go to ask questions?

As before, here are two great places for this. First there are the SCN SAP HANA and in-Memory forums, where you can ask technical questions about all things SAP HANA. Response times are excellent.

Second, you can go to the Experience SAP HANA Discussion area, where there is a similar focus on assistance.

The SAP HANA Career Guide – Part 3, SAP HANA Performance Consultant

Hopefully you have enjoyed the SAP HANA Career Guide so far. This piece focusses in on the SAP HANA Performance Consultant.

In the early implementations of SAP HANA, this was by far the most popular type of resource. SAP HANA Enterprise comes with a set of tools including SAP HANA Studio, which contains the SAP HANA Modeller and the SAPScript programming language (which is similar to PL-SQL).

The SAP HANA Performance Consultant takes requirements and builds data models, including the virtual Analytical views and Calculation Views that make SAP HANA special, and builds the SQLScript and CE Function programming code to meet the needs.

Where do SAP HANA Performance Consultants come from?

Whilst building simple SAP HANA models is something that almost anyone with knowledge of Microsoft Access can do, the SQLScript language and CE Functions are technical languages that require a sound programming understanding. Those familiar with programming stored procedures in RDBMS systems like DB2, Oracle PL/SQL and Microsoft Procedural SQL will find themselves at home quickly.

Similarly those familiar with the SAP BW Data Warehouse may find themselves out of there depth here. Those SAP BW consultants familiar with writing complex transformation and update rule code in the ABAP and OpenSQL programming languages may find SAP HANA Enterprise comes naturally – especially those with a technical background and degree. Those who are more business focussed and less technical would be best advised to focus on the SAP BW on HANA consultant.

How do you cross-train from PL-SQL to SQLScript?

The programming languages are fairly similar and any SQL developer will be able to familiarise themselves very quickly by referring to the SQLScript Guide. Note that this guide is updated every 6 months with major amendments, when new releases of SAP HANA are made.

How do I get hands-on with SAP HANA?

The best way to cross-train is to get hands on and build data models. Thankfully the lovely folks at SAP have made this really easy. There is a 30-day free developer version of HANA in the cloud available in the HANA developer center. After that, you pay by usage of the Amazon AWS HANA system – the SAP HANA software itself is free to use for test purposes.

In addition, the SAP HANA Distinguished Engineers are building out a collection of fantastic learning videos that take you through each of the SAP HANA concepts and get you up and running fast. This will be called the HANA Academy and is coming soon – I will post details as soon as they are available. In the meantime there is a YouTube video with the content.

What classroom training is available?

SAP offers a good basic training guide called HA300 as a 5-day course. If you learn best in a classroom environment and can afford the €2500 cost (plus expenses) and time out, then this might be a good option.

Be aware that this course is typically out of date: SAP HANA moves very quickly and classroom education struggles to keep up.

Where can I go to ask questions?

There are two great places for this. First there are the SCN SAP HANA and in-Memory forums, where you can ask technical questions about all things SAP HANA. Response times are excellent.

Second, you can go to the Experience SAP HANA Discussion area, where there is a similar focus on assistance.

Is philanthropy in education dead or just sleeping? Technology education changes here.

We live in a world where paid education is the norm. We pay for education, and once we’ve done that, we pay some more so that we can be tested to prove that we learnt what we paid to learn.

But it wasn’t always that way. Education has philanthropy built into its past and places like Cambridge University were formed from giving of money:

After disagreement between the scholars and the Brethren of the Hospital, both requested a separation.[4] As a result, in 1284 Balsham transferred the scholars to the present site with the purchase of two houses just outside the then Trumpington Gate to accommodate a Master and fourteen “worthy but impoverished Fellows”. – Wikipedia

But over the last 50 years, education has become more bite-sized and more about feeding information than feeding the soul. I remember clearly languishing in the doubt of Britain’s educational system at the age of 16 – lamenting the quality of exams that we were about to take, as compared to the exam scripts of the 1970s. From what I read in the papers, it’s only got worse.

HANA Distinguished Engineers

Earlier this year, SAP’s CTO Vishal Sikka and Steve Lucas asked for a new program to be setup to help the adoption of their new product, SAP HANA. But this isn’t an article about technology, so who cares what HANA is. At the core of this, the HANA Distinguished Engineer Program, is a council – made of SAP’s David Hull and Michael Eacrett, IBM’s Vijay Vijaysankar, Deloitte’s Harald Reiter, Jon Reed of JonERP.com, and yours truly.

