First BMW System on SAP S/4HANA

smartShift’s automation enables first BMW System live on SAP S/4HANA. smartShift was responsible for the custom code work stream within the project.

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Of application understanding and machine learning or where I am coming from

For the past 25 years, I have been working in the area of automation.  But this is not where I started my career. During my master’s program at USC, I was first introduced to artificial intelligence, a field which immediately fascinated me.  At that time, jobs related to AI were far and few between, but my first job was indeed relevant: working with rule-based decision systems. Since then, the field of artificial intelligence has progressed a lot, for the most part without grabbing headlines.  Only during the recent years it has captured wide attention once more, particularly the field of machine learning. It reminds me of the hype that web and “dot com” introduced in the 1990s. Bubble anyone? Only this time around, the advances in this field have provided a solid foundation to sustain machine learning expansion.  My second job introduced me to the world of application and language understanding, and this is where I have been active for many years. A lot of fascinating things happened during that time, and as you will see things are now headed to where I started. The cycle is now closing.

Understanding application and their code

In the beginning, there was the mainframe.  Beasts of power that could handle a tremendous number of transactions, but which came at a cost.  Next, the “network was the computer” as Sun Microsystems heralded to the world. Companies now had alternatives to the mainframe monoliths.  

There was a problem, however.  Successful companies had invested a lot of money in creating mainframe processes that gave them the edge, and of course reams of custom code to go with it.  What to do with all that custom code now? The will was strong but the code was weak, proprietary and incompatible. And we should not forget that relational databases were not yet taken for granted.  Hierarchical and network database management systems were strong and, if you ask me, based on elegant concepts and very good at what they were doing. But history is (re)written by the winners, so servers and relational databases it became.

The role of automation

The word of the day was Migration.   Migration away from the mainframe monoliths to the client-server.  But that required a splitting of applications across layers in a way that would fit the client-server model:  front-end, business and database layers. This was a tall order since the challenge was multi-level:

  • Front-end:  Going from green screen terminals to fancy graphical terminals with WYSIWYG capabilities (yes, WYSIWYG was a feature back then)
  • Network:  State-fullness was the norm, therefore the correct handling of state was paramount
  • Database: Consistent transaction handling, remaining compatible with transaction managers (not everybody wanted or was willing to switch at the same time)
  • New languages:  COBOL was prevalent for business logic.  However the new server world supported additional languages, such as C, C++, and Java.  
  • Operating systems:  Enter Unix and its numerous flavors, Windows and X for front-end interaction.  

Clearly a disciplined approach was mandatory in order to succeed.  And this is where application understanding and automation came into the picture.  Application understanding may mean different things to different people, but here we will define it as a way of extracting the key attributes and features of the application.  Extraction is done programmatically in a repeatable manner and stored in a repository as a meta-model of the application and its components. The attributes and features need to be carefully selected in a manner that enables smart decision making when it is time to “rewrite” the application. “Rewriting” actually means both refactoring and rearchitecting.  Refactoring applies to the code, rearchitecting to the application. In our case, rearchitecting was the redistribution of the application components to best match the client-server paradigm. In most cases, breaking up monoliths meant both rearchitecting and refactoring.

The object-oriented paradigm

Most of the code we had to deal with in monolithic systems was written in procedural languages or reporting languages such as COBOL.  Also common was the use of generators, mostly for code, screen definitions and database artifacts. Early refactoring was performed using C, which at the time was the lingua franca of Unix for business and database layers.  For front-end coding, to some degree C++ was the best option in order to take advantage of Windows GUI capabilities.

At the dawn of the millennium, Java gained a strong foothold among developers.  By now it has also become the “favorite” in enterprise development. Java was introduced to a wider developer audience and acted as a facilitator of some key aspects of programming:  object oriented programming, separation of concerns, virtual machines, software packaging and interoperability.

Our use of a meta-model and a repository allowed us to build infrastructure and tools that were flexible and platform neutral.  All due to our intelligent automation approach, which allowed pluggable support of source and target languages and the ability to assimilate and make best use of numerous platforms

ERP and SAP(r)

Another important trend that gained steam in the mid-1990s and has kept growing strong ever since is ERP software and platforms.  For us as a company, one particularly important ERP software was and still is SAP. Our intelligent automation approach enabled us to follow its progress over the last 10-15 years, and we will continue to do so in the future.  The earlier application of our automated solution addressed mostly code refactoring and had a strong focus on ABAP, the programming language of SAP ERP. We were and still are present to support SAP customers with our intelligent automation, particularly when SAP started its journey to digitalization with the support of in-memory databases, the launch of S/4 and the move to the cloud.

