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Charting Your Course 2015: Nathan Williams on SAP Solution Manager

January 30, 2015


SAP Solution Manager expert and consultant Nathan Williams joins SAPinsider to discuss the SAP Solution Manager 2014 year-in-review, as well as what to expect in 2015. Topics of this discussion include:

  • Leveraging SAP Solution Manager in a hybrid environment, and the business case for running Solution Manager in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) deploymnet
  • A background on cCTS for ChaRM and its functionality
  • What to expect in terms of new functionality with the expected 2015 SAP Solution Manager 7.2 release, including its leveraging of SAP HANA as the underlying database

Ken: Hi, this is Ken Murphy, with SAPinsider, and today I am pleased to be joined on this podcast by Nathan Williams, who is a Solution Manager expert and consultant, as well as an author. Nathan, thanks for joining us today!

Nathan: Thanks Ken, happy New Year!

Ken: Happy New Year to you as well! I was hoping we could start, you could just tell us what projects you’ve been working on and what you’ve been hearing from your clients?

Nathan: Sure, yeah it was a very busy 2014, so with regards to you know, the projects I worked on, along with the requirements and depth of scope that each of these projects were driving to deliver, so it was busy, and it wasn’t just the project work, but the product development and the continuing maturity of the SAP Solution Manager platform also made for a really busy year and we saw SP10 and SP12 were both released in 2014, and somewhat close to each other, and these two support packs were really rich in functionality, so my customers that were early adopters or chose to start projects at the same time that these support packs were released wanted to ramp up on these areas so I had to ramp up on them really quick. So that made for a pretty busy year.

As far as the areas that I’ve been working in, I mean there’s definitely no doubt about it, that the ChaRM scenario in change request management definitely reigned king in 2014, so my customers of all sizes, in 2014 I had three that were Fortune 50, and two to three that were small or midsize, so all of them except for one I think had ChaRM as an integral part of their delivery portfolio for 2014, and that was, you know whether it was a net-new implementation, adding an additional component like Retrofit, or expanding their current functionality offering, I mean all of them wanted ChaRM as that component. That was, what I was really busy with, a couple other pieces was the Solution Documentation piece, and saw some traction with Business Process Monitoring too, so yeah, it was a busy year.

Ken: So those were the major areas of interest in the field over the past year?

Nathan: Yeah, I think as far as you know, functionality specific, you know, what tools have I implemented you know to ChaRM, Solution Documentation, and Business Process Monitoring were definitely the most popular, aside from specific components clients are also looking to expand their Solution Manager footprint more, so the tool can be integrated with their you know, holistic SAP ecosystem, not just for SAP products in specific, but there are non-SAP products as well, so how can we really use this tool as it is intended from SAP as a central, single source of the truth?

So a lot of focus was put on the strategies around that, and then also bridging the gap between functionalities that are offered within Solution Manager and maybe third-party tools, so a big area that I saw of interest and will continue to see is you know if we have an enterprise ticketing system such as you know, Remedy or ServiceNow and we have Solution Manager, and we want — we have to from an enterprise perspective use this third-party and we cannot decommission that, how do we marry that with Solution Manager? So, whether that’s technical or manual, I mean a lot of work was done around those two areas, so it was pretty interesting, and that was pretty consistent across a couple, three different clients.  

Ken: Also, what’s important to know with regard to using Solution Manager in a hybrid, on-premise, and cloud environment?

Nathan: Yeah that’s a great question, so just to get the basics underway and kind of level-set what that means, so at a very high level, a hybrid solution consists of landscape components that are managed on premise, so let’s just say your existing managed system landscape and your components that could be managed in the cloud. So, call these cloud components or cloud extensions. Now, your cloud extensions can be either managed privately or publicly, depending on one of several factors. So the customer has the option of leveraging SAP for this, there’s actually a HANA Enterprise Cloud offering that extends the Solution Manager, or customers can choose to go with a SaaS or Solution Manager-as-a-service type of offering.

So obviously the business case for these two options are going to vary from customer to customer, organization to organization, so for example small to midsize companies may choose to adopt that Solution Manager-as-a-service, because in that way they could quickly ramp up on knowledge and expertise in-house, without maybe having to worry about staffing a full-time employee as a Solution Manager administrator. So, in this case, the customer presents their existing license agreement to a Run SAP partner who’s certified in Solution Manager-as-a-service, so for example Monocle Systems is a Run SAP partner that could deliver this, and then Monocle Systems would issue a hosting fee to the customer.

Personally, I haven’t seen a large number of these use cases in either scenario, private or public, but I think it’s something that’s going to gain a lot more traction in the coming year, in 2015, so if you think about it from a resource perspective alone, this could be enough of a business case to lean towards the Solution Manager-as-a-service, one of the larger challenges we see as partners and consultants on the customer side is you know, how are you going to augment this niche skill that a consultant brings when they roll off, or when we don’t have budget for consulting, how do we continue the momentum of Solution Manager. So it’ll be interesting to see that traction that the hybrid solution or on premise, off premise is going to pan out for 2014, but the important thing to know here is whether you’re a small, medium, or large organization, you do have the option and Solution Manager is available for these scenarios.