Part of this program is a scheme by which we will allow the community to provide recognition for quality resources – to allow customers and employers to trust a consultant, contractor or potential employee in advance. The other half relates to education.

We don’t need no education

One of the things that we realised early on was that the quality of education and certification available was insufficient for customers to be able to vet people. What’s more, because of the pace of change in technology, the course content and exams were symptomatically out of date. It’s not possible to update training content out into regions as fast as technology changes – a fact corroborated by colleague and ex-Physics teacher Neil Bundy, who made the same comment as relates to his course content.

We also noted the Khan Academy, setup by educator Salman Khan to enable people who can’t afford education but do have access to a computer, to learn just about anything in bite-sized chunks.

What’s the risk of doing nothing?

Simple: project failures. SAP expects to do a truckload of HANA deals this year – far more than the current ecosystem can support. The marked must be up-skilled with quality individuals fast, and this is more than just a training course – it’s project ready consultants. Get this wrong and 2013 could be the year of the project failure.

The HANA Academy

And in here, we believe that we may have found the solution in the HANA Academy. Bite-size chunks of learning, available for 100% free.

Actually instead of the fee you pay and time you spend on learning material and examinations, you will invest time into the community and time creating material for the community. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

We don’t know quite what it’s going to look like yet – this is a work in progress – but those that create good content and customer projects will get social media badges. Those with guru status will be given fast cars*. Or something like this.

Educational Philosophy

And this is where I’m a bit concerned. Society has conditioned the global populous to pay for training and education – they are paying for content creation. And by creating this vision, we are turning it on its head and telling the community they will pay by creating content, not for it.

Now those of you who have read Eric Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar, or are familiar with Richard Stallman, will realise that this is not unfamiliar with the Open Source Software movement. That’s the free-to-share-and-change software that runs Android Phones, and everything else to your Microwave Oven. And for that matter, the underpinnings of SAP HANA.

In the OSS model, you are free to take, amend and update open software. And in doing so, you give back your contribution, in many cases. In other cases you can keep your specific Intellectual Property.

And so, this might be similar enough to the HANA Academy program that it can fly. But there is one major fly in the ointment: the large company.

Big companies don’t like to share

Within the SAP ecosystem there are some 2-3 million people, depending on how you count it. Accenture has 224k employees, Deloitte 184k, IBM 433k, Cap Gemini 120k and Atos 73k. Wipro have 135k, TCS have 244k and T-Systems a mere 48k. Despite not all these employees working in this ecosystem, do you get the idea?

Despite this, most of these companies do not have a culture of sharing information – especially with the community. We used to be able to get the statistics about sharing from the SAP Community Network but it’s no longer available. I recall noting that Cap Gemini did actually very well but even still the total contribution to the community from my company was nearly the same, with 1/500th of the employee count. IBM and Deloitte were skewed by a small number of very high net contributors like Vijay and Harald.

What next?

I don’t think there’s a workable alternative to this community approach. Will the big integrators come on board? For my money, they will have to, if the market demands it. They are opportunistic in their nature and they will do what is required. But I don’t see them supporting the movement.

For me what’s beautiful about this program is that it has the capacity to change the technology education market in the same way that the Khan Academy has for mainstream education. That’s a pretty special place to be.

Credits

A lot of credit is due here. First to Jon Reed, for complaining about me not crediting for things, as well as being a sounding board and co-conspiritor. David Hull, Lloyd Palfrey and Neil Bundy for being part of the conversation. And in each case, moving it forward.

And to Vishal Sikka for cannibalising a declining €304m Education business unit so that the ecosystem can support what the financial markets expect may be as much as a €1bn revenue stream in 2013. That takes balls, and it’s the right call.

References: Training Revenue is €473m, less €169m from Sybase 365 = €304m in 2011 (down 25% from 2007).

* Allegedly

10 tips to getting started in blogging

I was 8 years old, sat in classroom 2GC, petrified. I had writer’s block. The brief was simple: write a piece of creative writing on any topic and I couldn’t do it. The end of class bell sounded and I was terrified as Mrs Barton walked over and saw my blank sheet. She asked me to stay behind as the class filed out and I awaited the obligatory abuse.

