Tag Archive for: SAP

How SAP and IT organizations are helping the 3.5 billion people without internet access.

For many of us, living without constant access to the internet is unimaginable. We use computers—in one form or another—constantly. But what about those who have minimal, if any, access to the internet? Those who have never even touched a computer? Nearly half of the world’s population—3.5 billion people—did not have regular access to the internet this year.

Welcome to the Digital Divide.

Developing countries face major challenges incorporating technology into their infrastructure (cost, political unrest and the inability to service remote areas; to name a few). As of this writing, every area that could easily be connected to the internet is connected, yet in more than 100 countries around the world, less than 50% of their inhabitants have regular access to the internet. Even when they are connected, they experience significantly slower speeds as well as lack of content relevant to their culture or even in their language since few of them can contribute to online media.

Bridging the Digital Divide on the global scale will be a game changer for many countries—connecting developing nations has shown a significant increase in their GDP. On the local scale, however, the divide is more troublesome for many individuals. In areas with less than half of the population online, many families and employers are accustomed to this way of living because so few of them have access. It is very different in countries where internet access is as essential as running water or electricity. You are expected, often required, to be online.

Think about everything the internet offers us—job opportunities, connections to friends and family, necessary communications for work or personal responsibilities, researching products, education, and so many other advantages . Now imagine not being able to access any of that while everyone else continues around you, expecting you to keep up or get left behind. This is the reality for 7 million Americans.

This divide is primarily caused by socioeconomic factors. Students whose families do not have reliable internet access, or a computer, face a much harder time completing their homeworkand are far less likely to do well in school. Individuals who cannot regularly use a computer are less likely to develop their computer skills to the level required by most employers. It is a vicious cycle making it increasingly difficult to escape poverty.

Several companies are stepping up their corporate citizenship efforts to help bridge the divide through free WiFi hotspots, affordable satellite connection initiatives in rural areas, and digital literacy training. Facebook, for instance, is fighting the global divide with their “Free Basics” program which provides free internet in 22 nations. However, it only offers access to about 20 websites— Facebook, of course, being one of them. SAP is also helping by providing CodeWeekprograms around the globe—offering accelerated courses tailored specifically to the technological needs and ability levels of CodeWeek locations, aiming to create economic stability through education.

But how can you get the most out of these skills and connections if you don’t have a computer? One local nonprofit set out to fill this gap by getting affordable, quality computers into the hands of those that need them the most.

Meet Digital Bridge.

Jeff Hanson, executive director of Digital Bridge, realized the extent of the digital divide on a volunteer trip to Kenya as a student at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). While setting up a lab for a local school, it became clear to him that many of the students had never even touched a computer.

Once back in Milwaukee, Hanson heard from many nonprofit organizations desperately searching for affordable computers to connect patrons with resources available through online searches such as jobs, affordable housing, medical care, or education opportunities. Even if they could obtain a used computer, the computers were typically outdated and slow. Digital Bridge began to bridge this divide between those with access to technology and those without by creating an easy way for anyone to donate computer equipment to be refurbished and directed to those in need.

“In Milwaukee, or other major cities, you’re expected to be using technology. If you don’t have a computer or you’re not sure how to use it, it is really going to be hard to function in our society [where] Technology is a necessity, not a privilege… Our biggest goal is that people or businesses should be able to donate a piece of technology as easily as they would donate a shirt, knowing that it can and will be reused.”—Jeff Hanson, Executive Director

As a member of the National Association of Information Destruction (NAID) they follow the highest standards of data security to ensure the protection of their donors’ information. All equipment is under constant supervision by access employees until it arrives in their secure location. Before any equipment leaves this area, all drives and asset tags are removed, and the entire drive is written over with new data. Any drive that fails the wipe or is not in perfect health is destroyed to ensure security. Digital Bridge makes it easy for you to make a difference with the peace of mind that your data will be securely wiped.

Computers are cleaned, tested, repaired and returned to out-of-box mode with a fresh OS.  Eligible nonprofits and individuals are able to choose from several options in their online store, allowing them a similar experience to traditional consumers.

This year alone, Digital Bridge has distributed more than600 computers and redirected 70,000 pounds of e-waste, creating a true bridge to those in need.

