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Hey folks – I wrote this blog entry to hopefully get some feedback from you on a recent podcast I hosted on SAP skills trends. (If you haven’t heard it yet, you can click on this link to listen). But before we get into that, a bit of context:

I’ve been involved in some aspect of the SAP services market since 1995, and from what I have seen so far this year, this looks like the most difficult SAP consulting market I have seen to date. The challenge for SAP professionals seems to be the combination of unprecedented economic problems and the increase in offshoring of SAP skills needs – something I plan to cover in a podcast soon.

Of course, some would say that the benefit of such a downturn is that it provokes reform and innovation. I think most of us would agree that the classic SAP consulting model could use a hearty helping of both. But I do feel for the predicaments of folks who have been emailing me these days. I’ve been hearing from some senior consultants with pretty compelling skill sets, such as a senior FI/CO person, a senior SAP Logistics person, and a senior CRM Mobile specialist – just some quick snapshots of people who have never had as much difficulty finding new projects.

The good side, if there is one, is that the SAP market has not stopped in its tracks; there is still work to be found. There are two areas that always deserve exploration: one is skills expansion, and the second is marketing those skills. Though I would say that self-marketing is rapidly shifting into something much more useful and important: SAP community involvement. I wrote a piece on the keys to marketing yourself as an SAP consultant last summer that goes into self-marketing in more detail.

On the skills side, we can probably throw most of what we historically understood about SAP skills needs out the window and start afresh. We need new insights and practical tips on what skills are actually in use now. And we need feedback from those in the field on what they are seeing. That’s a major reason why I agreed to participate in a recent SAP skills podcast that was coordinated by SAP’s Ecosystem Workforce Group. This podcast was a joint venture with my site, JonERP.com, PAC, and K2 Partnering Solutions. We had folks on the podcast from different parts of the globe drawing on global research, so it really was an attempt to provide a big picture view of SAP skills demand now.

If you haven’t checked out the podcast yet, or want to see a podcast timeline, check that out on Audrey Stevenson’s blog. It’s also on the University Alliance home page on SCN. I’m hoping that you’ll check it out and share some comments with me on what you took from the podcast and if it resonates or conflicts with what you are seeing. One of the big themes of the podcast is the key to remaining marketable as an onsite consultant in the era of global outsourcing.

The skills needed to be a marketable onsite consultant and the so-called “SAP BPX skill set” seem to be more and more connected. For example, in the podcast, Peter Russo, who leads PAC’s SAP Research Practice, talked about some shifts in SAP skills needs he is seeing and some new roles that are emerging. Peter talked about how this ties back into the topic of consultant quality, and bringing genuine value to customer sites. In that context, he noted the emergence of the “Business Solutions Architect”” a combination of technical and business skills, which is the result of the broadening of the SAP suite and the possibilities that SOA brings. As Peter defined it, the Business Solution Architect brings both business process know-how and technical expertise to the table. These folks are not necessarily doing hard core coding, but they are doing process orchestration and bringing management skills to the table as well.

Peter noted that this is a difficult skills profile for customers to develop – thus the need for an onsite consulting presence in this area. The Business Solutions Architect has an onsite relevance due to the importance of local experience, understanding the needs of the company in question, and having the industry know-how to properly advise such a customer. I don’t know about you, but to me, this sounds a lot like the So What Does it Take to Become an SAP Business Process Expert? we talk about frequently on this site. Another theme that Peter cited was the importance of Business Intelligence skills and the need for data transparency, competitive analysis, and KPI measurement. These skills also tie into the onsite consultant profile, and I’ll be exploring this in further detail in future podcasts.

So with that said, I’m interested in hearing your feedback on these comments and/or on the themes of the podcast.

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  1. Vijay Vijayasankar
    In any economy – you need to be marketable. In good times – it gets you premium rates, and at bad times it gets you enough to pay bills.

    While good architects are critical to the success of a project – remember that the demand per project for architects is extremely low. Even in big projects, there only needs to be few architects. And clearly, it is not just technical work that is getting offshored these days – I have seen projects succesfully make use of technology to do part of the blueprinting in offshore, plus a lot of configuration offshore too.

    So in my mind – the guys who want a premium and remain onsite, have to do something above and beyond to get ahead of their peers. In good times, the consolation prize was slightly lesser rates…but now, there is no consolation prize – if you are not good enough for the handful of onsite opportunities, you should find another career. Well, that is very dramatic – but you get the idea :).