Instead, she took me out the class room, over to the tuck shop and bought me a 10p Matchstick sweet. She told me to go back to the room and come back out once I had written my assignment. 2 minutes later I made the conscious decision to let go of my fear and 30 minutes later I produced copy.

Columnist Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. “Why, no,” dead-panned Red. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

So please believe me, all writers struggle. Getting started is about the hardest thing and I thought I should share my personal tips. Remember though that writing is a deeply personal thing. What worked for me might not work for you. Do what feels right.

1) Just do it

There are many reasons to procrastinate and many more important things to do. But if I want to produce content I create a time box and I write – and stop writing when I’m finished. Sometimes for example I have a 40-minute commuter train which is a 40-minute time box.

Also don’t put barriers in your place like creating a site. I didn’t create this site until a year ago – 18 months into my writing. I used to write on SAP’s Community Network and my corporate blog and only later did I create my own blog. I set it up in 2 hours on a Sunday morning.

2) Write about what you know best

Writing about things you don’t know about requires research and I wouldn’t recommend this as a means to get into writing. Instead, write about what you’re deeply acquainted with: write about your specialism.

3) Write about what you’re passionate about

Again, you may not always have this luxury but it makes writing so much easier. You will likely find that the words flow off your fingers and onto the page.

4) Be experiential

If you look at my early material it is actually copies of my own personal notes on documentation on how to do technical stuff. Interestingly some of that is my most popular content because it was simple stuff that people appreciated knowing about.

This material will also naturally be SEO-optimised because it will contain the terms that people are searching for to find solutions to their problem.

5) Let go

You may be thinking that you could never write as well as Dave, as much as Julie. Or perhaps, you do not have the best experience in the market and there are better people. Trust me, those are all just excuses.

6) Keep writing

Your early work may suck but it doesn’t matter because the only way to get better at it is to practice, practice and practice. My early work sucks and I’m still embarrassed to read my own content.

7) Use your personal style

In combination with (6) don’t worry about any rules of blogging: that can come later. There are tons of blogs on what to do and how to write and it can be intimidating. My style for example is just to create a piece of content and move on.

Good friend Jon Reed creates structure and thought processes and then often pulls an all-nighter to get it out. Incidentally way that’s why his content is so well structured and his point so well made. For yourself, focus on what feels right.

8) A blog on the site is worth 10 in your mind

The world is strewn with partially completed blogs in people’s minds and draft boxes. Focus carefully on starting a piece of content that you will complete. And if you get part way through and don’t want to complete it any more, then make the conscious decision to trash it – and find a new subject material.

9) Focus on quality language

Use a spell checker – and quickly scan the document for organism vs orgasm. If your English is poor then use a friend to proof read it. On our corporate blog our marketing department will help with this.

But don’t think that your content has to be vetted by an expert. I often get blogs sent to me because people feel they should get my blessing. I scan through them and let them know if I believe they are crap, but other than that, the publish button is the best thing to do.

10) If you promise 10 tips and only think of 9, don’t worry

Just press the publish button. See what I did there?

What are we looking for in the graduate intake?

Our graduate intake days start apace tomorrow. It’s been months in the coming and our recruitment have been working hard – in the words of our head of HR: there’s steam coming off the keyboards.

In any case, in the morning, I will be interviewing 6 of the best of the 2000 candidates that have come through our graduate process. It’s one of the highlights of the year because the consultants of tomorrow are born through this process – or at least some of them, for we’re obviously not the only source of talent.

With this in mind, I thought I’d write a blog about what I’m looking for in a graduate.

1) Restless Curiosity

We’re looking for people for whom the status quo isn’t good enough. You don’t have to know it all but you do have to know that you want more – and gently investigate your way into knowing more. Showing this is a key part of consultancy because we don’t want people who will just accept customer requirements – we want people who will gently challenge our customers to run their businesses in a better way.

2) Ability to Research

You need to show the ability to research – and this is easily demonstrated by the ability to research the company and the individuals that will be interviewing you. Just reading this blog might give you a competitive advantage over your peers.

Knowing the company you are interested in is a key research interest, because we want to employ people who want to work for us.

3) Technical Qualities

You need to have an interest in technology (why apply for a job at an Enterprise IT company otherwise?) but it’s not a question about the detail of your technical knowledge just now. My questions will be tailored towards your specific knowledge and how you can apply that.

