It’s Thursday, and I ran out of the office promptly at 1.30 pm, roller bag in tow, to the Embarcadero station on Market Street to make it out to the airport. Our first week of workshops went well, given all the materials we had to scramble to put together. Our new project is about projects*. It is about improvements to a project portfolio management solution. In other words, it is about the systems tools that a large organization uses to track, prioritize, fund and manage its large inventory of capital projects year in and year out.
*So, a metaproject. ‘Meta’ means ‘a concept which is an abstraction from another concept’. Another example: metadata is data about data.
I came down with a cold and an ear infection (as I learned when I visited the doctor on Monday) over the weekend, and so: no travel to San Francisco for me this week.
These days we have all the technologies for collaborating remotely – e-mail and text messaging of course, conference calls, remote screen sharing, and so on. What is still rare to this day, in my experience, is using video conferencing. Our on-line meetings are mostly a telephone conference only, and then we use the WebEx meeting software to look at a presenter’s computer screen. And if needed, someone else can be made presenter, and share his or her screen, and so on.
I was a tired puppy today and so happy to be able to work a short day and skedaddle off to the airport to go home. I ate something on Wednesday that did not sit well with me and did not sleep well at all.
We handed over our work on the gas utility implementation project to the support team on Friday. (There is a follow-up phase in the works). It’s been 18 months, my engagement there! In the mean time – back at the SAP ranch – there has been major new software upgrades and new product offerings of SAP’s business software. So I have a lot to catch up on. Can the old dog learn new tricks? Well, the dog should at least try.
SAP’s business software applications are moving to the cloud*, with a new interface that can be deployed across desktops as well as mobile devices. SAP has an enormous installed base of its business software around the world, and the company is working very hard to make it easier for businesses to migrate their data and applications that reside on-site, on their own infrastructure, into the cloud. The value proposition is that the cost of ownership will be lower, system upgrades will be quicker, cheaper and less painful, and the users will be happier with desktop or mobile ‘apps’ much more tailored to their requirements. And so SAP is encouraging its implementation partners and consultants to get up to speed, by offering training based on the principle of ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ (MOOC). Everything is on-line, and participants look at videos and do exercises, and submit assignments on-line.
*Cloud computing is a general term for several kinds of internet-based computing that provides shared processing resources and data to computers and other devices on demand (from Wikipedia).
P.S. Donald Trump beat Marco Rubio in his home state of Florida by a wide margin, and Rubio dropped out as a result. John Kasich won in his home state of Ohio, keeping his hopes for the nomination alive (barely). The Republican race is now down to three : Trump, John Kasich and Ted Cruz. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton won all five of her primaries over Bernie Sanders, albeit with slim margins in Missouri and in Illinois.
It was Thursday again, and I got to go home. (Yay!). Today I had to host two WebEx* virtual training sessions, the second one from San Francisco airport, until I had to board my flight. Man! The free airport wi-fi was as poor as the signal I could get from my supposed 4G personal ‘Mi-fi’ device. But we struggled though it somehow.
*WebEx is an application that transmits the trainer’s computer screen to all the participants’ screens.
Another Thursday fly day has come, and it felt good to get in my little rental car with its semi-flat-or-not-who-knows tires and head out the San Francisco International airport. It was a hectic week at work, and on Tuesday there was no water and no air conditioning in the office. We had to go outside to makeshift Honeybucket construction toilets! Man!
Thursday came quickly this week since the countdown for our November Go-Live has started. There is a Go/ No-Go meeting on Monday to garner agreement from all the major stakeholders that – the data conversions had come together, end-user training had gone well enough, and that the business is ready to start using the new work management solution that we are rolling out.
I spent the last five days working with the BW and BOBJ team here to make some corrections to critical reports that we need for our go-live in November. Any SAP installation is a giant database with tens of thousands of tables and hundreds of millions of records.
BW stands for Business Warehouse, SAP’s data warehouse product. To be sure, a data warehouse is also a database, but one with pre–processed statistical data that is ready for reporting. It typically contains statistical daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly figures of costs and numbers of transactions of certain types from the raw SAP database so that reports can quickly and efficiently be produced ‘on demand’. (With no data warehouse, it will could 20 minutes or longer to produce a report. And then you find out oh! I want to select other data as well, or adjust the selections .. another 20 minutes. And so on everyday). So what is BOBJ? It stands for (SAP) Business Objects, and it is a product that runs in a web browser, and provides quick access to the business critical information available from any device and from anywhere. (How much of this product have we sold today? What percentage of the scheduled work for today is done? and so on).
I made it into SFO for another week on the project. The end of the project is in sight : we have started with what we call the ‘Dress Rehearsal’ data conversions. This is for a roll-out of the pilot solution in November, and then there is one more in December. And then we’re done! Yay!
Our training day started on time – no mean feat, since the trainer had to set up a router with a bunch of notebook computers in the room given to us, and also fretted she did not have enough printed binders – but it all worked out in the end. At the end of the day at 5 pm, I decided to stick around a little before attempting to drive up to Walnut creek on Interstate 680. It paid off : traffic was moving nicely by the time I headed north.
I had to assist with a demonstration to an important prospective client via a WebEx* conference call on Wednesday. ‘We are so happy that you can do this .. you are a known quantity‘, said a colleague, one of the organizers – which made me chuckle.
