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Road ahead for SAP consultants

SAP consultants are not immune to the greater economy that is crashing around us. But, the question that rings in our mind all the time is – Will companies spend on SAP projects when we are in a recession like situation? If they will, we can tide over the temporary hardship. If they won’t, then some panic is probably justified.


I have been thinking about this for a good while now, and keenly following what every one else is talking about this on various online communities. Also, being a career road warrior, I meet other consultants at airports every week and this is a great topic to spend time while waiting for the boarding announcement.  


Here is the summary of what I found so far.


1. Support projects are the place to be


SAP already announced cancellations, cost cutting etc last month. My interpretation is that they are finding it hard to sell “new” licenses. But a very steady part of SAP’s revenue should be the renewal of existing licenses. For consultants, this means – there is always a safe haven in the form of maintenance projects. Flip side – it probably doesn’t pay as much as implementation projects.


2. Large scale projects that started a while ago will continue


I expect companies with big deployment plans to mostly stick with their plans. Most of these projects should be partly deployed by now, and it is probably very costly for corporations to stop midway. Flip side – there is a risk for consultants that such projects might have a level of maturity that might prompt corporations to reduce consultant workforce and try to finish with internal employees.


3. Size matters


This one went back and forth between me and several people, including an exchange of ideas with Jon Reed here on SDN. Majority of the people I spoke to have the idea that more and more companies will give more business to the big Tier 1 companies, since the bigger companies are percieved as a better insurance against risk. This would probably lead to more hiring at these compnies. Flip side – it probably wont pay you like an independent gig.


4. Two skills are better than one


This is true in good markets too, but especially true now. I will also try to make a case that functional guys with some ABAP programming (enough to code a small BAdI maybe) might find life a lot better now. Functional guys with multiple modules also seem to be in hot demand – like SD/MM, SD/FI, MM/PP etc. Traditional programming combinations like BW/ABAP seems to have become pretty common place now to make a difference now. Flip side: if you already did not pick up two skills by now, not much you can do in short term I guess


5. Web based solutions rock


Everyone I spoke to reiterated this in diferent flavors. Internet is the king – and no one is cutting down big time on web based projects. One guy gave me an example where his client laid off employees, but continued a web based CRM project with increased budgets. While I hate people losing jobs, I guess I can see the company’s logic in moving more and more stuff online and automated. 


Although consumer electronics might take a hit because people might delay their ipod purchase, I guess the electronics industry will still make money due to increased spending on hardware that is needed to support the expanding wprld of internet solutions.


6. Very few companies are putting money on “new” SAP stuff


New stuff includes SOA – and this disheartens me quite a bit. I am hoping that the information I got is skewed and a large number of you see it differently. This was also something I mentioned in my reply to Jon’s blog on the subject. I have spoken to several more people on this – and there is one anomaly that I found fascinating. It seems people don’t shy away from SOA per se, just that they do it only for non-SAP systems. So probably SAP based SOA solutions will also pick up some day soon.


It appears that while some are on leading edge and readily moved on to business objects, there are a lot of companies that seem content to wait for a while with existing BI before making the leap.


7. CRM and BI are dandy


Customer is king , but probably this assumes greater significance in bad times. From what I can see – from own experience and from the information from all around, I am convinced that more and more people are spending money on CRM. The much nicer UI in CRM2007 itself is probably worth the upgrade. It is also apparent that lots of BI projects are around – and my theory is that companies probably are taking a more data driven approach to decision making to reduce risk in the bad economy.


There might be other areas doing really well too – just that my own background in CRM and BI makes me follow these two areas more closely.


8. Life should be good if you have anything to do with security, risk etc


Not hard to believe I suppose. GRC, good old SAP authorizations etc should be great skills to have now. I could see a lot of C level guys commisioning projects on these areas in these times. Now might be a good time to learn GRC.


