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I recently posted a long-winded piece on JonERP.com about SAP BPX skills and what it takes to become an SAP Business Process Expert. This piece was actually a companion article to a previous piece I had posted which reviewed the Process First book by Marco ten Vaanholt and examined the SAP BPX job roles that are emerging on project sites. Both of these articles were written for my regular article series for SAPtips.com.

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.

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  1. Vijay Vijayasankar
    hey Jon, are you suggesting that a BPXer should eventually gain expertise in all those things you mentions from BPM ,web 2.0 etc to change management and project management?

    Over a period of time, I am sure most people will pick up skills in each of these as their career progresses. However, if a client wants to do change management – would they hire a genaralist BPXer who has some idea of change management? or will they play it safe and bring a specialist for the job? . The same applies to PM, modeller and every other skill category. Even if we somehow get skills in all the above – it is not feasible to do say change management and project management together for any one person in a reasonably big project.

    So then, I would think a BPXer should specialize in one area and get some intermediate level knowledge in a few other areas. If this is the case, it becomes hard to measure and certify people. And BPX as a discipline will lose identity – since such people already exist. For example – most good PMs in the SIs that I know, get that assignment after getting some industry experience, some strong SAP background, some change management and good soft skills. But if you try to get certified as PM – then probably all they will ask you is on your expertise in PERT and the like.

    So my basic confusion is – would we ever see a day when clients ask for BPXers instead of specialists like PMs, Change management experts and the like?

    Cheers
    Vijay

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    1. Jon Reed Post author
      Vijay, thanks for the excellent question. Before I go further, can you contact me via my web site, I’d like to do a podcast with you this spring at some point if you are interested.

      You’ve asked a “crystal ball” question and I can only give you my take on it.

      Well, actually you have a few questions. 🙂

      One is: “are you suggesting that a BPXer should eventually gain expertise in all those things you mentions from BPM ,web 2.0 etc to change management and project management?”

      Not necessarily. I’m talking about BPX in an SAP context, so you have to start with the key SAP knowledge your position requires. From there, I recommend adding the BPX skills component that seems most relevant to your skills and interests. And most important, the skill that seems like it will make you more indispensable and important to your project.

      Your example of the project manager may not be the best, because these folks might be closest to the BPX skill set already in some ways. But think of the prototypical SAP functional or technical consultant. Historically, many of these consultants have been more narrowly focused than what companies ideally want. Of course, the best consultants were always well-rounded in their overall skills (full life cycle, change mgt, training, etc), but most hands-on SAP folks even today have areas they can grow in based on this article. Project managers may be further along such a path.

      I see BPX as something that may eventually influence almost all job roles in the SAP world to some degree, but not necessarily radically transform them.

      But I also think we will see some new BPX focused roles over time. Just what those roles will be, we don’t necessarily know.

      To use your change management example, I doubt an SAP functional consultant who has added some change management skills to their resume would get that change management specialty job you described. But will having those skills help them come off as more well-rounded during job interviews, and also help them to offer more to their projects and perhaps at least slightly reduce the risk of having such a role outsourced to a cheaper offsite location? I believe that answer is likely (and hopefully) yes.

      Finally, you say: “So my basic confusion is – would we ever see a day when clients ask for BPXers instead of specialists like PMs, Change management experts and the like?”

      Maybe not. But will Project Management folks be expected to know more about BPM and perhaps relevant Enterprise 2.0 tools? I believe so. Same with change management folks in some cases. So it’s more than those folks may want to also make a note of these skills and move towards some of the ones they don’t have.

      Without question, the most common job role we are seeing that is directly connected to BPX is Enterprise Architect. Of course, this is a more technical skill set. But no question there is a BPX component to this role, and the BPX aspect of that may grow.

      If/when BPM tools that business analysts can use do achieve maturity and real traction on customer sites, I expect the next BPX-specific role we will see will be the “Process Expert/BPM Manager,” which might be a functional person who can do the process modeling work and then work with the Enterprise Architect to translate that technically.

      So, the BPX-only roles will emerge slowly in my view, but I think we’ll see some of those roles over time.

      To me, the only way to keep the BS factor under control here is to say: how can these skills help me to be more effective and useful now? If any of the skills on that list resonate, then you pursue them. If not, then maybe you hold off, especially if there is a financial investment involved.

      My goal in an article like this is not to be definitive but simply to spark a discussion about how to be an effective SAP professional during a time when we need every edge we can get. Let me know if I addressed any of your points. 🙂

      – Jon Reed –

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      1. Vijay Vijayasankar
        Jon, thanks for taking time to post a lengthy reply and yes..we can do a podcast – sure sounds like fun.

        A short take on your reply – If I understand you correctly, these skills will help people in their every day job and in interviews etc..I completely agree.

        Where it is still cloudy is BPX evolving as a discipline in itself. It is not an unknown fact that SAP professionals who have better skills in these areas (maybe web 2.0 and BPM are an exception) have better career prospects, and people generally make investments on this by self study, attending classes etc. If BPX has to become a force – it needs to distinguish itself with a unique identity which is different from “above average SAP skills plus bits and pieces of this and that”. I don’t see such a unique identity for BPX yet. But as you rightly said, I firmly believe it will evolve, and the more the community puts its collective brain power on it- the shorter the time to come up with a better definition of what it is and what it is not.

