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Author's profile photo Jon Reed

Podcast: SAP Soft Skills – Myth Versus Reality – with Guy Couillard of OTA

My pre-SAPPHIRE podcast binge continues with this new one on SAP consulting skills and how “soft” and/or BPX skills fit into the equation.

Here’s how this one came together: recently, I was introduced to Guy Couillard, President of OTA. by Andy Klee of ERPtips. I really had no idea about OTA’s significant role in the SAP soft skills and change management education space. I began talking with Guy about podcast options and we came up with this topic: a closer examination of soft/BPX skills but from the ground up. By that I mean, instead of hypothesizing about which skills are relevant to today’s SAP shops, Guy would share his findings from his hands-on sessions with SAP executives on which skills mattered to their implementations.

In particular, I was interested to learn more about Guy’s take on the importance of “requirements elicitation.” This may sound abstract but it’s anything but. That’s because this is one key SAP consulting skill that cannot currently be outsourced. Guy explains what this means in detail on the podcast, and why many functional consultants who focus on configuration fall short in this area. I’m hoping to bridge more connections between Guy and the SAP BPX community – I think he’d have a lot to offer here and vice versa.

During the 40 minute podcast, At the heart of this discussion is an interesting convergence: SAP professionals don’t want their skills to become commoditized, and SAP customers also want higher level skills that bring more value to their project than configuring tables. Guy and I also get into the impact of outsourcing, how technical and functional SAP skills are converging, and he drops an image of “SAP consultant as midwife” I hadn’t heard before. Check it out and see if you agree.

(If for any reason the player doesn’t work, you can download the podcast using the “download media” link on the right hand side).

(Trouble downloading? if for some reason it’s not playing in its entirety for you, check out the version on JonERP.com in the meantime.)

Podcast Timeframe

1:02 Guy’s industry background and what draws him to the “thankless task” (my comment, not his) of retraining today’s SAP consultants.

2:35 On SAP’s request, OTA has developed a number of soft skills related programs – both for entry level and experienced consultants. As consultants advance into team lead roles, there is a need for additional skills in that area to help the consultant with these bigger management challenges.

6:05 Based on OTA’s research and your talks with clients, what are the key skills that today’s SAP consultants, even those who may be more senior in experience, lack? To really have an impact, you have to talk about value, and by definition, value is in the eye of the beholder. You have to be able to translate SAP skills into business value. This involves the ability to listen and the expertise to elicit customer needs.

10:02 One of Jon’s points of contention is that as companies have gotten more sophisticated at globally sourcing skills, this raises the bar on what SAP customers are looking for in on-site consultants. Has Guy observed this same trend in the field? In a word, yes! Guy: “We keep thinking of offshoring as offshoring development work based on outside specifications, but I’m observing teams of consultants who are working offshore doing virtual requirements gathering, with or without video, and doing it really well. So what is left for on site? This is a major trend.”

11:50 Jon puts Guy on the spot: OTA’s curriculum places a great deal of emphasis on “soft skills.” Soft skills still aren’t taken seriously, or they are simplified as “good communication skills.” Why do soft skills matter in an SAP consulting context? What impact can they have on the success and failure of an implementation?

Guy: I have found consultants rarely get pulled off projects because of their lack of product knowledge. They are usually pulled because of their inability to interact in a productive manner.

Of course, soft skills go beyond asking the right questions. It also moves into requirements gathering, but even this phrase is limited because often customers don’t know exactly what they want. Guy explains why “requirements elicitation” is so critically important.

16:10 One of the most important JonERP topics around SAP skills improvement is “business process expert skills”. We still don’t see “business process expert” on a lot of SAP job orders, but Jon still believes it is coming. Guy has a different take on the skills gaps that are most urgently needed in this area, which pertain to a different approach to requirements gathering.

20:10 Certification is part of this mix as well, and SAP Certification: The Certification 5 Report. Does Guy see these emerging skills as playing a bigger role in certifications going forward? How could these “softer” skills be evaluated and quantified?

23:55 We’ve talked about this mostly from a functional angle, but many of JonERP’s listeners are either developers or Basis/systems admin types. What do they have to gain from this soft skills/process expert discussion?

Guy: The boundary between the technical and functional SAP world is getting increasingly blurry. Basis folks also need to be able to engage their counterparts in questions of business value. The ability to work with subject matter experts can make you a more well rounded individual. This is just as applicable to technical consultants than functional ones, and can even be a greater differentiator on the technical side.

26:15 The million dollar question: when are we going to see some of these newfangled SAP soft skills on job orders? Or will it mostly be added to existing roles? How can SAP professionals work towards these skills?

Guy: Many companies have moved beyond legacy SAP environments and the low hanging fruit of basic integration. As they upgrade, they understand the value of process optimization, and they need SAP consultants who can take them to the next level. It’s like being a midwife, you have to be hands-on. It can be painful and messy, but it’s part of the job.

29:55 Guy: So we might not see “SAP Requirements Elicitor” on business cards anytime soon, but companies are definitely insisting on this as part of the skills they are requiring for hires. OTA is piloting a class with the Canadian government in June on requirements gathering in the context of SAP.

32:05 Many of the skills of yesterday are commodities today – so consultant are looking for higher ground, and that is where SAP customers are heading as well, looking to get the most out of their transactional systems. The time for reinvention is here.

Guy asks Jon for his take – yes, there is still a core of HR, FI, CRM, etc – but it is increasingly wrapped in a soft skills layer, and then there is this techno-functional convergence. To maintain relevance, you have to move to the center a bit. The tools are out there to education yourself, the time to do it is now.

I will be posting more podcasts leading up to SAPPHIRE, so stay tuned….

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Great insights, Jon and Guy! Soft skills don't get nearly enough air time. The example Guy gave of the top technical expert who blew his interview because he could not ask engaging questions and relate to others is really powerful. Recommended listening for our SCN Career Center.  Thank you!
      Claudine