Eursap’s Ask-the-SAP-Expert: Denys van Kempen
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 Denys van Kempen, an expert in the blossoming area of SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP). With a background in SAP HANA, Denys is a three-time SAP Press author and has been working for SAP in their Global Partner Organisation (GPO) for many years. Denys regularly shares value and content on social media platforms.
Hi Denys, thanks for agreeing to talk to us. I’d like to get a little insight into what it’s like to be Denys. Can you give a brief overview of your background for us?
With pleasure! Born and raised in the low countries, a.k.a. the Netherlands, small town in the middle of the tulip fields (Google: “bollenstreek” for an impression). Moved to Amsterdam for studies. Lived in Paris for a couple of years but long since returned. Happily married with children. Grown up, for the most part, enjoying the student life. My partner works for the local community council.
You started out life as a travel guide – that sounds worthy of some background information! Can you tell us a bit about that?
Wonderful time! I had travelled extensively as a student and kept doing so a little while longer after finishing my master’s degree in Modern History. Worked for a couple of small travel agencies who organised cultural travels around the Mediterranean (Greece, Egypt, Syria) and in Latin America (Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia). I met my future wife at Machu Picchu!
From there you went into life in IT with Microsoft and Oracle. What made you make the move into SAP?
Correct, I started my IT career on a helpdesk. Windows 95 was just out, and the internet was taking off so it was a window of opportunity. I mastered Microsoft technologies: Windows NT, IIS, SQL Server. Then, at Oracle they were looking for Windows engineers – it was still very much a UNIX world in the late nineties. I worked for Oracle France for some time and for a French software company, active in the financial space. They were bought by BusinessObjects, which in turn was acquired by SAP.
Our readers would love to hear about life working for the mothership – SAP. You’ve been there a long time now. Can you give us a peek behind the scenes of what life is like working for SAP?
Life is good! SAP is a huge company, obviously – well over 100,000 employees. Very diverse, people from all over the world and very ambitious. It’s a publicly listed company, so the numbers and the quarter-ends matter, but values are important as well. Make the world run better and improve people’s lives is the corporate purpose and there is nothing wrong with that. For those interested in SAP core values and maybe joining us, look at SAP Careers.
You have some interesting experiences in SAP, from sports analytics through to social media content manager. What exactly do those roles entail?
Most of my career I have worked in sales supporting roles, as a pre-sales consultant, marketing, and more recently partner enablement: explaining how the software works, and how it can be used. Sport analytics grew out of a BusinessObjects business intelligence project using sports as a metaphor for enterprise analytics. You have massive amounts of related and unrelated data, which you need to present in real-time, with intuitive visualisations, using mobile devices. For example, which player or team is most likely to win the match based on past and current performance? This enabled us to showcase how enterprise software could be used for data management, analytics, predictive scenarios. It was a lot of fun working on this project.
For the SAP HANA Academy, we pioneered scaling learning content by making video tutorials freely available on YouTube. Today, this is standard practice but when we started back in 2012 – we just celebrated our tenth anniversary – this was a new concept. For SAP, training was a profit centre and not everyone agreed it was a good idea to give away content for free! Besides creating video tutorials, we also tried to figure out how we could leverage social media to promote our content, which was all new at the time. These days “social media manager” is a special function inside SAP. Out with the cowboys!
You must’ve seen a lot in your time at SAP. We’ve all had “oh no” moments with SAP work. Have you had one of those days where everything goes wrong? Can you share an example?
Knock on wood… but nobody ever got seriously injured while I was fiddling with the machines. These days, sailing is smooth. Not a lot of horror stories to tell, actually. I would need to go back to the Business Objects days when I worked for a team which prepared the main stage demos during TechEd events. Even with a backup of a backup, things could always derail and get a little tense with the CEO on stage going off-script…
Let’s talk about your SAP Press career, where you have authored three books since 2018: “SAP HANA 2.0 – An Introduction” ; “SAP HANA 2.0 Certification Guide: Technology Associate Exam”; “Introducing SAP HANA Cloud”. How did this partnership with SAP Press come about?
