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Author's profile photo Former Member

Career shifts: From module experts to process experts

Most business application consultants and experts have a high emphasis in one aspect of the solution (say finance, controlling, HR, CRM), sometimes, they even go to higher focus (marketing campaigns within the CRM) but very few of them would know what happens in the next phase of the process. They usually work in a blackbox mode knowing the input they’re getting from previous phase, how to process it before serving it to the next phase.

This has worked pretty well due to the widely spread practices in the implementation of processes within monolithic solutions. These processes were also mostly fixed as companies rarely looked forward constant process innovation to keep up with the pace of competitivity. But today, the world’s changing. Processes are being executed across the solution boundaries and even across the company’s boundaries, they may be re-engineered at several phases to match the company’s strategy on the market.

If we take the computer manufacturing industry, the usual process would be “Manufacture the equipment -> ship to dealers -> Select the equipment (customer) -> Pay (customer)“. DELL has drastically changed this process, which earned them a highly competitive advantage at several levels. The process has been changed to “Select the equipment -> Pay -> Manufacture the equipment -> Ship to customer“. At this point, DELL has improved at least on two main points: exit the dealers, reducing the number of intermediates and they don’t need fully manufactured stocked equipment. Basically computers are stocked in warehouses in a pre-assembled state. Assembling might even be transfered (outsourced) to Supply Chain providers. At this point, they’re having a direct contact with the customer, tightening the relationship, and they’re increasing their profitability (fixed costs reduction).

For solution experts, this has a major impact on the way they usually implement the process. They need to have a complete understanding of the impacts of the re-engineering on their blueprint. How they shift from a data receiver from process step 3 to a data source for step 2.

For this purpose, the experts will require to have a broader knowledge of what they are implementing, how’s their part is being integrated within a wider scope, what happens in every phase and then they should shift into a full understanding of the process end-to-end.

So if you wonder how you can update your skills ? What you should look at ?

I say, forget modules and go end-to-end process: Order to Cash or Procure to Pay. With today’s technology and solution maturity, processes tend to have tighter integration between them. They are not just merely tables and transactions, but there’s a real logic flow orchestrating each step of the process.

Coupled with the Business Process Experts/Champions/Owners, the consultants will seek into bringing a higher value to their customer/company by optimizing the execution of the process at every step with a coherent and comprehensive understanding of the impacts of each action and decision.

In an SOA approach, the isomorphism between the process and the services will lead  to create fine grained components which are then assembled altogether into composite applications. This leads to a tighter integration of components (logical point of view) as a service might as well execute operations in a project and finance systems.

While there might still be confusion among SAP practitioners on the ability to go from a modular perspective to the end-to-end perspective, this change will be driven by the market evolution and the solution architecture anyways. The idea is that rather than being an expert on 10 FI processes while you usually implement 4 of them. The skills evolution roadmap would guide you through the different stages of your process implementation within the other modules/solutions, hence fully leveraging your training and expertise on all areas.

This full fledged knowledge of the process will also provide a new empowerment that will allow experts to drive the innovation to reflect the business requirements or even anticipate them,  as this is where the real value lies.

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      Author's profile photo Paul Hardy
      Paul Hardy
      My company started implementing SAP in 1997 and right from the start the SAP department was organised along process lines i.e. order to cash, purchase to pay and financial and management accounting. Even back then there was so much integration within SAP that limiting yourself to one module made no sense. An example is paying haulage companies freight costing using ERS which involves SD, MM, AP, FI & CO.
      If you organise your IT department on process lines then you are much more aligned with the business, if you think in modules you are trying to force the business into SAP boxes.
      After 12 years of being focused primarily on business processes, I am now on a project where an attempt is being made to split up the business processes back into modules again, which is very disheartening.
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Hello Paul,

      it sad to see organizations going from the right approach to old siloed module organization.

      The main issue for IT departments has always been how to get an information system really synchronized with the enterprise strategy. Unfortunaly, very few of them are able to achieve this. They mainly try to  catch the train. They are also unable to leverage the potential openings provided by their information system to drive innovation. And at some points, I've seen businesses who were not able to keep the competition (or at least taking time to catch up) because their IS was not able to implement the innovation (a billing process in the telco industry for example).

      This is mainly an organizational issue. When your IT department has people having a full understanding of your business, then you're able to build things that will not only answer the business requirements, but you'd be through further investigation to push the understanding of what might be required, hence preparing in advance   the adaptation to further evolutions. And the only way, you'd get that is by having a good understanding of the processes and having the agility that only a process oriented organization can provide.

      Author's profile photo Jon Reed
      Jon Reed

      Really enjoyed your blog and have wanted to comment on it for a few days now. You and I have talked about some of these BPX skills issues before and I'm always looking for new way to write about them.

      Some SAP professionals I talk to don't think too much about process orientation because many job orders still focus on silo module expertise. But you are right that a shift is underway. Even SAP itself is going to be transition its consultants from application consultants to process consultants and put them all through BPX training. This should say something about how these trends are emerging.

      I think it's a much better idea to pursue these trends than to get caught lagging behind in skills. And as you point out, you can still master SAP modules, but follow the underlying business process. We certainly see much more of an emphasis on industry know-how in consultant hires, and that's one more reflection that the process view is taking hold.

      Of course, you can get stuck on a project that isn't approaching SAP in this manner, like your other commenter to this point. But even then, there is the BPX community online to help further your growth in the meantime. I think it's important and will eventually be a crucial part of all SAP skill sets to some degree. There's also TechEd...I'm looking forward to catching some BPM/BPX sessions there, and hope to get a fresh look at BPM aka "Galazy" while in Phoenix....later!

      - Jon

      Author's profile photo Jon Reed
      Jon Reed
      err..."Galaxy." 🙂
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Hi Jon,

      Right, as discussed. Today, SAP is knowing a lot of evolutions and is clearly going toward process orientation. It has demonstrated its will not to have silos anymore. Either by introducing Enterprise SOA or by including analytics within transactional applications.

      Tomorrow's consultant should bring a mature value to the enterprise and this value is not in knowing the solution but in understanding the enterprise in a whole.

      I have come across several experts who are pretty good in their fields but are unable to explain their environment and this is where the value chain breaks.

      As you say, rather than get caught by the train, people should start looking forward end to end, process. Organizational changes are being undertaken and ITs are trying to define process champions in front of each major process they have, at least for their core business.

      And even from a career perspective, you'd rather grow as the champion than just following the leader.