DevOps has not only reached mainframe groups in enterprise but also to large applications such as SAP. Organizations are moving away from waterfall methods and mega releases that take many months to deliver. What’s needed are many more rapid release cycles and deployments that support the accelerating pace necessary to do business.
In this conversation on TechStrong TV, David Lees, CTO of Basis Technologies, joins MediaOps CEO Alan Shimel to explore how organizations implement DevOps into their SAP integration and deployment cycles. Having lived through this transition, David shares his unique perspectives on the necessity to break through bottlenecks and make changes in supply chains, finance and many other business processes needed to support the business.
The audio file of our conversation is below, followed by the transcript. Enjoy!
Alan Shimel: Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining us on another segment here for TechStrong TV. In this segment, we are joined by David Lees. David is the CTO at Basis Technologies. David, welcome to TechStrong TV.
David Lees: Thanks, Alan. Great to be here.
Shimel: Great to have you here. So, David, I don’t think we’ve done an interview here with Basis Technologies before, so I think we should start right there.
Lees: Okay. So –
Shimel: Go ahead.
Lees: Basis is a company that’s been around for about 20 years. We are a global organization that works with hundreds of customers around the world, and the thing that they all have in common is that they run SAP software, as I’m sure many of your audience do.
Lees: We specialize in solutions around the application life cycle management space. We kind of started up the whole trend in terms of the DevOps for SAP by really helping people to manage their change in a much more Agile way than SAP is traditionally known for.
Shimel: Excellent. And of course, you know, David we were talking off-camera before we got started, I’m doing DevOps.com seven years, right? And when I first started everyone said, “Oh, DevOps is something for startups; I don’t know about large organizations.” And then sure enough every large – not every, but most large organizations in the world started recognizing the benefits of doing things in a DevOps fashion, and we fought this battle with DevOps in the mainframe, DevOps on things like SAP. How could something like SAP benefit from DevOps?
But of course they can, of course they can, and I think SAP themselves has recognized it and they’ve come out with a lot of DevOps-related solutions, products, services, but also companies like Basis are recognizing that, hey, my customers are asking me about DevOps but they’re not going to throw away tens of millions of dollars and years and years of tribal knowledge that they’ve developed in doing things on SAP. It’s just impractical. And so, you know, they have to put a little chocolate in the peanut butter and it’s got to work together, right? I would imagine, you know, Basis has – this is a real specialty that the market’s calling for and Basis has a real role to fulfill here.
Lees: Yeah. I think it’s as relevant in the SAP world as it is elsewhere for exactly the same reasons; customers are looking to become more Agile, they want to be able to deploy in kind of just in time, moving away from the whole annual or six-monthly mega release delivered in a very waterfall way in order to respond to market changes, customer needs, in order to drive more efficiency within their application development and application management space and to deliver that with quality that a business-critical system like SAP mandates, to be honest.
Shimel: Sure. So David, I always like to ask our guests a little bit about their own personal background because people out here are wondering, right? So they look at David Lees, the CTO of Basis Technologies, they’ve been around 20 years in the SAP space, they deal a lot. David, what’s your personal background like?
Lees: So I actually joined Basis only about 18 months ago, and prior to that I spent the majority of my career on the other side of the fence. I was with Proctor & Gamble, a large global consumer goods company, and pretty much most of that time was connected to SAP in some shape or form from implementations through support, upgrades, getting ready for transformation to things like S/4HANA, and it was in that role as a customer that I first came across Basis a few years ago and actually brought in one of their products into Proctor & Gamble. So I kind of first had that experience as a customer of Basis before deciding to kind of make the step in to working here as CTO.
Shimel: Excellent. So you literally have a career in SAP that you bring to Basis, and as you said, from the other side of the fence; not as a vendor but as a user, a consumer, a customer of SAP.
