Eursap’s Ask-the-SAP-Expert: Trung Van Tran

Eursap’s Ask-the-SAP-Expert: Trung Van Tran

Eursap’s “Ask the SAP Expert” is designed to give you up-to-date information on the latest SAP news, featuring key thought leaders in the SAP space, as well as regular interviews with the best SAP consultants in the business.

This month we feature Trung Van Tran, an SAP supply chain veteran with over 25 years of experience. Trung is based out of Houston, Texas and is something of a guru in B2B integrations and analytics.

Hi Trung, thanks so much for taking the time to chat.

Hi Jon, thanks for the opportunity to talk to you and engage with Eursap.

I’d like to begin by getting inside what it means to be Trung – can you give us a potted history of you and your background?

My career started after high school, when I was introduced by my sister to Cisco and Microsoft infrastructure technologies where I managed data centers for Merrill Lynch (Bank of America), and worked at Novartis Pharmaceuticals, and UPS. The IT infrastructure market became quickly saturated, so I leveraged my background to work in the B2B integration space where I worked for some of the biggest EDI-B2B providers, such as QRS, Inovis, and OpenText.

As I was working on SAP IDOC, XML, EDI, and other B2B/B2C integration projects for every conceivable industry, I became completely fascinated by a little software company based in Germany called SAP SE. I quickly realized the potential of the firm due to its ERP capabilities and I instantly saw the potential there. EDI and integration technologies opened up doors to new SAP opportunities such as XI, PI, PO, and CPI, but in every module under the SAP ecosystem and other ERP systems and middleware applications.

From there, my objective was to work exclusively for Fortune 500 companies that either ran SAP or planned on implementing an SAP Greenfield, Bluefield, or Brownfield project and were focused on true supply chain excellence. You can read more about the key differences between an SAP Greenfield and Bluefield here:

How has the pandemic affected your daily work over the last few years?

The pandemic has been catastrophic over the past three years, and every day was a struggle even after being in the industry for over 25 years. Former employers that I previously contracted with made me jump through hoops with multiple interviews even after giving me rave written reviews on LinkedIn.

Before the pandemic, I was able to pick and choose which SAP projects (companies) to work for. Since the pandemic started, we took on SAP projects that we normally wouldn’t have. Desperation? Perhaps, but the key is to stay motivated, and be persistent. Believe when no one believes in you, including your friends and family. Now, things are much better and we’re currently working on multiple SAP S/4 Greenfield implementations.

Make sure to chase your beliefs and dreams – and live your best life!

For nine years now, you have been the managing partner in “True SCM”. Can you tell us a little about that? How can True SCM help our readers’ organizations?

My role and vision for True SCM over the past decade was to build out an SAP team leveraging Lockheed Martin’s impressive “Skunk Works” methodologies that could compete with the biggest systems integrators out there. Let’s call it True SAP Skunk Works, which is my modern SAP take on that 1940s methodology. Think of an SAP dream team that could go head-to-head with the biggest systems integrators out there. We then add value by providing advisory and implementation services, but also solutions to our clients by leveraging our extensive industry knowledge and partnerships.

Our goal at True SCM is to share our broad, unbiased knowledge of SAP and integration technologies with our SAP and supply chain community which focuses on SAP best practices for free. What differentiates us is that we aren’t influenced or restricted due to our partnerships or business relationships, and we don’t monetize knowledge. Furthermore, what we bring to the table is honesty and integrity, whereas others in this space are the complete opposite. We like to speak our minds based on experience concerning SAP, B2B, and solutions that solve today’s supply chain bottlenecks, while helping individuals and organizations achieve true supply chain excellence. Our firm does this by sharing our extensive industry knowledge and providing SAP solutions to these problematic areas for our customers.

If our readers are keen to understand more about True SCM, where do you recommend they go?

There are a few good channels for learning more about True SCM. First, our website is where we blog about SAP and B2B technologies. True SCM also pushes out weekly unbiased content for the SAP, B2B, and supply chain community on our website, LinkedIn, and Medium platforms. Below you can find the links to all three sites if you’re interested in learning more.

We at True SCM are very thankful to you as a well-renowned SAP architect and blogger, Jon, for this opportunity. You’re a legend in our eyes!

You’ve been specializing in SAP work with some of the largest organizations in the world – the likes of Coca-Cola, Shell, and Sysco, with some enormous implementations. What lessons have you learned from these experiences, which might help our readers in their careers?

First and foremost, I learned when I was young from my old wrestling coach that if you want to be the best, you have to work for, and with the best people and organizations. The same applies to SAP clients who are striving for true supply chain excellence by implementing and investing in SAP technologies to give them the added systematic advantage in this new, but highly competitive world we live in.