SAP PRESS reached out to me as they were looking for authors and I volunteered. For the Academy, I had been working with SAP HANA for many years and was quite familiar with the product. I had written some articles before, but never any books so this was an interesting experience. It is hard work!
For those interested in the whole process, from acquisition to publication, I posted a blog on the SAP Community, which might be of interest https://blogs.sap.com/2020/11/17/sap-press-authors-survival-guide-how-to-get-your-book-onto-the-shelves-and-live-to-tell-the-tale/
You obviously have good expertise with the HANA database. If our readers are keen to understand more about SAP HANA, where would you recommend that they start their journey?
My colleague, Philip Mugglestone, of the SAP HANA Academy has recently created a great developer onboarding tutorial series for SAP BTP, which includes SAP HANA Cloud. The series are developer-focused and teach you all you need to know to get started to develop apps on the business technology platform. Great stuff:
There is also a video tutorial series focused on SAP HANA Cloud, which I can recommend:
Let’s talk a bit about Business Technology Platform (BTP). It seems to be the phrase on every SAP consultant’s lips at the moment. If you had to summarise what BTP is, how would you do that?
A platform to integrate and extend business applications. BTP provides business-centric services which you can use to integrate SAP applications with other cloud-based apps or with systems running on-premises. There are services that support application development and automation, data management, analytics, artificial intelligence, and many others, but all with focus on enterprise application.
SAP BTP is made up of numerous pillars. From your experience, which innovation within BTP is the most useful and exciting for SAP clients in 2023?
There is innovation in all areas, obviously. Personally, I find the technologies around artificial intelligence of particular interest with services like SAP AI Core, AI Business Services, and AI Launchpad. This is a domain I am personally less familiar with and would like to learn more about in 2023.
As an SAP technology expert, you also have a large presence on SAP.com. At last count, I noticed 348 blog posts by you – that’s an impressive body of work! What are the main topics you blog about and how frequently do you try to share value with the community?
Thanks! There are about 3 million community users with almost 300K daily visits (stats on the SAP Community home page). Posting an article is a great way to connect with community members. Over the years, I have posted many different types of articles, some technical: how to use Azure AD as identity provider for SAP BTP, for example (when you start to work with products or services of different vendors, the documentation at times is a little sketchy). I’ve also posted a few book reviews, some background articles, and certification tips and tricks, but mostly I’ve posted to promote material created by the SAP HANA Academy team. These include articles with video tutorials embedded with some extra material and references.
When you think about the SAP landscape and how it has evolved so drastically in the last ten years, can you point to a specific innovation which you get excited about and is a particular favourite?
You’re pretty busy with all you do Denys. Do you ever get any time for hobbies?
We need to make time! It is important to keep a check on work/life balance. I like to read, mostly non-fiction and biographies. I’ve just finished “The Age of The Strongman” by Gideon Rachman, a great book. My partner shares my love for classical music, so we try to go for a night at the opera from time to time (a great excuse for a weekend trip). But I also like to simply go for a stroll or a short hike. A bit of fresh air, no screen time.
You obviously had a keen interest in travel in the past – presumably you still do? Where is your dream location on earth and why?
It is truly a privilege to be able to travel and meet different people. We have all experienced lockdowns and seen how this affect us. I’m glad to be able to travel again, for business and pleasure, to any destination, not necessarily far away. I’ve enjoyed visiting distilleries in Scotland as much as visiting temples in Kyoto. I do have a slight preference for where it is warm and sunny.
Finally, the question we always 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?
Find a mentor and take a look around before starting to dig. There are so many different roles inside the SAP ecosystem you can take on, try to find something that most suits you. For those just getting started, you can get a SAP Technology Consultant Professional Certificate on Coursera. Enroll for free here: https://www.coursera.org/professional-certificates/sap-technology-consultant.
For business consultants who are already familiar with SAP applications and are interested to learn more about the latest releases, take a look at the learning journeys made available on the new training portal, SAP Learning. All certifications and training material to upskill for SAP S/4HANA can be found here.
I wish you all success with your careers!