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SAP Article Classics from JonERP.com

Jon has been writing about SAP consulting trends and answering SAP career questions since 1995. Over the years, he's published many popular articles online that have disappeared from the Internet. In this section, we are reclaiming the "best of the archives" and sharing Jon's classic SAP articles from years gone by.

In each case, Jon will write a new introduction explaining the highlights of the article and how the market has changed since it was published. We're hoping to track down some of the interview subjects in these articles and get their updates on how the market has changed since these classics were first published.
Jon Reed Interviews Pat McCarthy, NetWeaver Portals Expert Print E-mail
Article Index
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An Historical View of SAP Enterprise Portals:
Jon Reed Looks Back on His Interview with Portals Expert Pat McCarthy

Jon Reed's Introduction, January 2008: In September of 2002, I sat down with Pat McCarthy, Enterprise Portals expert, about the emergence of the SAP Enterprise Portals project. The interview was very popular with mySAPcareers readers, and I'm pleased to be able to offer it in its entirety for JonERP.com members.

The Portals market has obviously changed considerably since Pat's last update to this interview series in 2004. Hopefully soon we can have Pat on our web site for his take on how the Portals market has evolved since 2004, and the direction he has pursued in his own SAP career. Pat has always stayed one step ahead of the market, so we'll do our best to provide updates on his whereabouts going forward.

As you read through the installments in this interview, you'll get a sense of why I enjoy Pat's take on the SAP market so much. He is great about combining a grasp of the nuts and bolts of SAP with a straightforward and sometimes humorous take on the strange paths SAP can take us down. Talking with Pat about SAP is like taking a look under the hood of a car and getting a review of the insides from a real pro.

A couple things I really enjoy about this piece looking back: towards the end, Pat answers a reader's question about Enterprise Portals consulting, and his advice on how to approach an SAP consulting career and stay on top of new skills is timeless. And the final update, in 2004, shows Pat talking about some of the early components that would become part of NetWeaver, such as the Web Application Server, now known as the NetWeaver Application Server.

I have said many times that successful SAP consultants always have an eye towards how the SAP product line is evolving. But as I add these classic articles to the site, I can now see that it's also important to understand the history of SAP and how the products we worked on today evolved. As we've heard before, history has a way of repeating itself. I hope you enjoy this interview, revived on our web site and reprinted in its entirety.

SAP's Enterprise Portal Strategy and its Impact on SAP Consultants:
An In-Depth Interview with Pat McCarthy, SAP Enterprise Portals and mySAP Consultant
Part One
September 1, 2002

We launched mySAPcareers.com with the belief that the future of SAP consulting is in the mySAP technology platform for e-business. In the last year and half, over the course of interviews with experts like BW consultant Naeem Hashmi and SAP-EAI specialist Dave Bernard, we've tried to flesh out SAP's e-business direction and identify the consulting opportunities that are opening up along the way. But up until this point, we haven't been able to call attention to a specific product that truly makes SAP's new direction a reality. 

That is, until now. From the looks of it, SAP's Enterprise Portals and Web Application Server infrastructure has truly arrived, bringing with it an ease of use and "out of the box" integration capability unheard of in the ERP world of the ‘90s. Needless to say, these new products also mark a fundamental shift in SAP's technical philosophy - from the proprietary "bread-and-butter" of ABAP and Basis to the "open" technologies of Java, XML, and J2EE. Clearly, these shifts in technology and presentation will eventually impact all SAP consultants, whether they are functional or technical in focus. Although the sluggish economy dictates that any new IT product can only have gradual success, as it turns out, the SAP Enterprise Portals value proposition makes it possible for clients to minimize spending through an incremental approach - or even better, by simply "turning the lights on" and leveraging existing functionality that was not yet in use.

What better time to sit down with an experienced Portals consultant and pick his brain about the product and the consulting opportunities he sees down the line? Pat McCarthy is a platinum-level SAP consultant with ten years of techno-functional SAP experience. He's been involved with cutting edge SAP products like BW and APO from their earliest releases, and more recently, he's gained project experience in EBP and SEM. But Pat's main area of expertise centers around the mySAP solution, specifically SAP Enterprise Portals (formerly Workplace) and the Web Application Server (formerly the Internet Transaction Server). He's followed these products from their early releases, and most importantly, he's seen the latest versions at work on client sites. In this interview, Pat tells us what works and what doesn't, and why he sees so much potential in the SAP Enterprise Portals market.

Of course, no interview on SAP's future direction would be credible without an honest appraisal of the current situation. Through the course of our discussion, we made sure to consider the market conditions we're all dealing with now. We asked Pat to explain why he can feel good about SAP's future when SAP's current sales figures are under expectations. From his own project searches, Pat knows full well that the bright future of SAP has not yet arrived. He's not about to suggest that we should drop what we're doing now and head over to Portals, especially during a time when that market is still in its "painful infancy." But his perspective on how this technology is delivering on the vision of the information-driven enterprise is compelling, and is food for thought for any SAP consultant in transition.