The biggest lesson and challenges aren’t even technologically related to these enterprise SAP implementations. As an extrovert, the biggest challenge is people. What I mean by that is the psychology of humans and understanding behaviours and cultural norms. What we may view as abnormalities or simply differences and how organizations manage this component is integral to the success of any SAP project. For example, toxic people create unhealthy work environments and are detrimental to any sized firm – even if those people are the brightest star. You must get the culture right if you want a winning formula for any sized software implementation. This translates to success by enabling the building blocks of amazingly successful teams and organizations through great leadership.

In regard to SAP and how to hone your skills, it’s crucial to learn and understand other non-basic SAP modules and solutions, non-native applications, and other ERPs. Today’s landscape is highly integrated and complex in the enterprise space for multinational organizations. Many enterprise firms go through continuous mergers and acquisitions, and with that territory comes systematic and human resource challenges such as consolidation of people, processes, and technology. Understanding disparate systems and the integration of those systems has become crucial as a foundation today for digitization efforts.

Learn and read as much as you can, because that journey is an endless one, but broaden your horizons at the same time by learning about other things besides technology as that can keep you on a narrow path.

How can SAP S/4HANA help clients who are struggling in these days of constrained supply chains and long lead times?

SAP clients right now are now going through a realization phase and are assessing the benefits and value of implementing a new SAP ERP (Greenfield) or upgrading (Bluefield, hybrid Brownfield) to the latest and greatest SAP ERP S/4 HANA version. What’s beautiful about SAP S/4 HANA is that they have industry-specific S/4 ERP solutions depending on the industry that you’re in such as S/4 HANA Fashion for apparel and HANA for Oil and Gas.

The pandemic has changed the dynamics of pre-pandemic methodologies that once worked beautifully for decades (KANBAN, VMI – Vendor Managed Inventory, SBT – Scanned Based Trading, CPFR – Customer Planning Forecasting and Replenishment) but now have become unsustainable due to material/inventory shortages.

My belief and vision are that SAP applications will migrate from these older approaches to a more modern post-pandemic system which I’ve coined the YellowField approach, which is an SAP cloud consolidation and migration of all things SAP. Read more about it here:

What role does analytics play in the supply chain analysis area for SAP S/4HANA now?

Analytics is a huge play if leveraged properly where it must be actionable and can provide key insights to any business from reporting to process mapping. Furthermore, you have BW/4HANA now that provides powerful insights into any digital organization via Big Data and integration into SAP and other non-native applications.

This enables organizations to understand not only KPIs but lets them view data top-down at a more granular level; end-to-end that can provide complete visibility of their supply chain processes by leveraging existing data. The key to analytics today is working with an experienced firm like SAP or an SI that truly understands the business landscape, and different industries, and employs people with extensive real-world experience.

On the other hand, you have a ton of analytic firms that may have a great analytics platform, but employ inexperienced people who don’t understand client needs. Finally, SAP SE recently acquired Signavio, an amazing process mining firm to add to their arsenal or one-stop shop that has process mining, AI, and RPA down to a science extending their product offerings.

Business to business integration has changed dramatically over the last few years. Do you see traditional EDI as a dying technology or is it thriving and adapting to new regulatory and market requirements?

EDI is thriving more today than ever before as firms want to automate and integrate with their trading partners. B2B Integration technology has dramatically changed in terms of technology where on-premise, older middleware applications like SAP XI, PI, PO, Seeburger, and Gentran will be a thing of the past. The future for B2B or any type of integration has an emphasis on migrating to the cloud with industry leaders like SAP CPI and Boomi holding the lion’s market share in this space.

Traditional EDI is the 800-pound Gorilla in the room depending on who you talk to. Many industry experts predicted for decades and assumed that EDI would be phased out eventually by XML. That 800-pound gorilla is still on top of the empire state building beating its chest today in 2022, as the de facto standard for enterprise (and mid-market) integration in every conceivable industry – so it is still thriving, adapting, and integral as ever. Furthermore, EDI and B2B are the heart of any mid-market to enterprise organization as this is how modern organizations get paid, thus improving their accounts receivable.

As far as regulatory and market requirements, the key is understanding that EDI has been around for a few decades. It’s a tried-and-true technology and is completely SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley) compliant with full audit and acknowledgment capabilities.

You’ve written in the past about process mining and the huge potential it has for SAP clients. For those of our readers who have not heard of process mining, can you give us an overview of its capabilities?

