Eursap’s Ask the SAP Expert: Arwel Owen

Eursap’s Ask the SAP Expert: Arwel Owen

This month, we feature Arwel Owen, an SAP Architect with 27 years of experience managing SAP infrastructures. Arwel was an early advocate of migrating SAP to Cloud in a sustainable and cost-efficient manner. His passion for optimising SAP on Cloud to reduce carbon emissions and spend has only grown stronger since.

Hi Arwel, good to talk to you and thanks for taking the time out to chat. 

To begin with, would you be able to give our readers some background information on yourself?

I am Arwel Owen, and I’m passionate about removing carbon and cost from SAP architectures. I’m privileged to have been born and bred on the beautiful Isle of Anglesey, off the north-west coast of Wales. I currently live with my family near Liverpool.

I suppose, after 27 years ‘doing’ SAP, I’ve qualified to be called an SAP veteran. I earned my SAP apprenticeship in R/3 BASIS in the late 1990s, gradually expanding my role to a point where I led a team of SAP BASIS, Infrastructure, Security and Communications architects, covering each layer within the SAP technology stack.

Outside of SAP and work, I enjoy walking the coast, usually taking far too many sunset photos. I am the proud owner of a Commodore 64, an Amiga, and an old coin-op pub pool table. I only wish I could still play like I could when I was a teenager, before far too many hours in front of SAPGUI ruined my eyesight. Like most people, I love listening to music, albeit my musical taste hasn’t developed much beyond that first listen to AC/DC at the age of ten. My claim to fame is that I appeared in AC/DC’s Thunderstruck video and regret not negotiating an appearance fee, given its one billion plus YouTube views – I’d have retired by now.

You started your career after graduating in Software Engineering. What led you to the SAP world?

With SAP dominating my career for so many years, I find it odd that I was already a good few years into my career before I’d even heard of SAP.

My first job after graduating was as a PLC Programmer at a wonderful company called Instem, where I worked on industrial control projects in the nuclear and foods industry. To this day, my favourite ever project was the conveyor system we built at the PG Tips tea factory in Manchester, perhaps partly due to the free snooker tables in the factory canteen.

I’d already been working in IT five years before SAP reared its head. I was the Informix DBA at Kwik Save Stores at the time it decided to switch its backend systems from AS/400 to R/3 to mitigate the risk of the Y2K bug. I was seconded from my DBA role to become the BASIS guy on the SAP project, and never looked back.

Less than two years later, Kwik Save was sold to Somerfield (remember them?) and despite building the fastest R/3 system in the world at the time, overtaking Lockheed Martin (so SAP told us), the new buyers decided against using SAP and the team was disbanded. I moved on to Princes Ltd, in the Liver Building, Liverpool, and there I stayed for over 20 years.

You’ve worked for both SAP clients and SAP consulting companies. What do you think working as an SAP user and consultant gives you in terms of experience?

I believe it’s given me the benefit of being able to see things from both sides. Working for an SAP end user for the vast majority of my career helps me see things from a client’s perspective because, chances are, I’ve been through the same pain that they may now be going through.

I’d like to think that my clients feel I’m on their side because I’m always on the lookout for ways to cut their cloud spend and carbon emissions. It’s what drove me as a client, and it’s what drives me as a consultant. I try to bring to clients the things that worked for me when I was in their shoes.

As a part of your various roles over the last few years, how much have you been exposed to SAP S/4HANA?

Surprisingly little, to be honest. When I moved from Princes in 2018, S/4 was still in its infancy, and SAP’s ‘You must run HANA, it’s faster’ mantra didn’t wash when we were getting a 250ms average response time from ECC on Db2.

Since then, I’ve worked for a handful of clients running Business Suite on HANA and ASE, albeit most of my clients still run Oracle, Db2 and MSSQL. Apart from a handful of bids when I was at Atos, S/4 has so far eluded me. Perhaps it’s because I tend to work more on the Cloud Ops side of SAP.

Having worked with hundreds of SAP systems since, it’s with some pride that Princes’ ECC on Db2 is still the fastest SAP system I’ve ever seen. We did a good job there.

Was sustainability in SAP something you decided to pursue yourself or was it part of a project?

SAP sustainability wasn’t initially on my radar. Cutting the cost of running SAP on Cloud was always my goal. Princes was one of the first companies in the UK to move SAP to AWS, and we cut our SAP operations cost by around 40% in doing so. After moving across to consultancy, I found so many clients complaining that SAP on Cloud was costing them more than on-premise ever did, and I couldn’t fathom how that could be when we managed such big savings at Princes. That’s why I decided to develop a Cloud Cost Optimisation method to dovetail into SAP’s Activate methodology.

