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Hey folks. Recently I appeared on a webinar for SDN Subcriptions entitled “Best Practices in Building Your SAP Consulting Business.” The focus of this webinar was how to take your SAP career to the next level as a consultant, and how SDN Software Subscriptions (and SAP’s online communities as a whole) can play a role in this.

Though the information is relevant to any consultants who are trying to become independent consultants, achieve more success as independents, or build their consulting businesses, it has special relevance to developers or those firms who are interested in building third party add-ons to SAP. If you’re interested, you can view a replay of the webinar or download the podcast and PowerPoint on this SDN Subscriptions Webinar page.

In this blog entry, I’m going to answer all the questions directed towards me on the webinar that I wasn’t able to answer live at the event itself. As you’ll see, the topics are wide-ranging, but all of the questions do pertain to some aspect of SAP consulting “best practices.”

Before I get to those questions, I did want to briefly mention that I also recently produced a podcast for the SAP BPX Community on how BPX.com is helping SAP customers achieve compliance with REACH guidelines. I was very interested to learn from the podcast guest Kieran O’Connor about how BPX is impacting the process by which SAP customers are achieving compliance and adjusting their business processes as needed. In particular, the role of wiki-based collaboration as an approach to address compliance issues seems like an important trend. If you’re interested, you can check that podcast out here.

And one more thing before I dive into the webinar answers: I’d like to thank Amir Blich, Mario Herger, and Stephanie Jerris of SAP for their indispensable guidance on this webinar. It was a great team effort!

OK, on with the questions. If any of these questions raise follow-up inquiries of your own, feel free to post them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to respond to them quickly.

Questions to Jon Reed from the  “Best Practices in Building Your SAP Consulting Business” Webinar

Remote consulting? Does it work?

JR: Remote SAP consulting can be effective for companies. Obviously, many SAP customers have had success outsourcing entire portions of their projects, particularly development work. There are serious challenges with any kind of remote consulting, but it can be very useful.

The most useful remote consulting, in my view, involves consultants who have a longstanding relationship with an SAP customer and the understanding of how the customer likes to manage consultants and run their implementation is already understood. In that case, remote consulting can add part-time flexibility and value to both sides of the relationship. Remote consulting gets more difficult when you are trying to build a cohesive onsite team for a new implementation phase.

I believe that remote consulting is not only here to stay, but that it will grow as we continue to see the costs of commuting (gas) and hosting employees onsite continue to rise. However, the methodologies by which to manage a diverse constituency of remote consultants is still evolving. We’ve seen some innovations in wikis and other collaborative online tools, but managing remote consultants is still not an easy thing for many projects to handle.

Successful consulting always comes down to clear communication and a well-thought methodology for prioritizing tasks, and I do believe that remote SAP consulting can accomplish this. I would caution those eager to break into remote SAP consulting on an individual basis, however, that this is still a tough gig to obtain. Most remote work evolves over time from on site relationships, so many times, you need to start there. Sometimes you can combine time on site with time working remotely – look for these flex-work relationships to continue to pick up momentum.

On Certification, I am a procurement person with operational experience on SAP MM, do you think I should go ahead and pursue a certification in SAP? If not now, then what should I look forward into to go ahead with this?

JR: It is too simple to make a blanket recommendation to “get certified” without a deeper understanding of someone’s career strategy. I find that SAP certification is especially useful for experienced SAP professionals, and I find that it’s most useful when you are trying to stake your claim to a new area of SAP. Ideally, this area will be some type of emerging functionality that extends logically from your core skills.

Too often, I find that SAP consultants treat certification as a stamp of approval on what they have already done. I find it’s better to use certification as your first push into a new area, gathering knowledge that will help you transition on a project site also. So, in your case, I would probably NOT get an MM certification, but get a certification in some kind of related area that is appealing to you to break into. I don’t know enough about your background to say for sure, but two possible examples would be a Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) certification or even an SAP Warehouse Management certification. Given the increasing importance of business intelligence, even a NetWeaver BI certification could be an interesting thing to add to the mix.

