In this BPX blog entry, I’m going to summarize the key points from the second article and share a chunk of it verbatim. I will also include a couple of handy BPX skills graphics that were kindly shared with me by folks at SAP. Hopefully this will result in a breezier version that is just as useful but which can be read over a single coffee break rather than a full lunch.
Before I dig in, I want to acknowledge the continuing glum news about the economy. Without question, this has put a damper on some of the discussion of trending SAP skills that center around BPX and, in particular, BPM (Business Process Management). However, I’m of the opinion that adopting a “bunker mentality” is not helpful on a project level; it’s certainly self-defeating on an individual skills development level. Yes, I’m sure some large scale BPM initiatives have been put on hold and no doubt some future BPX job roles have been put in a holding pattern by some companies.
The great thing about BPX skills development is that it does not require large scale projects or big budgets to pursue. That’s because BPX can work “bottom up” as well as “top down.” Here is what I said about this in my article: “One of the exciting things about the SAP “Business Process Expert” skill set is that you don’t have to wait for company-wide programs to improve your skills. Another appealing aspect of Business Process Expert skills is that whether you are a hands-on SAP person or a higher level manager, there is something in this skill set that you can incorporate.”
But are BPX skills relevant? Before we pursue them, are they worth our time and investment? Let’s take a look at three common skeptical views and my response:
Skeptic #1: “BPX skills are tied to the adoption of Business Process Management (BPM) solutions, and we won’t see much of that in this slow economy. Therefore, pursuit of BPX skills can wait.”
Whether or not BPM growth stalls, out, BPX skills have relevance – now more than ever. “The key to the BPX skill set is developing skills that bridge the ‘geek gap’ between business and IT. It’s never too soon to pursue these types of skills. In a The specified item was not found. of SAP on BPX certification, Herger cited recent studies which found that almost 70 percent of IT implementations in the U.S. fell short of their desired objectives. He believed that the BPXer who can bridge the gap between IT and business can increase the success rate of IT projects. Even if some companies are stalled out on wishlist projects due to the economy, individuals who stay ahead of the curve can pursue BPX skills that will have an impact now.”
Skeptic #2: “The best SAP consultants have always been ‘BPXers,’ with a well-rounded set of consulting skills that blended hands-on SAP skills with soft skills and change management skills.”
Skeptic #3: “BPM is simply ‘business process re-engineering’ all over again. These methodologies are nothing new, and the skills needed to implement them are nothing new either.”
As I wrote: “There is some truth to the views of Skeptic #2. When you take a closer look at the ideal BPX skills profile, you see many so-called “soft” skills that the best SAP professionals have always cultivated. However, in my experience, only the top 10 percent of consultants truly excelled in these areas. Historically, most SAP consultants were able to find work with a narrow focus on SAP configuration. In today’s ERP environment, whether you are a consultant or an employee of an SAP end customer, it’s important to broaden your skills beyond a narrow technical focus. The reason? If you’re simply performing a technical role, you are more likely to have your position outsourced to somewhere else around the globe where this “commodity service” can be performed at a discount. In the past, having a well-rounded SAP skill set was a luxury to stay competitive. Now it is an imperative.”
As for skeptical view number 3: “It’s true that BPM as a methodology has a lot in common with the BPR of the ‘90s that helped the “Big Six” firms of that time to sell SAP R/3, and ERP as a whole, as the way to realize the potential of BPR. But in truth, the ERP systems of the ‘90s were not designed to be built around flexible, adaptive business processes. ERP was not technically capable of living up to the BPR hype – though the ERP systems of the ‘90s were not without merit. ‘90s-era ERP did a good job of integrating internal systems (such as payroll and financials) that traditionally did not talk to each other. The BPM methodology of today is much better aligned with the technical capabilities of today’s next-generation ERP systems. SAP’s own approach to SOA, supported by its NetWeaver architecture, will provide the basis for a ‘process centric’ and ‘BPM-friendly’ approach to ERP.”
So if we are willing to accept that SAP BPX skills have relevance and are worth pursuing, then what are those skills? What follows is strictly my own working list of characteristics and some context for each
1. Mastery of modeling tools
It would require a full article to go into all the different process modeling tools that can be used in some aspect of SAP business process management. Most of these modeling tools are still intended for technical users, but more are being geared toward business users. The most important thing is to worry less about which tool you are using and focus more on the methodologies that inform the use of these tools. Some of the tools require significant customer investment, like the Enterprise Modeling Applications from IDS Scheer (formerly called Aris); others cost nothing and are purely open source. Intalio, an open source modeling tool based on the BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation) standard is one open source tool. One of the most common (and affordable) modeling tools available for SAP customers is Visio, although Visio is not a full-fledged process modeling and simulation tool.
Soon, SAP’s new NetWeaver BPM tool will be available in general release. NetWeaver BPM (code-named Galaxy) is unique in the modeling tool world because it is designed to create executable code ready for use within an NetWeaver-based SAP system. Most modeling tools still focus on the modeling side; coding the results of that model is a separate (and not small) task. NetWeaver BPM combines these two separate processes. Another powerful modeling tool for SAP users is Visual Composer, which can be used in third party mashup scenarios and also for user-friendly GUI design.