9. Get ready for even leaner onsite teams (yeah it is possible)


Those of you who have to sit through early morning and late night calls most days of your work week – it is going to get worser. Most projects of any size now work in this model, where you only have say 20 or 30% of your team onsite. This is bound to become something like 10% or even less.  But I guess we will settle into a routine again, after some kicking and screaming.


10. Industry knowledge is the biggest differentiator


Again, this is not new – just that every one I know thinks this is the most saleable “consultant thing” at the moment.  Clients will most probably hire you if you come with some experience in their industry, compared to just being a great SAP consultant.I think this plays nicely for the tier 1 companies, since most of them have a lot of industry experience to showcase.

So there you are, I think we will live after all !

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  • Thanks for the info. I am webdynpro java developer, with portal adminnistration skills. Just can you suggest me more on SOA. Where are the learning resources. Any courses to take?
    • Thanks – glad you liked it.

      You are in luck – just search for SOA here in SDN and you will get more information than you ever needed. There are terrific blgs, whitepapers etc. For classes, pls check out SAp education page on the web

  • Hi Vijay,

    Thanks for putting these together. I see that some of these already happening in my project. Can you compare the current situation to the downtime of SAP prior to 2000 ?

    • Thanks K K.

      Well, 2000 seems such a long time ago, that I almost forgot getting through that downturn. But the one thing I clearly remember is that companies took big time to outsourcing right after that. Y2K started the big flow to India, but SAP was not in the list at that time. TCS,Wipro etc didn’t even have a sizeable SAP group at that time. If memory serves me right, Satyam was the big Indian SAP house at that time.

      But once the downturn was evident – the Indian companies capitalized big time, and repurposed a lot of developers to do ABAP. In another few years, functional skills also went to India in a major fashion.

      The tier 1 guys then took notice, and opened SAP competencies in India- PW, Deloitte, KMPG etc.

  • Hello Vijay,

    Thanks for the info.
    Very nice information with fruitful thoughts! Agree with you for support projects, how about Upgrade projects across technologies in SAP?
    I believe even this area has tremondous scope?

    What is IBM thought process towards consultants not in projects?


    • Dear Vijay,
                 your blog posting was very informative and very helpful in the given situations.
                 expecting lot more articles from senior guys like you. 
    • Hi Jilan, I am not sure whether upgrades will have significant growth in this time. None of the folks I talked to seem to think a lot of companies would upgrade in a bad economy unless it is critical (like extended support nearing expiry ). Big SAP customers have inhouse teams that can do upgrades, and they might continue to do it as planned. I am not sure if this would present a big opportunity to consultants though. Of course I might be completely wrong since I only spoke to people I know and other consultants that I met and airports.

      I cannot discuss IBM’s thoughts on this site, since I am not authorized to do that. But as an individual consultant – my thought is that this would be the time to sharpen and broaden skills.

  • Thanks for the info!! I see many people saying recession is best time for CRM industry. Not sure by this what exactly they mean, do people expect more CRM project – then it means CRM consultants are in good demand now ?
    Could you clarify on this point.
    • So here is the deal on CRM – the logic is that customers won’t like to spend in bad times, and hence you need to find a way to get all possible info to make a sale. CRM helps you in closing the deal. This is the theory.

      In practice – not all companies buy this argument. I have heard sales people making a pitch that “it is the man not the machine” type of talk – meaning, a good sales guy doesn’t need a sophisticated system beyond his rolodex. I don’t agree personally to this school of thought, but salesmen are creatures of habit and hate all systems other than the ones that give them commissions 🙂

      Most often senior management is the only stakeholder who likes these systems, because it helps them in planning, monitoring etc – not the guys on the field. the challenge is to make the latter group happy.

  • Hi Vijay,

    nice summary, where I like to complement the category: Industry knowledge is the biggest differentiator.

    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

    • Thanks Paul – you make an excellent point on emerging markets.

      Maybe there is also a possibility for global consulting companies, to support this demand for architects etc by tapping into the resources in saturated markets in a global delivery model.