    Multiple SAP skills, better presentation and leadership skills etc can take you there.

    On a parting note, for independents – it might also be worthwhile joining an SI organization for some time. SIs still get a number of projects, and you will get a more understanding person on the other side of the table, when you interview. Flip side – you won’t make as much money probably as you used to. This is an individual decision for consultants – and even this avenue is fast closing. You still have to be very good to get an SI job now.

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  2. Puneet Suppal
    Jon,
    I think what you are seeing here is clear recognition of the role Business Technology is going to play going forward. My advice to all SAP practitioners is to view themselves as, and prepare themselves to be, business technologists and not IT specialists – that is the future. And as you have rightly pointed out, we have a description for this profile – “Business Process Expert” or affectionately known as the BPXer! You are absolutely right about the fact that the “Business Solution Architect” description sounds very much like the profile of a BPXer. As you know we have been talking about this for a couple of years now. I am pleased to report that there are companies where this is becoming an established role.

    Regards,

    Puneet Suppal

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    1. Jon Reed Post author
      Guys, thanks for the comments. Between your perspectives at Capgemini (Puneet) and IBM (Vijay), you have a close ear to what customers need and that’s exactly the kind of input I wanted when I posted this blog entry. So thank you!

      @Puneet:  From your comments, one thing I took away was the Business Solution Architect comment:
      ” I am pleased to report that there are companies where this is becoming an established role.”

      That’s a good piece of news to get more verification on. I think too many folks still see BPX roles as futuristic. Some of them are actually getting traction even now. This economy has caused many companies to “bunker up,” but others have been forced into innovation by necessity, and new roles are emerging. We need to document these and define a bridge from classic SAP skills profiles to these new roles.

      @Vijay – I liked your point about how their can only be so many Solution Architects per project. It’s important to keep in mind that specialized BPX roles are not the only way these skills come into play. As you point out, presentation skills and business know-how are also things to strive for, essentially adding them to an existing skill set.

      “In any economy – you need to be marketable. In good times – it gets you premium rates, and at bad times it gets you enough to pay bills.”

      Well said.

      – Jon

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  3. Michael Koch
    Let me start off by saying that as a freelance consultant I am obviously looking at all this from the viewpoint of a freelancer. In addition, there is no denying that outsourcing and offshorers have increased their business by roughly 40% over the last few months. That’s the global facts.

    Now this might come as a surprise, but the companies (most of them end clients) I’ve worked for in the UK over the last 2 years are still not swarming towards outsourcers. Instead, they’ve simply reduced their SAP activity drastically over the last 4-5 months. I emailed a contact of mine today and mentioned “Business Suite 7” and he had no idea what it was. Why? This multinational business is currently in the process of upgrading to ECC 6.0 and NW 7.0. The last thing they’ll be looking at in the next 18 months is yet another upgrade or EhP. They also (like a lot of my contacts) are not fully keen on outsourcing or offshoring, as most of them have done it in the past and had bad experiences. They do use offshore resource for some of the simpler and easier to spec tasks. But as soon as it gets more complex or face-to-face with the end user is key, they opt for on-site consultants. It’s not that the offshore staff is not up to the job, it very often has to do with different working hours, an exuberant amount of analysis and communication problems. So what do they do? In the current climate they simply wait and freeze all their current requests until money becomes available again. If you can afford it, nothing wrong with that.

    One thing I’ve learned from my numerous conversations and exchanges with Jon is that there can be quite a lot of differences as far as location (US, EU, India, etc) and type of market (consultancy, freelance, end-user) are concerned. Some of the key skills trends that Jon identifies in his reports will undoubtebly be the ones to look out for. However, each location, sector and type of the job market is affected differently by all this. I have yet to work in a company where I am introduced to a Business Process Expert in my first week. They might have different names and role descriptions, sure, but I think one aspect that is often underestimated is how slowly corporations and their structures sometimes change (especially if things continue to go smooth). I first heard about IT roles such as “Architects” about 8 years ago, yet it is only recently that they seem to gain some traction.

    Once again, I am not denying that all these new skills and changes are happening, I am just saying that we sometimes overestimate the speed at which this will hit the majority of us.