Process mining is based on data you already have in the form of event logs. Whenever you press the disk button to “save”, an automated batch run posts documents or a value in a field is adjusted (like price, quantity, etc.) – a data trail is left, ready for you to mine it. Doing this on this scale gives you a level of insight based on actual execution. This enables you to answer questions you wouldn’t dare to ask.

All you need is some basic data, and these three prerequisites to get started with process mining.

1. Case ID – a simple unique identifier (in large organizations the same activity might happen at the same time in different places).
2. Time Stamp – when does something happen, onto at least the second!
3. Activity – what is happening, a verb+noun usually like Create Sales Order or Approve purchase order.

If you’re eager to learn more about process mining, I highly recommend SAP Signavio, especially if you’re a native SAP shop. Everyone wants insights and transparency, but you need to be able to act on it. If you’re worried about variants of execution and want to harmonize, you need to know what to harmonize! This is when process modeling and process mining come together, which I will talk about in another brief article or interview. For now, remember that SAP Signavio holistically addresses all your transformation needs – small and large, featuring process mining.

You can follow SAP Signavio and VP, Center of Excellence APJ & GC – Gia Thi Nguyen on Linkedin where I have learned and had an epiphany about the value of process mining and its complementary technologies such as AI and RPA. Follow both Signavio and Gia-Thi to learn more.

With so much focus on a composable ERP landscape now (i.e., many small apps linked together through integration instead of one monolithic ERP system), what is the future for SAP S/4HANA? In your opinion can it maintain its stranglehold on the ERP market?

The future will be the SAP T/5 HANA leveraging the YellowField approach where I recently posted an article on LinkedIn about this. It focuses on the consolidation of SAP modules and applications which shall be seamless to the end customer into a single cloud nucleus. On-premise SAP and hybrid environments will become a thing of the past as the cloud will be the only customer option. Please don’t forget that SAP S/4 has been out for roughly ten years. It’s new, but not that new. Eventually a new predecessor will be rolled out and hopefully be named T/5 HANA.

SAP technology is changing rapidly, especially so in the last five years. How do you keep yourself up to date with new technologies in this area?

It almost seems like it changes every day! I read a lot of technical and non-technical books, and material online. As my friend Mike Krawczyk says, “don’t just read about technology or one topic, learn to diversify your knowledge so that you can gain insights from other areas.” Focusing on one thing can be positive, but it narrows your thinking so it’s important to learn about other topics that can be applied to whatever industry you’re in.

You’ve been active on LinkedIn in the SAP world for some time now and have built up quite a loyal following. How has this network helped your career?

Surprisingly I have never landed a single job or project on LinkedIn. I’ve had a lot of recruiters, business partners, and people help me grow on this platform. While I do see value in LinkedIn in other areas, the platform has enabled me to reach out to amazing people globally, like yourself who have helped me tremendously on this SAP journey. From Gia-Thi Nguyen, Gagan Mohan Singh, Michal Krawczyk, Wouter Van Heddeghem, Angel Cruz Parrilla, Faisal Iqbal, James Olcott, and yourself, Jon. Thank you! All brilliant SAP or supply chain professionals who have changed the way I think and raised the bar so that I could succeed in a new but challenging supply chain world.

And what about outside of your career – any hobbies or interests?

I’m an avid fisherman and fish to decompress from my stressful contract SAP work. My passion for fishing runs so deep that at one point I wanted to scrap my SAP career and just fish tournaments and travel around the world. Additionally, I enjoy mid-century modern furniture and architecture, and hope to build a custom home soon.

Finally, our favourite question we like to ask our interviewees. What advice would you give to any new consultants just starting out in the industry? And the same question for existing SAP ECC6 consultants struggling to come to terms with SAP S/4HANA?

My advice to new consultants is to reach out to a person that you admire and look for an entry-level consulting opportunity on Linkedin. Network with those industry experts to see how you can open doors for yourself by asking the right questions. Do not chase the money as this will come in due time, but understand the current market rates or salaries. I had no one to tell me what a good rate was when I started out, so I was underpaid, over-billed.

For those consultants working on SAP ECC6, they need to realize that SAP has a support contract that will end in 2027 for ECC6 (unless they have an extended contract where their firms will eventually start upgrading to S/4 HANA). Learn the key differences, SAP modules, and functionality even for their respective industries as there is quite a bit of change that will impact how they upgrade, manage, configure, and support the newer HANA S/4. The SAP GUI has changed and there is a hard push to utilize SAP Fiori which provides a tile and more intuitive interface for business users. Additionally, organizations now heavily utilize the SAP client via Citrix versus a direct SAP client. Be prepared for these changes!

Trung Van Tran talked to Jon Simmonds