You won’t find SAP products on the shelves of your local retailers. But wherever you shop, you’re probably benefitting from code written by their vast engineering team. In fact, the barcodes you swipe are likely stored in an SAP system, perhaps multiple times, as they made their way from a factory to a warehouse to a checkout aisle near you.
Afterall, SAP is one of the largest provider of business software in the world. The company has become so integral to how today’s businesses work that 77% of all transaction revenue touches one of their systems. And it’s not just retail. The software they build services 25 different industries—fashion, financial services, agriculture, human resources, and more.
No matter the vertical, SAP knows that the key to staying competitive is providing experiences that clients love, fast. And as clients expect more from software, SAP solutions need to rise to the challenge, expanding uptime, features, and support without compromising speed or security. To keep up with competition from all corners, stay flexible as they scale, and support their engineers by the ten-thousand, SAP chose GitHub Enterprise.
It started six years ago when a smaller engineering group at SAP asked their managers if they could use GitHub for a project. Primarily tasked with building out SAP’s infrastructure-as-a-service initiative, the team pushed for the platform as they looked for a way to build collaborative but practical workflows. Because they liked using GitHub outside of SAP—for open source contributions, personal projects, and previous jobs—the platform seemed like a natural fit for sharing code and sparking innovation. And when developers on other teams noticed how it improved productivity, they joined in.
GitHub use was beginning to spread across the organization when SAP Cloud Development Tools Manager Ingo Sauerzapf took note. He recalled, “It’s hard to buy software as a company of our size. We loved that teams got there before us, but we felt we could do even more with GitHub. Then we took the adoption under our wing, moved it forward, and made it a standard tool at SAP.”
SAP now has more than 35,000 developers in 6,000 GitHub organizations. Together, they maintain at least 155,000 repositories that serve as a centralized place for finding code, sharing documentation, and kicking off new ideas.
Beyond code, Sauerzapf leverages GitHub as a hiring tool. Young developers know GitHub from school. “They want to know they can reuse their knowledge and find a match in a company,” he observed. More broadly, Sauerzapf recognizes that potential candidates browse SAP’s GitHub profile. “They want to know what they’ll work on at SAP,” he continued, “and they’re looking for companies that embrace open source.”
Everywhere in the world SAP developers work, they use GitHub. Eighty-one percent are software developers, while the rest range from data scientists to product owners and designers. A full 95% of them use GitHub frequently to submit code, update issues, and inspect their dashboards. GitHub ranks at the top of the company’s software tools satisfaction list, and comes highly recommended across the organization.
As developers work on one platform, years of their best ideas, teachable moments, and the conversations behind them all make it to GitHub. To take advantage of the growing software community within SAP, developers are encouraged to innersource work, opening up projects to feedback and ideas from the rest of the organization.
“You can freely create as many repositories as you like and start a project,” Sauerzapf explained. “If somebody runs a satellite tool they want to connect, they can use any APIs they need. The system intentionally has the same openness that GitHub has, with exactly that same approach internally: if they have an idea, people can open a repository and just get started.”
As SAP undergoes a “cloud transformation”, GitHub has become a way for the team to bridge the gap between open and closed source projects. With more lines of code shifting from their servers to the public cloud, SAP can build right alongside the open source community. They can integrate leading open source technologies into their own, saving time building proprietary solutions. And they can start contributing code to the projects they use most.
“We’ve had an open source mindset from day one,” said Ingo. In the last five years, the results have become clear. 2017 marked the company’s first year as one of the top ten contributors to open source. More recently, they set up an open source program office. “This hasn’t been done in the past, but now many of our projects start as open source code on GitHub.com, unless they’re our IP. The benefits of engaging the community are clear: like fast fixes and new ideas in a collaborative environment.”
The shift to open source—and to technologies like Ansible, Jenkins, and more—has helped define a new way of working for SAP. Their new DevOps model values efficiency over infrastructure maintenance and best-in-breed integrations over custom tooling. The integrations, Sauerzapf noted, are key when considering new tools, especially from a DevOps standpoint. “We know we can leverage our ecosystem,” he said. “We don’t have to build our own integrations. For us, it’s also the primary criterion for choosing a tool downstream: if your app doesn’t integrate with GitHub Enterprise, it’s not an option.”
Moving development operations to the cloud has allowed the team to speed up deployments and expand their offerings. Previously, code was pulled out of a repository, compiled, packaged with an installer and put up for download somewhere on an SAP site—or even pressed onto a CD and shipped. Now, Sauerzapf’s team can work across time zones on the same source code, shipping and supporting software nearly 24/7. “All of the sudden, with tools like Terraform, Packer, Ansible, and Chef, we’re in the production line a lot more than we used to be,” Sauerzapf noted. “Teams come to us with pressing customer requests—sometimes with turnaround times of just a few hours.”
With integrations serving thousands of developers, success is tied directly to the reliability of SAP’s toolchain. Sauerzapf is deeply aware of the value of on-demand support and service-level agreements (SLAs) as a result. “With our big push to the public cloud comes the automation of infrastructure and the required tooling,” he explained. “All of these tools store their code on GitHub, making the platform the source for everything.” Integration SLAs are necessities—and GitHub Premium Support makes sure that Sauerzapf’s team is successful, no matter when they work.
Sauerzapf also stressed the value of having a dedicated service account engineer: someone deeply familiar not just with GitHub as a product, but SAP’s instance in particular, to help manage and fine-tune it. “Sometimes there are things that need to be done inside GitHub that may be very minor, but they make or break SAP and the experience of the developers in it. That’s where the service account engineer is important. With GitHub, you’re not only investing in software. You’re also investing in an ecosystem of support. And the value is clear.”
With reliable tools that fit their needs, SAP has created a flexible infrastructure that grows with the team, incorporates open source code, and builds on best practices from the open source community. “This collaborative way of building software is unstoppable. It isn’t going away—and GitHub has its place in that,” said Sauerzapf, who looks to the future as his team continues along its cloud transformation. “We can make the whole company rethink how they build software”.
Katrina Owen created Exercism, a platform to gain fluency in programming languages, to solve her own needs. Today, Exercism supports more than 50 programming languages, written and used by developers in over 200 countries.
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