Closing words

The beginning of the new year is always a good opportunity to take stock, reflect and plan ahead. As you probably know by now, history repeats itself.  Intelligent automation means staying alert and keeping an eye out for new opportunities. As I hinted earlier, I see the cycle now closing after all these years, especially from my perspective.  I am happy to say that we are now adopting machine learning into our automation repository as a further tool to drive application understanding and open new possibilities to our tools and customers.  In that sense, I would like to wish to all of you a successful start of this New Year and of whatever new chapter you are about to open. From our side, our new year’s resolution is to publish more blogs about us, our intelligent automation approach and the technologies we are using.

Niko Faradouris, Senior Technical Architect, smartShift Technologies, Mannheim

 

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Digital SAP on Private Cloud

Copenhagen, Denmark: Nilfisk has engaged smartShift Technologies…

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Automation is making boring IT jobs exciting again

The fear of automation has been around ever since machines started to replace manual work on a mass scale. This fear is now shifting from blue-collar jobs to white-collar ones as artificial intelligence and deep learning gain momentum and affect jobs in several industries.

The IT industry has been applying automation to address its customers’ needs for several years, but it has been slow to apply this trend to its internal processes. Instead, labor arbitration and massive human “factories” in low-cost countries have been the answer to most IT projects.

However, the trend of labor arbitration is changing as companies such as IPsoft, smartShift Technologies and Arago use artificial intelligence to replace mundane and repetitive manual tasks with advanced smart automation. Massive application upgrades and cloud migrations, issue resolutions, help-desk automation, provisioning and orchestration are now being done by automated platforms in a fraction of the time and unparalleled quality compared to their manual equivalent.

Instead of being the obvious Luddites, most IT professionals see a great opportunity for IT automation to make their jobs exciting again. A recent Arago survey of IT professionals clearly shows that most professionals welcome the trend to complement rather than commandeer their jobs. The following are the four main tasks IT professionals spend their time on:

  1. Modernization
  2. Planning and strategy
  3. Routine maintenance
  4. Documentation and reporting

The survey participants favor spending more time on the first two stimulating categories and less on the second two “mind-numbing” categories.

Allowing automation to take over the mundane and mind-numbing — and, in most cases, backward-looking — tasks will free time for innovation, strategy and forward-looking activities. It will have a direct impact on reducing the time and budget spent on lights-on versus innovation, and most importantly, it will make most IT jobs exciting again.

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Automated Transformation: Shift Gears

When your ERP software supplier provides an upgrade or enhancement, or the business demands new functionality only available in a new release, how do you organize the migration of your many customizations?

Most companies start a manual migration process with a time consuming, and labour intensive proof-of-concept while facing an unpredictable migration outcome. Uncertainty remains and the upgrade enhances the risk for the business as it potentially effects the daily operations.

Wouldn’t it be nice to test drive an automated migration and get an exact project plan and budget calculation? With today’s technology that’s possible, eliminating risks and presenting a 100% predictable outcome to the business.

Remove uncertainty through automated migrations

Uncertainty in projects, especially for the migration of customized code, is highly undesirable. Both in time and budget. You want the freeze period to be as short as possible and no budget overrun caused by advancing insight. Even more importantly, you want to have all the insight before the start of the project.

Over the last few years upfront, automated analysis has become available and is offered by a variety of vendors, but what you really want is to automate the migration itself.

Automated migration is more than just automated analysis

An exact prediction of the outcome with automated analysis is only valuable if you can follow-up on the promise; to be able to deliver the full migration through automated transformation in a fixed price, fixed time manner. Only then will you dramatically reduce the risk, cost and cycle times for complex IT transformations.

Experiencing the added value of new enterprise software versions …right now!

The added value of using the newest versions of enterprise software is clear, the road to achieving this might be unsure and unpredictable. But, the possibility is there with automated transformation of custom code with drastically reduced costs and business risks, exceptionally high quality and very short freeze periods.

Companies should focus on the quickest possible way to benefit from new features and functions offered by their enterprise software supplier. Automated transformation is the way forward to quickly materialize the business value of the latest releases of enterprise software.

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Boost from In Memory Revolution

SAP HANA is an in-memory product, designed to take advantage of the hardware advances of the last decades. SAP’s architecture has been renewed by moving the data management system from disk storage to the main memory of the server. Thismechanism eliminates seek time when querying the data, which provides faster and more predictable performance. The improvements are astonishing. At our clients some particular calculations take days of data processing in conventional architectural setup. With SAP HANA these calculations happen in seconds. Batch processing is converting to real time and this new reality opens doors for rethinking business processes.