I’ve always tried to live sustainably; I will always walk or take the train rather than drive, little things like that. When my eldest daughter was married during 2021’s lockdown, my thoughts naturally started to turn towards the future and potentially grandchildren, and what kind of world they’ll inherit. That got my thinking about what could I do to make a difference beyond my own sustainability actions.

My eureka moment came when, whilst building the Cloud Cost method, I realised that what we’d been doing all those years at Princes not only cut our cloud spend, but also reduced our carbon emissions.

As soon as that that thought entered my mind, it stuck, and it’s never left. I set about figuring out how to measure carbon emissions of SAP systems. Once I’d figured that out, I moved onto figuring how to adjust my methodology to include new green software techniques to reduce not only costs, but SAP’s carbon emissions too. It’s fantastic to feel as if I’m creating something that’s on the leading edge, that no-one else is doing.

Oh, and while I was doing that, our eldest announced that I’m due to become a Taid (Grandad in Welsh) in August, providing extra impetus to accelerate this thing.

In your opinion, how is SAP approaching sustainability?

SAP appears to be getting serious about sustainability this year, which is great news. However, whilst SAP is rightly focused on delivering sustainability at the application-level through its green ledger, supply chain and procurement apps to help CFOs and CEOs measure those areas, it doesn’t yet offer the CIO much help around measuring the carbon impact of her SAP architecture. With my BASIS and infrastructure background, that’s the area I’m focused on filling whilst SAP concentrates on the application. That’s where I see my method dovetail with SAP Activate to provide an end-to-end sustainability methodology for SAP.

I’ve a vision of the CIO announcing to the Board that she’s achieved Net Zero in an SAP component by reducing its emissions through techniques such as right-sizing, location shifting and demand shaping – then announce that she’s also reduced cloud spend in the process. Win-win!

Let’s turn to your presence on social media. Many of our readers will have seen your posts on LinkedIn. Is your intention to raise awareness of sustainability in SAP?

If a LinkedIn post isn’t about AI these days, it’s about sustainability. I find many of these posts make sustainability sound too hard, with no obvious easy starting point for clients. What I try to do that’s slightly different is to provide examples of small things that I’ve actually done to reduce carbon emissions because many of those things anyone can achieve today.

I’m a firm believer that every adventure starts with a single step. When it comes to SAP sustainability, it might be switching off that Development system over a weekend because developers only work Monday to Friday; or measuring the carbon impact of optimising an SQL statement. I wanted to use LinkedIn and Twitter as platforms to highlight that the most important thing you can do is to take that first step and measure its benefit. With each new business that manages to do this, the more likely we are to create a virtuous circle that encourages more people to start their sustainability journey. That can only be good news.

Blatant plug – I recently created the “SAP NetWeaver to SAP NetZero” LinkedIn group to hold sustainability posts and to raise carbon awareness and encourage everyone to join.

It seems like there is a strong move in the marketplace to move towards the SAP Cloud services. How do you approach sustainability for SaaS?

SAP is certainly pushing hard on its cloud services, and I’ve certainly seen SuccessFactors, Concur and Ariba enter the mainstream of SAP applications in recent years. However, with BTP being rumoured as the next BASIS, that’s the cloud service that interests me most.

How to apply sustainability to SaaS apps is a challenge because SAP doesn’t yet provide the means to measure the carbon emissions of its apps. However, I learned this week that SAP has an internal project to achieve this. I can’t wait to see this!

In the meantime, there are ways we can optimise SaaS to reduce carbon. I’m developing an app that helps clients choose the lowest-carbon region from which to run an SAP SaaS app. For example, opt to host Concur from France instead of Germany, and you’ll be running from a data centre that emits circa 90% less carbon – that’s Net Zero territory.

I’m also expecting HANA Cloud to soon be certified to run on AWS Graviton processors, which promises 60% lower emissions. Things are looking up for SaaS sustainability.

Finally, a question we like to ask all our interviewees. What advice would you give to any new consultants just starting out in the industry?

Try SAP. The old guard, like me, are starting to think about retirement, leaving many an opportunity for the newbies to take our place. If you do decide on a career in SAP technology, please adopt a carbon-aware mindset to all that you do. Where you spot a gigabyte of data that’s unnecessary, archive or delete it; where there’s a poorly performing SQL statement, raise it with a developer to tune it; where you see an SAP system with clearly more app servers than it needs, switch off one at a time.

Oh, and where you find an old-time BASIS expert willing to impart their knowledge, take advantage of their offer and learn all that you can from them. A good BASIS expert is worth their weight in gold.

Finally, good luck. SAP is hard, but it’s worth it.

Arwel Owen talked to Jon Simmonds