SAP TechEd – Is this the SAP conference for me?

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SAP conferences are regular calendar entries in the diaries of many SAP Consultants, but what are they? and who are they best suited to?

SAP Conference

Currently in the regular annual calendar, we have: 

  • SAP Sapphire Now 
  • SAP Insider 
  • SAP TechEd 

Sapphire Now

(originally branded as “SAP’s Perennial Highly Integrated R/2-3 Exchange” in the days when R/2 and R/3 actually meant something) is a purely North American conference, usually held in Orlando in May. It tends to focus on trends in the SAP marketplace, future roadmaps and is a huge showcase for SAP partners. It’s also a great place to network.  

SAP Insider

Is similar but much more focused on individual areas. For example, the upcoming event in Orlando in November is entitled “Intelligent Customer Experience-Driven Supply Chain”. SAP Insider conferences are generally in different locations across North America and Europe. 

So what about SAP TechEd? As another edition of TechEd comes to a close for the year. let’s dive into the details to see if this is the conference for you. 

TechEd is run in three locations – North America, Europe and Asia. This year these locations are Las Vegas, Barcelona and Bangalore. So what exactly is SAP TechEd? It is really another conference from SAP offering more of the same: a chance to network with other SAP professionals, hone and refine your SAP skills and learn about the new and cool offerings from SAP and its partners. 

What are the real key differences between TechEd and Sapphire?

Sapphire is a huge SAP conference focusing on strategy, marketing, trends and lots of SAP partners all ready and willing to show you the value proposition of their offering. TechEd is different. TechEd is much more hands on – there are vast numbers of “hands on” sessions with SAP experts. All of the sessions focus on new and exciting stuff and show you, not only the direction of SAP travel, but how to do it too. You can roll your sleeves up and get involved; it is much more interactive. 

That is not to say that there is no strategy. SAP would never pass up an opportunity to speak to a few thousand SAP professionals without giving you the hard sell. The key note speech this year was given by Juergen Mueller, the SAP CTO. 

To a packed Las Vegas ballroom, housing thousands of SAP professionals, in the Venetian hotel, Juergen kicked off TechEd by defining the vision of SAP and what its priorities are (intelligent enterprise combining AI and machine learning with analytics and big data). 

You would have been forgiven at this point for thinking that the conference would be a high level strategic exercise, but you would be wrong. As soon as you attended your first session, you knew you were deep in the details. The sessions were between 30 minutes and 2-3 hours and always began with an overview of the subject, before a demo, then possibly (depending on the session) a “hands on” exercise. Further sessions are offered in “meet up lounges” where you meet SAP experts armed with white boards and pens, in small areas sitting on stools and bean bags – these are informal sessions with only a handful of people and the leaders of the sessions are extremely patient and knowledgeable. If at this point you were nervous about whether TechEd was too “techie”, then you can relax. There are plenty of functional and business people here, asking very basic questions. 

That is not to say that if you are a hard core techie, this is not for you. Oh no. There are loads of highly technical sessions and you get the feeling that some of the SAP experts like nothing more than getting deep down and technical. There are sessions on restful ABAP, building powerful conversational AI interfaces, robotic process automation – to name but a few. 

And then there are the SAP partners. At TechEd, these are much more in the technical realm – the likes of Redwood (Robotic Process Automation and Batch Scheduling), ERP-IS (state of the art seamless integrated shipping solutions) and Amazon Web Services (cloud storage and hosting). Ignore these partners at your loss! Each one will have their own stall but will also give a demonstration in the “Partner Demo Theatre”. These demos can give you a real insight into functionality not available in core SAP and are definitely worth attending. 

The “Show Floor” is where all the partners can be found. It is also where the SAP employees hang out too. Many of them have “office hours” sessions where you can ask them anything about their area of expertise. It’s not often you get exposure to these experts – most from SAP DE in Walldorf – so make use of the time wisely. 

The organisation of TechEd is slick in the extreme. Nothing is overlooked. Hotel discounts are provided, there are free water bottles for you, easy registration and even a free downloadable app (see below). The app is fabulous and I don’t think I saw any attendees not using it. With the app you can see all the sessions offered (and there are hundreds), all the speakers, the exhibitors, as well as an on-site guide and messaging between other attendees. You can also add your own notes next to each session if you wish. You can star the sessions you want to attend so as to build up a favourites list to attend. 

Preparation for TechEd is key. Don’t just turn up and see, as the amount of offerings can be really bewildering. Give some thought around what it is you are looking for, identify the sessions and then build up your agenda in advance of showing up. I identified Fiori, strategies for S/4 upgrades, and RPA as the issues which interested me and I found my agenda to be pretty full for these topics for the four days. 

Factor in some “downtime” in your agenda as you will inevitably meet new contacts to exchange ideas and problems with and this will take time. Also, you are likely to spend some time talking to some of the SAP partners about their offerings – as already mentioned, don’t shy away from this. They are not generally pushy and are always really happy to discuss their product and give demos, which can be very interesting. Downtime is also important for yourself. The week is tiring, both mentally and physically too if like me, you are combating jet lag at the same time! You are likely to get invitations for evenings out and there is also an SAP hosted “celebration” evening on the Thursday.  

Coffee throughout the day, breakfast snacks and afternoon nibbles are provided on site, as is a full lunch, all included. 

So in short, who is TechEd really aimed at?

SAP will tell you that anyone who uses their products would benefit and that is to some extent true. However, I would say that the roles which would gain the most out of TechEd would be: 

  • Development Managers 
  • Solution and Enterprise Architects 
  • Basis and Security experts 
  • Analytics experts 

Realistically, you need some technical SAP knowledge to get real benefit from the conference. This doesn’t necessarily need to be coding and system administration expertise, but you absolutely must be some kind of “System Analyst”. An SAP end user is likely to get initially keen about the offerings but very quickly may become bogged down. 

And how much does all this cost? It’s not cheap – a ticket for the Las Vegas event was almost $3000. Get your thinking cap on as to how you can convince your boss. SAP handily gives you some tips on this too, here. 

Author: Jon Simmonds – IT Architect

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