Monday, March 28, 2011

Embarking on a New Adventure

As many know I have been contracting with a local company for the last 3 ½ years working on their custom Visual FoxPro application(s). This system is a beast! It was started around 1992 and worked on by many developers with various different skill sets and levels. So as you can imagine it is a nice big ball of spaghetti.

I was brought in because of my understanding of Client-Server development. At the time, my experience was with SQL Server and this client chose Oracle. In the last 3+ years I have grown very fond of Oracle but it has been a difficult battle and we had many rocky periods.

About 2 years ago management realized that in order to compete in their market they needed software that worked correctly every day. They also needed software that was stable and could be easily enhanced to meet the expanding business needs without high risk. They took quite a while to inventory the existing system and evaluate many options. The final decision was made… they were moving to SAP.

It was not my position to judge if this was a wise choice or not. I did, however, realize that the existing code base was not going to work long term. When you have to fix code every month because monthly sales numbers do not reconcile, there is a big, deep rooted problem. I was very excited that a solution was coming that would stabilize this business. Many of my team members did not have quite the positive outlook I did but I knew it would come over time. For me, the downside was that my contract would probably end after go-live since I know nothing about SAP.

I worked with the department managers, business process owners and SAP consultants to help define the requirements since the initial try didn’t yield as much detail as was needed. My role was basically to look at the code and figure out what the existing system was doing, talk to the people who use it to make sure all of the functionality was still needed, and relay this information to the BPOs and SAP Functional Consultants. Well, I must have done a pretty good job because just recently they asked me to learn SAP and become the resident expert in MM which is Materials Management. Who can pass up an offer like that?

This week I start my training with a weeklong emersion in Materials Management. It is going to be very different approaching projects from a non-customized angle. In FoxPro, we can build anything and create data sets any way, anyhow and anytime we need some data. It is not the same when you are working with a very tightly integrated solution. I think I feel like VFE users must feel when they start to build their first application. Things are easy if you do it the “VFE way” but that is not easy when you don’t know what the “VFE way” is. I know, just like our framework users, that once I get the hang of it life will be better.

I want to share my journey over the next several months with the hopes that my observations and experiences will help someone else on a similar expedition. I hope you will come along for the ride!