Oliver Kohl, Head of CxP Engineering, Information Technology, SAP
1. Could you give us a brief overview about the Web Development? What are the trends shaping up and where are these leading to?
In the Enterprise IT space, Web Development is mostly done in the area of business and self-service applications. Our goal is to help our users finish a business task quickly and easily. SAP has modernized its application front ends with Fiori, our UI framework that is based on SAP UI5. The result is a harmonized user experience and a clear design language across all SAP products. For other areas like our marketing sites, we watch and utilize the trends being developed in the open source community.
2. How has your IT operating model changed during the last five years in Web Development?
The main driver has been the expectations from end users to get application updates more frequently without disruptions, the same they see from regular web-based consumer applications. Therefore, we had to change our delivery model from classic manual configuration and deployment to a CI and DevOps approach. Today, we are able to deliver continually with zero downtime due to a high level of automation in all areas of the development lifecycle. Our teams manage 24x7 operations, in very close day to day collaboration using a variety of ChatOps tools. In addition, we make more use of like our own SAP Cloud Platform, which reduces operational effort to a minimum from an IT perspective.
3. What do you think are the biggest obstacles that technologists face in working in a more agile and outcomes-based model in Web Development?
From my perspective, it is probably picking the right solution or framework from the myriad of options that we have today, on the front and back end. From Single Page Application, Microservices to Serverless Architecture, all areas of modern Web Development evolve at an extreme pace, and in a large IT organization we are not as agile as a small startup. Focusing on the right stack with the highest long-term value becomes a challenge but is very important, also from a support and maintenance perspective.
4. Moving from traditional IT to a service offering model requires a major mindset shift in IT. How did you make that happen?
We have also started to explore what is possible with Machine Learning algorithms, and the results are very promising
Our IT organization started our DevOps transition around 5 years ago. It was initially a grassroots effort, which showed huge potential and presented a fundamental shift in how systems get delivered. In my experience, chances of success are best if new methods are introduced in small teams or projects. A big rollout in the form of training for the whole organization often doesn’t work as well as starting in small teams and coaching them and letting them work as multipliers, replicating the successes of other teams. For us, the adoption of Scrum as an agile methodology happened in a similar fashion, coming out of experiments in a single project team. It required an understanding of the possible impact and support from management to drive the cultural change in the whole organization.
5. Even though you do not measure your team on project deadlines, fast delivery must still be important to you. How are you delivering faster?
Although we still have big launches of new sites, even those are usually “just” another deployment into the production environment. DevOps tools allow us to automate the full delivery pipeline, from system setup, configuration, testing and deployment, which often reduces the delivery of a new version to a click of a button in the build pipeline. The frequency of delivering a new shippable increment of the product is then defined by the Scrum Sprint length, which usually is between 1-4 weeks. This approach allows us to better plan and predicts when certain features can be delivered to the end user.
6. What set of skills do you think is required for Web Development to be successful in the new enterprise landscape?
Users of enterprise software are also users of consumer applications. All of our users get great UX through other web-based products and services, and these applications shape the expectations of our users too. Our job is not only to provide tools to get the job done, but also to make them easy and delightful to use. I think that a more user-centric focus is required and UX expertise should be an embedded skill in every IT organization.
7. Which growing or future technology innovation in Web Development are you personally excited about?
We have been successful in applying microservice principles, which gives us more resilient architecture. Failure of smaller components is much easier to manage than failure of a big monolith. This architecture design also allows us to better organize our teams around these services and assign them full responsibility for the full build and operations lifecycle. We have also started to explore what is possible with Machine Learning Algorithms, and the results are very promising. I see a high potential in delivering a great amount of value to our stakeholders and end users.
8. We are all dealing with technology every day. How does technology drive your life?
Looking back, I think I’ve been an early technology adopter most of my life. I started programming in the 80’s, and lots of technologies have been part of my life since then. I’m curious by nature, and sometimes buy a hyped gadget to explore how well the technology behind it works and how much it can influence our day to day life. Currently I’m enjoying how well Amazon’s Alexa’s voice recognition works already, and how easy it is to integrate new skills. In the end, I’m probably just a regular nerd and technology is an integral part of my life. At least that’s what my girlfriend tells me!