The other non-human phrase that people sometimes use at work is : do you have any bandwidth to do this? Well yes, I will find some time to do it.. I am not a radio station or a robot that broadcasts with bandwidth !
*WebEx displays your own computer screen over the internet at a remote location.
I am not in San Francisco on the project site, but I am still working on it ! In fact, our code and configuration settings for our solution made it into the production system which is called PR1. SAP installations are gigantic databases with all kinds of associated database servers, application servers, web servers and other connections. The PR1 refers to the Production system server installation, and distinguishes it from other supporting installations such as a QAS-Quality Assurance and DEV-Development installation.
Anyway, making it into the Production system after 15 months of work is a big deal. I thought : I guess we can say our solution has shipped. ‘Ship’ is a cult word in information technology. It is the ultimate deadline in a series of deadlines in delivering a new product, or a major upgrade of a product. There is money involved, and careers, and reputations – all of which could be tarnished with a missed shipping date. Ouch.
Check out this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek What is Code? issue, explaining what computer code is, and how pervasive it has become. Bloomberg says any young person starting out with a career needs to be able to at least read computer code. (Resistance is futile? We will be assimilated?). What about me? I can read the business enterprise software SAP’s proprietary ABAP language – sort of. I have made a career out of telling people what SAP can do, what its data structures look like, and how to configure its basic functions. I’ve mostly been the facilitator interpreting my clients’ business user requirements and telling the ABAP coders how to extend or adjust SAP’s prepackaged functions.
We are wrapping up the third of four cycles of testing, and have plenty of defects that the testing team had logged, to sift through and resolve. Some defects are small coding bugs; others are combinations of bad data and missing system checks that are not catching the data flaws early enough. Finally – some ‘defects’ that had been logged are not really defects, but features that never made it into the design.
Example, using a car as a metaphor for a software product : testing the factory installed brakes of a prototype car may prove that they are a little too sharp and need adjustment (a defect), but the car not having an anti-lock braking system (ABS) is not a defect if the engineering design of the braking system never called for it !
We are rallying to get ready for the third cycle of testing for the solution we are building, and feeling the pressure. On Tuesday I had a full day of meetings, and I just could not keep up with the e-mails pouring into my inbox.
So! January, February and March of 2015 have come and are how gone. It’s already April and the weeks are rushing by remorselessly as we approach the middle of the year – and our targeted system go-live date of late July. We are preparing for the third of four cycles of integration testing*, and we’re now reaching the point where we jettison some of the unfinished parts of the design. I have worked on many of these SAP implementation projects, and that is just the way it is. Time to face reality for some parts of the solution. Not going to make everything happen, not going to have perfectly cleaned up data. We are rapidly running out of time.
*I see some software bloggers say that the ubiquitous term integration testing is actually very troublesome and hard to pin down – and that it really should be called high-value testing. One can only select a very few typical scenarios to test in a limited time. I think I agree with that.
My favorite – and fancy ($50) – Logitech wireless mouse has inexplicably run into trouble with my new computer. So now I’m packing the $10 wired mouse for my work week. I’m a mouse guy : no touch screen or touch pad for me, thank you very much. And check out the ‘mouse house’ that the scientists working at the CERN Hadron Collider has set up for old retired mice. (The Large Hadron Collider is starting up again after two years). Time to smash some particles again!
I finally have my new Lenovo T440s (my work computer) more or less set up. My Firm is slowly migrating us to Google’s G-mail and other cloud-based services such as Google Drive for storage and Google Docs for office work.
It’s a massive undertaking for a Firm with 160,000 employees world-wide. Since I already had a personal G-mail account, I now have two G-mail accounts with aliases for myself : the ‘business me’ and the ‘personal me’. For each user I had to set up a separate Chrome browser profile as well. Mercifully, I could create two different desktop shortcuts and now Chrome knows which ‘me’ it is when I fire it up! I don’t have to log in every time. I have to believe some tech entrepreneur is going to make a killing soon by inventing a nifty way to do the elusive ‘single sign-on’ for people like me that log into dozens of different systems and applications every day for work.
The Wall Street Journal of Wednesday listed the following 12 ‘tech fails’ as the most annoying –
Never-ending Notifications (messages)
Battery Life Is Too Short
Updates Bog Down Old iPhones
Waiting for Android Updates
Privacy as a Luxury
Printers Are Still Terrible Die, Passwords, Die
Kickstarter Isn’t a Store
Inaccurate Fitness Biometrics
App Addiction Email: Older, but Not Wiser
I highlighted my two un-favorites in bold. Passwords is a major nuisance. I must log into the systems I work in a good 20 to 30 times a day. The automatic lock-out typically kicks in after 15 minutes, and I cannot change it. The abuse/ wrong is of e-mail is next on my list. Sending a Reply All message that says ‘Thanks’. Or not replacing the subject of a forwarded message for an e-mail that is about something completely different !
More and more robots are installed in factories (and by 2025 in homes, and offices and – the coffee shop?), says the Wall Street Journal in an article on Wednesday. Apparently the experts are still split over the question whether robots will eventually decimate or elevate the economy, since they have the potential to steal even the remaining jobs that humans are still better at. Machines have stolen our jobs ever since the Industrial Revolution, of course. (Already taken : bank tellers, travel agents, translators .. next up : neurosurgeons, taxi drivers, cooks, warehouse stockers?). Well, we will have to wait and see. A simple task such as folding laundry takes enormous computing power and dexterity, for example.