During the course of this interview, we cover a wide range of topics pertaining to SAP Enterprise Portals. In addition to making his case for "Why Portals and Why Now," Pat explains the different pieces of the Portals solution. He explains how third party apps are integrated with SAP and how the system gives ease of use to the end-user by hiding back-end complexity. Since we all want to know how you get there from here, we asked Pat to elaborate on how today's SAP consultants could get more involved in Portals work and position themselves for the emergence of SAP as a true e-business player.

He has advice for Basis and ABAP folks on how to be ready for an Internet-driven technology and development platform. Pat's comments on functional opportunities bring us back to BW, which, through the Portals architecture, seems to be changing from "enhanced reporting tool" to "essential business intelligence engine," as Naeem Hashmi predicted in our interview with him a year ago. And for all of us who were scratching our heads on this, we also got Pat's take on what happened to SAP Markets. Towards the end of the interview, Pat tells us why "componentizing" SAP's application suite is a revolutionary development with promising implications for small to mid-market sales. There's a lot of ground to cover here, and we think you'll find Pat's comments entertaining and thought-provoking.

In part one of the interview, Pat tells us how enterprise portal technology has moved into the "generation two" era. And he explains how SAP's Enterprise Portals are central to SAP's move from proprietary, ABAP-based systems, to "open systems," based on Java and XML. Pat explains why this technology shift also represents a dramatic "mindset" change in terms of how SAP treats its customers, from "one size fits all" and "rip and replace" to componentized, "drag and drop" solutions that integrate existing applications on the user's desktop.

Jon Reed: Pat, you're seeing a lot of potential for the future of enterprise portals. Why is that?

Pat McCarthy:
First of all, enterprise portals have evolved. The new ones they're coming out with now are what we call "generation two portals." When the first generation of portals came out, anything you could possibly use the word "browser" with was considered a portal. Generation two, though, is pretty much taking the Corporation Information Factory (my kudos to Bill Inmon for that phrase) and making it accessible to everyone in a form they understand - and people understand the browser. From SAP's point of view, a portal is the methodology they're using to bring together all the data in the enterprise, to take it and make it available for people to use. And now this data can either be SAP or non-SAP data. It really is something different for SAP. It wasn't that long ago where if it wasn't developed in Walldorf, then you could forget it! Even if it was done somewhere else in Germany, it didn't count if it wasn't done in Walldorf.

At the time, SAP seemed very close-minded about everything. So for SAP, this is a true paradigm shift, where they truly accept the fact that they are just one of the sources of information the enterprise needs. Not only that, SAP has taken it upon themselves to develop business connectors or translation tools - "messaging interfaces" more accurately describes what they actually do - in order to communicate seamlessly with other systems and platforms. On top of that, SAP is also taking into consideration their IS or industry solutions endeavors and integrating them into the portal infrastructure as well.

So not only will you have this portal tailored so that it will read SAP out of the box, but now you can pop in anything from Oracle Financials to Siebel. There are actually three or four other major third party applications being supported now, and don't forget this is a continuing and ongoing process. SAP hopes to bring in the different ERP enterprise data systems, supply chain systems, CRM apps, and also product lifecycle management. At any rate, SAP decided to make all those diverse applications available through SAP Enterprise Portals. In doing so, they have had to leave behind what had been their basic bread and butter - ABAP-coded applications. Quite honestly, I don't ever see ABAP really going away, but SAP's technology is changing. With Portals, if you're trying to integrate a product from somebody else - something like Oracle Financials or Siebel - then ABAP isn't going to do you any good. So SAP's decided that J2EE is the methodology that they will use and support. They have joined the standards committees on Java, XML, SOAP; and now that Microsoft finally seems to be getting something marketable under the .NET platform, SAP's going to bring them into the portal fold too.

Reed: Pat, that's a major shift in SAP's enterprise approach.

McCarthy: That's right. Just three years ago, SAP was basically saying, "If it's not SAP, it's not worth talking about." Now they're saying, "Hey, we're just one of the kids in the family, but we're the big brother, so we'll help you talk to the little kids if you're having trouble." And that's what SAP Enterprise Portals is all about. Portals is essentially a methodology of bringing diverse data from different data sources to the end-user, in a format that is easily usable by that end-user. So what we're talking about here are web pages, spreadsheets, small desktop-type database systems - you never know where the data might come from. It might even come from your PIM. Portals brings together the information from wherever you need it. For example, Act 3 may be providing you with the customer's name and address, but the whole business account - what the customer owes you, what his payment terms are, what his credit level is - might be in your SAP system. And if you want to assess the kinds of products the customer is currently buying, you might get some of your details from your CRM system.