They have already helped many people but there is always more to be done. Poverty can be further diminished through access to technology. Think about everything that technology offers us—education, employment, searching for resources, connecting to family and friends… How powerful that can be! If you can reach it. 

“Certain areas of your SAP landscape need to be monitoredon a regular basis to ensure reliable operation.” —SAP Administration: Practical Guide, p. 269 Galileo Press, 2011.

Monitoring is an essential part of the daily tasks of any SAP Basis Administrator. In the past, this was accomplished by logging into certain transactions once or twice a day and looking at specific parameters. As one who did this for several years, I can tell you that humans are the worst kind of resource to leverage for this. We are subject to change blindness and are easily bored by mindless repetitive tasks. Monitoring should be done exclusively by computers.

Managed Service Provider (MSP):A monitoring system on its own is just an alert generator and not much use without someone to alert to. If an alert happens and no one notices; does it make a difference? This is where many companies go awry, they set up a monitoring system, but don’t think about who will answer the alerts. Often, the internal Basis team is the wrong answer. They are too busy and, frankly, too expensive to be tasked with this. Help desk technicians are sometimes chosen for this, but they don’t know a critical SAP issue from a non-critical one—or how to fix it. Typically, they wake up or forward the issue to the Basis team. An MSP, like 1st Basismonitoring the SAP landscape remotely, is the best option for small-to-medium sized enterprises.

Every Basis support agreement 1st Basis issues includes Monitoring with our automated solution. Our system uses a .Netconnector and SAProuter(both standard methods for connecting to SAP). If a Sensory Nodeis required inside our customer’s network, it connects with our NOC Admin Node over a single TLS tunnel.

It took 3 years to build our monitoring solution after some dead ends (Nagios). Over the years we have learned what works and what doesn’t when it comes to best-practices. The main lesson was that simplicity has its own utility and reduces overhead and TCO.

Here is a smattering of the other lessons we’ve learned along the way:

  • Standard SAP Connections are best
    • .Net and JCo connectors
    • SAProuter
    • RFCs are OK, but add overhead
  • Avoid systems that rely on agents
    • Often a point of failure
    • They add overhead to update and maintain
    • They are difficult to get approval for
    • Overly complicate the architecture
  • Alerts are not the goal
    • Too many alerts obscure actionable items
    • Too much REDteaches
      responders that “critical” is normal
    • Systems with Parent/Child validation reduce alert

For companies that do not want to hire an MSP or Basis group to do their monitoring, there are a number of solutions available. These are some of the solutions we have investigated as possible replacements for our system. Buying off the shelf is a better solution than DIY.

Solution Manager 7.2:SAP has made some big improvements with 7.2 with regard to monitoring, but this is still a large-company solution and a little too DIY. While advocates claim it is “free” the cost of implementing, configuring and maintaining the solution is not and their ROI estimates are dubious. Handling the alerts requires a team of SAP Basis administrators. But, for large companies like Rockwell Automation or Bemis, a 2- to 3-year implementation and dedicated team may make sense. They report the biggest time investment is in setting up roles and security objects and getting agents configured on all systems to be monitored.

sysink Xandria:Has been in the business of providing a viable monitoring solution for about a decade. Their solution is mature and well thought out and you can tell that it was designed by Basis administrators; for Basis administrators. The company was founded in Switzerland and has only recently targeted the United States, so they are big in Europe, but somewhat new to American businesses. The founders are former Basis administrators who designed a monitoring solution of their own as well. They have enlisted another former Basis administrator with a background in monitoring system implementation as Director of Sales Engineering, Tyler Constable. He knows the product well and how to sell it to Basis administrators and MSPs. The system has two drawbacks which they assure us are correctable: it uses some agents and the UI is reminiscent of RZ20, which is not surprising given the developers are all Basis admins as well. (see my Blog on UX Matters). Here is a small sample of the UI:

These are the pros and cons for Xandria:

  • Pros:
    • Geared toward Basis Admins and MSPs
    • Global edits to threshold templates
    • Uses alert conditional logic (if/then, and/or)
  • Cons:
    • Uses agents, but has agent-less options
    • User Interface is dated and kludgy

Foglogic:Is new to the SAP monitoring scene and is still in Beta, but they are definitely one to watch. Their UI is modern, clean and colorful and they have a strong grasp of data analytics. The solution is less tailored to SAP Basis monitoring than Xandria, but they have a lot of things right. The company was founded by Ashock Santhanamand Chandy Nilakantan, former CEOs and CTOs respectively. Together, they make a strong team and are a pleasure to deal with. Chandy’s enthusiasm for analytics is infectious. They are proud of their solution and they should be.