4) Bigger picture of detail

Great consultants can zoom into the minutiae of detail and then back out to 30,000ft within the blink of an eyelid – can you show the ability to balance the two? Showing the ability to apply the right level of detail to a situation is key.

5) Personal Brand

Your personal brand will be incredibly important to you as your career grows but it might be important right now. Do you know how to work your social network on Facebook? Do you have a LinkedIn page yet and do you tweet? If you do then you might know what your business brand is starting to be, and this will be key in years to come. If not, then there’s still time.

Final words

I’m penning this blog for some fun before the graduate programme starts, and to see if today’s graduate intake is on the ball in terms of online presence. In the end, we’re looking for great people and the process outcome won’t be determined by this blog. I’m looking forward to the next 2 days. See you there.

When will Graduates learn to monetize their education?

I walked into my usual clothing store the other day and during the conversation with the clerk there, who I have known for a couple of years, we discussed how he was finishing his secondary education and – provided he make his grades – was headed off to University. He received an offer from Edinburgh, which is a pretty decent establishment.

At some stage I joked about how I hoped he was taking a subject that would lead to a decent career, and he sheepishly admitted that he was planning to read Psychology and Ancient Greek, and he later admitted that his parents were funding it. He didn’t know what he wanted to do and was apparently just taking a subject that he felt like, at that moment in time. What’s more he wasn’t concerned about his ability to monetize his later career. I pushed him on this and he said not to spoil his fun.

What’s changed in the last 15 years?

When I look back on the way I came to my degree, I’m not sure that it was any different. I applied to do Maths & French to 8 Universities using the system that was available at that time, and was lucky enough to receive 8 offers. By a twist of fate, I didn’t make the exact grades I needed to get into Cambridge and my college was over-subscribed so threw me into the inter-collegiate pool – a sort of no-mans land where budding Cambridge undergraduates sit, waiting to be fished out.

Literally a few hours later I had a call from Alan Mycroft, a brilliant and slightly eccentric computer science professor. He told me that he had looked at my application and wanted to take me, but into the Computer Science faculty because he didn’t believe I had the disposition to study Mathematics at Cambridge. I’m pretty certain he was right.

And I am very grateful to Alan and other amazing thinkers like Roger Needham and David Wheeler for having taken me in as a student randomly applying for courses and letting me do something that enabled me to become relevant.

The key difference back then was there were grants, and no tuition fees, plus the cost of living was insignificant. There were a handful of students that struggled economically because they were on a line between government grants and their parents earned enough to be disqualified but not enough to pay their offspring’s way. But those were the exceptions – the rest of us wallowed in thrifty delight for 3 years.

The problem today is that education costs big bucks, and it’s only going to get worse as the years progress. It will likely be a debt somewhere near £30-50,000 or $50-80,000 in the next few years and this is a frightening amount of money to have to pay back.

Graduate Intake

My organisation, like many others, will be taking graduates on this year and we want people who are commercially aware and have relevant educational experience. But most university courses fall into one of two categories.

The first is vocational technical courses. These have little value in the consulting world because someone who knows how to program an iPhone app or something has limited value. We need the universities to teach critical thinking, underlying industry concepts and business and social analysis. The vocational courses seem to turn out graduates very good at what they were taught to do, but limited in the way they cast their net.

The second is the traditional arts courses. These are popular with students because they are seen as cool and fun. The problem in Enterprise IT is that those students, in many cases, are technologically disadvantaged.

To illustrate this I talked to the clerk in my store about him applying for a graduate position in 3 years time. He is bright and articulate and well presented and I am confident that Edinburgh University will teach him critical thinking and social awareness. But he has zero aptitude to IT and no interest. It would be an uphill battle to teach him Enterprise IT; we don’t need graduates with degrees in IT but they need to be very proficient with operating computers by the time they arrive.

A call to action – become relevant

So this is a call to action to Universities and students alike.

Universities: Make your degrees relevant to organisations like mine. Breed us technical graduates that aren’t vocational and arts graduates with IT skills. We can make those students into great consultants.

Students: You will have to think very carefully about the courses you choose because you will have to pay back an enormous sum of money. If you vote with your feet and apply for courses that will make you relevant to a future career – be it consulting or whatever – then you will increase your chances of being able to pay back that debt some time before you retire.