Half way through and we're still on track
So this is the big half way point in Project Topaz. It's been a week since the project was introduced to you by the business owner, Michael Eldridge (Democratising SAP CRM) and consultant, Jamie Brown (Project Topaz: the rebirth of Bluefin Solutions' SAP CRM system) and so it's time to update you on how the project is coming along.
I can confidently say that we're still on track to meet our deadline, with some parts of the project steaming ahead as they discover that after solving one issue the subsequent solutions are easier and easier to come up with.
In this blog I'll give an update on the three sections of this project, but I'll mostly focus on the mobile app as this is what I've been working on.
Firstly, the collaboration meetings with the stakeholders
Having laid out what the project was going to be about and after some initial discussions with the client, we went back to see them again to show them our work so far. What we found, as expected, was that in showing the stakeholders what we'd done and what was possible within the first week, they were keen to expand the scope of the project.
For some aspects of the project stretching out the requirements has been manageable, and allowed incorporation of new ideas, but I've found that for the mobile app we've had to put our foot down. In this first 6 week stint of app development we need the app to cover the basics, and once we have that set up we can start agreeing to more, but until that point it has been, and will continue to be, very important to manage the clients expectations; developing an app in 6 weeks is no mean feat, and we don't want them to be disappointed that it doesn't solve all their problems at once; that will come in the next iteration of the app's development...or maybe even the iteration after that!
Update on the SAP CRM system backend processes and web interface
This is the part that seems to being steaming ahead. Not a day goes by without a few cheers or celebratory actions from the guys working on this. They've made tremendous progress by:
Adding fields and rearranged layout in the SAP CRM web interface
Creating new fields in the back-end and linked them up to the newly modified front end
Adding functionality behind the new fields so that they are auto-populated in the web interface by following certain rules.
The team (Jamie and Michael) have had to do some ABAP programming - something neither of them have had experience in until recently, but after guidance from Tony, our project manager, they're beginning their journey towards being techno-functional consultants!
The impact on the other project areas
This SAP CRM adaptation is crucial to the workings to the rest of the project If the team makes even a small change, it's crucial they let the rest of us know as it can have a knock-on effect onto the other areas. While developing there have, as expected, been moments where parts of the development system have stopped working due to new changes. When this happens it affects everyone else's work and both Jamie and Mike have been very conscious of this and endeavoured to fix any errors as soon as they're noticed.
Update on the reporting front
In order for the new reporting to be set up, the reporting team (Thanos and Elliott) have had to learn a lot about what already exists, where the information is being extracted from for the current reporting and how it is accessed. They have been working on laying the ground work for their reporting tool by
Identifying existing errors and bugs and figuring out how to resolve these
Creating extractors for opportunities and leads in SAP CRM which will allow them to draw out the relevant information
Looking into how this extracted information can be turned into the final reports.
The initial hurdle was the tangle of fields and "cubes" that they've had to navigate through. Even after wading through most of this and starting to understand the system they then came across errors and bugs in the development system which affected their ability to start developing their reporting system. One such issue is that part of the development system used for the reporting, when copied back from production has been left with links to the LIVE (production) SAP CRM system. This means that while testing things out, there has been potential for editing/damaging live data. The only saving grace is that they spotted this at the right time
Update on the mobile front
Now to the part that I feel comfortable in: the mobile app development. During the 6 weeks training, we had 3 days dedicated to mobile development and that was all the exposure I'd had before this project, so it has all been an exciting new challenge and something I was keen to get to grips with, especially as mobility is taking off in a big way in the business world.
The app James and I are creating will allow the Delivery Directors (DDs) at Bluefin Solutions to view, edit and create new opportunities on the go, without having to start-up their laptops, connect to the VPN or use the web UI.
The front end is being designed as a web application, which means that the app will be able to be installed and used on any device. James has been working on this side of things, getting the app's look and feel fit for purpose and so that it seems like a native app on the iPhone (which currently is the phone used by all the DDs). Last week we sent out a first copy of the app skeleton to the DDs for feedback. We've since been working on incorporating this into the design.
While James has been doing this, I've been ABAPing - for want of a better word. I've been focusing on finding all the relevant opportunity information, where it is stored and how - a task which is easier said than done what with the sheer volume of tables in SAP CRM. Once found I've been using the relevant tables to expose the relevant information to "the outside". I've been setting up function modules that will allow data to be accessed from SAP CRM, and general communication back and forth from the app to SAP CRM. I've reached a point where almost all the functionality needed for creating, viewing and editing opportunities in SAP CRM is available. Now begins what I like to call "the big link up".
The big mobile link up
We have a working front end app and a ready to use backend system. Now comes the connection: how will these two parts communicate with each other? There are a number of options however we decided to use SAP NetWeaver Gateway. Our existing SAP CRM system had to be updated and the relevant functionality installed in order for this to be possible, but the hope is that once this connection is set up it will be able to be used by other apps to access SAP CRM. One alternative was the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP), but unlike SAP NetWeaver Gateway, this would have been far more costly, so the choice was easy - we're the new grads, we don't want to ask for too much too soon, and avoiding a large cost seemed wise.
On Friday we started trying to set up a simple connection between the parts we were both working on but we hit a wall. Parts of the SAP CRM aren't up to date enough for us to use the SAP NetWeaver Gateway Service Builder. Updating the system shouldn't be too tricky (a request was sent to the technical team) but it did set us back a day. The service builder is a design-time environment which provides a variety of tools to make setting up SAP NetWeaver Gateway easier.
James and I have had only a training session on setting up the connection in Gateway, but with the service builder it seems simple enough that even we, first-time gateway users, should be able to do this with relatively little trouble and hopefully only minimal help from our SAP NetWeaver Gateway experts here at Bluefin Solutions! Famous last words, I know.
Despite challenges and set-backs, we are storming ahead with the project. We are delighted with the progress that has been made in such a short space of time and how much we have learnt over the last three weeks. Each day brings new challenges and solutions. The end is in sight now and I personally feel <fingers crossed> that we will meet the deadline with a beautiful result and barrel more knowledge!