SAP Commerce and The Crystal Ball
The project we were about to take on was a migration from Intershop to SAP Commerce and was already being started by another partner offering services in this area.
written by Alexa Boga (Service Delivery Manager) in the April 2022 issue of Today Software Magazine.
The summer of 2017 brought us on a business trip to a beautiful part of Austria, especially sought after in winter by snow sports enthusiasts. Having passed the first challenge of finding our future client's offices, we quickly got into technical discussions.
The project we were about to take on was a migration from Intershop to SAP Commerce and was already being started by another partner offering services in this area. The migration was at a fairly advanced stage, but it was by no means close to completion. It was going to take another year to replace the old platform fully.
After two weeks of technical discussions and planning between the architect at Accesa and the client's project managers, we concluded that we were looking at one of the most significant and most complex SAP Commerce projects we had ever seen - an application available in dozens of countries on every continent that would provide an easy e-commerce experience for millions of users.
The First Challenge - The Team
At that time, we didn't have an SAP Commerce team in the company. We were going to build it from scratch. We were lucky enough to partner with an external team who helped us take on the first project tasks to stick to the plan until the team took shape.
Once the team's foundation was in place, the question of sustainable development arose. Together with the recruitment department, we estimated the size of the pool of candidates with SAP Commerce development experience in Cluj and realised that without our training mechanism, it would be complicated to grow.
Thus "Hybris Academy" was born, an intensive learning program set up together with experienced colleagues, which helps us to train future developers on the platform. The first group only came through well at the end of a Java internship in the summer of 2018, and four months later, the project had just gained four juniors. Since then, we repeat the experience at least once a year, depending on the candidates we find.
The challenges were and are in finding the right candidate profiles for a sustainable investment:
Excellent theoretical background in Java and SpringFramework
Excellent understanding of the principles of web application operation, especially when it comes to performance and security
High tolerance for complexity
The rigour and patience to invest about two years (that's what we estimate the learning curve to be) before some sense of satisfaction begins to emerge from the in-depth understanding of the elegance of the delivered solutions
The Second Challenge - The Platform
SAP Commerce is an e-commerce platform. Its foundations were laid in 1997 in Switzerland under the company Hybris, from which it also took the platform name. In 2013 it was acquired by SAP, and over the years, it has built up e-commerce-specific functionality as it gained ground in the industry over traditional commerce.
SAP Commerce is based on a suite of modular web applications built with open source technologies such as Java, SpringFramework, SOLR, Quartz, Angular, ZK, Tomcat and many other Apache utilities.
The advantages of adopting this platform include:
Versatility and support for B2B and B2C models
Ability to address end customers across multiple channels consistently
Tailoring and personalising the buying experience according to customer typologies or segments
The ability to maintain web content in real-time without requiring reinstallations of new versions
The complexity of the platform comes from the way these technologies are combined to address industry-specific needs most effectively:
The platform's architecture requires excellent technical training of the contributors to the development, regardless of their level of seniority. As the platform is constantly being extended and improved by SAP in terms of technology and industry-specific functionality, there is a constant need to adapt to the latest stable releases. This adaptation reinforces the need for continuous learning and close collaboration between team members.
The Third Challenge - Delivery
"We have team, we have value!" From this point, the actual heavy lifting begins - delivering within agreed parameters - time, quality, budget and especially on "Black Friday" to withstand the frantic onslaught.
The client has made a significant investment in migrating to SAP Commerce, the platform is neither cheap, nor simple, and they want to see the fruits of their investment. Moreover, the team is new, and its members still need time to get to know each other better.
We are entering the phases of a natural process of forging a team with the well-known formation, rebirth, norming and performance, and operation re-initiated each time a member joins or leaves the team.
While building a functional team, we also need to cultivate those non-technical skills specific to consultancy - negotiation, influencing and conflict management techniques. In parallel, we work on optimising the process of delivering planned tasks using Scrum and Kanban methodologies.
The delivery process is geographically and culturally distributed, with teams in several European countries collaborating at different stages of the process to develop new functionality continuously. This process is refined with each release, looking at what went well and what can be optimised.
Each new release is the result of effective collaboration between the teams; and this collaboration comes from the professional maturity of the members and their ownership of the deliverables. This ownership has always come both for success and failure. If success is a cause for celebration, failure is one of the best reasons for analysis and learning, and we've learned a lot of side by side with the client and the teams we work with.
The Ultimate Challenge – Continuity
Five years later, 50 colleagues contribute daily to the project's ongoing development in collaboration with dozens of other client professionals under the umbrella of "One Team". Of course, more colleagues have left their mark on the project during all this time, but the project culture and team spirit built on a stable skeleton has remained constant.
Continuity is not to be confused with inertia. Some projects run on inertia without a constant effort to keep the momentum going, but this is not the case in these SAP Commerce projects.
In e-commerce projects, there is a continuous need to identify and implement technical and functional optimisations in step with or ahead of the competition.
Professional development has proven to be the most effective mechanism for maintaining the quality standards promised to the client and the motivation of colleagues. This professional development is individually assumed and planned so that each key position in the project has a new generation in training.