Throughout his 35-year career in the SAP ecosystem, Paul Hardy has experienced a career shift, two different acquisitions, and moves across two continents. But through it all, one aspect of Hardy’s career has remained—relatively—constant: ABAP.

Since first encountering the propriety SAP programming language while living in Israel in 1997, Hardy has leveraged ABAP to bolster and improve the SAP environments of Pioneer International, Hanson, and Heidelberg Cement, overseeing the technical aspects of global SAP rollouts and becoming deeply entrenched in the world of object-based programming.

While initially hired by Pioneer as a fixed-asset accountant for its UK operations in 1990, Hardy soon discovered SAP after becoming involved with an SAP R/3 implementation, representing finance team stakeholders throughout the project. Despite his financial background, Hardy quickly fell in love with the SAP ecosystem.

“I found that world so much more interesting than accounting,” Hardy told ASUG in a recent interview. “I thought, ‘I never want to go back.’”

This project jump-started Hardy’s SAP career, which has taken him to Israel, Germany, Australia, and back to the UK. Today, Hardy is an ABAP developer at Heidelberg Cement. Based in the greater Sydney area of Australia, he’s a globally recognized thought leader on ABAP and the author of ABAP to the Future, an SAP Press publication. Throughout his career, Hardy has watched the ABAP programming language evolve. He’s focused on improving the quality of ABAP, often directly collaborating with SAP to do so.

During a recent, wide-ranging conversation with ASUG, Hardy reflected on his journey through the SAP ecosystem, sharing his experiences with ABAP and his advice for other ABAP programmers.

Experiences as an ABAP Programmer

After working on Pioneer’s initial SAP R/3 implementation, Hardy traveled to Israel to work on the company’s implementation of SAP R/3, version 4.0. An SAP Finance team member, he first encountered ABAP while working with a colleague, reigniting an interest in programming he’d had since he was 14. Hardy soon learned as much as he could about the programming language.

Like many SAP projects, Pioneer’s SAP R/3 implementation necessitated a high volume of data conversions, for which the organization leveraged ABAP and custom code. Halfway through the conversions, Hardy’s colleague parted with Pioneer, and Hardy convinced his superiors to let him finish the project.

Hardy never looked back, soon beginning his career as an ABAP developer. His experience has spanned a variety of SAP projects, including Hanson Australia’s SAP R/3, version 4.5 implementation in 2000. After Hanson—which purchased Pioneer in 1999—was acquired by the German company Heidelberg Cement in 2007, Hardy helped to migrate much of the custom code in Hanson’s SAP environment in Australia to the Heidelberg Cement environment in Germany.

As Hardy recalls, Heidelberg Cement was impressed by the quality of the SAP environment he’d maintained at Hanson Australia and tasked him with copying over its code to be run in their own environment, comparing their discovery to that of someone finding “a bunch of gold bars in the cellar” of an old house they’d inherited.

Currently, Hardy is working on Heidelberg Cement’s transition to SAP S/4HANA, as the materials company leverages RISE with SAP to migrate to a private cloud instance on Microsoft Azure.

In addition, he has recently worked to develop a framework to re-write Heidelberg Cement’s business-critical applications in an object-oriented design, in a test-driven development-based manner that will improve the scalability of applications, allow for more automated regression tests, and stabilize functionality.

The Evolution of ABAP

Across his 27 years of experience working with ABAP—including seven as an SAP Mentor—Hardy has witnessed the programming language’s evolution. He’s watched as it's been leveraged in tandem with three SAP ERP platforms: SAP R/3, SAP ERP Central Component (ECC), and SAP S/4HANA.

But by his own estimation, one of the biggest changes Hardy has witnessed came in 2021, at SAP TechEd, when SAP announced it would open ABAP up to the SAP community. What was once “bespoke,” because it was a proprietary SAP product, transformed into an open-source programming language whose future “is more driven by the community than SAP,” according to Hardy. “That was a huge change, because it was always proprietary.”

Hardy also highlighted the introduction of the ABAP RESTful Application Programming Model (RAP), which further enhanced programmers’ ability to prepare for future developments instead of writing entire swaths of code at the last minute, as a game-changing moment in the ABAP development journey.

Advice to Fellow ABAP Programmers

Despite the ongoing evolution of ABAP, Hardy said that many SAP programmers can risk becoming too comfortable “doing the same thing over and over again, year after year.” As enterprises migrate to SAP S/4HANA and the cloud, particularly for those moving to SAP S/4HANA Cloud, public edition, their IT teams will need to rid their organizations’ environments of legacy custom code that limits their ability to consume innovations delivered through the cloud. Given these trends in the SAP ecosystem, Hardy noted that the future of ABAP “is going to be quite radically different than it has been in the past.”

To keep pace with these shifts, Hardy recommended that ABAP programmers take steps to prepare for the future, strongly encouraging programmers to begin using the SAP Fiori structure model as soon as possible, even if they’re still using SAP GUI and haven’t begun leveraging SAP UI5. “It’s all about futureproofing,” he said.

In that spirit, Hardy also said that doing consistent extended program check inspections and following SAP guidelines can mean that “half the battle is won before an upgrade.” He noted this practice came in handy for him recently when his organization conducted an SAP S/4HANA Readiness Check, revealing tens of thousands of lines of code that needed to be altered. But after diving into the results, Hardy found that most of the changes “were the same problem repeated over and over again,” allowing him to standardize the process of cleaning this code.

“I started off quite worried and came out quite happy,” he said, noting that there are always going to be numerous coding changes needed when transitioning from SAP ERP Central Component (ECC) to SAP S/4HANA. But because of his emphasis on futureproofing, the required alterations turned out to be less severe and limiting than expected.

Preparing for the future can help ABAP programmers manage their workloads, but Hardy also encouraged them to learn from past challenges. The first SAP implementation project he worked on, for instance, did not initially go as planned. However, his team rallied together to successfully get the environment up and working within a few months.

“In life, it’s not so much whether you succeed or fail,” he said. “It’s about how you deal with failure.”

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