the beginning of SNC

Supply Network Collaboration has become a world-class enterprise product in recent years and it is being now adopted by more and more companies (more than 1000 worldwide). I am proud to have contributed to the success of this solution, lucky enough to build a product from scratch and happy to have made many friends along the way. Palo Alto, Walldorf then Budapest, then India: the team is now spanning the whole world and the product is better than ever (and SAP last year bought Ariba, and now what?).

I have decided to write few notes. These are good memories to me, perhaps you will enjoy them too.

The story began around 2001, initially -- while still in incubation phase-- this project was sponsored by Albrecht, driven by Claudius, few more senior architects and projects leaders, some coming from the APO team previously based in Walldorf: the Supply Chain Exchange project, or SCX. At that time SCM (including also --and mainly-- MM) accounted for 25% of the company revenue. The project suffered a first stop in 2001 due to the necessity to safeguard quality on APO 3.1. I recalled it was around SP14-SP23 as I was involved in a custom project and the stability was still improving.

Then in 2002, while the original SCX team was finishing up the various subprojects in support of the safeguarding APO initiative, few things happened: a major CPG company (I am not sure I am allowed to mention it,  but you can easily figure it out as it makes most of the detergents and many other cleaning products that are so common in US households) came along to discuss with SAP the opportunity to start a common project (a Strategic development project or SDP). That fueled again the idea of a SCX, and with a new positioning we were back at work; main goal: make things a bit simpler than the powerful APO, build a collaboration solution and be able to show something running on the web.

Two work-streams started: one focusing on customer processes and one on supplier processes. Big industry sponsor: the IBU automotive on the supplier side. The whole thing fueled by the engagement with our CPG giant.

I hope to remember all the people in the team, otherwise please let me know and I will correct/amend this post (my mind goes to the order of our seats, few meters away from the Hasso’s office and Martina’s, Hans-Ulrich’s and Petra’s cubicals): Claudius, Juergen, Christian, Konrad, Stefan, Thomas, Natasha, Gerhard, Frank, Ralf, Sunita, Murali, Li Sheng, Alex, Victoria. From the IBU automotive Raj and two other colleagues whose name I don't recall now: they used to come once in a while for meetings to Palo Alto. Soon we would get several additions to the team; I don't remember their names as they were working in WDF and they were assigned to our project for the SDP part. I recalled they were part of SAP SI.

Overall we had several issues to deal with: the solution would have to handle order-types objects and key figure data structures. At that time in SCM we had BW, and Livecache and available databases and we could not force customer to go to Livecache for something that was meant to have a smaller IT footprint. We had no Web UI either. And no much was available with regard to XML messaging technology. Everything was under development while we were in need of it. Several groups (I am willingly not mentioning them as those initiatives did not produce the desired outcome) were on the path to Java and JSPs and waiting for sort of miraculous Java-based super-tools, but we went for the traditional ABAP based approach, with some novelty as you will see.

For a number of coincidences, I ended up with working with the UI layer. Even though I was fully qualified for the job, I was still technically fresh, at least from an SAP SCM point of view. Overall –not that matters much for this story – it was good like that. I still wasn’t ready for DB design and in particular for what Thomas (and the other Thomas from WDF) later came up with.

In summary, we had in mind some business processes but did not have an available technological foundation.

JSP? BSP? Thanks to the good common sense of many people, but Ralf in particular we went for the BSP side. Ralf was very deep into BSP and HTML and had the right connection with the people in Walldorf. But the BSP did not serve our goal entirely: we had with the BSP a number of GUI elements to use, but whose granularity was too fine for a componentized (or patternized) UI. Because of previous engagements with the Event Management team, it was in Montreal where I put down the first proposal for a fully MVC-compliant UI interface, I hope to find it in my archive it and post that diagram.

I was coming from a full ABAP-OO project in the IBU and I had received a brainwash from a german colleague about the MVC paradigm. He was a PhD in computer science and I could not have a better mentor.

So there it was: the ICH UI framework was coming to surface. First task: convince Natasha that the Design was clean and following the best Object-Oriented available approach according to ABAP OO and get the OK from Ralf on the components granularity and the “dynamic page rendering” (no static BSP pages, but everything dynamic; yes you got it: everything dynamic, not really a common practice in SAP of those times). Some prototyping and by SAPPHIRE Lisbon 2002 we presented the first Inventory monitor. Convincing Natasha wasn’t easy, actually she messed around a lot. But in lack of better mechanism (delegation wasn’t available in ABAP-OO) we implemented reutilization via sub-classing. I know, maybe not elegant, but efficient and by the book.

The rest, underneath the UI wasn’t obvious at all. For the Master data the decision went to reuse the same MD available for APO and reutilize the CIF interface to transfer data from the ERP. I disliked the decision then, but how were they right!

For the XML part SAP had a governance body that was controlling every little data element name and the semantics of every XML message to be part of the standard SAP delivery. I never understood if Frank really liked that job, but he had to do a lot of work. Currently I don’t recall what we used for the inventory engine, but Alex was always fighting with it.

With the version 4 we had a little toy that we need to acknowledge today as not really ready for a professional use. But nonetheless we were able to build the foundation for a new product.

While we were absorbed by the PIL process and the following Ramp-up process (and the Solution Validation, Oh my!) Christian’s team -- with Konrad going all over the places and helping coordinating the communication with the customer -- was bringing money home with the Vendor Managed Inventory project, our SDP. They had to build a lot of stuff, with a UI technology working two days and one not, under a lot of time pressure.

It is kind of funny and strange: we were in SAP but the feeling was like a startup. We were very proud of our work. (looking at that nowadays would smile....)

The next one (4.1) would be the real breakthrough that would shape the product in most of its part. TSDM, ODM, ICHDM and the performance optimization of the PDNF. Another time, another post.

The inventory monitor detailed view in ICH 4.0

The inventory monitor detailed view in ICH 4.0