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Application Lifecycle Management for Everyone: Lifecycle Topics for Developers, Development Topics for Administrators

by Karl Kessler | SAPinsider

April 5, 2010

This next generation of Karl Kessler’s “Under Development” column delves into the recently evolved world of application lifecycle management (ALM) — what it means, where you fit in, which ALM tools you should know about, and how to properly plan your ALM journey.
 

For those of you who are long-time readers of this column, you’ve witnessed almost a decade of evolution in SAP’s development tools and technology — from SAP R/3 and the Web-enablement of SAP solutions to the SAP NetWeaver technology platform, SAP ERP, and most recently, SAP’s enhancement package strategy.  

This evolution has meant that development itself has changed. With IT systems becoming increasingly complex and heterogeneous, and with exponential growth of integration points, developers can’t afford to simply dive into tools and tasks without a sense of the larger landscape strategy. Developers need to ask the right questions, challenge conflicting requirements, and, ultimately, add value to the solutions they create or oversee. They also need to understand the impact of their work on the overall IT landscape. 

As a result, this column’s coverage has rather naturally expanded into what has traditionally been seen as the world of system administrators: application lifecycle management (ALM). Case in point: Previous columns covering SAP’s enhancement package strategy have laid necessary groundwork for the switch framework.1 Completing a task — “click here to switch this dictionary data element,” for example — is one thing, but knowing the task’s ramifications on your current landscape requires a broader understanding of the life cycle of your solution portfolio (see sidebar).

From “Under Development” to “Lifecycle Management Matters”

This column’s new name, Lifecycle Management Matters, reflects the changes and demands that have arisen, and is designed to bridge the gap between developers and administrators. Opening communication channels among everyone who has a role across the application life cycle — from the initial blueprint, to custom development and transport, to monitoring, performance, and security — will give IT a better opportunity to simplify processes, consolidate landscapes, reduce instances, and still maintain operations.

In this first article, I’ll start with the idea of the application life cycle itself — how SAP defines it, and what it means for developers and their non-developer peers.

Application Lifecycle Management: What It Means and Where You Fit In

SAP defines application lifecycle management as the set of tools, processes, and methodologies to run SAP and non-SAP solutions in a managed landscape, following the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) standard. SAP chose the ITIL standard because it helps align six well-defined phases — Requirements, Design, Build and Test, Deploy, Operate, and Optimize — with particular tasks during the entire application life cycle.

The idea is simply this: ALM provides a concrete strategy for managing the life cycle of your application or solution based on a common framework, and lays out clear standards to help you manage quality during design, implementation, and operation. This may fuel the misconception that ALM is for system administrators only. Yet, for developers working with SAP systems, this means that custom-developed code, like external applications and SAP solutions, will be centrally monitored for quality management and systems integration.

The ALM strategy is also designed to make transparent to administrators and developers the phases, roles, and common touch points for different processes, as well as an overall tools roadmap at each phase. Figure 1 illustrates the roles and tasks involved in one ALM process, Solution Implementation, and which phases this process encompasses (see Figure 2 for an overview of all of the major ALM processes). I’ll explore this Solution Implementation example in more detail later in the article.

In a simplified world, a phase would consist of processes that are only executed in that phase. However, due to the complexity of customer solutions and landscapes, processes typically span multiple phases — and thus involve various roles. Figure 3 shows the ALM processes, including our Solution Implementation example, and how they span various phases.

Figure 1

The tasks and roles associated with the Solution Implementation process, which spans several phases of the ITIL standard

 

ALM Process

Key Features

Solution Documentation

This process centrally documents and relates the business processes and technical information from SAP and non-SAP solutions to ensure transparency, efficient maintenance, and collaboration.

Solution Implementation

This process involves the identification, adaptation, and implementation of new and enhanced future-proof business and technical scenarios. It is designed to decouple technical installation from business innovation, and uses SAP Solution Manager to implement innovation within the system landscape.

Template Management

This process allows customers with multi-site SAP installations to efficiently manage their business processes across geographical distances, such as part of a global rollout approach -- from initial template definition to template implementation and template optimization.

Test Management

This process defines the integration testing requirements and test scope based on a change impact analysis. It is used to develop automatic and manual test cases, manage the testers, and report on the test progress and test results.

Change Management

This process involves workflow-based management of business- and technology-driven solution improvement changes with integrated project management, quality management, and synchronized deployment capabilities to best manage the risks associated with the implementation of the solution, therefore ensuring technical and functional robustness.

Application Incident Management

This process enables centralized and common incident and issue message processing on multiple organization levels, and offers a communication channel with all relevant stakeholders of an incident. The process includes business users, SAP experts at the customer site, SAP Service and Support, and Partner Support employees. It is integrated into all ALM processes of SAP Solution Manager and in any SAP Business Suite solution. It can be connected to a non-SAP help desk application, and includes follow-up activities such as knowledge research, root-cause analysis, and change management. 