Real time batch processing, real-time analytics and eventually delivering information company wide instantaneously via mobile applications changes the way we do business. Employees have all the information needed to make decisions in their hands. Also customers can get access to information that is directly influencing the decisions they are making. Clients are always asking how theycan best utilize mobility across the organization. The in-memory architecture can be the accelerator that gives true value to mobile access.

As a client partner working for smartShift Technologies I encounter clientswith their Road-to-HANA questions and strategies. Although these clients have their specific challenges, there is a generic feeling that the advantages of SAP HANA are clear, but the business case is difficult to make. It is widely accepted that the main components of the business case are total cost of ownership (TCO) savings, productivity savings, business benefits and project costs. 50 to 60% of the value comes from improved business process. It is sometimes hard to get convinced that this value can be achieved. It requires a strong vision, entrepreneurial skills and perseverance to make it happen.

Companies that are able to link the in-memory revolution to mobile access for both employees and customers might be taking a decisive leap forward from the competition.

smartShift Technologies has the expertise and experience to modernize your SAP landscape. We are dedicated to enable our clients to take full advantage of the in-memory performance of SAP HANA quickly, easily, and with less risk through our patented automation technology. Our company has analyzed hundreds of systems for HANA readiness and completed more than forty Suite on HANA projects to date, taking on average three weeks to analyze and migrate the custom code. We provide services beyond the automated remediation of the code and are taking responsibility for Suite on HANA projects end to end where customers are seeking this help.

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Quick Distributed Development

SAP systems are often mission critical. They support ongoing core operations of the companies that rely on them.These companies need to be able to support their production systems at all times, which includes addressing critical bugs and urgent enhancements in a timely manner.Stopping the process of production support for any extended period of time is usually not an option.Unfortunately many those same companies have a need to perform major transformations and upgrades of these SAP systems as they need to ensure that their systems keep up with the ever changing and accelerating pace of business. This includes SAP software upgrades to the latest available versions of the software like Suite on HANA or S/4. These upgrades and transformations are usually major projects that require many months to conduct, test, and deploy successfully.

While these transformation projects are ongoing the companies need to continue to support their production environments. They implement bug fixes and enhancements in a separate environment and release them directly to their production systems as needed.Unfortunately this creates a problem, as the bug fixes and critical enhancement do not automatically appear in the project environment. Unless they are recreated within the project these changes would get lost once the project goes life.

In response to this most SAP customers try to minimize the number of large, longer running projects they conduct, and they implement a manual process of tracking and re-implementing the production changes during the course of the project.This manual process, sometimes referred to as “retrofitting”, is laborious and prone to human error.What if there was a way to automate this process and ensure that 100% of the bug fixes get correctly applied to the project environment without human intervention?

Retrofitting

Software changes are done in one system and will be transported to the system landscape which is linked to this system. But sometimes it is necessary to implement these changes into another system landscape without using the import function of the transport requests. Imagine you want to implement a new functionality. You will use a second development system to work on this new implementation, because you don’twantto disturb the maintenance of the system being done in the original development system.

Retrofit is used to synch transports across landscapes, maintain transport dependencies and automate import of transports into landscapes. It reduces testing risk, timelines and defect cycles by ensuring dual maintenance changes are consistently applied to your landscape.

smartRetrofit

smartRetrofitsupports dual maintenance using an automated solution that can be run as a stand-alone or as an add-on to SAP Retrofit. Each change request implemented in the source (or upper) landscape is synchronized with the target (or lower) landscape with automated merges. The solution automatically merges the code and supports auto-import of the changes during standard Retrofit processby eliminating conflicts due to technical changes. It also provides Web-UI based smart comparison and merge features for developers to handle the actual “conflicts” by remediation.

Process Automation

What are the steps to be taken in the retrofit process? First aconflict analysis is performed by comparing source and target custom objects to classify objects asequal code, non-equal code, existing only in source system or existing only in target system. Then the solution handles various retrofit categories, re-defines the conflict status and converts every transport into auto-importable transports.smartShift’s Retrofit solution eliminates the manual work involved in dual maintenance. It mitigates the risk of development environments getting inconsistent, especially during a long running project requiring multiple parallel development releases.The solution is unique in its capability to support heterogeneous development environments, for example, performing retrofit between non-HANA and HANA environment.

While dividing development tasks improvesefficiency and maintaining multiple systems reduces production risk, it becomes a complex undertaking to merge these changes. Resolving any inconsistencies between systems in a risk free manner by using automated tools can help ensure a quick and efficient process.

