In this episode, Caroline Donnelly, Clare McDonald and Brian McKenna reflect on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Re:Invent partner and customer conference in Las Vegas, an initiative for getting more young women into the cyber security profession, and recent SAP and SAP user group events – in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Birmingham.
Brian notes that the Birmingham event – the UK and Ireland SAP User Group (UKISUG) conference, held annually in the Venice of the West Midlands – always has a pre-Christmas feel, especially with its attendant SUGFest party, and which this year featured Dragaoke and face painting.
After some Christmas-related chat, the team move on to the turkey, stuffing and potatoes of the episode.
AWS chief dials down the trash talk at Re:Invent 2022
In the course of her description of the keynote speech, and the reaction to it, given by AWS CEO Adam Selipsky, Caroline homes in on a certain lack of detail and clarity about how enterprise IT can make sound infrastructure, and other, investment decisions in the context of the current economic crisis.
(This is also the theme of a podcast by Cliff Saran, CW’s managing editor (technology), wherein he interviews Stewart Buchanan, from Gartner’s CIO team).
Caroline recounts how Computer Weekly covered AWS Re:Invent with a pincer movement – Caroline, remotely, from London and Aaron Tan, our executive editor for APAC, in Las Vegas. It was Caroline’s 10th Re:Invent.
She notes that as well as the usual deluge of product announcements around infrastructure, the supplier is creating a messaging platform for public sector and private sector enterprises. So, it seems that AWS is quietly building out that side of its business.
She also notes that, under Selipsky’s stewardship there is less trash talking about competitors, such as Oracle.
AWS’s CEO did, however, raise eyebrows with his basic admonition that enterprises should be looking to do more, not less, in the cloud during these times of economic uncertainty.
In the keynote, he said: “In times of uncertainty, it can be tempting to cut back and slow down, but when it comes to cloud, many of our customers know that they should be leaning in precisely because of economic uncertainty. The cloud is more cost-effective and many customers are saving 30% or more.”
Caroline relates that industry commentators have complained about a lack of clarity and detail as to how customers can be gaining cost benefits from cloud technology at this time; that is precisely the sort of detail they want from coming to Re:Invent. Moreover, AWS’s most recent results do indicate a slowdown in spending, despite some high-profile customers testifying to spending more on cloud to reduce overall IT costs.
The supplier also trumpeted some sustainability plans, which Caroline puts in perspective in the podcast.
Getting girls into cyber security
Clare next talks through a story about an initiative to encourage girls into cyber careers. This is CyNam, a not-for-profit, Cheltenham-based collaborative effort that has partnered with Tesco, Raytheon, the Careers Enterprise Company and Sage, to run an event called EmPowerCyber for around 1,300 schoolgirls across 35 schools in England in Year 8 (12 to 13 years’ old).
The idea of the venture is to introduce the girls, from the south-east and north-east of England, to people who work in cyber security. They were taken to secret locations and cyber security professionals from Greggs, Waterstones, BT, Accenture, Gloucestershire University, the University of South Wales, HMRC and GCHQ took them through workshops that involved programming drones and escape rooms, among other things.
Clare comments that this sort of practical, hands-on experiential learning, conducted by people outside the students’ everyday lives, is critical for increasing diversity among technology professionals, in the long term. As Clare often says on the podcast, you can’t be what you can’t see.
A tale of two cities
Brian’s segment of the episode also has a big skills and education component.
He offers a tale of two cities: San Francisco and Birmingham; rather as David Lodge does in his masterpiece comic campus novel Changing Places (1975), which tells the tale of two academics, English and American, who swap fictional versions of the University of Berkeley and the University of Birmingham (Rummidge in the novel), in 1969.
The novel’s contrast between the cities of Esseph (SF) in the State of Euphoria (California) and the less glamorous, but perhaps more human, Rummidge stand the test of time. On the podcast, Brian, similarly, contrasts a seemingly compelling SAP vision of business user low-code/no-code development, unveiled on the West Coast of the US with the real-business reality of the toiling masses of SAP customers in the West Midlands of the UK.
Brian’s tale also takes in Las Vegas, with SAP’s TechEd developer conference, and the Californian town of San Ramon, which houses SAP’s education centre for software engineers, and which he visited as part of a group of international (not US, not German, who were catered for separately) press in mid-November.
The press conference in San Francisco was held in parallel with a pre-TechEd analyst conference in Las Vegas. The former was presided over by SAP executive board member, in charge of customer success, Scott Russell, the latter by SAP’s chief marketing officer, Julia White.
The background to the launch of the low-code/no-code “cockpit” SAP Build is, said Brian, the supplier’s vaunting of its Business Technology Platform over the past couple of years. This is a is a group of products that constitute a development environment similar to those on offer from other suppliers, such as Salesforce and Oracle NetSuite. SAP Build is aimed squarely at business users, especially those in back-office functions like finance and human resources.
It goes hand in hand with a big education drive SAP is doing, headed by chief learning officer Max Wessel. The supplier is aiming to upskill two million SAP developers by 2025, and to create around half a million new jobs related to SAP certifications, globally, the press pack was told, when visiting San Ramon.
In Vegas, Julia White summed up what SAP sees as the significance of Build: “Every company is now a technology company. There is not a single industry or [business] discipline that does not have technology at its core. That means we can’t just rely on a finite resource of professional developers. We need to find a new approach.
“Transformation is not just about moving an existing system to the cloud. IT is necessary but not sufficient to unlock business transformation. The first wave of digital transformation was driven by technology experts. But the next wave needs to be empowered by the people who create business value, who know the problems to be solved. These are the business experts, the business users.”
Two weeks later, in Birmingham, at the UKISUG conference, Paul Cooper, chair of the UK and Ireland User Group, said: “If you went to Sapphire and other events, you will have heard SAP talk a lot about its Business Technology Platform over the last 12 months.
“My understanding is that it’s a platform that should help us get more out of our data, build integrations, and at TechEd a couple of weeks ago, there were announcements about its new Low Code Capability.
“But it’s still new to me and, I’m sure, to many of you.”
On the podcast, Brian describes this as “an amusing disconnect”. The team then discusses similar supplier-customer gaps, notably, with reference to Caroline’s area of expertise, chez AWS.