  • Vijay,

    Excellent summary of some key skills to be cultivating in this market downturn. I apologize for not commenting on your posting earlier, I had it marked all week but one of the biggest lessons of the downturn is: keep clients happy at all costs! Hit deadlines and then blog and comment after. 🙂

    I would say that I agree with many of your points here. I have two clarifications and one additional suggestion:

    – On support projects: yes, support projects can be a good place to make a living till new projects pick up. But you have to be careful also, because even if you are fortunate enough to be drawing a decent paycheck, some “support” projects get into that dreaded maintenance mode where you really aren’t adding to your skills. And in SAP, when you aren’t adding to your skills, you’re often falling behind. On the other hand, some support projects are more forward-thinking, such as those that are using the new RunSAP post-go-live methodology. Others are doing strategic extensions into other systems or customer bases, or even merging an acquired company. We should see some of this merger and acquisition skills need in this economy. So, what I’m saying here is not disagreement with you, but I’m saying that not all support projects are created equal.

    –  Combining two skills: I agree with this notion of combining two skills, but especially if they are related skills, such as SD and CRM, or MM and WM. Even ABAP and FI/CO can be considered related skills. But combining unrelated SAP skills is not always as effective. I often think of it like adding a core skill that is in heavier usage with an emerging skill that might be harder to find projects for but that commands a premium rate. Combining BI with MDM for example.

    – I also think that version experience is important here. Getting ERP 6.0 experience whenever possible is important these days. For two reasons: first, because knowing the migration paths to the latest functionality is helpful to client work. Second, because anything you can learn about the latest releases generally involves enhancing the user experience. And companies always want to improve the user experience and interfaces, particularly those that face customers but also key performers like salespeople. Yes, sometimes its hard to get that exposure if you don’t have a new project to work on, but SDN and BPX have quite a few demos and trial downloads and there’s even subscription-based options for those who have that investment and are feeling aggressive about self-education.

    great stuff Vijay!

    – Jon Reed –

    • Thanks Jon – excellent input as always. Special thanks for bringing up ECC 6.0. It is always good to be on cutting edge.

      Funny you mentioned that you were keeping your reply on hold to focus on some client needs – Same happened to me: I was plannig to drop you a note on this, and could not send it since I was doing some client work too !

    • You’ve really worked out the main points and summarised them beautifully (if beautiful is the right word to use in these harsh economic times!).

      I totally agree on the support projects as a safe haven. Having said that, you need to know when to jump ship and maybe spend some of your hard earned support work cash on those SAP SOA skills & courses. It’s all in the timing.

      I hope you’re right about the Web skills point. From where I stand (UK based independent SAP Web and ABAP consultant), I can certainly confirm that Web based SAP work (only had an email for a 7 month WDA contract today) is still in demand, whilst the bread-and-butter ABAP jobs seem to have died down for now. I also notice some increased XI/PI contract job offers in the UK.

      • Thanks Michael. You are right – timing is everything, and it is very difficult to get it right 🙂

        ABAP won’t die in my opinion- but a lot of it has become commoditized by offshore delivery and hence less cutting edge high paying jobs remain. There is still a niche there for sure, but only for the best of the best consultants.

        A good skill to have might be BSP development for CRM webclient. It is relatively new, and market is not saturated yet.

  • Hi Vijay,

    Great blog for the consultants in this period.
    Its very true that learning more than one skill is becomes essential.

    I am a SAP EP consultant with Web Dynpro Development experience.Can suggest me any related skill that I could learn.


    • Glad you found it useful, Indranil.

      I think you have a very useful combination of skills with EP and WD. A complimentary skill might be BSP, especially BSP_WD used in CRM.
      CE might also be a great add on to your skill set.


  • Hi Vijay,

    Excellent Information vijay especially at this crucial point of time in IT industry.

    Well Vijay i am a CRM consultant and for long i want to increase my skill set and as per my interest into Analytics… i plan to do BI but skeptical about the Industry demand and changing time.