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Factory Model & Time to Market

Most companies face the continuous challenge of modernizing their portfolio of applications. IT managers are constantly innovating to find better, faster and cheaper ways to maintain and manage IT assets. Especially platform migrations and upgrades can be complex, but it doesn’t have to be difficult, not when you have a well defined repeatable process, a way to automate the most complex parts of the migration, and a partner that can take you through the whole process from start to finish.

In this context an ‘Automated Migration Factory’ program is a perfect way to maximize economies of scale while migrating the application portfolio to the next level platform. The Factory industrializes the process of migrating and testing applications, and delivers a level of quality unrivaled in the industry. The Factory takes advantage of pre-configured tooling and automation, standard specifications and a repeatable approach to ensure consistent quality across the platform.

When starting the process of selecting a partner to help manage and run a large scale migration the following questions should be at the top of the list: Does the partner have a  proven automation platform that meets the requirements? Can the automation rates compete with the industry standards? Does the partner have a focus on forward-looking requirements and R&D investments that supports staying up-to-date with the latest available versions of the software being migrated? Are the services and technology delivered backed by well defined, enforceable Service Level Agreements? Selecting a reliable and experienced partner is critical to making a large-scale migration factory a success.

To start, your partner should spend the time analyzing your IT landscape and systems and use this analysis to deliver a detailed and deliverables based factory program plan. The program plan should group and order system transformations based on system complexity, criticality, and of course, business driven deadlines.

Second, the partner should work with your own team to establish and agree to the repeatable migration process that defines the standard migration steps for each system in scope. Both sides need to be clear on roles and responsibilities and operate as one team.

Third, an efficient mechanism to manage the inevitable change needs to be established. Large migrations projects WILL encounter change, and there needs to be an easy and efficient way to change the scope or order of the migrations when necessary. Predefining the approach to this with your partner is critical.

Fourth, you need to make sure that there is a clear definition of the Service Level Agreements (SLAs). SLAs need to translate to measurable metrics that cover the speed, quality and issue resolution aspects of the work. In addition, there needs to be agreement on the consequences of missing an SLA. SLA’s without incentives or penalties will not drive behavior or results.

Finally, once a plan is in place, the processes are well defined, a change management process is agreed too, and the SLAs are clear, the factory can start operating and the first system can be placed on the “migration conveyer belt”.  As always, it is advisable to find some quicker wins and complete some smaller, less complex migrations first. The resulting positive momentum and team morale will help prepare you for the more complicated work to come.

An Automation Migration Factory gives your company the flexibility and predictability to build and secure roadmaps. Optimizing your IT position as a Business Partner rather than a Maintenance or Support Partner is worthwhile. Focusing your lights on innovation with a Factory approach gets you IT landscape up-to-date and increases speed, accuracy and predictability to your business teams in parallel.

smartShift is in business to realize these promised Factory benefits. We offer services that help you quickly scope the time and effort needed to properly migrate desired technology. Then, using our unique and patented automation platform and dedicated migration specialists, smartShift helps you successfully migrate your IT landscape and systems. Using automation and a proven Factory approach, smartShift technology reduces traditional risks and costs associated with migration and technology upgrade projects to deliver a faster time to market. While an automation engine executes the work, you reap the benefits of consistent compliance.

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Setting up S/4 Sandbox in Weeks

“There is nothing wrong with having other priorities than to convert to SAP S/4HANA, but the lack of information or even wrong facts about it shouldn’t be the reason.” – HassoPlattner, SAP, November 30, 2015

More than a year after HassoPlattner’s statement, it still seems that a significant portion of our clients wrestle with a lack of information that prevents them from embarking on the journey to SAP HANA. This is particularly true for the area of custom code, which is a sensitive topic for many companies.

Undoubtedly SAP has greatly improved the availability of information pertaining to SAP HANA and S/4. There are now countless case studies, roadmaps, guidelines and tutorials with the necessary tools.

So what problem remains? – Time to switch the approach

“After all the positive feedback, there is still some uncertainty among our customers”1.The information push did surprisingly little to alleviate the uncertainty that Mr. Plattner called out. Particularly in the area of custom code changes the situation still seems in flux. This has resulted in confusion about what will stay, change, or be discontinued.

So if more information is not the solution, what is? One could argue the case for education over just providing pure information, but I want to go a step further and make a case for learning by doing.

Take it for a test drive – Get it done within two weeks

Joshua Greenbaum, the principal analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting, voiced what I firmly believe is the right approach: “SAP should just make an S4/HANA sandbox available to everybody free,” Greenbaum said. “That’s the test track — you know, take the keys, take the car out with your family, and come back in a week. When it’s such a new driving experience — I know my metaphor isn’t perfect — you kind of want to do that, take it for a test drive.”2

While I do not think SAP will start handing out free S/4 Sandboxes, there is the option to run a free trial in the cloud3. The hardware costs to run a HANA Sandbox are very much manageable. Early on SAP has optimized the needed infrastructure for non-production systems, which lowers the overall costs you need to spend on infrastructure4.