These are the pros and cons for Foglogic:

  • Pros:
    • Modern User Interface
    • Strong analytics with multiple views
    • Uses JCo Connector
  • Cons:
    • Still in Beta
    • Monitoring is not real-time
    • Multiple modes of data transfer instead of JSON
    • Multiple connection methods including POST

The dirty little secret for Basis teams (internal and external) is that monitoring is often given a back seat to putting out fires. This becomes a vicious cycle as monitoring is meant to prevent fires. For most companies, outsourcing monitoring and remediation to an MSP (domestically) is a more economical solution. Especially for systems that require High Availability (HA) around the clock. In any case, these monitoring tools are a boon to the Basis team and by extension to the enterprise in an often neglected area. SAP calls monitoring “Critical Tasks Checks”. Our experience confirms; daily monitoring the SAP landscape is Critical.

—David Beiswenger.

“The Inmates Are Running the Asylum” says Alan Cooper, in his seminal work on the topic of user-oriented design concepts, first published in 1999. Cooper, the father of Visual Basic, pioneered the use of “personas” as a design method. Personas are imagined user profiles based on use cases for the system in question. Cooper observed, correctly, that the worst person to design the typical user experience (UX) was a programmer. Back in 1999, coders were serving in that capacity and the result was: hard to use, clumsy, uninspiring interfaces. To be fair, some of the limitations to UX were due to hardware, technology and cost limits, but today, those limitations are no longer extant. The SAP GUI represents the old-school method of interfacing with complex systems—complex interfaces.

SAP has adapted the concept of personas and improved user-oriented design with Fioriand Screen Personas (a stepping stone to Fiori). Both are part of an effort to improve UX for SAP systems for reasons that should be obvious:

  • Increased productivity – faster and direct access to relevant information and applications
  • Transparency on items needing your attention – timely notifications
  • Helps users decide what needs to be done next
  • Allows users to take quick and informed actions
  • Increased user satisfaction

This is not just about pretty interfaces, although interfaces that are pleasing have greater utility also. The main reason for the push for improved UX from the C-suite is the savings through efficiency. Clicks cost money. So do errors and training. All of which are reduced by better interfaces. Check out this comparison between the GUI and the improved-UX of Fiori.

Propel UX:an FBC partner, is one of the SAP UX design firms that are now sought after to cleanly and expertly implement the new UX improvements SAP is making. They believe in a design philosophy that balances desirability (look and feel) feasibility (what can be built) and viability (what it will cost). The bad news about UX enhancements is that there is an overhead to implementation and some to maintenance, but the savings on improved efficiency, multiplied over each user/hour makes a compelling case for ROI to justify it. Contact Dharma Subramanian. He will connect the UX dots for you like no one else.

Neptune Software:also an FBC partner, can further expand UX improvement options with a complimentary solution to Fiori. Neptune allows you to leverage your ABAP assets and get Fiori apps without the jump to HANA. Their solution boast the following advantages (working offline among them):

  • Implement Fiori in days
  • Enable ABAP developers
  • Reduce development time 80%
  • 63% reduction in TCO
  • Offline capability
  • Locking Tables
  • Backwards compatible & “future proof”
  • Use existing roles & authorizations
  • Low code, drag and drop development (90% reduction in front-end code)
  • Mobile apps with native capabilities
    • GPS
    • Camera
    • Push Notifications

At an ASUG conference an SAP official defended the new improvements of Fiori and HANA when confronted with developers who wanted to hang on to their, now obsoleted, code by saying, “We are building a car, not a faster horse.” Well said.

—David Beiswenger.