Lees: And like you were saying before, I think many of the customers of SAP that have been running with SAP software for now 10 if not 20-plus years have developed the knowledge, they’ve developed their solutions and their processes exactly how they like them, but that’s come with massive investment, massive investment in custom code, custom solutions, investment in the way they’re managing those developments, those projects and maintaining them on a going basis, and so I lived through firsthand this whole lifecycle, let’s say, plus the last few years where the old way of managing things was simply not going to be the right way to continue to manage in the future because at the end of the day, while the rest of the architecture around SAP is evolving at a much faster rate you can’t kind of retain the bottleneck image that SAP has and you have to find a way of breaking that bottleneck and being able to move at a similar pace to the other elements in the architecture. It’s not as easy as saying, okay, well let’s just not touch the back end and keep that totally frozen. It’s simply not possible. You need to make as many changes in your supply chain and finance and legal entity structure, et cetera, as you do in your ecommerce platform.
Shimel: Fair enough. Excellent. Again, the parallels to what we saw in the mainframe space is also – but I think there’s something else you gotta remember. People don’t use SAP just because of their prior investment or just because it’s what they’ve done before, right? Organizations of a certain size use SAP because it offers real advantages and allows you to do things in such a way that you can’t have or you can’t get with just about any other solution out there. So it’s not just because this is what my grandpa did or this is what we’ve done for 10 years, 20 years; it’s because we are an organization of a certain scale that we require this.
Lees: Yeah. I think they’re a market leader for a reason.
Shimel: A reason, right.
Lees: They have the products that, like you say, run some of the largest enterprises in the world; many of the Fortune 500 or FTSE 100 or what have you. And it’s in spite of that that we need to find a way of being able to manage that in a much more modern way. There’s certain elements of SAP that I’m sure some of your kind of more pure DevOps listeners or audience would struggle to understand in terms of, for example, the way version management is handled in SAP inside like a single database, hard to manage branches in terms of parallel developments, the way changes are deployed through the use of things like transports, create to some extent an ecosystem in SAP that is different than a lot of the cloud native and more modern applications, but at the same time we want to be able to help customers to manage the risk, to manage the agility, and to be able to move things through with confidence and with speed in keeping their changes across their architecture orchestrated in a controlled way.
Shimel: Absolutely. So David, if you don’t mind, I think we’ve laid the groundwork here well, let’s look at, if you will, the anatomy of an SAP-DevOps engagement, right? We spoke about maybe it’s an existing SAP customer who – right? – doing that big yearly release or twice-a-year release is not going to cut it anymore. They need to be more agile – nimble agile, not necessarily Agile software development, though that too, but they need to be more nimble, they need to be more responsive, they need to – they want to utilize a modern CI/CD pipeline type of delivery system.
Lees: Yeah. I think as with anything here you’ve got the three normal components. It’s about the people, the process, and the tools. So there’s no kind of silver bullet that’s going to say, yeah, I’m suddenly DevOps in my SAP space. You need to have similar best practices around automating as much as possible within that pipeline, and some of that’s available natively inside SAP to do things like automated unit testing, automated code inspection, but the piece of the jigsaw, let’s say, where we come in is to create effectively the pipeline portion for SAP using one of our products called ActiveControl, and that’s about being able to deploy in an automated way within the landscape to the point where the customer is comfortable and being able to kind of highlight and manage all of the interdependencies or identify where it is safe or isn’t safe to move changes in a more accelerated way.
So I think some of the best practices I would say are common across the SAP and the cloud native world, and when it comes down to some of the tooling you need to start looking at SAP-specific tooling where it’s not possible to leverage some of the kind of off-the-shelf open source best practice tools like best-of-breed ones such as Jenkins or Git, but equally this is where we can integrate and we can help a customer in managing their SAP side of their estate, their architecture, in a coordinated or orchestrated way with the non-SAP world that they’re managing using some of these more traditional DevOps-based pipeline tools or CI/CD tools.
Shimel: Yep. Agreed. So David, when Basis comes in – let’s talk about the engagement now, right? Is it more of like a classic consulting where we come in with bodies or is it more of an architectural and here’s the processes and kind of maybe software we’re going to introduce or both?
