Why It’s Time to Rethink Our Approach to SAP Monitoring
SAP, an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, was born in the 1970s — a decade that also saw the development of Unix, the first microprocessor, and the first email. Since then, SAP has become the vendor of choice to support some of the world’s most critical and deeply integrated applications. For many organizations, SAP defines the foundational processes that support business operations. And in the nearly 50 years since its inception, we’ve managed well enough with monitoring the performance of those mission-critical workloads.
So why am I making the case for a new way to monitor SAP? And why now?
Well, for starters, times have changed. Today, IT organizations monitor and measure increasingly complex environments. There’s been an explosion of data generated by the rise of cloud, microservices, continuous delivery, and of course SAP environments. So far, traditional SAP monitoring tools have only been able to make sense of the data generated by SAP environments — leading to slow root cause analysis and difficulty correlating issues to the end user’s experience or the business. Yet SAP is at the heart of how many businesses digitally operate, so building resiliency into your SAP landscape has never been more important.
Troubleshooting in SAP has always lacked certain capabilities, but what historically felt like “just the cost of doing business” now costs too much in this cloud-first world, where the application is the business, and where if SAP performance suffers, the business suffers. It’s time to look with a critical eye at the monitoring challenges we’ve grown so accustomed to tackling over the years, and how SAP monitoring must evolve to solve them.
The Problem with Monitoring SAP
What happens if a user encounters a problem in an SAP system?
In most cases, you would try to recreate the issue with an SAP Basis team watching and tracing the cause of the issue in real time. Another option would be to sort through any short dumps or system logs, correlating them together to trace the problem down. The final option would be to hope SAP’s lifecycle management tool, Solution Manager (SolMan), captured the issue.
The problem is, all of these activities are time-consuming and extremely expensive. And that’s a major challenge for technologists who want to stay ahead of performance issues within the application environment. What’s more, ignoring issues within the SAP environment has the potential to prove costly for businesses. One of the key goals you’re trying to achieve with SAP is operational excellence — to have your digital infrastructure run as seamlessly as possible to support the needs of your customers and users, thus maximizing profits. Besides the dollar cost of downtime, also consider that the loss of productivity can be multiplied by how many users are using your SAP system.
And what about those organizations undergoing digital transformation, moving their on-prem workloads to the cloud or their legacy SAP system to S/4HANA? HANA is the future of SAP, but if you look at the landscape today, it’s still predominantly SAP ECC — which is written in ABAP code. Until Cisco AppDynamics introduced its next-gen SAP performance management solution last year, there was no toolset capable of monitoring ABAP. In addition, SolMan can only give you the basic performance metrics of non-SAP systems and it has no functionality to follow a business process beyond an SAP system, making it impossible to talk to external systems.
So, without that visibility, how do you quickly find the root cause of issues? SAP Basis teams spend a lot of time setting static thresholds in SolMan, but then find themselves in alert storms when it’s turned on. But how do they know which alerts are important?
In my experience working with enterprise IT teams, SAP migrations can be multi-year, multi-million dollar initiatives. The process touches so many business-critical transactions (SAP data shows that 77% of all worldwide business transactions touch an SAP system), that the whole idea can be very daunting. But it doesn’t have to be, when you extend today’s innovations in performance monitoring to SAP applications.
Monitoring SAP the Right Way
Today we have the monitoring capabilities to empower SAP and IT teams in four critical areas of operational improvement:
1. Be Proactive
When so many business systems rely on each other, and one system’s failure can have such far-reaching effects, SAP monitoring can’t be a reactive process — it has to happen in real-time.
Monitoring solutions of today and tomorrow must be capable of ingesting large volumes of data from across complex business environments, then deciphering meaning from it with the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Going forward, instead of suffering endless alert storms, we can leverage AI to proactively evaluate transaction health as well as address emergent issues as they arise.
This proactive approach is especially important when migrating to S/4HANA or to the cloud — and not just to make the process less daunting. I recently worked with a global automotive company on moving its company-wide procurement system, used by more than 400,000 global suppliers, to HANA. For the system to remain available to end users, the team needed to understand their applications’ health throughout the migration — before, during and after. With continuous insights into how end users used the system and how new releases impacted their experience, the team was able not only to de-risk the migration project, but accelerate it.
2. Get Deep and Wide Visibility
If SAP environments play such a significant part of your application landscape, then you need to be able to see all of your environments — whether they’re on-premise, hybrid cloud or cloud-only — right down to the line of SAP code. This level of specificity makes troubleshooting much easier and creates more stability within your application environment, enhancing your ability to reliably meet IT, business and customer expectations.
SolMan has its place, as it is a lifecycle management tool and is required for upgrades and other maintenance activities. However, it does not give you a clear understanding of your complete production environment and it has no functionality for end-to-end monitoring. So the idea isn’t to supplant it, but rather complement it with full-stack observability into your heterogeneous IT landscape — including both SAP and non-SAP applications. This way, you can quickly understand upstream service dependencies (third-party APIs, endpoints, etc.) and application health across these services, whether you have control of them or not.
3. Leverage Business Intelligence
Context changes everything — it dictates which performance problems to focus efforts on first. With SAP at the heart of business operations, it makes sense to put business performance problems first.
IT teams looking for a modern approach to SAP monitoring should focus on the solution that provides insight into SAP health alongside the health of your business, by monitoring critical business KPIs (like transactions and user journeys) and operations (like Order to Cash and Procure to Pay). This makes it possible to quantify the business impact of technical issues, to prioritize remediation based on that impact and to better understand the processes that drive the business forward and protect revenue.
4. Consolidate Our Tools
The above insights are critical to SAP Basis teams, of course, but no use in a silo. Now it’s critical to derive insights that can be used by the wider IT organization and beyond. Across development, ops, and SAP Basis teams, this shared understanding reduces MTTR and the blame game. Between IT and other business units, it clarifies where to deploy the resources needed to deliver excellent end-user experiences.
Rather than try to correlate data from disparate tools, IT teams can consolidate their tools into a comprehensive monitoring solution that delivers a single source of truth for business health and helps highlight the impact of application performance to line-of-business leaders and company executives. The solution should also support all languages (Java, .NET, ABAP, etc) used to help discover and visualize all SAP components and their dependencies in real-time.
A global athletic retailer I know was monitoring SAP workloads within one team and non-SAP within another. Without shared data, it was extremely difficult to identify the root cause of performance problems. Addressing this with end-to-end visibility reduced the frequency and duration of the retailer’s outage events, resulting in millions in annual savings and improved developer productivity.
In a nutshell, modern SAP monitoring is about gaining the insight you need to better align SAP with the business. It’s much easier to make decisions that drive the experiences end-users expect when guided by business performance as the north star.
While tech stacks grow more complex with each day, the goals of your business remain simple: Serve your customers and protect your bottom line. SAP monitoring strategies must evolve to do exactly that without sacrificing the flexibility or control of your IT environment.