2. “Web 2.0” skills – To distinguish Web 2.0 consumer tools from business-friendly tools, I like the term “Enterprise 2.0.” Enterprise 2.0 makes clear that not all Web 2.0 activities – such as photo-sharing and tagging – translate seamlessly to the enterprise. The exact definition of Enterprise 2.0 depends on who you ask, but I think of it simply, in terms of tools that provide real business value. For the aspiring BPXer, I see three key areas in Enterprise 2.0:
- familiarity with collaborative online tools such as wikis which have big advantages for project collaboration versus old standbys like email;
- understanding ofthe user-friendly appeal of sites like Amazon and Facebook, including an ability to incorporate better user experiences into the use of enterprise systems by employees and, in some cases, customers and suppliers;
- ability to cultivate a more “open” (but still secure!) technical environment via online information sharing, founded on a belief that the involvement of people outside the company in areas such as product research, customer dialogue and marketing “conversations” is beneficial to the company as whole.
3. “Soft skills” – Soft skills is really a cliché; it takes real work to get at the specifics of why soft skills matter. I think of soft skills as the ability to mix as effectively in the plant break room as the corporate boardroom. We don’t all need to be able to get in front of the dreaded “white board,” but we do need to be able to get across the business case for what we are currently doing. Another misconception about “soft skills” is that you are stuck with whatever skills you have in that area. That’s not the case. There are many ways to improve soft skills, whether it’s PowerPoint training, Toastmasters, or even a formal MBA program. It all depends on the specific skills that need to be improved.
4. Industry know-how – Increasingly, SAP professionals are expected to bring “industry best practice” knowledge to the table, and this will certainly apply to the BPX skill set of the future. Even technical SAP professionals can add value to their skills by understanding the specifics of their industry, such as knowing the keys to successful development on retail projects. Knowledge of SAP’s own Industry Solution functionality can play a role here as well.
5. Knowledge of the end-to-end business processes that relate to your SAP skills focus – While it remains important to have a focused SAP skill set, there’s no question that the “big picture” knowledge needed around that skill set continues to grow. Traditionally, many SAP professionals functioned in “silos” such as HR or Financials. Increasingly, SAP customers are approaching ERP in terms of end-to-end business processes such as order-to-cash. Enterprise trends such as information lifecycle management and product lifecycle management also indicate that we need to understand how our skills focus fits into a bigger picture.
6. Ability to work as the “liaison” or “missing link” with functional and/or technical teams from the opposite side of the aisle – It’s no accident that the phrase “become a marriage counselor between Business and IT,” first used on the SAP Community Network by Denis Browne, is often brought up in the context of BPX skills and presentations. Marco ten Vaanholt, Global Director of SAP BPX has a nice graphic that he used in his last TechEd presentation to illustrate how the “BPX Sweet Spot” overlaps a range of IT and business roles – similar to the types of BPX roles we discussed in my last article for SAPtips (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: SAP BPX Job Roles from Marco ten Vaanholt, used by Permission of SAP AG
The only thing I would change about this graphic is that even hardcore developers have something to offer (and learn from) the BPX skills evolution, but as we can see in Figure 1, the overlap between business and IT is the “sweet spot” for the “BPXer of the future.”
7. Change management skills – A process-driven approach to ERP often means organizational changes. SAP professionals who understand the cultural impact of the latest SAP installations and how to pro-actively address these changes have an important skill that is central to the SAP BPX role.
8. Project management skills and implementation methodology know-how – Project management know-how comes in many flavors, from lean manufacturing methodologies like Six Sigma to project management certifications. Obviously SAP implementation methodologies, including new business process implementation methodologies, are also relevant to SAP BPXers.
So How Do You Start? Conduct a “Skills Gap Analysis”
The BPX skills topic can quickly become overwhelming. That’s why it’s good to remember that becoming a full-fledged BPXer is a multi-year journey rather than a crash course. The most important question is: how do we get started? Whether you’re approaching this as an individual or a project team, I find that the most useful place to begin is to conduct a “skills gap analysis,” preferably in writing. In that analysis, determine the most pressing skill need within the SAP BPX “skills umbrella” and go about filling it. Once you determine the most urgent skills gap, you can then assess the financial options within that particular area, from certification to free open source tools, from book study to community involvement, and determine the best resource allocation for that particular skill area.
In terms of doing that skills gap assessment, I do think it’s important to study SAP’s own BPX certification curriculum. In my full article, I go into more detail on the certification. The decision to get certified is an individual one (unless you’re lucky enough to have your employer foot the bill), but the point is that you can learn a lot about the BPX skill set by reviewing the online certification resources.
Becoming a BPXer is not about the exploration of exotic tools. It’s about the convergence of business and IT, with a pressing shortage of skills in that intersection. During a TechEd 2008 presentation by Wolfgang Hilpert that I attended, he showed a simple graphic that illustrates why there is such a skill shortage in the BPX area (see Figure 2). As you look at the “BPX skills funnel” in Figure 2, note how tight the funnel becomes between business and IT. If you can learn to navigate that funnel, you will be in a better position to help your project team succeed as they undertake the “process driven” projects of the future.
Figure 2: SAP BPX Skills Funnel, Used with Permission of SAP AG
Finally, I do want to emphasize that when I meet folks at technology events who are unemployed and looking for work, I do find that some of them seem to be great “business process experts.” These folks have management skills, soft skills, even some Web 2.0 savvy, but they lack the specific skills in a package like SAP. That’s why we need to remember in the SAP world, BPX skills work best when wrapped around core SAP skills competencies. Without the SAP core, you become a BPX generalist without a current home on many SAP projects, and that’s not an appealing fate, especially in this economy. That’s why SAP’s own BPX curriculum does include verification of SAP application knowledge. I did not include that in my definition of a BPXer because I treated SAP application knowledge as a foregone conclusion, but we should never forget its importance.