Thirty Years of the CWG


We just completed the Spring 2024 Configuration Workgroup conference in New Orleans, noteworthy because of its provision of direct contact between customers, partners, and SAP’s various configuration development organizations.

Almost thirty years ago on this date we were readying to attend one of a series of monthly meetings between the SAP Variant Configurator developers – or should I say inventors? – and the founding customer members of the Configurator Workgroup’s direct forebear, the American Configurator Workgroup, revolving between Walldorf and one of the customer company’s sites; this time taking place in Massachusetts, at the offices of the Digital Equipment Corporation, during the week around May 10.

How do I remember this? Because I distinctly remember being outside with the rest of the members of the group, first waiting for, and then watching, that year’s annual eclipse, which for some reason I remember as being far more striking than the one this year.

I was the group’s secretary, and I also remember a good many of our notes from that meeting revolving around the critical topic of the strangeness, given the scale of distances involved, of the Sun and Moon having almost exactly the same diameter when seen from the Earth’s surface.

Which is indicative of the differences between those days and now. In those days SAP had just been declared by Gartner to be the leader in ERP, and the American Hi-tech companies were all rushing to be among the first to embrace it. In those days there was a much more regular, direct, almost intimate interaction between customers and SAP’s lead developers.

And in those days there was no Variant Configurator: not yet, not at all. 

Our job, as the ACWG, was to work directly with the SAP developers, and to define, with them, not only the requirements that the new Variant Configurator had to address, but also how, at the system and architecture level, it had to address them.

That’s a little bit like this year’s second day presentation on “How to Influence SAP,” but at a different order of magnitude.

Because we weren’t only learning from, and as currently and to a lesser degree working with, SAP product people on the topic of what the system does or needs to do; we were working directly with the SAP developers, to define how the system needed to work.

Thus we all became experts, not only in topics like declarative vs. procedural, but also in much more fundamental topics, like inferencing agenda processing, Pattern-matching (Rete), Truth Maintenance, and direct configuration state persistence (Dynamic Database).

Perhaps one of the main differences between now and then is that in those days the Hi-Tech companies (and many of the not quite but almost Hi-Tech companies, like Steelcase, which I represented), all had their own home-grown configurators, and some of these were recognized as among the best of the configurator breed.

Thus, perhaps, the collegial environment: the configurator developers had something to learn, not just something to tell.

Which might make me, and my memories, nothing more than a dinosaur, out of time and out of place, a last surviving relic of a long-gone age.

Or maybe not.

Maybe, in my role as partner, advising customers, or even in a hypothetical role as customer advising or deciding about my own company internally, I am obligated to understand exactly, not only why the new “best practice” for adding customer-specific functionality to configuration is to intercept and manipulate the configuration either on its way into or out of the GECODE C++ engine, but also what the implications are relative to performance, scalability, and extensibility.

And maybe I’m obligated to understand exactly how constraint propagation in that implementation of the GECODE C++ engine works, for the very same reasons.

And especially when performance, scalability, and extensibility are considered in the context of moving to the Cloud.

So maybe it’s reasonable after all to hope that one of these days, maybe even at the next conference in Dubrovnik, we’ll get, alongside the (always excellent) presentations on what’s new with AVC, CPQ, and SSC, a deep dive into how the AVC actually works.

Maybe I’m not such a dinosaur after all 😊


A bit more on those (always excellent) presentations …

If you look at the conference attendees, and especially at many of the presenters, one of the things that jumps out is a remarkable continuity, not just from this conference to that conference, but from one conference to another, over a period of many years.

These are people who have given the topic of Variant Configuration – in all of its various forms – almost the whole of their professional lives. A lot has been learned over these past thirty years. Variant Configuration has taken deep roots in the enterprise, and with the spread of those roots an enormous body of knowledge has been built up – knowledge which is absolutely essential for the many companies for whom Variant Configuration is at the core of their business.

That knowledge isn’t abstract, and it isn’t disembodied. It sits in people’s heads, and many of those heads sit on the bodies of those regular conference attendees and presenters. That means that available, at each and every one of these conferences, is a body of knowledge not to be found anywhere else in the world.

And along with that, a profound desire to share it.

Now for those who haven’t yet attended a conference, imagine a series of presentations, some about best practices, some about what’s new, many about customer experiences – except that the presenters aren’t just presenters, they’re teachers. And their presentations aren’t just content rich, they’re delivered from the heart.

One could attend virtually, and thereafter perhaps review the presentations in the special conference folders on the CWG website, but that’s nothing like being there in person, and having the chance to ask questions, and even better the chance to discuss, person to person.

And that’s not to mention the all day workshops, which I have to believe are for many the absolute conference peak.

If you want teaching, there’s no better place to get it.

So, finally (and really finally), it’s now thirty years since the CWG Conferences started, and they are still one of the highlights of my own professional life. 


Best regards,

Henk Meeter