Leaving behind the customer data for a minute, you might also need to access your own benefits data through a PeopleSoft HR package. All of the data you need to access throughout your workday is now visible through the SAP Enterprise Portals desktop. So the data in Portals comes from a vast array of different applications, but SAP has even taken it one step further. They've stepped up to the plate and said, "Hey look, up until now, everyone has been pointing their fingers and saying, ‘It's the other guy's fault.' But if you put in our Portal and give us a shot at it, we'll take all the complaints - it's our fault, period. Just put it in the Portal, tell us what you need, and if we don't have it, we'll get it."

Reed: That's pretty amazing for a company that wasn't always thrilled about helping a customer modify their SAP infrastructure with data from other applications.

McCarthy: SAP has been very pro-active about that. If a customer calls SAP and says, "Hey, I've got such and such a program, and it's Cobol, and it was written in 1972 and it does just exactly what we want it to," instead of sending a salesman out there to talk the customer into dumping their Cobol program, ripping out everything else, and replacing it all with SAP, now they can say, "Hang on a sec, let me put you over to development." Then you get a systems analyst from SAP on the phone who says, "Hi, what does this program look like and where do you want it to go?" Bingo, Business Connector starts to form and that's where SAP sees a lot of their new business going. That in turn picks up and sparks the services end of their business, which has not always been the big moneymaker for SAP in the past. Now they're recognizing their own services division. They are also bringing in their strategic partners and saying, "You know, there are only so many things in the world we can do, and then we just run out of bandwidth. Even us." Which must have been hard for those guys in Walldorf to own up to. :) But it is what it is, and so they have a lot of different partners who can help them.

So not everything that SAP comes out with will be developed by SAP. A lot of times, they'll be developed by other people who SAP takes and rewards in other ways for allowing them to take it and add it in. So that's the basic idea of what an SAP Enterprise Portal is. An SAP Enterprise Portal is a second-generation portal that pulls in the data from across the whole enterprise. Now, I know that the marketing folks at SAP will tell you that you don't need to have SAP installed to use SAP Enterprise Portals. That is a very, very true statement. But as for the likelihood of that happening, I just don't know. It would seem strange that you'd be talking to an SAP salesman to buy an Portal if you weren't running SAP inside your company at one place or another. However, with all of their worldwide installations, SAP has a real big market in their own install base, and many of these companies are open to this Portal solution. Even if they're not able to sell Portals to non-SAP customers, I think it's going to work out well for them.

Reed: So what are the other factors that are fueling the Portal market?

McCarthy: The second item to "Why Portals, and Why Now?" has to do with the business atmosphere. Portals ships with the mySAP.com licenses. So it's not like you have to buy any new software to install it. When you buy a mySAP.com license, you get SAP Enterprise Portals, and SAP Web Application Server - you get your new plug-ins discs, and you're ready to go. SAP upgrades this stuff quarterly, and all those elements are upgraded, so it's not like you're buying anything new if you want those upgrades. So when you install Portals, you're basically taking what you're already paying your licensing fees for and utilizing it more fully. That is what sells in today's business market. The classic sales tactic of "Buy new, rip out and replace" - this isn't the right time in the business cycle for that approach.

However, making the best use of what you have - now you're talking about something that people will spend some money on. People will pay for technical expertise to make use of things they have already purchased. Especially because Portals is not a back-end service; more than just IT departments are going to see it. In fact, the main people who are going to see it and use it are the end-users. And from my experience, when they see it, they say, "Ohhhh....." Portals gets their attention, it's easy to use and you catch on very quickly. Of course, the next thing they usually say is "By the way, I'd really like to..." which I know is every programmer's worst phrase - but it leads to more engaged end-users and better utilization of the tools that the SAP customer has purchased. People have bought them, and they need to put them to use.

As an industry, we are going through a paradigm shift. It used to be that sales were the center of everybody's universe, or ERP was. Right now, it's the information itself, and that means databases... it's a great time to be a DBA. The information that a company has is now a tactical weapon they use to make and generate revenue. People are looking at it more and more that way, and IT is coming through for sales, for manufacturing and for accounting - for everybody, with products that actually work. These products can give the user a means to differentiate themselves from their competitors through information technology. So that's where the whole industry's going. SAP and Hasso, thank you very much, I appreciate it... I really didn't want to learn another new IT environment. :) But they've recognized this trend, and they're taking SAP in that direction. They've come to a point now where they're not just taking that direction, they're leading the way. So the king of "Do it my way, or forget it," is now the king of the open standard.


 

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