The primary question is if you can free the resources to make the necessary technical changes to your custom code to get to the meat of functional changes that you really want to test. Following that question naturally is how you get your data, or at least a subset of data into the sandbox to start testing. Naturally, if you use the free cloud trial there is the question of security of such data.

Just do it – It’s not that big of a deal

Don’t misunderstand me; an S/4 migration can be a daunting project. Setting up an S/4 Sandbox is not, though. The mistake that many companies make is to choose a waterfall approach when you should be agile. The planning can take months and increase the anxiety on all sides once it becomes clear how much work needs to be done.

I advocate for a different approach; if you are unsure about costs, benefits and HANA in itself make a sandbox an integral part of your planning. Become agile in your project planning and integrate learning from your sandbox environment into your planning as well as into your business case.

If you should reach the conclusion that SAP HANA is not for you, kill the sandbox and call it a pilot or POC instead of killing an expensive full-fledged implementation project when it is too late.

The hook – How we can help you to make smarter decisions

Setting up the sandbox is unfortunately only half the battle. The purpose of taking S/4 for a test drive is to explore its full capabilities and test your processes on the new database. There are still substantial technical changes that need to be performed before you can test what really matters to you. Otherwise, you will be stuck fixing the tires unable to take it for a spin and never get the chance to start tuning the engine.

This is where smartShift Technologies can help you. We are committed to the paradigm of ‘seeing is believing’. Hence with our patented automation technology, we can help you to set up a SAP HANA Sandbox in two weeks with your custom code running on it. This enables you to start testing immediately and gain the necessary information to make a better decision about your IT Roadmap.

If you would like more information about how we can deliver 100% HANA-compliant custom code in less than two weeks for your company, or you would like to use the same technology in your actual project, get in touch!

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Leverage the Power of IT Modernization

Research shows that roughly 80 percent of IT resources go to the maintenance of IT operations and systems. Modernizing IT in any sector is widely perceived as not easy and expensive, but the risks of holding onto legacy systems are many. While companies are striving to satisfy evolving customer demands, new technologies and processes are adopted to increase the speed of doing business. In most cases, customized systems and applications will be implemented into existing IT environments.

Customized applications are perceived as a means to accelerate business response, innovate business approaches and simplify business operations. A McKinsey study in 2013 showed that 40% of IT executives worry that their organizations will not keep pace with technology change and consequently would lose their competitive edge. In addition, they perceive these applications also increase complexity, and processes raise the cost of maintenance and complicate the management and integration of the IT landscape.They experience the following: (1) custom applications are mission-critical and can’t be disrupted, (2) every application is unique and there are no tools to support transformation out of the box, (3) just like the applications every transformation project will be custom and (4) to make a transformation, you need people and tools with understanding of both your applications and the new road ahead.

When modernization is prevented and transformation to the latest technologies is being perceived as too expensive or too big of a risk, companies will lose their flexibility.

smartShift developed a technology platform to overcome these challenges and uses patented processes for automated transformation.The platform enables customers to convert custom applications to meet business requirements in an automated and risk-free way. Automated transformation benefits include automated, algorithm-based configured tools aligned to your individual landscape, industry standards and corporate standards. It handles 20+ computer languages. The result: reduced process bottlenecks, quick and riskless upgrades to state-of-the-art technology and less dependency on IT partners.

The advantages of automated modernization and transformation are multiple:

  • Dramatically reduce the time and resources historically required through a manual approach for enterprise IT transformations
  • Reap the benefits of sophisticated solution design and rule sets
  • Ensure extensive compliance and security standards with comprehensive format handling and data translation
  • Accommodate all data types, and increasing data transaction volumes with any-to-any transformation
  • Rapidly onboard new connections to facilitate the exchange of all data between systems, applications, and external partners

IT modernization is the continuous evolution of an organization’s existing applications and infrastructure software, with the goal of aligning IT with shifting business strategies. IT modernization implies the acquisition and deployment of modern technologies—along with their associated skill sets and capabilities—to replace legacy environments, without having to start from scratch. Simplifying the IT landscape of your company reduces TCO while improving the agility of your mission critical custom application.

smartShift provides a comprehensive automated transformation solution that accelerates application integration, allowing companies to integrate any system or application faster than traditional methods. Modernization of your IT Landscape allows you to become the Agile Enterprise your customers and business partners asking you to be.

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