Why sometimes there wont be any consulting opportunities from any clients? What is this trend?. I couldn’t understand, some times, lot of requirements come, sometimes, nothing at all. Please explain this.

I think you are dealing in a pretty broad generalization here. Remember that the experience of demand for your skills depends on several major variable factors. First: how marketable are your particular skills and how rare are they on the open market? Second: what is your level of visibility and reputation in the SAP market? How many know of your skills and availability? Third: What third party firms are you connected to, and are their end clients hiring right now?

One thing I will grant you is that SAP customers do tend to give mixed signals about how many positions they have available, and this can cause misunderstandings and a “hurry up and wait” experience sometimes as a consultant. There are numerous reasons for fluctuations in hiring from the end user perspective. Examples can include: bad economic news for a particular industry, internal leadership shuffles, and even the simple explanation of summer vacations.

One trend I CAN validate for you is that more often than not, the decision to hire SAP consultants has to be approved internally by more people than you used to see in the heyday of the 90s. These additional “approval chains” can slow down hiring, and you can also see one person who is feeling cautious about spending slow down a whole project. There is even sometimes a connection between macro-economic news, such as high gas prices, and how enthusiastic companies are about hiring and expanding their staff. We can’t let the larger SAP consulting providers off the hook here too.

Remember that it’s more useful for firms to have a bench of qualified people to call up than to be dependent on one person who may or may not take the job in question. These supply and demand tensions make it hard sometimes to keep yourself in demand on the open market. Having said all that, I do find that those with very marketable SAP skills and good project references tend to find the work they are seeking. The presentation itself gets into much more detail into the areas I think are marketable and the SAP consulting trends I am seeing.

What are the core expertise needed to get into BPX role? BI? Business & Marketing knowledge? In-depth Industry knowledge?

JR: I would answer: all of the above. To be perfectly honest, we are still figuring out the BPX role. It’s clear that the best SAP consultants always had a dash of the business process expert skill set, but now, it’s coming into focus as more companies are starting to care about hiring well-rounded consultants suited for today’s NetWeaver-driven SAP projects. We might as well acknowledge that the definition of BPX is still in flux, in terms of what skills companies are looking for today. That’s why I think the ongoing conversation going on at bpx.sap.com is so important.

Together, the community is coming up with the collective skills that will define this new type of project role. As far as what constitutes a BPXer, there are so many components to this skill set, from industry know-how to Web 2.0 savvy, from business process know-how to the latest modeling tools, that it can be confusing to know where to begin. I think the best starting point is to look at where your skills land within the SAP product line (functional or technical for example), and then figure out the areas within your own skills that are most in need of a BPX upgrade.

Start with your biggest skills gap, and work to round out your skills from there. But don’t do it in isolation. Become an active part of the BPX community, and consider attending the BPX community days that happen before Sapphire and TechEd each year. At this upcoming BPX community day at TechEd, I plan on doing an interactive session on the BPX skill set of today (and tomorrow), so perhaps I’ll see you there. We are working on a webinar on this topic for late August also – watch the BPX web site for details.

What do you think about a midmarket focus for a consulting firm versus focusing on larger SAP customers?

JR: I like just about ANY kind of focus for a consulting firm. Especially for a new consulting firm, a very sharp focus on one or two things that you do better than anyone else in the market is the key. You may find that the midmarket is a great area to focus your message. Midmarket companies can be very receptive to an alternative to large consultancies. But, don’t fall into the trap that smaller companies are less sophisticated in terms of evaluating consulting firms – they aren’t. I talked about this on the presentation, but the key to success as a consulting firm is referring out all the work that doesn’t match up well with your area of focus.

For example, if your focus is doing new SAP installations in the midmarket, and you get a call from an old client that wants you to help with a CRM upgrade on a Fortune 100 site, you might have to turn that work down. It’s strange to turn work down, and never feels quite right (though you can often refer it to a partner and share in the benefit). However, the firms that take on all kinds of work lose their focus. You want to have a very strong and clear “elevator speech” about what you do.