    Kind regards,
    Michael

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    1. Jon Reed Post author
      @michael (or @pixelbase for those on Twitter):

      Thanks for the excellent comments. You’ve provided a good balance to the other views here. I agree with your point about both the increase in outsourcing and your comments on the type of work that *can’t*, in most cases, be outsourced. In other cases, as you note, bad experiences with outsourcing can also dim those possibilities.

      I think you’re also on the money with noting that there are definite regional variations in SAP skills issues. We tried to address this on the podcast to some degree, but there is more work to do here for sure. I would add to regional differences that the gap between what 4.6 SAP customers are working on and what ERP 6.0 customers are working on is also often striking.

      Your point, “I have yet to work in a company where I am introduced to a Business Process Expert in my first week,” is a valid one. Even in the other comments here, there’s been an acknowledgment that when these roles appear, it’s on a one or two person basis rather than, say, a full team of “Process Experts.”

      Part of it may come down to how BPXers are defined. My own bias is that we’re not just talking about specialized roles, such as the “Enterprise Architect” (most common BPX role I’ve seen) or “Process Expert” (emerging role). I believe BPX skills can be more subtle and touch on many SAP skill sets.

      For example, you say: “As soon as it gets more complex or face-to-face with the end user is key, they opt for on-site consultants.” If you dig into these complexities, what you will typically find is the need for BPX skills as I see them. Even in your case, you are a technical SAP expert, but you also have quite a lot of business savvy and a strong network of consultants you have built around you. You bring a lot more to the table than just a technical troubleshooter. I would suspect this is one major reason why you have success finding projects. My feeling is that for the technical person, these BPX skills really come into play during the interview process and tend to help well rounded consultants get more job offers. I talked more about this on my recent Enteprise Geeks guest podcast appearance.

      At any rate, thanks a lot for furthering the discussion.

      – Jon

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  4. Nathan Genez
    I’m still skeptical — yet hopeful — that the BPX or Solution Architect roles have much traction or demand in the market right now.  The role of a solution architect has historically been filled by a very experienced resource who has tremendous breadth of skills across both the functional and technical realm (plus oodles of inter-personal skills too).  These people tend to cost quite a bit and command a longer term commitment since it makes little sense to have someone of their caliber parachute in for a single firefight.  And even when a customer has a need for such a resource to architect and lead an implementation regarding something as complex and holistic like Spend Analysis, Vijay is 100% right in that it is usually staffed by just one person.  So we have a combination of high cost, high commitment, long-ish duration, and limited slots…  that’s not a good combination in today’s consulting market.

    Assuming that the info is correct and customers are in deed asking for this, it’s in response to the poor consulting quality that has been the dominant topic in the industry for the past few years.  Let’s review…  Over the past few years SAP has sold a ton of software to entirely new customers while their existing base has had to upgrade to NW 7.0 and ERP 6.0.  The result of that demand shows up in Jon’s blogs…  some of the topics have dealt with how to get newcomers to break into the SAP market, poor quality implementations, offshoring, a need for certification (again, for new resources and bad implementations)…  it’s a combination of issues that are all related and directly opposite from the sudden need to have an omniscient SAP architect.  If there is any real reason for BPX architects right now, it’s because of customer fatigue with spending so much money yet getting so little in return.  This is understandable but is mostly a defensive and risk averse viewpoint which I think is consistent with the current economic market.  In my opinion, that’s why customers may be asking for this skill set.  It’s just market backlash versus an increase in the realization that BPX skills are required to implement SAP’s deep solutions. 

    Maybe they just want better consultants who actually know what they’re talking about and are able to deliver high quality solutions.

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  5. Ajay Ganpat Chavan
    John, I totally agree with new skills requirement. I have participated in SAPs boot camp hosted in bangalore to understand what it takes to innovate on top. Develeopment of BPX skills is going to be challenge, I will like to have discussions and understand what others feel about this complex issue. SAP has large  pool of consultants most of them from eco-system, most of these consutltants refrain from going in technology- they hate debugging code, some of them dont even understand what declaration of variable means? why their are different type of variable, so understanding Global Data type, cardinality is not going to be easy. Most difficult part is to get these consultant accept to learn technical language essential for BPX, it becomes more coplex with age of consultant, how many are below 40? How easy it is for consultant over 40 to learn required technical skills? Has anyone prepared course contents for such folks? If SAP wants to attract mass which SAP does successfully and make them successful consultant SAP must come up with basic technical course required for BPX also SAP should focus on simplifying tools and avoid use of technical jargons.

    Ajay G. Chavan

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