Technical Operations

This process represents all capabilities for monitoring, alerting, analysis, and administration of SAP solutions, and allows customers to reduce TCO by predefined content and centralized tools for all aspects of SAP Solution Manager operations. It provides end-to-end reporting functionality that is either out-of-the-box or individually created by customers. 

Business Process Operations   

This process comprises the most important application-related operations topics necessary to ensure the smooth and reliable flow of the core business processes to meet a company's business requirements. 

Maintenance Management

This process covers software correction packages, from discovery and retrieval to test scope optimization, possibly including optional automatic deployment into the production environment.

Upgrade Management 

This process represents the identification, adaptation, and implementation of new and enhanced business and technical scenarios, and uses SAP Solution Manager to holistically and effectively manage the upgrade project end to end. It allows SAP customers to better understand and manage the major technical risks and challenges within an upgrade project, and to make the upgrade project a “non-event” for the business. 

Figure 2

Key features of major ALM processes

Figure 3

Most ALM processes span several ITIL phases

ALM Tools Everyone Should Understand

SAP first used the terms “application lifecycle management” and “ALM” at SAP TechEd 2009 in Phoenix to structure tracks around our key lifecycle management tools: SAP Solution Manager, ITIL-compliant ALM processes, and SAP NetWeaver lifecycle and infrastructure capabilities.

In the SAP context, ALM involves running a solution landscape consisting of SAP, non-SAP, and custom solutions that are centrally managed by SAP Solution Manager.

SAP solutions and SAP Solution Manager are based on the SAP NetWeaver foundation and integration platform. SAP NetWeaver offers built-in lifecycle management capabilities, such as local monitoring and software logistics capabilities, and SAP Solution Manager acts as the central console to start and control all ALM processes (see sidebar). This gives you a complete picture — a single source of the truth — of your solution landscape and central access to all relevant ALM data and events. Many of the tools used in the ALM processes are available from within SAP Solution Manager work centers that provide role-based access for all who are involved in executing a process end to end.

How ALM Highlights the Interdependencies of IT Roles

With an understanding of the tools involved in ALM, let’s dive deeper into the Solution Implementation process shown in Figure 1 to better understand the relevant — and interrelated — roles and tasks.  

Consider a company’s installation of enhancement package 4 for SAP ERP. During the Requirements phase, its implementation team analyzes and retrieves functionality and release information from SAP Service Marketplace or SAP Community Network, based on the requirements gathered from the business. The enterprise architects may use the Solution Composer tool to design a custom solution that meets the company’s specific needs based on SAP’s predefined process content.

Now in the Design phase, the implementation team uses various project administration tools to create a business blueprint for the project, laying out a plan for how the administrators will install, configure, and activate an enhancement package. An administrator uses the Maintenance Optimizer inside SAP Solution Manager to compute all the required downloads, software components, and archives to be installed in the solution landscape.

In the Build and Test phase, the implementation team selects the required business functions for activation. The team can use the Switch Framework Cockpit within SAP Solution Manager to execute the activation. The quality assurance team tests the enhanced business processes to ensure the quality of the innovation.

Then, in the Deploy phase — the last phase this process touches — administrators can import the activated business functions into the production system using the Switch Framework Cockpit and the SAP NetWeaver platform’s change and transport system (CTS).

This is just a quick sketch of the full process and some of the more prominent tools involved, but it demonstrates the elegance of the model, providing clear guidelines with common best practices and a proven, standards-based methodology.

Note!

The phased approach to ALM is an approximation of the various tasks and steps that are performed during an application's life cycle.

The ALM Journey Begins

ALM, aligned with the ITIL standard, sets up a framework for accelerated innovation, reduced TCO, and improved quality assurance (see sidebar). But with ALM, this is just the start of the journey. The current ALM blueprint and methodology has evolved over time, and new topics and tools will be added. Ultimately, ALM is designed to reduce costs, simplify and consolidate landscapes, reduce instances, and still maintain operations, even as business processes and organizations are consolidated in response to tough, changing business environments.

For more detailed information on ALM, visit http://sdn.sap.com/irj/sdn/alm.

Karl Kessler (karl.kessler@sap.com) joined SAP AG in 1992. He is the Product Manager of the SAP NetWeaver foundation — which includes SAP NetWeaver Application Server, Web Dynpro, ABAP Workbench, and SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio — and is responsible for all rollout activities. Currently, Karl’s focus is on how SAP NetWeaver powers SAP ERP and SAP Business Suite software and on lifecycle management in particular.

1 See, for example, “Innovation Without Disruption: A Deep Dive into SAP’s Enhancement Package Strategy for SAP ERP” in the January-March 2009 issue of SAPinsider and “Industry Solutions Are Now Integrated into the SAP ERP Core: How the Switch and Enhancement Framework Makes It Possible” in the October-December 2008 issue. [back]  

2 See “8 Must-Have Tools for Your ALM Toolkit” by Kishore Bhamidipati in this April-June 2010 issue of SAPinsider for more information about these solution extensions. [back]   

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