    But very frankly i ask for your suggestion on my carrer enhancement paln…

    expecting lot more articles from senior guys like you…


    • The combination of CRM and analytics is an excellent one to have. I would suggest learning the new CRM online reporting, and also some excelsius dashboarding (BO).
  • Hi Vijay,

    Great analysis and very well put.  The information does help in analyzing the options and has how an SAP consultant can become become better prepared for the future.


  • There is always a visible or invisible effect of every event in today’s interconnected complex world…and definitely SAP project is not a exception ….

    But I guess that the companies will have to do with some of the mandatory things for subsistence…

    First thing is that they have to upgrade to ECC for which ever older version they are using now… so lot of upgrade project inline …

    The support work will have to be in place but there will be some cut in the strenght of the consultant working in that … and most of the work will be handled by customer’s SAP team now…

    I think that CRM will get some higher priority in compare to SRM for implementation to be inline with customer first … though it may be some narrow appraoch…

    But the happy part is that once the things are in places in economic front SAP project held up activities will be in full throtle …


  • Vijay
    Good insights for the benefit of SAP extended community who are uncertain about their careers. One of the point i want to add is to look and acquire skills in new areas such as EPM (Enterprise Performance Management) or GRC (Goverance Risk and Compliance) that are very relevant in demanding economies. Products like Business Planning and Consoldation, Profitability and Cost Management and Risk Management would be very valuable to know as there would be demand for these skill sets. I agree that functional knowledge would be most valuable and would have more demand as products would be become more easy to use

    All the best for SAP consultants


    • Muthu, thanks for your comments. I think it is logical to expect EPM,BPC and GRC to pick up some steam. Of this, I am very curious to see how the “battle” pan out between SAP’s products and other products like Hyperion, TM1 etc.
  • Hi Vijay,

    To the point “CRM and BI are dandy”: I like your comment on the fact that in an economic downturn customers are taking a more data driven approach. This statement is a confirmation of what we have done so far and also what we plan with the upcoming release…
    Now what is your opinion on the following: in the current situation, would customers use sophisticated tools for data mining or will they prefer to stick to conventional reporting?

    • Hi Krassimira,

      Glad you liked it. Now on your specific question – I have seen two things happen. Clients who have had BI for a while, seem to delve big time into data mining – typically in retail, Consume products, financial systems etc.

      However, for people who have stuck with some basic reporting – I have not seen any big push for mining. It seems like a paradox to me, but again – I am talking with a small sample as reference. I will definitely ask around a bit more and post here if I find other trends.


  • Hi Vijay–Congrates for posting such useful info
    Can you Please suggest something for me–currently having Security and Virsa admin skills with outline of basis administration.Where to look next?
    • Security has a lot of sub-branches where you can specialize these days. Like Security for services, Access control engine in CRM etc. Improving your knowledge in basis is also a great idea – in lean times, you might be able to take advantage of the need for multi-skilled people.
  • Interesting thoughts, but I am yet to see any proof for the oft repeated “CRM & BI would do better”. Is there any data which shows CRM or BI licenses selling more or more projects starting in these 2 areas compared to others?

    Also I think SOA (terms which are used a lot in a fuzzy way, without any clarity on business benefits) will be put to real test.

    SOA what?

    • Anything you can do that will increase a company’s ROI is going to be huge right now – especially if you can do it with existing systems and small costs.

      I think that ideas like SOA will get the chance now to prove that they can help a customer get more out of their SAP investment, and possibly even reduce overall complexity and wasted costs.

  • Hi Vijay,

    Nice Blog !
    I am also an IBMer & very much agree to your view point of multi skills & Industry experience.I have worked on client site in Implementation projects.Presonally realized that Client appreciates if we understand his industury well & share our experiences & best practices.This really aids in smoother mapping and acceptability os the proposed solution.

  • Hi Vijay,

        The points you have mentioned in this blog truly reflects current market situation and also shows the road ahead for consultants in this business.

    I myself an ABAP consultant currently working on Business Objects, and I don’t have prior BI experience and now am in a dilemma whether I should get equipped with BI to face the future……