        I think one of the best ways to make an impact on this is for SAP to implement one of their customer projects staffed with such trained people and demonstrate to the market that it is infact a tangible improvement.

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        1. Jon Reed Post author
          Vijay, I think we mostly agree. I would submit to you that on the hands-on level, unique roles in IT/ERP don’t emerge until there is a commonly-used tool that requires a set of expertise to use it. Therefore, my personal belief is that SAP BPX-dedicated roles of the kind you are describing won’t emerge until/unless BPM modeling tools (designed for business users) gain traction on SAP customer sites. Then a BPX role will form naturally around such tools. Having said that, as I said in my last comment, I do believe a case can be made the some of today’s SAP Enterprise Architects are indeed some of the first roles that can at least be argued to be BPX specific.

          At any rate, I believe it’s an important discussion so I appreciate you chiming in. This particular piece was intended as less of an organizational think piece and more of an attempt to define in practical terms a skill profile I get a lot of questions about, and perhaps inspire folks to take some next steps along these lines during a time when perhaps formal training dollars might be hard to come by.

          – Jon

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  2. Babu Jayendran
    Thanks Jon for your thoughts and also Vijay for your comments. The points discussed are very relevant in today’s context.

    I would like to share my thoughts on the subject, which I had posted a few years back when the BPX community had just started. At the cost of being repetitive, I would like to reiterate my views because I believe it is important in the context of this discussion. Pardon me for that.

    Let me illustrate my point of view in a very simplistic manner.

    THE SCENARIO

    Let us take a simple scenario of  an SAP Retail system running at the Head Office and a Point of Sale (POS) System running at the stores, seamlessly integrated using Netweaver.

    THE STAKEHOLDERS

    The Retailer:

    May not be interested in the details of technology, basically wants the following processes to work efficiently and effectively:

    – Central procurement of merchandise
    – Receipt of merchandise at the warehouse
    – Transfer of merchandise from warehouse to stores
    – Sale of  merchandise at stores

    The SAP Retail Functional Consultant:

    May not be aware of the industry/region specific business requirements or the IDOC structures used to transfer information to and from stores. Focus is mainly on the SAP Retail configuration of masters and processes in SAP Retail.

    The Technical Consultant:

    May not be aware of retail processes and the undestranding could be restricted to coding and data elements in the SAP tables. For example, may know the message type and segments for the POS outbound IDOC but will not know the business impact of data elements within the IDOC.

    The Netweaver XI Consultant:

    May not be aware of retail processes and the understanding could be restricted to creating entries in the system landscape definition, creating interface objects, mapping, creating partner profiles, communication channels, ports, logical systems etc. For example, will be able to send information to the soap adapter engine but may not have any knowledge on what the subsequent web service of the POS vendor will be doing, to update the POS database. Will not be aware of the impact of erroneous data mapping on the business processes in SAP Retail or the POS system.

    The POS Functional Consultant:

    Will not be aware of SAP Retail systems or the configuration in Netweaver and will completely depend on that SAP Retail Consultant to ensure that the stores data is properly updated in SAP.

    The POS Technical Consultant:

    Will not be aware of SAP Retail systems or the configuration in Netweaver and the knowledge will be restricted to the web service required to update the POS tables. Will depend completely on the Netweaver XI consultant to map the data elements between SAP Retail and the POS system.

    THE PROBLEM

    As you can see from the above, this simple scenario has a minimum of 6 different individuals who have a different perspective of the business processes. It is apparent that this ‘human integration’ is not seamless an there is a disconnect in the perspectives of the different stakeholders.

    THE CONSULTANTS

    A great revenue stream for the organization because the billing is for 5 consultants rather than 1!

    THE RETAIL ORGANIZATION

    Confused and cannot figure out why a simple business process needs 5 consultants and the retailer to make it work!

    THE SOLUTION

    To have a business process expert, who understands:

    – the needs of a retailer, from a business angle
    – the retail processes and configuration in SAP Retail and its impact
    – the modalities of data transfer to and from external systems using IDOCs
    – the business impact of data elements within IDOCs
    – the configuration within Netweaver and its business impact
    – the modalities of web services
    – the functionalities and business processes in POS systems
    – the controls required to maintain data integrity

    THE CHALLENGE

    To find this unique breed of consultants called ‘Business Process Experts’ is not going to be easy and in fact, I wonder whether they exist! However, I do believe that SAP’s BPX initiative is definitely a step in the right direction. I am sure that in the years to come we will find consultants who have the knowledge to map business processes across platforms and be skewed more towards business processes rather than technology.  The reality is that, technology is only the enabler that makes business processes efficient and effective. A few years back technology was the driver and I am glad that the world has seen the importance of understanding business processes!

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  3. Anonymous
    As I read through this blog I was enlightened that we, SAP, has finally opened this area up as a missed placement of personnel. I have both client and consultant background and this has been a miss since I was a client and still remains a miss now that I am a SAP consultant.  You all bring excellent knowledge of what is missing, however, we need to justify the placement of a BPX’r in the face of the client to be that “liaison” of sorts, a cross between a somewhat Solution Architect, a Fire-fighter, an Applications consultant, a Configurator and a Business Lead all with the same focus and insight: communication and delivery.  Thanks for the info, keep it coming as I am extremely interested in how I may be able to assist in this area on my projects.
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