Lees: Yeah. So we are primarily a software company in terms of providing the solutions, although we do recognize and we do work with some of our customers that they also need help on what are the process changes or architectural changes that they should make in order to go further, in order to become more Agile, what are some of the, again, best practices that they should be doing without switching on or without investing in? They won’t be able to go as far as they want to or need to. So whilst we are today primarily a software company and we will come in to help our customers activate those solutions and deploy them, we are starting to kind of branch out a little bit more into the consulting side to help customers on that journey, to define what that journey looks like for them based on where they are today and based on where they want to get to.
Shimel: Fair enough. So I’ve got to kind of ask it only because you have to in these days – how’s COVID affected all of this?
Lees: I think we’re affected to some extent like many companies; however, we are to a certain extent well insulated. We have a subscription-based model, so the companies that tend to deploy our solutions continue with those solutions. We have an incredibly high renewal rate which we’re very proud of, and that gives us a very strong cashflow and a very strong platform in which we can continue to invest in new products and solutions as well as to continue to invest in identifying and adding new customers. I think to some extent there is – some of the pursuits, some of our prospects have been impacted by budget restrictions, but I think at the same time COVID is accelerating significantly the pace at which companies realize they need to transform. So I think it’s probably as much as one side kind of slowdown and budget restrictions as it is kind of companies coming in saying we have to modernize, we have to change the way we’re doing things and we need our SAP application development to be as flexible as we have elsewhere in our organization.
Shimel: Agreed. And, you know, I kind of suspected that but I wanted to kind of confirm it with you, is yeah, you know, on the one hand it definitely – everyone working remote and everything that went on you could see it slowing down, but on the other hand it becomes very much a catalyst for transformation, right? There’s no waiting for tomorrow; we’ve got to do this now, and so it happens in there. What about working remote though, David? I mean you’re obviously in your home office right now.
Lees: I am and I [laughs] was always set up in a home office kind of gig here at Basis, so I’m based in Spain whereas the headquarters is in London. So even pre-COVID I was kind of used to working a few weeks from home and then going into the office for a week or so every month. Now it’s just all at home for the foreseeable future. We’ve had to adapt. Development teams that used to be very – used to kind of working together, whiteboards and daily standups and that sort of thing have found ways of doing that remotely like everyone else has had to do, and yeah, I think we’re all getting used to a very interesting new world, and I would be very surprised if we go back to exactly how it was previously.
Shimel: I don’t disagree with you. But the good news is, you know what, you’re still able to do your work, stuff gets done, and it could be worse, as they say. Hey, we’re about out of time but I wanted to mention one other subject. You guys are doing a webinar here on DevOps.com. It’s probably about a month from now, maybe even a little more than a month from now. It’s on SAP and DevOps.
Shimel: I’m not going to put you on the spot here and spill the whole beans, but who should be – you know, talk to us about it.
Lees: I think the intended audience for that is people who are traditionally on the DevOps side of the fence who’ve grown up outside of SAP who need to or are realizing that SAP should become part of what they’re including in their plans and in their strategies. Now I would still say SAP kind of long-timers would get some value out of that webinar, but it’s more about helping people understand how SAP is relevant, why it’s relevant, and how we can help customers bringing the SAP world together with the more modern side of the application house for customers, and so I think it’s primarily tailored towards that audience.
Shimel: Cool. More information on this will be available on DevOps.com under our webinar section. David, I look forward to that webinar. I want to thank you for joining us on TechStrong TV today. Where in Spain are you based, by the way?
Lees: Near Málaga on the South Coast, so a nice little town.
Shimel: Oh, it’s terrible, terrible, terrible.
Lees: Like yourself in Florida.
Shimel: Yeah, I was gonna say, in Boca Raton I really can’t complain either. But anyway, hey, thanks for joining us, look forward to the webinar in October, and keep up the great work.
Lees: Great. Well, thanks a lot, Alan. I look forward to coming back on, talking to you again in the future.
Shimel: Absolutely. David Lees, Basis Technologies, SAP and DevOps. It’s real. It’s something you need to be thinking about, especially if your organization is already an SAP shop. This is Alan Shimel. We’ll be right back with our next guest here on TechStrong TV.