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Industry expertise is high on the executives´ wish list

Avoiding the consultants´ bench is a key concern for many consultants nowadays. Despite a very good utilization throughout the SAP world at the moment many SAP experts are asking themselves how they could make sure that they will stay successful in the future. One answer to that question is quite obvious: industry expertise. Again and again industry-specific know-how is named as the top-priority in all the C-level surveys with questions about what knowledge is expected from consultants.

Despite the fact that a huge percentage of SAP experts already possesses these skills it is still a challenge for starters in the SAP world how to get such knowledge if they have not worked in a specific industry segment before.

I will try to outline a feasible approach based on my own experiences. I have been a HR architect working for different industries before taking over the responsibility as a strategic architect for the public sector where I had quite a solid background. The challenge within the different industries was always the same: Although HR is a cross-industry solution you need to have a deeper understanding of the industry processes in order to be successful and to be on an equal footing with your project team.

Some recommendations

Let us assume that you are a technical consultant and that your next big project will be one for a healthcare provider. As you have up to now worked for manufacturing companies mainly your knowledge about healthcare is very limited. Therefore you need to get an overview from the different sources available.

 

1. Work out the urgent topic from different sources and enumerate four key challenges and trends.

The industry areas on the BPX Community site are a very good starting point. In the Getting Started with Healthcare on the healthcare site you get a comprehensive overview.  It is essential that you answer the question: What are the four most important challenges and trends in this industry?

The next steps would be to broaden the picture. Use Wikipedia articles with numerous links and information. Surf through the links provided in the article about healthcare or another industry and double-check whether the trends and challenges you have identified are also included there. It is important to use material from different sources (industry associations, trade unions, consulting companies, government) in order to build up the big picture and to get a feeling for the actors in the industry.

2. Ask your neighbours and conduct a reality check

Thought leaders very often have a different view from their industry as the front-line worker working in the enterprises and institutions. Therefore it is very helpful if you complement the information you gathered already with information from the frontline. A good place to find an expert is your neighbourhood. By just asking around at my neighbours and my friends I identified a manager in a health insurance company and a claims manager who were so kind to answer my questions and to whom I could be very open.

3. Use social networks

Social networks offer an additional opportunity as you can find your virtual neighbours there. Use the industry groups or the opportunities to search for members with a special industry experience. If you ask people on Networks like Linkedin or Xing some questions about their industry it is very likely that you will get a friendly and often very helpful feedback. (Just imagine that someone asks you some questions about your work as a SAP expert).

4. Learn the industry language and standards

Every industry has its specific language, vocabulary and standards. Try to sum up the results of your discussions so far and learn the new vocabulary. When you work as a consultant in a project experts in specific industry expect certain knowledge as a prerequisite. Just an example: If you work as a technical consultant in a healthcare project and you know nothing about SAP at the International HL7 Interoperability Conference it would not be very helpful to put it nicely.

5. Ask your industry principal

If you are working in a consulting company you will also be able to read through an industry fact book and whitepaper in your intranet. Only now you are ready to contact your industry principal to get more information about the industry. The reason is very simple. Despite his profound industry experience the colleague has a similar training like you and your thinking is therefore more in sync with yours. But think of your normal life: Which person is more interesting for a conversation: someone who has the same thoughts as you yourself or someone who has different but well informed ides? By bringing in fresh thoughts from your discussions with other people you will built up your reputation as an interesting person to talk with in your company also.

6. Match your project with the big picture and ask questions

Now the preparation for the concrete task in the new project could start. But do not loose sight of the overview you have created. Ask yourself what the connection of your project to the overall trends is. You could also use the opportunities to speak with the project members in the lunch breaks about their views on the industry.

7. Make yourself familiar with the industry solution

The SAP industry solution answers many specific requirements of the industry. Therefore it would be great if you can gather an overview about these applications. If you are a consultant for a generic solution it will sometime be difficult to convince your manager to send you on a training course for an industry solution. But also here the SAP community network and the events offer unique opportunities for you to deepen your knowledge.

7. One project in an industry is just the start: Engage yourself in the BPX     community permanently

The more you get engaged in the project the more you would be able also to create content of interest for other community members on the BPX community. By following the discussions you will not only increase your knowledge but you will also be able to establish your reputation as an industry expert over the time.  

In order to avoid any misunderstandings: You will not be an expert after just one short project. But without the activities described above you could also stay a technical expert who has done some work for a healthcare customer but who has no clear view on this industry.

Moreover in order to stay up-to-date in an industry you have to go through the different steps (1-7) again and again.

It is always a bit challenging to start in an industry as a newcomer if you have no experiences beforehand. But all the work to do a proper preparation which is needed is worth the price as one thing is for sure: Industry expertise will stay one the wish-list of the project owners in the future.

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4 Comments

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  1. Anbazhagan Sam Venkatesan
    Dear Mr. Bernhard,

    It is a real issue you have touched upon and the suggestions are very valuable.

    A few additions may be in place, I feel.

    Every company has their websites. For example in the mining sector, BHP Billiton,ALCOA and such other companies are exemplary in the sector. Visiting their websites would provide greater insight into how the issues are managed and what are their concerns.

    Every industrial sector has its association. For instance mining has the International Council for Mining and Metals, (ICMM).
    Chemical industry has ‘Responsible Care’.Similarly there would be other associations.
    A visit to their websites would provide the issues to contend with.

    There are institutions for common issues.For example for quality, in India we have the Quality Council of India.By visiting such sites the consultant would be informed about the general measures being taken for promoting quality in the industry. Similarly for other issues.

    There are national and international bodies promoting working as per standards. For example, in India we have Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and internationally we have the ISO. Visit to these sites would enable a consultant to promote working as per standards and deriving the related benefits.

    There several award schemes that promote excellence. For example the European Federation Quality Model (EFQM), the National Balridge Quality Award (NBQA).they provide the aspiration to excel in performance through a structured approach. Visit to such sites would enable a consultant to know what a company may aspire for.

    Thanks and regards.

    Sam Anbazhagan

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    1. Bernhard Escherich Post author
      Dear Sam,

      thanks for your kind feedback and for your additions. Especially your hint to the Quality Council of India is very interesting for me as I was not aware of it.

      Thanks and best regards,

      Bernhard

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  2. Babu Jayendran
    I absolutely agree with you. Having spent many years in the retail space, I do believe that I will not be effective in any other industry solutions like IS Oil or Aerospace. It is very important to have domain knowledge in the specific domain to add value to the implementation. I think we are moving towards ‘Industry Specific BPXs’
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
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  3. Paul Centen
    Hi Bernhard,

    nice guidance. I like to take the opportunity to address a similar message to seniors.

    Within emerging markets there are not that much experts (this should be logical). Emerging markets might articulate a sudden increase for support. If so, cross-industry skills are supportive as well. One such market might be Financial Services in the recovery phase.

    At SAP TechEd Berlin 2008 we addressed two sessions to this expected demand. One on architecture and another business suite session: Industry Recordings of TechEd 08 Berlin are now on air (the suite one will come soon)

    Kind regards Paul

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