The SAP Homebrew Bootcamp – How to onboard SAP newbies

Security specialists made some interesting experiments with a fresh set up Windows XP system without a firewall: How long will it take, till the Dark Side eats it alive? Well, you can do such a fun experiment on your own. Find someone who has never been in touch with SAP in his life and ‘infect’ his XING or LinkedIn profile with the magical three letters. To make it easier, add a modules name (SAP MDG, SAP MDM or SAP ERP, for example, are great). Then sit and wait. Won’t take so long, till the first job offers are incoming : no SAP in the CV history!

newbie smallThis shows how urgent (not to say desperate) companies are grazing the market for talents. Like mostly in tight markets, the demand defines the price and so people are hired for incredibly high wages, hoping that they stay long enough to get the job done. But knowing, that people coming for money are leaving for money, this might not be the smartest way and maybe the return to a very traditional method is not the worst: Cultivate your own talents.

When it comes to SAP – no matter if it’s SAP ERP, SAP MDG, SAP CRM or one of the other 1001 areas – onboarding new employees is not done within a week or by reading a good book. Even the quite expensive training SAP is offering are no carefree package. The reason is obviously the multitude of disciplines that people are confronted with, dealing the first time with SAP: It brings its own system landscape, wording, programming language, license specialties, support community, marketplace, customizing logic and a bunch of different industry solutions (not to mention fancy stuff like HANA).

The task to introduce somebody to this whole universe of subjects is not a triviality. Especially, if a company has the claim to build up players which think outside the box. Regardless if they will be solution architects, programmers or business consultants – a rough idea what’s waiting behind the next corner will be of good use in any case.

To make one thing very clear: A solid understanding of IT systems or at least the will and capability to potter at it is a must. Don’t try to teach a chimp to play Mozart!

Knowing that there’s a wide range of possible fields, we usually focus on three basic topics to create a foundation on which the employee can start building his own house of knowledge – preferably the hard way then: On the project. These three things are:

  • SAP system landscape
  • Getting in touch
  • ABAP programming

Our approach here is to give a hint in the right direction not to discuss the specific areas in details. However, feel free to ask, if you have some detailed questions.

SAP system landscape

People who never looked behind the scene of an SAP system usually don’t have a clue about the system architecture. The concept of clients and logical systems, the transport management and what it is for is obvious for an SAP-minded person. It is not for beginners.

To get in touch with the very basic ideas and technical issues, let your new colleague register to the SAP Community Network (SCN), download and install the Mini SAP. If he’s familiar with Virtual Machines or the Amazon Cloud, fine, this would be more elegant. But don’t waste time on the sideshow. The task is to have an SAP system running.

Make him google his questions first! Reading educates. If there are still questions, answer them patiently – but don’t touch his keyboard! After one or two days he’s sitting in front of his own little SAP. Depending on the quality of his work, he’ll feel somewhere between Dr. Frankenstein and Mr. Henry Higgins. However – it will be a good feeling and take some of the fear one might have in the face of SAP.

Getting in touch

Now that the playground is prepared, it’s time to enter it. Not the climbing frame first, this is for the bigger kids. The sandbox will be enough for the first days. So creating some new users in the SU01 (he should already have learned by now, that there’s a DDIC and a BCUSER and how to activate the SAP*) or making a client copy out of the SCC1 might be some interesting tasks on our way to having a look at the customizing.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, some things that seem totally clear to pros are not for newbies. So also the idea of customizing, proper documentation, local objects, and transport management should be explained first if needed.

There are tons of books and guidelines on the web, especially when it comes to the concrete customizing of modules. So there is really useful material to work along when there is a definite task. A good entry point is to play around with the Implementation Management Guide (IMG), create an own project in the SPRO_ADMIN and do some simple customizing (e.g. adding new countries or holidays). It’s nice to see, how those things take effect on the system and close another gap in the big picture.

ABAP programming

The programming is another story. Talking about men (and women, of course) who crossed the line of their 30th birthday, we’ll usually find two types of people: Those who are able to program (at least a bit) and those who are not. Sure, we are all fans of lifelong learning, but if people never got in touch with an if-else-statement in the last 30 years of their life, this has a certain reason. We don’t judge it, but it might be a waste of money, motivation and live time to deep dive into that.

For the other group, it is just a small step, to get used to ABAP. If people “speak” one language, it’s a question of diligence getting familiar with another one. What might need some special focus is the concept of internal tables, local tables, local structures, the declaration of variables and the call of functions. What is “importing” and “exporting” and from what point of view? How does the debugger work and why it is dangerous to give people debugging rights in a productive environment? Having mastered this one time, a MINI SAP, the SE38 and a pot of coffee can be very entertaining activity.

To make this clear – spending a lonely night in front of the ABAP workbench won’t make an ABAP guru of your team member. But it’s like in real life: Moving on the dance floor is usually way more promising than sitting in a corner with a Coke. In case of SAP, this means, it just helps to learn where and how data is stored, memorizing some table names and how records are processed.

Of course, many ways lead to Rome, we are well aware of that. Our approach is not to deliver the new methodology of SAP onboarding, but to show a very hands-on way to equip people with a solid basement that enables them to pull the most out their official SAP trainings and first SAP projects. We hope, you benefit from that, either as an employer or as an employee.

Christian Güth, SAP MDG, MDM, and MDQ consultant