Ken: Also Nathan, what options do customers have in Change Control Management now with CCTS?

Nathan: So that is a good question too, and I think we can probably spend an entire podcast just scratching the surface on this topic, but before I get into options and benefits, let’s start off with a little bit of a background and storyline to how we arrived at CCTS, at a high level. So CCTS stands for Central Change and Transport System, and it’s an extension to the traditional CTS that became available to, or CTS became available to Solution Manager in SP10, so that’s for ChaRM and your Quality Gate Management scenarios. So, important piece there is if CCTS does not offer standalone, it needs to roll up to a process layer such as ChaRM or Quality Gate Management. That being said, let’s just go over the evolution and how we got to that.

So CTS, what most SAP practitioners are probably familiar with, the Change Transport System, that’s been around forever as far as SAP is concerned. So in short, CTS is an infrastructure that allows you to transport changes, related to your ABAP components, so ECC, SRM, CRM, allows you to transport those objects, ABAP objects, through your landscape according to your different system rules, so you transport from dev to QA to prod. So that was a CTS infrastructure.

Several years later, SAP released CTS+, so this stood for Enhanced Change and Transport System, and that basically did the same thing but it extended the capability to non-ABAP systems, so now we have a way to transport objects associated with the portal, with PI, with NWDI, throughout the landscape, similar to CTS. So fast forward to 2014, what’s missing, if you take a step back to how does a change request originate, they originate from typically a business requirement, so the requirement may be port change, a screen change, something to the business user. The business user doesn’t necessarily know or can identify that change is required on ECC and BW, for example, they just know that they need this requirement fulfilled.

So this is where kind of the motivation for CCTS comes from, so CCTS, still struggling to say that term, provides the capabilities that tie all those pieces together, or the technical glue that holds all those components together. So in other words, you might have objects from ECC, BW, and CRM that need to be maintained for a specific change request, CCTS kind of bounds these objects together and clusters them throughout the landscape. So it’s a little bit, it’s a technical way to move these changes in a cluster.

What are some of the key benefits other than that, and there’s a lot of technical background behind that, but that is just kind of a high level evolution and what it does. Some other key benefits, we’re able to re-assign changes, re-assign transports to different projects in ChaRM, even if the transports are released. On the other hand we could also decouple transports and re-assign them to other change documents, even though the transport requests are released, if there is external or foreign transports, so transports that are delivered to us by SAP or a vendor, we have a way to attach those and they can move through our ChaRM process the way that our other transports move, we have the ability to do selective imports, so when we do the import into production, for example, we can cherry-pick what transports are going to the production systems. Long story short, and again this is just scratching the surface on this functionality, it’s really building upon those flexible import options that we first started seeing in SP5, so it builds upon the status-dependent import, the preliminary import, the reassignment of changes, the decoupling of changes, we see a lot more sophisticated way of managing the transport requests.

Ken: How about for customers who are running only a basic Solution Manager configuration, what’s the next step for those customers?

Nathan: Yeah, so I think that’s important, cause we hear so much about the volume of customers that are advancing or migrating or implementing all these functions, I think last year I heard that nearly 10,000 SAP customers had gone live on version 7.1 since its inception in 2011. The number was probably closer to 8,000 but you kind of get the picture, I mean you can clearly see with those numbers that this is huge traction for the product, especially if I think back to when I first started working with the product in version 3.2, and even through version 7.0, through the 20 or so support packs, where I never saw the traction and momentum that we do today.

But that being said, not surprisingly, there’s still a lot of customers, a large amount of customers, who have not upgraded from 7.0, or maybe have upgraded to 7.1 but they’re still sitting in that basic Solution Manager configuration area that you mentioned. And they’re still looking to get started. You know, my advice to these customers is first and foremost, get to 7.1 if you haven’t already. I don’t need to say much more about that cause I think we’ve beaten that topic pretty hard and there’s lots of great information resources on how you can do that but get to 7.1, get a plan together, and get to 7.1. Next, once you’re at 7.1, get some help from SAP or a partner or an expert, there’s great information on the ramp-up knowledge transfer, on the SCM space, on defining a roadmap that makes sense for your organization. Look at your pain points, you know, if you’re managing transports and it’s completely manual and you’re using email and spreadsheets, people can put transports into production at any time by anyone, your auditors are dinging you, hey, you might look into a ChaRM pilot or a ChaRM proof of concept.

On the other side, on the business side, if your order-to-cash scenario is breaking down from a business operations perspective, look at putting together a quick Business Process Monitoring pilot. So look at your pain points, look at what the business is asking, look at what you’re hurting from on an IT side, and start incremental, and then continue to build upon what you’ve implemented and what you’re successful at. The power and the value of Solution Manager really starts to become more visible, more apparent, as you gain that momentum and as you continue to expand and integrate these tools with one another.

Ken: And do you have any advice for customers who are looking to leverage Solution Manager for their SAP HANA deployments?