One example of a midmarket message would be: “We help Business Objects customers in the midmarket with their first SAP installations.” Another would be: “We help midmarket SAP customers optimize their Warehouse Management, bar coding, and RFID operations.” One thing I can tell you about the midmarket is that they can tell from a mile away if you are just repurposing services that you offer bigger companies. They tend to go with firms that will make them number one and have designed services just for them. If that sounds like you, the midmarket could be a good consulting and marketing focus.

I’ve a web site for my co. but there isn’t much there. I get too busy to work on it. What could I do to improve that part of my marketing with limited time?

JR: The first thing is: don’t bite off more than you can chew in your self-marketing. A bad looking, poorly maintained web site is actually a drawback in my opinion. Some consultants honestly need to take down their neglected and, frankly, sorry looking web sites and just stick with a profile they can maintain, such as an SDN/BPX profile and maybe a LinkedIn profile. It’s a lot easier to maintain an active profile on an established site than to keep your own site up to date. So, the first step, if you’re going to have a web site, is to keep the information up to date.

Once your web site is updated and it looks fairly decent in its appearance and organization, consider adding a blog. But don’t let the blog be about anything and everything. Make it about your specialty area. Set clear expectations for visitors in terms of how often you update it, and encourage user commenting on the blog. Even if you’re busy on a project, once you have the blog set up, you can update it once or twice a month or do shorter entries more regularly. This kind of original content is the best time you can put into marketing these days.

Then, you can tie your web site into other online activities, for example, link to your blog from your social networking profiles, and possibly tie in your blog entries on your site to the online posts you might do on SDN and elsewhere. The key is to take on a time commitment to marketing you can handle for the long term. Create a structure where steady, consistent efforts are rewarded. If you are not a fast HTML programmer, and your site starts to gain momentum, consider putting in a content management system (CMS) in the back end. This will allow your firm’s business leaders to also easily post content when needed. My site, JonERP.com, has a CMS back end, and this allows me to update it with far more content than I ever could if I had to hack through HTML all the time.

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4 Comments

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  1. Amir Blich
    It was a pleasure hosting you in this Webinar series Jon. Your guidance and advise to consultants is much appreciated.

    Looking forward to continue our collaboration and thank you for sharing the value of the SDN Subscriptions program with the community.

    Regards,
    Amir.

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  2. Raj Peddisetty
    Jon,
    Thanks for answering my question. What you said is exactly right. Why I asked this question was, I got 4 jobs in a week. (Perm and contract). But I didnt find anything for more than a month during May.

    It will be great if we can have some idea on Industry trends like ESS/MSS, Portals, how clients are following each other.

    Thanks for your great answer.

    –Raj Peddisetty.

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    1. Jon Reed Post author
      Sure Raj,

      Glad the response was helpful and glad the new opportunities came in. Funny how timing works sometimes, you just never know. That’s why you have to take a big picture view when it comes to the demand for your skills, to account for short-term fluctuations in demand or interest.

      In the webinar, I talked about some of the trends that are impacting SAP projects right now, and the emphasis on role-based Portals is definitely one we are seeing. ESS/MSS fits into something else we didn’t talk about as much, which is the important of self-service functionality over the Internet, and using such innovations to reduce back office administrivia. Therefore, ESS/MSS is also a hot area.

      When I talk about the areas that are hot in SAP, I try to go one step further and ask myself, why are they hot? This helps to illustrate if the demand is just a short term fad or more of a longer term trend. Both the areas you noted feel more like long term trends to me, for the reasons I noted.

      Good luck out there.

      – Jon Reed –

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  3. Hi Jon,

    I’m starting my SAP consultant career and looking for the skills set that needed. This article help me a lot on what’s the portion that I need to focus for my consultant.

    Cheer,

    Sorn Toomgasorn

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