Let me introduce my guest
My today’s interlocutor was born in the UK but lived most of his life in Sydney Australia where he studied Computing and Econometrics. He has worked in many countries around the world and for many large organisations. Bruno has a diverse background covering 25 years – ABAP programming, integration experience in Seeburger, and then SAP XI/PI, software asset management, innovation, and IT architecture. He has also worked as a ski instructor. He now lives in Switzerland where he runs his own company Arianim where he is the Strategic Architect.
About the IT industry in the late 80s, the innovations introduced by SAP, his company called Arianim, and the future of the SAP systems in his eyes – Bruno Konieczny is interviewed by Jarosław JZ Ziółkowski.
Reading time: 7 minutes
1. Well, you started your IT career in 1987, working on the MSA/DBS software application, which was a competitor to SAP. So let’s start with a tricky question. Why do you think SAP has been so successful globally?
I started working as a programmer on the MSA software application in the late 80s (SAP was already successful in Europe with their R2 ERP application software). Then in the early 90s, DBS Software bought out MSA, and merged it with its fierce rival, McCormack and Dodge – the merger did not go smoothly. Around the same time, the major shift from mainframe to ‘client-server’ was happening and SAP was very successful in releasing SAP R3.
I think SAP was successful in the early decades because they had a strong customer focus, and because they gained the trust of their customers. In Germany, they have the concept of ‘Mittelstand’. Smaller independent companies that do not prioritise short term needs – instead, they prioritise longer-term societal and environmental requirements, and customers and employees? needs. If you Google for it you’ll find that Germany is rated high for having a long-term perspective.
In the following decades, SAP had a natural ‘monopoly’ advantage, being the leader in ERP software vendors. So it was easier for them to deliver industry-specific and country-specific solutions, further strengthening their hold on the market.
2. Tell us more about the beginning of your IT career. I am curious – how did it all work 30 years ago? Based on your experience, can you confirm that this industry is changing very dynamically?
Sure, let me get out my rocking chair and reminisce *smile*.
I will not bore your readers with a history lesson here – but when I started, we did not have desktop computers and fax machines, and carbon paper was still in use. The company I worked for even ran monthly accounts via batch processing, using punch cards.
The rapid pace of change today is accepted as the new norm – so absolutely very dynamic indeed! But I see one thing that has not changed – our built-in desire to help others and to share knowledge. Thirty years ago, to share best practice and swap tips we would meet at monthly ‘user group’ events. In the 90s there was an MIT hosted ABAP mail group that was invaluable (thank you, Kevin Wilson, for being such a great contributor!). Today we see a fantastic world of sharing, blogs, open-source – which is then feeding back and helping to drive the pace of change even more.
3. And how does it look today in your opinion? Do we lack qualified specialists? Or is the market saturated?
In the monolithic applications space, undoubtedly there is a sufficient number of specialists. But there will be a shortfall of real experts in the digital & cloud space – in this dynamic environment. There are plenty of opportunities to learn new skills and find projects.
One thought I’ve had – SAP customers have been drowning in all the complexity for years. And SAP’s cloud and provisioning offerings are designed to make life easier for their customers. Will we see a reduction in the need for specialists overall? Will the new digital transformation provide sufficient demand for specialists to shift? The future will tell.
4. Let’s talk about gaining qualifications. You have studied at two different faculties, and I wonder if the knowledge gained at the university can match the experience we gain during work, for example, on projects? Or maybe it is the experience gained from each subsequent project that offers the real value to an SAP enthusiast?
The old model was going to university, gain some knowledge and relevancy, then get on-the-job experience. Today university is even more important since the job market is so much more competitive, but being resourceful is the key differentiator. My personal belief is that you need diverse knowledge and experience. This means being able to research a topic, leveraging free online courses, reading blogs – and then working all of that into the experience you gain on projects.
5. What about “innovation”, a trendy word recently? You are familiar with it so I want to ask you: how do you see the innovations introduced by SAP?
Innovation is undoubtedly a buzzword. There is an excellent book on the topic called “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, and the author Clayton Christensen has presented together with Hasso Platner during Sapphire keynotes. The book was a ‘must read’ for all SAP upper managers ten years ago, so SAP is very aware of what happens to companies that ignore disruptive technologies.
I find SAPs “Integrated Intelligent Suite” attractive. Of course, there are the obvious things. They’re working on stuff like CPI, and prepackaged integration content, but they now seem to be a concerted effort from SAP to support processes, end-to-end. SAP Graph is pretty promising, building on the ‘One Domain Model’. SAP says that these APIs will make it easier for developers to create solutions that will fast track development. As I see it, this is an opportunity for SAP to abstract away all the integration complexity that many have been struggling with.
6. Tell me a little bit more about your company called Arianim. Such as Int4, you’ve developed the software which is useful in the SAP ecosystem. When did you get the idea to start this company and what was the implementation of this venture?
I first heard about the PI Directory APIs in the late 2000s. These could be used to extract meaningful data on your configured interfaces – but they were poorly documented, and buggy, so I left it.
I came back to this a few years later when I saw a lot of interest in the SAP PI community. There are many blogs written on this PI/PO API topic, such as SAP’s William Li, for instance. As I saw it, overall, there was a massive duplication of effort.
We had the vision of providing a more sophisticated solution, but only charging a fraction of the business value that is delivered. We had clear aims of Simplicity & Transparency – which have always driven our overall direction. Our product UDO was available in 2012, and I believe UDO was the first commercially available product in this space. The first versions supported PI 7.0. I can tell you in the earlier years that it was not trivial to keep it running with each new PI release.
7. What is the application of the tool you have created in the SAP ecosystem? Can it be complementary to other solutions on the market? If so, what can the UDO tool be combined with, and what results such a combination can provide?
It extracts all PI/PO interface data and makes it more accessible to both developers and non-developers. We also developed an automatic documentation feature within UDO – with the click of a button it produces comprehensive and customisable PI/PO documentation – including message mappings. It can easily be incorporated with another tool. Suppose we find a complimentary product in the PI/PO space, where there are synergies. In that case, it makes sense to deliver a more holistic solution.
8. Okay then, Seeburger vs B2B add-on? Which solution is better in your opinion from the perspective of an ERP integration specialist?
Over ten years ago the Seeburger add-on became available for PI – it was good for SAP since they were busy building up other PI functionality and improving the performance. It was undoubtedly suitable for Seeburger too. But now, I think the mature and fully integrated SAP B2B add-on within the PO is the way to go – and it is included in the PO license.
9. Last but not least, I would like to refer to your many years of experience in IT and ask you: what do you think the future of SAP can look like? Do you deem that it is developing as dynamically as the IT industry in general, or at its own pace?
I think that SAP has always progressed at its own pace – it is often late to the market, over-promising and under-delivering. They’ve been able to do this because of their market leader position, and because previously the pace of change was slower. But over the last years, the pace of innovation has considerably accelerated, and SAP cannot be complacent if they want to realise their goal of being the ‘system of engagement’.
They have the potential danger of competition from the hyperscalers, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform. Things are also really heating up with competitors – such as SalesForce, from both the software application side and the cloud platform perspective.
There are reports of project failures – which is probably due to the level of complexity involved, but maybe also due to the aggressive sales tactics, or perhaps the attitude of customers who don’t really know what they want.
To sum, if SAP focuses again on its original core values such as delivering real business value, and taking care of its customers, then they have a great chance of succeeding.