Nathan: Yeah, definitely, and it’s definitely important to keep in mind that SAP HANA is not the only component in a customer’s ibase. So yes, absolutely, I encourage customers to connect their Solution Manager system to the SAP HANA infrastructure, but it could be somewhat of a let’s say, interesting approach to go racing to establish these connections if you have not or don’t have plans to connect your other systems as well. So it is true that SAP Solution Manager supports HANA, but Solution Manager supports all of your other systems, and it supports all of your other non-SAP systems as well. So, first and foremost, my advice is to think a little bit more broadly, more holistically, on how you can leverage Solution Manager with deployments related to the entire SAP ecosystem or your entire SAP ibase. The value that you’re going to get from connecting a managed system to Solution Manager, whether it’s HANA, ECC, or BW, is, the value is that centralized approach that gives you a single source of the truth for your entire landscape.

And when these systems are centrally connected, centrally monitored, centrally managed, you’re really able to see things from an integrated approach and it puts things in context with one another. So there is of course not any harm in just isolating HANA, but I would definitely challenge customers to think in regard to the whole landscape. So, as far as what’s supported with HANA and Solution Manager, there’s definitely some key components and core areas for example, we can have the system monitoring activated, technical monitoring, root-cause analysis, ChaRM, you can handle your HANA changes through ChaRM, and we have the capability in SP5 to classify HANA as a managed system and we saw a lot more availability and offerings as we got through SP12.

And getting a little bit more specific, for the monitoring and alerting pieces, the architecture is generally the same as when you’re setting up your other systems, so you’ve got templates that are delivered from SAP that can be adopted, you can adapt them, you’ve got a diagnostics agent, that you deploy on the HANA system, and the data’s pulled into SolMan’s monitoring and alerting infrastructure, and for the ChaRM piece, all of your HANA content can be transported and rolled up into your ChaRM scenario. So you’ve got a delivery unit at the transport layer that’s constructed, and that contains all of your artifacts that are maintained at the HANA level, so for example, your JavaScript files, your attributes, and these are attached to a transport request. So I think the key and what I’m trying to get at is that HANA should be included in your overall Solution Manager strategy, so the technical layer for how it’s leveraged could be slightly different, or it could be the same as the other managed systems, but the process layer, how you’re monitoring, how you’re managing, how are you controlling transports, that should be consistent with your other landscapes.

Ken: Also Nathan, I’m curious what is in store for this year for 2015? When can we expect the new release and what, in your estimation, will be some of the major changes?

Nathan: Yeah, so I think the big thing that we’re looking for, that partners and customers are looking for, is that version 7.2 and that is slated for 2015, we don’t have an exact date on that yet, but we do know it’s in 2015, and some of the major things is this is going to be the first Solution Manager release that is going to be leveraging the SAP HANA database, so this is a big deal, it’s a good benefit, in that you know, it’s going to reduce complexity, and we won’t have to rely on those extractions required with the current BW architecture, we’ll be able to bypass that, it’s going to be a much  more simple architecture, and the good news is that customers with a valid SAP maintenance agreement can use SAP HANA as a database for Solution Manager, so no additional SAP HANA licensing is needed. But of course, you do want to refer to the usage rights for any specifics regarding your scenario before you go forth.

There’s going to be a lot more collaboration, on the business side, a lot more orchestration between business and IT, we hope to see more features and functionalities with the, on the requirements side, as we start with the new implementation, we can use Solution Manager at the requirements level, not just the jumping in and defining business process but at the very start of the project with requirements gathering and definition. We’ll hear a term more and more called pragmatic business process management, so this is related to Solution Documentation, and looking forward to and anticipating a new, cleaner, slicker way that business processes can be modeled and managed in Solution Manager, so I think a lot of us that have been working with Solution Manager are definitely ready for a facelift on certain transactions like SOLAR01 and SOLAR02, as well as some of the restrictions that that infrastructure gives us, for example, we can only model to three levels in SOLAR01, and that sometimes does not go over very well with customers, certain customers monitoring requirements and their standards, so looking for a new flexible way of monitoring and representing business processes and representing Solution Documentation.

You know, along the lines of IT service management and ChaRM, just high level, hopefully seeing some good UI improvements and improvements in the KPIs, SAP Fiori is going to be available for a UI for like, incident creation, for example, so definitely a lot of stuff but I think the main focus and what we’re looking for is that Solution Manager on HANA delivery.

Ken: And Nathan, with that said, how are you advising your clients to prepare for the year ahead?

Nathan: In general, summary, I mean don’t get intimidated by any of this, don’t be intimidated by version 7.2, we still have quite a runway with 7.1, SP10, SP12 were incredibly rich in functionality, and that’s going to get us probably through the end of 2017, so stay focused, I can’t say enough, get that roadmap defined, understand what your priorities and pain points are, start incrementally, build upon that roadmap, and don’t stop. And leverage the resources that are available at RKT, on SCN, and there will be time to go to 7.2 but if you’re not getting there the second it becomes general availability, there is still so many features available on 7.1 that will get you started.

Ken: Great, well Nathan, we appreciate your joining us today to share your insights and your expertise!

Nathan: Great Ken, thanks again.

Ken: Again, this is Ken Murphy, with SAPinsider, and we have been chatting with Nathan Williams, Solution Manager expert and consultant. Nathan, thank you!

Nathan: Thanks Ken!

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